Monterey is one of the West Coast's original beach resorts, attracting sunseekers with its chic north California vibes, whale watching opportunities, and excellent clam chowder. The wild and rugged shoreline of the Golden State extends all around the town, offering myriad spots that are excellent for exploration. To the north, it bends in a horseshoe of golden powder across big Monterey Bay. To the west, it juts out to meet the Pacific at Point Pinos, before switching southwards through Asilomar and Pebble Beach.

    Between those are inlets topped by cypress trees and pines, with white-tinged sands and resident sea lions. And that's not even mentioning the legendary beaches that start along Highway 1, down with the Big Sur and beyond. Check out our guide to the best beaches in Monterey to help you decide which coastal strip is the right for you.

    1

    Lovers Point

    Get the romance a-flowing with a corker of a sunset

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    Lovers Point Park is where the Monterey Coastal Trail dips in and out of, and it dashes past a small cove of white sand that's framed by twisted cypress trees and a few craggy rocks. Just a short walk from Ocean View Boulevard, it's Lovers Point Beach, a spot that's sure to get the romance a-flowing with its seriously gorgeous sunsets.

    But there's more to the bay than it's heartstring-tugging evenings. You can also come for picnics on the dedicated tables that pepper the shoreline promenade. A little protection from the seawall also makes it a great spot to try your hand at SUP boarding. Of course, there’s ample room to sunbathe while watching the water lap against the shore.

    Location: 631 Ocean View Blvd, Pacific Grove CA 93950, USA

    Phone: +1 831-648-3134

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    2

    Asilomar State Beach

    More than a mile of sandy boardwalks to explore

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    Asilomar State Beach with its dramatic headlands and tidal pools promise a taste of northern California's wilder side. You'll find the reserve and its row of inlets and coves strung along the western edge of the Monterey Peninsula, around 30 minutes on foot or 5 minutes by car, passing through the butterfly sanctuaries and blocks on the outskirts of the town itself.

    It's a little remoter than a lot of the beaches in Monterey proper, which means you'll enjoy moments of solitude amid the oat-topped dunes. Talking of dunes... be sure to hit the 0.25-mile boardwalk trail in the Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve that's right by the beach, which includes some spectacular panoramas overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

    Location: Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA

    Phone: +1 831-646-6440

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    3

    Carmel River State Beach

    Spot seabirds between the dunes

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    Carmel River State Beach is a whole nature preserve that spreads across an estuary with a winding waterway, small oxbow lakes, and glowing sandbanks covered in verbena and sage bushes. Follow Highway 1 south for 15 minutes, past the Comstock cottages of charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, to reach the idyllic area. 

    Lots of people come here to spot the resident population of birds. There are oodles, from the elegant Terek sandpiper to the boisterous Californian brown pelican, along with calling gulls and plenty of butterflies. The beach itself runs for a whole mile, anchoring the reserve against the dunes and the grassy hills behind.

    Location: 26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

    Phone: +1 831-649-2836

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    4

    Point Lobos State Reserve

    California sea lions under cypress trees

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    Point Lobos sits at the northern tip of the world-famous Big Sur. It's a stretch of coastline that means the Golden State is always in the travel brochures because it fuses the wild Carmel Highlands with the lashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. To put it another way – don't forget to charge the camera for this one...

    There's not just a single beach to sample in these parts. Start in the north, where crystal-clear waters filter through to Coal Chute Point. Then, hike the pine woods that halo lovely Whaler's Cove. Push on to Sea Lion Point, where you'll be able to see some of the region's more entertaining coastal inhabitants sunning themselves on the rocks.

    Location: 62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 831-624-4909

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    5

    Pebble Beach

    Where waves meet rocks beneath an iconic golf course

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    The name Pebble Beach is nothing short of legendary in the world of golf. Sure enough, the iconic 18 holes of the Pebble Beach Golf Links course string just above the waves in this corner of Monterey. You'll find the point where the fairways meet the ocean on the far side of Del Monte Forest, around a 15-minute drive southwest of Cannery Row.

    There are beautiful vistas of rugged shoreline to enjoy, like the craggy Lone Cypress, sprouting from a jagged headland just off the scenic route of 17-Mile Drive. You'll also find white-sand beaches with sky-blue water, along with wave-bashed rocks where seabirds forever battle the winds.

    Location: 1700 17 Mile Dr, Pebble Beach CA 93953, USA

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    6

    China Cove

    A postcard-worthy shot of the northern California coast

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    China Cove might just be the jewel in the crown of the Point Lobos Reserve. Located at the far southern end of that state park, it can be accessed via the Bird Island Trail from the Pacific Coast Highway. What awaits is an excellent view of Big Sur’s shoreline, with juniper-clad headlands jutting into the sea above white pebbles and sands.

    Right next door is Gibson Beach, a similarly spectacular scythe of sand with bluffs and pine trees before a glowing blue ocean. The trails that link both are a great place to start your explorations, with sightings of rare seabirds and sealions both on the menu.

    Location: 62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

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    7

    Del Monte Beach

    Between charming coast cottages and wild waves

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    Del Monte Beach is a long and blustery length of sand that's a 40-minute stroll to the north-east of Old Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. It's not as famous as its compadres on the Point Lobos or Pebble Beach side of the bay, which means there's space for contemplative strolls through the dunes and by the waves here.

    The area is relatively built up, featuring handsome sea cottages gazing straight over the Pacific. You've got little seafood eateries to pop into for lunch. There are also plenty of locals adding a bit of buzz to the spot, including surfers on the left-right breaks and dog walkers with their pooches on the lead.

    Location: 653 Del Monte Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

    Phone: +1 831-646-3860

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    8

    Garrapata State Park

    Go on a marine safari without boarding a boat

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    As you make for the gorgeous Garrapata State Park, you'll likely gasp at the views that lurk around every bend in the highway. Sat just over 12 miles to the south of Monterey, it's one of the most iconic slices of the Big Sur drive. But to really enjoy the area, you'll need to hit the trails...

    They are the way to reach Garrapata Beach itself. It's the sole sandy area in the reserve, with high cliffs topped with tuffets of grass overlooking yellow-tinted shores. The rest of the area is all about soaring rock stacks and dramatic lookouts over the Pacific. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for sea otters and whales when you're on those.

    Location: 34500 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

    Phone: +1 831-624-4909

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    9

    McAbee Beach

    Sit on the sand under the clam chowder shacks

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    You'll be able to smell the sizzling shrimp and seafood broths from McAbee Beach. The closest of all to the iconic walking street of Cannery Row, it dashes across the heart of Monterey's port area. The upshot? It's the perfect place for a salty picnic with your feet planted in the sand.

    Be sure to take some time after lunch to look for the murals inspired by Steinbeck's famous novel. They're drawn straight onto the concrete blocks of the seawall here. On top of that, there are fascinating historical plaques that help chronicle the history of the old sardine canning district of Monterey.

    Location: 1 Hoffman Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 9 pm

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    10

    Salinas River State Beach

    Wide sands with not too many people about

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    Salinas River State Beach beckons with a quiet vibe, stretching over 3 miles up the California coast. It starts from the birding habitats of the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge in the south to the bobbing sailboats of Moss Landing in the north.

    One of the main reasons to head in this direction is the lack of crowds. The beaches of Salinas River tend to be wider, wilder, longer, and less busy than those along the Big Sur and in Monterey proper. That makes them a favourite of sea kayakers, of horse riders, surfers, and hikers. Salinas River State Beach is roughly midway between the surf-mad wave town of Santa Cruz and the shrimp-scented boardwalk of Monterey.

    Location: Moss Landing, CA 95039, USA

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    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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