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8 Mind-Blowing Beaches and Lakes in Northern California

California National Parks Insider Guides
by Kate Jan 20, 2017

California has 840 miles of ocean coastline, much of it almost deserted. Here are a few lesser-known Northern California gems to set you off in the right direction.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

San Francisco Area

San Francisco doesn’t spring to mind as a beach town, but it is surrounded on three sides by water. While none of SF’s beaches are crowded, these small beaches offer unique vistas:

China Beach

 China BeachSan Francisco, United StatesSmall gem of a beach on the western side of the Golden Gare Bridge. More protected than Ocean Beach and great views!

Marshalls Beach

 Marshall’s BeachSan Francisco, United StatesGreat view of the Golden Gate Bridge from both higher and lower elevations, depending on how far you want to walk. #sunset #bridge #view #goldengate

North of San Francisco

Tennessee Valley, just north of San Francisco, isn’t a secret — you’ll find others on the trail — but it still feels special to arrive at this perfect little beach after a 3 mile hike. Great views back to SF and south.

 Tennessee Valley TrailheadMill Valley, United StatesJust north of the Golden Gate Bridge is a short and flat 1.7 mile trail to Tennessee Valley Beach. Great for families. For a more rigorous trail you can venture off one of the other trails that lead up in the hills. #hiking #beach #marin #california

Tomales Bay has a few great beaches and the water is warmer and much safer than the ocean if you’re visiting with kids. Check out Millerton and Heart’s Desire.

 Millerton PointMarshall, United StatesSmall beach on Tomales Bay great for kids and dogs.

Further north, the Sonoma Coast State Beaches are windswept and wild. Salmon Creek at the southern end is great for kids as they can swim in the much-warmer creek, while Goat Rock Beach at the northern end is especially dramatic with the Russian River pouring into the Pacific. Several great hikes lead to or from Shell Beach.

 Salmon CreekBodega Bay, United StatesWild beach with miles of shoreline for undisturbed wandering.

Continuing north, the Lost Coast is a backpacking trip full of beaches in a location too rugged for roadbuilding.

 Lost CoastWhitethorn, United StatesMulti-day backpacking along a rugged stretch of CA coast #hiking #camping #extreme

South of San Francisco

Heading south from San Francisco, Bean Hollow is a tiny beach on the San Mateo Coast with white sand and plenty of sea life.

 Bean Hollow State BeachPescadero, United StatesA small, very peaceful beach.

Limekiln State Beach, south of Big Sur, is less crowded than other beaches in that area and offers a great waterfall hike, and clean campground, in addition to a black sand beach.

 Limekiln State ParkBig Sur, United StatesRedwoods, hiking, historic kilns, a clean campground and beach #hiking #camping

Sierra Beaches

California’s beaches are not limited to the Ocean – head up to the Sierras for many lakes, many of which are very lightly visited. While the water is often cold, few things compare with the feeling of drying off in the summer sun after a swim in a high-altitude lake. Here are a few to get you planning for next summer.

Lakes Lodge

 Ice Lakes LodgeSoda Springs, United StatesThe Sierra’s best kept secret. Serene Lakes, named by Mark Twain. Mountain paradaise.

Grant Lake Marina

 Grant Lake MarinaJune Lake, United StatesOne of my favorite spots for summertime lounging in the area. Excellent (but cold) wake boarding, plenty of beach space, and the kind of view you’d expect from the June Lake Loop. Plush campsites with hookups and actual toilets that flush nearby. Fancy!

Upper Blue Lake Campground

 Upper Blue Lake CampgroundMarkleeville, United StatesAmazing star gazing!

Ashley Lake

 Ashley LakeMadera County, United StatesAbsolutely gorgeous place to camp in the Southern Sierra backcountry.

Skelton Lake

 Skelton LakeMammoth Lakes, United StatesHiked up to Skelton Lake in Mammoth with some friends and we had a blast jumping into the lake! The water was brrrrrrr!! #hiking

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