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The ONLY Black Sand Beaches Worth Visiting In Californiaūüďć

Ever wanted to visit a black sand beach in California?

Well I’ll tell you now that it’s hard.

Black sand beaches are rare in California, but there are a few that you can visit.

And we’re about to reveal them now.

ūüö® These beaches can have surprising sneaker waves and strong currents. Do not swim at these beaches and always follow the warning signs in the area. Stay safe.

1. Black Sand Beach, Shelter Cove in Whitethorn

black sand beach california

Location and Access

Co-ordinates: 40.04596127393841, -124.07886076555414

Black Sand Beach, located at the south end of the long coastline between the town of Shelter Cove and Mattole River Campground, is part of the King Range National Conservation Area. 

To access it, visitors should turn onto Beach Road from Shelter Cove Road after a scenic drive from Highway 101 through Garberville. 

From Garberville the beach is around a 50 minute drive.

At the end of Beach Road, you’ll find the Black Sands Beach Trailhead and a parking lot.

The beach is known for its distinctive black sand and pebbles, and it’s a starting point for the Lost Coast Trail‚Äč‚Äč.

Camping and Accommodation

While camping directly on Black Sand Beach isn’t allowed, backcountry camping permits are available at the trailhead. 

The nearby Shelter Cove offers a range of accommodations, including hotels with ocean views like the following:

  • The Shelter Cove Oceanfront Inn
  • Spyglass Inn at Shelter Cove
  • Inn of the Lost Coast

Beach Characteristics

The beach is composed of black sand and pebbles, typical of black sand beaches, and offers expansive areas for walking and beachcombing. 

Its color can vary depending on conditions‚Äč‚Äč.

The wetter the weather, the darker the sand but even when the weather is dry the shore still takes on a grayish black color.

Activities and Recreation

Visitors can enjoy beachcombing, birdwatching and backpacking. 

The beach is an excellent spot for hiking along the Lost Coast Trail, with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding nature‚Äč‚Äč.

Additional Information

There’s no entrance fee for Black Sands Beach. 

The beach may have access restrictions during certain times of the year, especially in winter, due to high tides and rough seas. 

ALWAYS check local conditions and tide charts before visiting since it can be a dangerous beach.

Also, keep in mind that cell service can be unreliable in this remote location‚Äč‚Äč.

2. Little Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove in Whitethorn

Location and Accessibility

Coordinates: 40.03952196756617, -124.08024084634518

Little Black Sands Beach, situated at the northern end of the charming resort town of Shelter Cove in Whitethorn, California, is a more intimate counterpart to the larger Black Sands Beach located further north. 

This beach is known for its two coves adorned with dark, pebbly volcanic sand, and is flanked by imposing rocks at various points. 

It’s definitely more on the pebbly side than sand though.

To reach this scenic location, visitors should follow Shelter Cove Road then turn onto Upper Pacific Drive.

Turn onto Lower Pacific Drive and then to Dolphin Drive, where the beach can be accessed from a parking lot at the south end of the beach.

The journey to Shelter Cove involves a lengthy, winding drive from Highway 101 at Garberville, adding to the area’s remote and secluded charm‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč.

Bring shoes that are suitable for the pebbly beach.

Camping and Accommodation

The same information for Black Sands Beach applies. (See above)

Beach Characteristics

Little Black Sands Beach boasts a slightly different character compared to its larger sibling. 

The beach is characterized by its pebbly volcanic sand, which gives it a unique texture and appearance. 

The presence of massive rocks at the beginning, middle, and end of the beach creates a distinctive and dramatic landscape, ideal for photography and nature appreciation‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč.

Activities and Amenities

Visitors to Little Black Sands Beach can engage in whale watching (if the season is right) and beach walking.

The beach’s serene environment makes it an excellent spot for those looking to relax and enjoy nature’s beauty. 

Additional Information

Parking at Little Black Sands Beach is free, and the beach forms part of the King Range National Conservation Area. 

This area is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and is a must-visit for those exploring California’s Lost Coast. 

Visitors are encouraged to check local conditions before planning their trip, especially during winter or adverse weather conditions, as access might be restricted‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč.

Little Black Sands Beach offers a more secluded and intimate beach experience compared to its larger counterpart, making it a perfect destination for those seeking tranquility and a close encounter with nature’s rugged beauty.

3. Black Sands Beach in Marin Headlands

Location and Access

Co-ordinates: 37.82433, -122.50869

Black Sands Beach, nestled in the Marin Headlands within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offers a stunning and secluded spot south of Sausalito. 

To reach this beach, you’ll need to head north across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, then west on Conzelman Road. 

The beach is accessed via a steep dirt path with wooden steps from a small parking lot known as the Upper Fisherman‚Äôs Trailhead, located on Conzelman Road. 

The parking lot is quite small, accommodating about a dozen cars, so it’s advisable to arrive early. 

There’s also a small bike rack at the trailhead for those cycling from nearby areas like Sausalito or San Francisco‚Äč‚Äč.

Camping and Accommodation

Camping is not permitted at Black Sands Beach in Sausalito but luckily there are quite a few nearby campgrounds in the Godlen Gate National Recreation area.

Because of the location you’ll also have plenty of hotels to choose from in nearby Sausalito and San Francisco which are only a short drive away.

Beach Characteristics

This south-facing dark sand beach is situated below the Marin Headlands and offers a peaceful retreat with its unique black sand and stunning views of the surrounding area. 

At high tide, the beach can be quite narrow, so checking tide charts before your visit is recommended. 

Additionally, the area west over the rocks is known as a clothing-optional beach, so visitors should be aware if they plan to explore beyond the main beach area‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč.

Hiking and Activities

The hike to Black Sands Beach is short but steep, involving about 0.3 miles of wooden stairs with significant elevation gain. 

Proper footwear and layered clothing are recommended due to the steep descent and potentially cool beach temperatures. 

While the beach is ideal for hiking, photography and sunbathing, it’s important to note that the steep access may not be suitable for visitors with mobility limitations. 

Additionally, this beach is not dog-friendly, so it’s best to leave pets at home‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč.

Nearby Attractions

After a visit to Black Sands Beach, you can explore the charming town of Sausalito, which is just a short drive away. 

The town offers a variety of dining options, art galleries and other attractions.

For those with dogs, Rodeo Beach is a nearby dog-friendly beach option. 

The Marin Headlands area also offers other hiking opportunities, such as the Rodeo Beach Coastal Trail, providing stunning views and a chance to explore more of the picturesque coastline‚Äč‚Äč.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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