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12 Best Beaches in Monterey, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Apr 15, 2022

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Monterey is a charming coastal community on the rugged Central California coast. It's surrounded by the larger Monterey County, including other Monterey Peninsula cities like Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea. And within these county lines, visitors lay eyes on some of the most beautiful coastlines in the country.

The Monterey coastline offers an array of beachscapes. Don't expect lifeguard towers dotting broad beaches, and while swimming spots exist, rocky coves and wildlife sightings define many beach visits. And the water tends to run a bit cold and choppy, making wetsuits required for activities like surfing.

Don't let the dramatic landscapes deter you from exploring, though. From the idyllic settings at Asilomar and Lovers Point to the rocky terrain along 17-Mile Drive, the Monterey coastline is very accessible to all travelers. And between other iconic Monterey attractions, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, it's easy to get lost in the ocean splendor.

Enjoy your next Central California vacation with our list of the top beaches near Monterey.

1. Asilomar State Beach

Asilomar State Beach
Asilomar State Beach

Asilomar State Beach is near the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, next to the Pebble Beach community. It's a photogenic beach that spans approximately a mile with several sandy coves punctuating rocky points and tide pools. The state beach also encompasses a restored dune habitat and a historic conference center.

While lying out a towel and basking in the sun is possible at Asilomar, walking and beachcombing are more popular activities. The Asilomar Coast Trail spans much of the backend of the beach, offering an easy way to navigate the rugged environment.

The Dunes Natural Preserve and the Asilomar Conference Grounds are on the other side of Sunset Drive from the beach. A quarter-mile and universally accessible boardwalk trail navigates the reclaimed dune environment. Interpretive information lines the route detailing the vital habitat and its restoration.

Dunes Natural Preserve, Asilomar State Beach
Dunes Natural Preserve, Asilomar State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The conference grounds at Asilomar have a unique history. It began as a permanent conference center for the YWCA in the early 1900s. Renowned California architect Julia Morgan, perhaps best known for her work on Hearst Castle, designed 13 buildings on campus

The state park assumed responsibility for the conference grounds in 1956. Today, it's still a magical spot for group outings and large get-togethers. It also operates as the Asilomar Hotel, with individual rooms, special suites, and on-site dining.

2. Carmel River State Beach

Carmel River State Beach
Carmel River State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Carmel River State Beach is just south of the small city of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It's at the confluence of the Carmel River and the Pacific Ocean, where a dynamic lagoon area provides vital habitat for several seabirds.

The sand is a striking white at Carmel River State Beach. This sugary landscape adds to its already scenic qualities, including panoramic views across the water. The most popular activities at the beach include suntanning, photographing wildlife, and beach walking. The surf is too rough for swimming or surfing.

Hiking the bluff trail south from Carmel River Beach is also popular. This route navigates the Carmel Meadows neighborhood to Monastery Beach, also operated by Carmel River State Beach. Monastery Beach is easily accessible off the 101, and while incredibly scenic, it's a dangerous place to access the water.

3. Lovers Point Park Beach

Lovers Point Beach
Lovers Point Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lovers Point Park is at the end of 17th street in Pacific Grove, on the east side of the Monterey Peninsula. The park encompasses a stunning 4.4 acres, including ample lawn space, protruding rock formations, and a few sandy beaches.

The main beach area at Lovers Point Park is east-facing, allowing the unique opportunity on the West Coast to watch a sunrise. A concrete barrier further protects this beach to the north, enabling safe swimming conditions. However, the cold water usually leads to quick dips before warming up on the crescent beach.

A more northern beach in the park offers a flatter expanse, where visitors find a volleyball court. Both beaches tend to be very popular throughout the year, especially during the summer and weekends.

Lovers Point Park
Lovers Point Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

And Lovers Point Park itself is very popular. Several picnic areas span out from its Beach House Restaurant, inviting a meal outside. And the large formations on the north end of the park offer a wild playground for exploring.

4. Monterey State Beach

Windows on the Bay Beach, Monterey State Beach
Windows on the Bay Beach, Monterey State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Monterey State Beach has two segments on the south end of Monterey Bay, separated by Del Monte Beach. This long stretch of sand enables beach activities like beachcombing and suntanning. The southern end of the state beach is also a safe place to swim, nearest the Fisherman's Wharf 2 Pier.

The southern section of Monterey State Beach is known as Window on the Bay Beach, or more simply, Windows Beach. This name perhaps derives from the beautifully landscaped entry points afforded by Monterey Bay Park. This stretch of beach is a preferred place to swim and is generally protected from strong ocean currents.

Northern Monterey State Beach, near Monterey Tides hotel
Northern Monterey State Beach, near Monterey Tides hotel | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The northern section of Monterey State Beach is most accessible from the Monterey Tides hotel. The beach spans out of eyesight south of the hotel, offering a secluded place to walk and enjoy the ocean scene. Rough water and riptides along this stretch make swimming inadvisable. To the north, the state beach connects with Sand City Beach for even more to explore.

5. Del Monte Beach

Del Monte Beach
Del Monte Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Del Monte Beach is a city-owned stretch of sand separating the two units of Monterey State Beach. It offers similar amenities, including plenty of space to spread a towel out. It also tends to be a quieter beach with no immediate on-site parking.

The easiest access point is a small parking lot with a boardwalk trail at the end of Tide Avenue in the Del Monte District. Alternatively, it's approximately a mile-long walk starting from the Fisherman's Wharf 2 Pier.

Few amenities are available at the beach. Swimmers and surfers need to exercise caution when entering the water. Waves and riptides are potentially dangerous along the shoreline, and no lifeguards are on duty.

6. San Carlos Beach

San Carlos Beach
San Carlos Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

San Carlos Beach is a popular spot for scuba diving in Monterey. It's next to the Coast Guard Pier on the Monterey Peninsula, just east of Cannery Row. Here, a moderate stretch of sand allows divers to enter the water and search for sunken treasure and discarded cannery gear.

The beach and adjacent San Carlos Beach Park are still lovely to visit without scuba intentions. Picnic tables, grassy space, and plenty of room on the beach enable restful moments gazing at the beautiful coastline.

The paved Monterey Bay Coastal Trail skirts through the beach area. It connects several nearby Monterey attractions, including Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

7. McAbee Beach

McAbee Beach
McAbee Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

McAbee Beach is a small but scenic cove in the heart of Cannery Row. High tide makes this beach a sliver of sand. But come low tide, it's worth taking some time from the tourist attractions to check out the shore.

Kayakers and scuba divers sometimes start their adventures at McAbee Beach, and a few small tide pools draw attention. It's also a scenic beach to admire, easily done from the nearby Cannery Row Monument and surrounding Steinbeck Plaza.

8. Carmel Beach

Carmel Beach
Carmel Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Carmel Beach is famous for its scenic appeal and its sugary white sand. This city beach is most easily accessible at the end of Ocean Avenue within Carmel-by-the-Sea. From the parking area, it's a short but steep walk down a white dune to the postcard beach.

Surfing and swimming are popular in the water, though the ocean is cold along this coast, requiring wetsuits for any lengthy ocean endeavors. Spreading a towel out and soaking in the sunny scene is perhaps more popular. Several dunes and bluff trails also backend the beach, ripe for exploration.

Carmel Beach is also a dog-friendly beach near Monterey. Dogs are welcome to roam leash-free but must remain under strict voice command. And while people who visit certainly enjoy the ocean scene, dogs seem to find the most enjoyment in the open environment.

9. Monterey Municipal Beach

Monterey Municipal Beach
Monterey Municipal Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Monterey Municipal Beach is a small section of sand directly next to Fisherman's Wharf 2 Pier. Despite its smaller size, it's one of the most popular beaches to spend the day. Its popularity is much in thanks to its favorable beach conditions and proximity to parking.

The Municipal Beach is nearly north-facing and protected by the wharf, lending to favorable swimming conditions. There's also plenty of room to spread out a towel or enjoy a family picnic. The adjacent pier has restaurants and watercraft rentals available.

Monterey Bay Park is directly east of the Municipal Beach. The park offers its own aptly named Window on the Bay Beach, which is part of Monterey State Beach. This coastline continues north for several miles, enabling very long beach walks.

10. Gibson Beach, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Gibson Beach, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Gibson Beach, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, part of the California State Park system, is a crown jewel of the California coast. This expansive headland has rolling meadows, emerald waters, and rocky coves. And among these outstanding landscapes are approximately eight beaches waiting to be photographed.

It's not suntanning and sand volleyball at Point Lobos beaches. Instead, these pockets coves lend to activities like tide pooling and observing wildlife, such as seals and sea lions. Most of the beaches are accessible via a network of hiking trails. Parking is also available within the reserve, although finding a spot can be competitive.

Gibson Beach is one of the beachiest beaches on Point Lobos, located on the south end of the reserve. It requires a short walk to reach, passing by the famous China Cove on the Bird Island Trail. Other beaches to check out at Point Lobos include the not-so-hidden Hidden Beach and the tide-pool-infused Weston Beach.

11. 17-Mile Drive Beaches

Bird Rock, 17-Mile Drive
Bird Rock, 17-Mile Drive | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

17-Mile Drive is one of the most scenic automobile routes in the nation. It tours through the mansion and golf courses of the Pebble Beach neighborhood with several designated stops. Paid admission is required to make the drive, collected at different gates in Carmel and Pacific Grove.

A few beaches along 17-Mile Drive are best appreciated from the parking area, while others offer tide pool exploration. Visitor favorites include Moss Beach, Bird Rock Beach, and Seal Rock Creek Beach. These are all designated stops on the touring map that comes with admission, and all display the peninsula's unique coastal beauty.

17-Mile Drive is also home to several beach-adjacent attractions. The Lone Cypress is always a favorite, proudly protruding from its rocky promontory for over 250 years. Other notable pullovers include The Restless Sea and the Pebble Beach Visitor Center.

12. Spanish Bay Beach, Pacific Grove

Moss Beach, south of Spanish Bay Beach
Moss Beach, south of Spanish Bay Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Spanish Bay Beach is just south of Asilomar State Beach on the Monterey Peninsula, in the Pebble Beach neighborhood. It's accessible along the acclaimed 17-Mile Drive, which requires paid admission to drive. Alternatively, visitors find free parking on Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove.

A boardwalk trail navigates the dunes that backend the beach, making it easy to explore the broad stretch of sand. Wetsuit-clad surfers tend to gather at the beach, though the water is a bit chilly for swimming. Golfers also tend to gather nearby at the adjacent The Links at Spanish Bay.

Moss Beach is directly south of Spanish Bay Beach, separated by a small headland. Moss Beach is the designated stop along 17-Mile Drive and offers a similar atmosphere. It's a moderate beach walk to reach Spanish Bay Beach for those driving 17-Mile Drive and parking at Moss Beach.

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