The Ultimate Guide to Monterey Beaches (and Where to Stay Near Each)

A beach-by-beach guide to Monterey's most beloved beaches.
Monterey beaches
Monterey Beaches (Photo: @Walker.Pixels via Twenty20)

Monterey tops a lot of travelers’ California bucket lists and draws visitors from around the world with the promise of beautiful beaches and wild coastline. It’s a place I know and love, and when I talk to people about making the most of a trip to the towns, sights, and beaches of the Monterey Bay, I tell them that Monterey is pretty spread out, so it’s a good idea to go at it with a game plan than to wander and hope you find something cool.

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First-time visitors to this stretch of the California Coast are sometimes surprised by Monterey’s beach offerings, which definitely aren’t the Southern California sunshiney beach variety. They’re more about misty mornings, powerful surf, and a bay so rich in wildlife you’ve got a good chance at seeing something spectacular even if you stay above the surface.

So pack a jacket and get ready for some serious coastal beauty (and if you’re lucky, some cool glimpses of “charismatic megafauna,” fancyspeak for whales). Here’s what you need to know about Monterey beaches, plus my beach-by-beach guide to some of the region’s most beloved beaches.

Jump to a section: Best Beaches | What to Know About Monterey Beaches | How to Get to Monterey

Monterey’s Best Beaches

Whether you’re looking to hit the beach in the city of Monterey or want to explore farther afield in Monterey County, you’re sure to find some of the nation’s most scenic sand in this Central California coastal wonderland. Here are some of the best beaches in Monterey.

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1. Del Monte Beach

Monterey, California

family on beach at sunset at Del Monte Beach in Monterey
Monterey’s Del Monte Beach is a favorite local spot for surfing, picnicking, and beachcombing (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: A local vibe.

Del Monte Beach is right in Monterey, and is a pretty beach that stretches through residential neighborhoods (in fact, the neighborhood just inland from the beach shares its name). I like that it brings out a mix of tourists and locals, all sharing the sand and surf and just generally enjoying a slower pace of life.

It’s a fave local spot for surfing, and since it’s a long beach, it’s good for walking (you can bring dogs on-leash) and beach combing (there’s sea glass). The beach has a well-maintained boardwalk trail through its dunes and also offers benches and picnic tables. Another plus: its location gives Del Monte Beach a little more protection from the wind.

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Parking can be a challenge, so give yourself some extra time (and patience) if you’re driving here.

Where to Stay Near Del Monte Beach

The Hotel Pacific is centrally located in Monterey and has a nice boutique hotel vibe. Good for families and anyone who appreciates a little extra room (and who doesn’t), the all-suites offerings include fireplaces, free Wi-Fi, and patios or balconies, plus complimentary continental breakfast.

2. Lovers Point Beach

Pacific Grove, California

View of kids sitting on a bench along the walking path looking out at Lovers Point Beach in Monterey/Pacific Grove
You can see Lovers Point Beach from the path that connects Monterey and its neighbor Pacific Grove (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Best Monterey beach for: A unique sunrise and artistic inspiration.

Pacific Grove is a cute town that’s walking distance (even for kids) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I love it equally for its cute downtown, its annual monarch butterfly migration (happens in fall), and its ultra-charming Lovers Point Beach.

The coolest thing about Lovers Point Beach is that its east-facing location makes it one of the only places on the West Coast where you can watch the sun rise over the water—a great reason to visit early in the morning.

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It’s also a popular spot for plein-air painting and nature photography. Surfers, kayakers, swimmers, and scuba divers flock here as well. The beach shares waterfront views with Lovers Point Park, and I’ve often seen people there picnicking, strolling, and just admiring the view. The park also has a beach volleyball court, children’s swimming pool, and a snack bar.

Where to Stay Near Lovers Point Beach

If you’re not traveling with kids, check out one of the inns or B&Bs in the beautiful Victorian houses that gaze out over the Pacific close to Lovers Point Beach. The Green Gables Inn and the Martine Inn are two good choices.

If you have kids, though, a better bet is the Intercontinental The Clement Monterey. It’s super close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and is a 10- or 15-minute walk (or a very short drive) to Lovers Point Beach and the charming restaurants, bakeries, and shops of Pacific Grove. I’ve stayed there with my kids and it has been comfortable and easy. Note that there is a pool but it’s on the small side (that did not slow my kids down, though).

3. Spanish Bay Beach

Pacific Grove (Pebble Beach), California

Waves crashing and birds flying at Spanish Bay, a Monterey beach
Located near Moss Beach and Asilomar State Beach, Spanish Bay Beach is popular with surfers (Photo: @malisunshine via Twenty20)

Best Monterey beach for: A 17-mile drive to stack rocks and wander dunes.

Maybe you’ve heard of the private and famously wealthy community of Pebble Beach. It’s home to a world-class golf course and Spanish Bay Beach. This public beach sits between Moss Beach to the south and Asilomar State Beach to the north along the famed 17-Mile Drive.

Something a little surprising to me on my first trip along the 17-Mile drive (aside from the fact that it’s a paid stretch of road) was how hard it was to get out and interact with the scenery. But Spanish Bay Beach gives you a chance to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and soak up all the glorious scenery you’d otherwise just see through the car window.

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Spanish Bay Beach has a wooden boardwalk that meanders through the dunes, and though it isn’t safe for swimming, it is popular among surfers and is a great spot to watch them from shore.

The last time I was at the beach, I saw a lot of cairns (those small and pretty stacks of rocks that people sometimes leave in nature). Someone told me that it’s been a beach tradition here for more than a decade. When you’re there, keep an eye out for them or add your own.

Where to Stay Near Spanish Bay Beach

For the full Pebble Beach experience, stay at the upscale Inn at Spanish Bay. Guests praise the spacious rooms, great views, and proximity to world-class golf.

4. Monterey Municipal Beach

Monterey, California

aerial view of coast of Monterey and Monterey Municipal Beach
Monterey Municipal Beach is the city-owned beach near Wharf 2 Pier (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: A swim before or after your restaurant lunch

Also known as Monterey City Beach and Monterey Municipal Beach at the Wharf, Monterey Municipal Beach is the city-owned beach near Wharf 2 Pier. This beach marks one end of the Monterey State Beach chain of beaches in Monterey. Its north-facing location makes it safer for swimming than other Monterey beaches, and that, along with its central location, means it’s often relatively crowded.

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This dog-friendly Monterey beach also has restaurants along its pier, as well as kayak rental shops. Parking is available in a paid lot, though you may also be able to find street parking nearby. If you’re going to Cannery Row, the aquarium, or another downtown attraction, this beach is a nice option because you can just park once and see it all.

Where to Stay Near Monterey Municipal Beach

Though it’s not on the beach, the family-friendly Merritt House Hotel does offer a central location plus amenities like free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and a homey vibe.

5. Asilomar State Beach

Pacific Grove, California

Monterey's Asilomar State Beach in daytime with beachgoers
Asilomar State Beach has a natural preserve, a scenic trail, and architecturally significant buildings (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: A beach-adjacent overnight.

There’s a lot going on at Asilomar. That’s because Asilomar State Beach is also home to a 20th century Julia Morgan-designed summer-camp-turned conference center that also hosts overnight leisure guests. The state beach and conference center also includes Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve. If you’re looking for a daytrip beach, this is a good option.

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The beach itself is home to the relatively easy Asilomar Coast trail, which leads visitors along the flat sandy stretches of beach, around rocky coves, and past tide pools. Asilomar’s park staff offer cultural and natural history walks, and you can also take a self-guided tour. No collecting or fishing is allowed on this beach, as it’s part of a marine protected area.

Where to Stay Near Asilomar State Beach

Historic lodgings and a peaceful location are on offer at Asilomar Hotel and Conference Grounds, which feels like an unfussy but packed-with-history seaside refuge nestled between pine forests and sandy beaches.

6. McAbee Beach

Monterey, California

McAbee Beach Monterey- mural and water
Not far from Monterey Bay Aquarium, McAbee Beach is a sliver of a beach that’s a popular launch spot for kayakers (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: A low-effort beach stop when you’re sightseeing in Monterey.

Just a short walk from the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, tiny McAbee Beach is usually (and unsurprisingly) crowded with visitors looking to take a break from wandering Cannery Row. When I took my kids to the aquarium when they were on the younger side, I always appreciated how close this beach was.

There’s a caveat, though, and that’s that tides matter quite a bit here: At high tide, it’s just a small sliver of sand, while at low tide there’s a little more room to roam. It’s also a launching spot for kayaks setting out to explore the wildlife-rich Monterey Bay. McAbee Beach is located at the base of Hoffman Avenue along the south side of Cannery Row.

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If you’re looking for a quick beach break while sightseeing, McAbee Beach fits the bill. But if you’re hoping to soak in some Pacific coastal splendor and have room to stretch out, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Where to Stay Near McAbee Beach

The Holiday Inn Express Cannery Row offers a central location near Monterey’s most popular sights, plus free parking, breakfast, and Wi-Fi.

7. Salinas River State Beach

Moss Landing, California

Salinas River – Beach Horseback Riding in Moss Landing
Salinas River State Beach in Moss Landing boasts some amazing bird sightings (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: Bird watching at the beach.

Bird lovers rejoice: Salinas River State Beach is a popular place to spot American kestrels, western snowy plovers, red-tailed hawks, California brown pelicans, white-crowned sparrows, and many other birds. The state beach includes the Salinas River Mouth Natural Preserve and Salinas River Dunes National Preserve.

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A dune trail links the parking lots to the coastal access points. Salinas River State Beach is also a popular fishing spot. And though you might see some surfers out in the water, note that it’s not a swimming beach: Rip-current and offshore drop-offs make this stretch of coast particularly hazardous.

Where to Stay Near Salinas River State Beach

The Captain’s Inn at Moss Landing offers peaceful surroundings and plenty of nature, and is best for couples or families with older kids. For families with younger kids, SpringHill Suites in nearby Marina offers comfortable guest suites.

8. Monterey State Beach

Monterey, California

Best Monterey beach for: Swimming with kids.

Monterey’s largest beach, Monterey State Beach, shares waterfront with Monterey Bay Waterfront Park and the Monterey Bay Recreational Trail. The beach, park, and trail combine to offer plenty of wide open sand, sand volleyball courts, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and running and walking paths. Monterey State Beach, made up of three separate beaches about a mile apart, offers tide pools and kid-friendly wading thanks to the sand shelf that gently slopes into the Monterey Bay.

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In fact, it’s one of the only Monterey beaches that has been deemed safe for water recreation (that means swimming). Dogs are allowed on the beach south of the Roberts parking, but are not allowed north of the Seaside parking lot. Near the beach, you can find spots to rent kayaks, canoes, and bikes.

Where to Stay Near Monterey State Beach

The family-friendly Hampton Inn Monterey offers a central location, free Wi-Fi and breakfast, and a fitness center.

9. San Carlos Beach

Monterey, California

scuba divers going into the water at San Carlos Beach in Monterey
Scuba divers use San Carlos Beach as an entry point to underwater adventures (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: An easy beach stop.

Walk to the western end of Cannery Row and you’ll find Monterey’s San Carlos Beach. Grab a picnic table or relax on the sandy beach, the lawn, or a bench. This beach is popular with families who come for the wading, and with scuba divers that use the beach as an entry point to underwater remains of the cannery industry that once thrived in Monterey.

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While San Carlos isn’t the region’s most beautiful beach, it’s easy to access from Monterey’s tourist center and it affords great views of the bay.

Where to Stay Near San Carlos Beach

The boutique Wave Street Inn offers unpretentious comfort and style that’s welcoming to families, couples, and anyone else looking for a cool coastal vibe in their hotel.

10. Carmel River State Beach

Carmel, California

two people sitting looking out at the Pacific from the Carmel River Beach
Locals meditate and do yoga on Carmel River State Beach. Sometimes there are classes you can join if you want to get in on the relaxation (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Best Monterey beach for: Beach picnics and dog walks.

I like the vibe at the sandy and wide Carmel River State Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s a stop on the Central Coast Birding Trail and includes the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Preserve. In addition to egrets and terns, you might also spot Great Blue Herons, Virginia Rails, and other coastal and migratory birds. I’m not much of a birder, but it was hard not to get excited about the variety of species here, and I found myself asking people with binoculars a lot of questions about what birds we were looking at.

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The Monastery Beach area of Carmel River State Beach is popular among divers, as it sits next to marine-life rich kelp forests (note, though, that the beach can have severe rip tides). Kayakers use this Carmel beach as a launch spot, since it offers convenient access to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This dog-friendly Monterey beach is also a popular spot among the canine set.

Where to Stay Near Carmel River State Beach

Carmel has a charming array of small hotels, B&Bs, and inns near Carmel River State Beach. Among the more affordable options is the Carmel Bay View Inn.

11. Garrapata State Beach

Carmel, California

Garrapata State Park looking through to Garrapata Beach
A hidden gem among Monterey beaches, Garrapata State Beach is reached by hiking from an unmarked trailhead (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: A hidden wonderland you can have to yourself.

Garrapata State Beach, part of Garrapata State Park, occupies a gorgeous stretch of coastline south of Carmel at the northern end of Big Sur. You have to know where to look to find this hidden gem: There are no signs to mark the location other than three numbered turnouts along the highway: You’re looking for gates 18 or 19 to get to the beach.

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The hike to this beach is lined with spring and summer wildflowers, and once you’re on the beach, you’ll discover delights including little caves, small waterfalls, and creeks that flow right onto the beach. Dangerous surf makes this a non-swimming beach, but you won’t want to miss it.

Where to Stay Near Garrapata State Beach

A few minutes up the road from Garrapata State Beach, the well-reviewed Carmel Mission Inn offers a boutique hotel setting and a heated pool.

12. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Carmel, California

Two people looking out over Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Monterey
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a wonderland of rare plants and archeological sites (Photo:

Best Monterey beach for: A full day out of coastal exploration.

Point Lobos has beaches, yes, but it’s also so much more. Rare plants, archeological sites, one of California’s richest marine habitats, unique geology, and abundant wildlife characterize the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

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Point Lobos is a few miles south of Carmel at the northern edge of Big Sur. The reserve has been called the “crown jewel of the State Park System.” It’s one of the few places where the region’s famed Monterey Cypresses grow natively, and a place where it’s possible to whale watch from shore during certain times of year. The reserve has eight distinct beaches, including Gibson Beach, Headland Cove, Hidden Beach, Moss Cove, Sea Lion Cove, Weston Beach, Whalers Cove, and, most famously, the mesmerizing emerald-green China Cove. Erosion, storms, and maintenance work can close trails and access points, so always check the state park website before you go.

Where to Stay Near Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

The closest hotel to Point Lobos is the much-loved-but-pricey Tickled Pink Inn. If you’re willing to backtrack to Carmel, you’ll find many options, including the family-friendly Best Western Carmel’s Town House Lodge.

Things to Know about Monterey and Its Beaches

1) Monterey is both a city and a county. (It’s also a bay and a peninsula.)

No this isn’t specifically about beaches, but I think it’s a handy thing to know when you’re sitting down to plan your Monterey adventure. When you’re thinking about the best beaches in Monterey, you can either focus on beaches in the city of Monterey or expand your scope to include beaches in the cities and towns of Monterey County, including Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove, Moss Landing, and Big Sur. My suggestion: Think big and explore the beaches (and cute towns) of Monterey beyond its city boundaries.

2) Monterey weather tends to be chilly.

Even in summer, fog and wind can be common. That said, Monterey County averages nearly 270 sunny days per year, and the temperature ranges from the high 50s to the low 70s Fahrenheit year-round. I’ve visited in every season and my best advice is: Pack layers and dress in layers because you might be cold one minute and hot the next. And if you forget to dress in enough layers, head to pretty much any cafe, restaurant, or shop: Most sell branded sweatshirts, and it’s a great souvenir of your visit (I speak from experience).

3) The water is cold and often dangerous

If you’re hoping for a sunbathing-and-swimming kind of Pacific Ocean family beach vacation, look farther south along the Central Coast to San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara, or farther south to a Southern California destination like Los Angeles or San Diego.

Swimming is possible at some Monterey beaches, but it’s vital to pay attention to signage and take warnings about safety seriously. Monterey’s incredible offshore submarine canyon and chilly water temperatures support an amazing diversity of marine life, but the underwater topography also means that many Monterey beaches have major rip tides and undertow.

4) There’s plenty to do on Monterey beaches

Beaches in Monterey promise some of the continent’s most beautiful stretches of coast. And wildlife—from sea life to onshore animals and local and migratory birds—thrives here, so there are constant chances to see animals in their natural environment.

Kayaking, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and scuba diving are all popular pursuits, and local outfitters can both rent you gear and take you out. There are plenty of coastal paths, which makes walking along (and sometimes between) beaches simple and easy.

Getting to Monterey and Its Beaches

Monterey is about two hours by car from San Francisco and about an hour and 20 minutes from the airport in San Jose. While there is shuttle service between San Francisco International Airport or San Jose International Airport and Monterey, most visitors like the flexibility to explore the Monterey region that a car rental affords.

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Christine Sarkis
A traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor, Christine Sarkis is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationist. She is the former Executive Editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine, she has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, Here & Now, Life Kit, and California Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir. Christine and her husband first met in Paris, and travel remains a big part of their shared experience. With their two kids in tow, they have piloted a barge down canals in France, befriended llamas in Peru, tended olive trees in Italy, and gone snorkeling with sea turtles in Hawaii. The family lives in California and loves traveling around the state. Their California favorites include Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.