The Most Underrated Beaches For Your California Bucket List

Captivating California is home to jaw-dropping landscapes, rugged mountains, craggy coves, twinkling cities, redwood forests, hiking trails, and a whole lot of history. Not to mention truly incredible road trips, from dusty deserts to sculpted dunes, to see it all. Needless to say, the natural beauty of the Golden State really is unlike anything else you may ever see.

It helps to have world-famous California beaches on your doorstep, too — Santa Monica Beach, Laguna Beach, Venice Beach, and Malibu Beach draw in huge swathes of tourists every year in search of sun, sea, and sand. While there's every reason to visit these blockbuster bays, there's so much more to the West Coast's beach scene than these big hitters. Think charming, quaint shores in California beach towns you've never heard of, tucked away in little coves up and down the Californian coastline. So if you're hungry to see the real West Coast, turn away from the crowds and go under the radar. You'll be rewarded with countless secluded spots on the sand that tick the box for both paradise and privacy.

South Ponto Beach

Many beachgoers flock in their droves to the gorgeous sandy shores of San Diego for swimming, sunbathing, and the odd spot of surfing. But if you head just 35 miles north, you'll find the coastal city of Carlsbad, and with it, a much less overcrowded bay by the name of South Ponto Beach, or South Carlsbad State Beach, as it's known to locals.

Sand dunes, beach volleyball courts, and fire pits (for the night owls among you), are just three reasons to love this spot. Be sure to pack snacks, lunch, or dinner fare for when you get peckish, though. South Ponto is one of the wildest and untamed beaches in the area — and pretty underdeveloped — so you'll find very little in the way of restaurants or cafes nearby. But think of it this way, you're swapping the hustle and bustle of busier bays for something much more special — an uninterrupted view of golden sand, crashing waves, and sunset's golden hues. What's not to love?

Black Sands Beach

Perfect for nature and wildlife lovers (and those who prefer something a little more secluded), Black Sands Beach offers 3.5 miles of glorious coastline — and spectacular black sand. This rare but eye-catching phenomenon is often found on beaches with nearby volcanic activity (cue the beautiful beaches of Hawaii) and is a mix of materials such as lava and minerals that have eroded over time. Black Sands Beach is nestled just north of the town of Shelter Cove, where many native fish and birds are known to have been spotted, so don't forget to pack the binoculars.

The drive down is all part of the adventure, thanks to a winding road that leads to the bay. It might be a little tricky to navigate, but it's what ensures this spot remains one of California's best-kept secrets. Be sure to take a look at local tide times and the weather before your visit, to keep you and your family safe on the beach.

Marshall's Beach

Looking for a hidden beach gem in San Francisco, one with front-row seats to the Golden Gate Bridge? Baker Beach offers just this, along with an easily accessible path down to the shore. But if you feel brave enough to take the windy, sloping track down to neighboring Marshall's Beach on foot, you're in for a real treat. Bird watching and admiring native wildflowers, along the bay, will keep you busy for a while, but it's the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, and the chance to get up close and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge, that give this secluded spot a real star-like quality.

In fact, the beach is so isolated that nudists often come here to sunbathe. Don't forget to bring a camera for snaps of the world-famous suspension bridge (not people), and be sure to check tide times — because it's so small, the beach is a no-go zone at high tide.

La Jolla Cove

Heralded as 'the jewel' of San Diego, La Jolla Cove is the perfect secluded spot to spend a day on the southern Californian coast. Shielded by the rocky sandstone cliffs of La Jolla Bay, it's a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers alike, with visibility up to 30 feet. If you're looking for something to keep the kids entertained, what could be better than front-row seats to wild sea lion colonies hanging out on the rocks? Just remember to give them their space.

If that wasn't enough, you can go crab, sea anemone, limpet, sea cucumber, and small fish spotting at La Jolla Cove's incredible tidal pools, although it's important to mention that these are only visible during low tide. If a more relaxed time at the beach is what you're after, take a little seaside picnic and perch on the cliffs at sunset. La Jolla Cove has all the amenities you might need — you'll find bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables on the bluffs. There's also a paved pedestrian walkway down to the beach, making the cove perfectly accessible for all.

Thousand Steps Beach

If it's extra breathing room you're looking for, this is the spot for you. The catch? It's 223 steep steps down to the shore, but the reward is immense. Think 400 yards of pristine sand, crashing waves, and tremendous tide pools. Thousand Steps Beach is also a popular playground for budding surfers and kayakers, but if you're looking for an adventure on land, head south along the shore in search of treasure at Laguna's most famous sea cave. Keep an eye on the tides though — walking back when the water's high isn't recommended.

You can pay for parking along the Pacific Coast Highway, try to get between 8th and 10th Street, and then make your way across to 9th Street on foot for access to the stairs. While it's a great spot to tick off your California bucket list, its steep descent means Thousands Steps Beach is pretty inaccessible for people with mobility concerns.

Gold Bluffs Beach

Nestled in California's Redwood State Park, Gold Bluffs Beach holds a special mystic charm, named after the golden-colored bluffs that overlook it. The coast, which extends for 10 long miles, is rugged and sandwiched by lush forests, making it pretty tricky to find, but it's perfectly deserted as a result. The sand here is a deep gray rather than the usual pristine white, which gives this beach an altogether different feel. It's budding with wildlife too — dolphins, seals, sea lions, and whales have all been spotted offshore, while overhead you might notice snowy plovers, eagles, falcons, and herons roaming the sky.

Well off the beaten track, Gold Bluffs is also a great place for a camping trip in the dunes with all the family — what could be better than drifting off to sleep with the sound of crashing ocean waves in the background? However, it gets pretty chilly here at night time, so bring a sweater (or two).

Latigo Beach

This is one of the most pristine beaches in all of Malibu, and yet only a handful of people know about it. Why? Despite being located just three miles from Malibu Pier, the locals don't exactly advertise the beach's location, and there may be a security guard at the parking lot giving out fines to anyone who parks. That said, Latigo Beach is perfectly legal to visit. Just make your way down via the steps, and don't leave your car next to the bay. You'll be rewarded with what feels like an idyllic retreat, perfect for topping up the tan or admiring the deep blue. In fact, the vibrant hues of Latigo's waters were ranked as the 12th bluest in the country.

If that wasn't enough, and since you're in one of the best hiking states across the U.S., there's no shortage of walking trails nearby, with breathtaking viewpoints of this coastal paradise. The Solstice Canyon Trail is a particularly popular one. If you can, make a day of your trip to Latigo Beach and hang around until sunset — uninterrupted panoramas of the great Pacific Ocean will make you glad you did.

Scott Creek Beach

Journey 15 miles north of Santa Cruz for the gem that is Scott Creek Beach — an idyllic and wide sandy stretch, with exceptionally rare free parking and a distinct lack of tourists. But the best part? Whole swathes of wildlife, including birds, dolphins, seals, and whales. It's for this reason that dogs aren't allowed here.

Scott Creek offers a breezy coastline, with perfect waves for wind and kite surfers, but swimming isn't recommended because of the strong undercurrents. If you can, hang around for the spectacular sunset and treat yourself to a picnic dinner. Or, you could start your day off right by parking in time for sunrise. Just don't forget to bring your jacket — it gets awfully chilly down here. Because of its remote location, there are very few facilities on offer. This means no toilets, and it's not the place for camping or open fires. But don't let this put you off. Scott Creek is well worth a spot on your bucket list if you like the idea of having a whole beach to yourself.

Muir Beach

A quiet cove tucked away in the redwood trees of Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach is your ticket to complete isolation and intimacy. The weather here can be changeable — sunny and warm one minute, overcast and foggy the next — but you'll have a ball no matter what. Start by exploring the tremendous tide pools on offer. Can you spot anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, and sea urchins? As you're in one of the country's best states for hiking, it would be a shame not to follow one of the countless Muir Woods walking trails next. For breathtaking views of the ocean and the Marin Headlands, Dias Ridge Trail is a stellar choice.

If you're lucky enough to visit Muir Beach between January and March, don't forget to make your way to Muir Beach Overlook. You'll find a long staircase, which gives you sweeping views of the coastline and, on a good day, the magnificent sight of gray whales making their migration from Alaska to Mexico. This gorgeous bay is especially popular with dog owners. In fact, it's one of the few beaches in the area that welcomes four-legged friends.

Point St. George Beach

If a windswept, empty beach is a little bit of you, don't miss Point St. George Beach. This rocky point sits three miles north of Crescent City and features a historic lighthouse, easily visible in the distance on a clear day. It's one of the best beaches for gazing out to sea, so sit back and enjoy panoramas of Oregon to the north, the Siskiyou Mountains inland, and the forested bluffs of the Redwood Empire to the south. Each of these sites form a spectacular backdrop against the cool blue Pacific Ocean.

But the beach's best feature is how secluded it is. Picture sloping sand and miles of remote coastline — the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of California's tourist trail. At Point St. George, you might not see another soul for miles, but the sound of crashing waves is all the company you'll need. Wildflowers blooming in the spring and the occasional visit from colonies of sea lions are a real bonus, ensuring there's an experience to be had for every type of beachgoer.

Lechuza Beach

Another hidden gem in Malibu, and one not too far from El Matador Beach, is Lechuza Beach. This tranquil spot feels like your own private slice of paradise, and a bit of an inside secret. It's the perfect place to unwind on the sand, taking in the stunning rock formations nearby, and more to the point, clear turquoise waters. So much so that Lechuza Beach attracts budding scuba divers and snorkelers, keen to explore the underwater world of colorful fish and kelp forests.

Like many other secluded beaches on this list, Lechuza has very little by way of facilities, and the steep descent down to the shoreline means it's pretty inaccessible for people with mobility concerns. There are no lifeguards on duty either, so it's your responsibility to stay safe in and out of the water. But if none of this bothers you, set off for a day in paradise with a packed lunch for when you get peckish. Or visit nearby Malibu Farm for fresh, farm-to-table cuisine and breathtaking ocean views to go with it.