Whatever kind of beaches are on your Northern California bucket list, you’ll likely find them on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge where HI Marin Headlands and HI Point Reyes hostels happen to be conveniently close to the scenic shores, making them excellent for sun-soaked sleeps after a day of beaching it up. Possibly the best thing about this corner of California is that summer stretches well into October, which means fall is prime beach time when everywhere else is settling into the cold.
So grab your surf gear and picnic baskets, get a hostel crew together and don’t forget the sunscreen. We’re going to the beach!
Rodeo Beach – HI Marin Headlands
One of the things you simply must do as soon as you check in at HI Marin Headlands is take the lagoon trail from the hostel to Rodeo Beach. It’s less than a mile walk and the reward is a cute little beach protected by cliffs and covered with a rainbow of colorful pebbles. While the water’s not safe for swimming, this is a favorite spot for surfers and those who value a good day of sun-bathing and picnicking with a serene soundtrack of waves crashing into giant boulders. Locals love to bring their dogs for a frolic, so you can get a bit of a furry fix if you’re an animal lover.
Tip: Keep an eye out for birds and local wildlife in the protected lagoon.
Muir Beach – HI Marin Headlands
It may take a little work to get to the secluded cove of Muir Beach – you have to take a trail down from the top of the coastal bluffs – but you’ll find that it’s completely worth it once you reach the serene sands. The beach is beloved by local sunbathers who enjoy the undisturbed coastline close to Muir Woods, and it’s also a great spot for wildlife viewing as the nearby network of wetlands and lagoons are home to a number of shorebirds, amphibians and freshwater fish.
Tip: The northern end of Muir Beach is clothing optional, so only venture that way if you’re feeling brave.
Stinson Beach – HI Marin Headlands
Billed as one of the best swimming beaches in Northern California, Stinson Beach is for those who like to pack some action into their trip to the seaside. Surfers, hang gliders, kayakers, and boogie boarders can all be found making the most of the soft white sands and agreeable waters, and swimmers can get their fix knowing that lifeguards are on duty (generally from Memorial Day to Labor Day). You can also rent a volleyball set from the main lifeguard tower if you’re up for a bit of friendly competition between mates and fellow beach goers, or simply take in the summery vibes from your picnic blanket. The beach is equipped with an extensive picnic area with tables and barbecues, meaning you can easily spend a full day here getting your fill of the salty sea air.
Tip: Be sure to check out the town of Stinson Beach for a slice of California coast charm.
Bolinas Beach – HI Point Reyes
Though the locals have tried their best to keep this bit of California to themselves, the secret is out and those in the know head to Bolinas Beach for a quiet couple of hours by the sea. Also known as Brighton Beach, the shore is at the mouth of a lagoon and the gently rolling waves make this a prime spot for stand-up paddleboarders and surfers who are just starting out. The beach is technically more of a collection of long narrow strips of sand hidden underneath cliffs and is quite prone to foggy days, making it extra secluded. This is where you go when you’re craving that long walk on the sand, because more often than not, you’ll have this beach to yourself.
Tip: Sometimes the sign to Bolinas is removed or hidden by locals, but you can get to the beach if you turn onto Olema Bolinas Road to the north end of the lagoon.
Limantour Beach – HI Point Reyes
Take a nice flat hike (about 2.8 miles on the Coast Trail) from HI Point Reyes hostel to Limantour beach and experience the rush of fresh salty ocean spray and beauty of unspoiled coastline. Limantour is flanked by wildlife and marshes at one end and tall sand dunes and cliffs in the opposite direction. It’s often cooler and windier here than other parts of the coast, but those who can brave the freezing waters (usually with a wetsuit) go for a swim. Otherwise, this beach is best for exploring, combing for shells and other treasures or spying some local birds amongst the freshwater reeds.
Tip: Be sure to dress in layers: even on a fairly warm day the weather can be unpredictable.
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