Rockaway Beach, Pacifica
Rockaway Beach viewed from the coastal bike path
A beach described as having 'chocolate sand' might sound wonderfully Willy Wonka-esque and – even though it’s not edible – Rockaway Beach does not disappoint. The sand's brown hue is due to limestone erosion mixing with volcanic greenstone, lending this patch of Pacifica coastline a beautifully haunting appearance.
Pismo Beach, Oceano
Pismo Beach pier on a sunny day
Visitors can make the most of Pismo Beach’s soaring sand dunes and scenic coastline by zooming across them either in an ATV or on horseback. And drivers are even allowed to park their RVs right on the sand and pitch camp for a night with a view.
Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach
The Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach
The highlight of Victoria Beach is, without doubt, the Pirate Tower. A 60ft, medieval-style spiral staircase built in 1926, the tower was designed to allow the man who lived above the beach access to the sea from his clifftop house. Another of the tower owners used to dress up as a pirate (giving the tower its nickname) and hide coins and sweets for the local children among the rocks. Oh, and Bette Midler owned it at one point, too.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
Pfeiffer Beach is one of the more secluded beaches in Big Sur
At first glance Pfeiffer Beach looks almost extraterrestrial, but will likely be one of prettiest beaches you’ll ever visit. The metallic, purple sheen of the sand at Pfeiffer was caused by the erosion of nearby hillsides, leading to manganese deposits on the beach. And an incredible vista.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Sea-smoothed, multicoloured glass pebbles at Fort Bragg
The Glass Beach at Fort Bragg was once one of California's most popular dumping grounds. Decades after this practice was banned, the beach has been reclaimed by nature and the dumped glass has been washed smooth by the sea, creating a colourful, fantastical little stretch of coastline.
Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino
The bowling balls at Schooner Gulch Beach
Part of the evocatively named, Schooner Gulch Beach, the 'Bowling Balls' on the Pacific coast near Mendocino form another of California's most otherworldy natural attractions. The spherical, bowling ball-style boulders (neatly lined up along the shore) were created when the softer mudstone covering them began to erode, leaving compressed balls of much tougher rock below. The scene looks particularly eerie and captivating when the boulders are shrouded in mist and backed by pink skies at sunrise.
Black Sand Beach, San Francisco
The Black Sand Beach is also a popular spot for surfing
Black sand and nude sunbathing might sound like an odd combination but give it a whirl at San Francisco’s south-facing Black Sand Beach. While not officially designated as a nudist beach, many locals consider Black Sand to be a clothing optional location and when you see the breathtaking sea views, the desire to get back to nature makes a lot of sense. The black sand of this beach creates a striking contrast to the Golden Gate Bridge although getting there does include a hike up and down the cliffs.