Affiliate Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. We may earn a small commission if readers clicks through and make a purchase. See Affiliate Disclosure here.

11 Charming NorCal Coastal Towns That Are TOO GOOD To Ignore 😍

Northern California has some of the best coastal towns in the ENTIRE WORLD.

And that makes it IMPOSSIBLE to choose which to visit.

But this post takes the thinking out of the equation.

All of these places are charming in their own right, but these aren’t just the OBVIOUS places.

So as much as we love San Francisco, you won’t be seeing it on THIS list.

This list is just for charming coastal towns that you might not have even heard of.

Our favorite is number 11. What’s yours? πŸ€”

1. Crescent City

2022 Population: 5,983

Crescent City is a gem on the Northern California coast with plenty to offer.

It’s the perfect spot for outdoor lovers, with the majestic Redwoods just a short drive away at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

pebbles beach crescent city

The beaches in the area, like Enderts Beach and Pebble Beach, are great for walking on the sand, beachcombing and tide pooling.

batery point lighthouse crescent city

For history buffs, the Battery Point Lighthouse, accessible only at low tide, offers tours and a peek into the past.

Fishing and kayaking in the harbor are popular activities, providing a closer look at local marine life.

βœ… Insider Tip: Check out the Crescent City Harbor’s seafood restaurants for the freshest catch.

Many visitors miss the chance to try the local Dungeness crab, caught and cooked on the same day.

2. Trinidad

2022 Population: 332

Trinidad stands out with its stunning coastal views and small-town charm.

This town is perfect for those who love the sea, with Trinidad State Beach offering sandy shores and rocky tide pools.

trinidad state beach california sunset

The Trinidad Head Memorial Lighthouse, though moved from its original location, remains a historical landmark worth visiting.

Nature lovers will appreciate the easy access to hiking trails in the nearby Redwood forests.

Trinidad also serves as a gateway to exploring the larger Humboldt County’s natural beauty, including the scenic Patrick’s Point State Park (now called Sue-meg State Park).

patricks point state park sue-meg (1)

There are also some amazing lesser-known California beaches nearby like Luffenholtz Beach.

βœ… Insider Tip: Visit in the early fall to enjoy the Trinidad Fish Festival, a lesser-known event that celebrates the local catch with food, music, and crafts.

3. Fort Bragg

2022 Population: 6,881

Fort Bragg is renowned for its rugged coastline and the famous Glass Beach, where the sea turns trash into treasures.

Visitors flock here for the unique sea glass that decorates the shoreline, a colorful reminder of nature’s power to transform.


The Skunk Train offers a historic ride through the dense Redwood forests, providing a glimpse into the area’s logging past.

For those looking to explore marine life, the Noyo Harbor offers fishing trips, whale-watching tours, and fresh seafood.

fort bragg coast california

Don’t miss the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, showcasing the region’s floral diversity with ocean views.

βœ… Insider Tip: Glass Beach looks most vibrant during sunrise and sunset, when the light makes the sea glass sparkle.

Plan a visit during these times for the best experience.

4. Mendocino

2022 Population: 731

Mendocino is a picturesque village perched atop seaside cliffs, known for its Victorian homes and vibrant arts scene.

Art galleries, local theaters, and quaint shops fill the historic downtown, offering a glimpse into the creative community.

The Mendocino Headlands State Park surrounds the town, offering trails with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Whale watching here is a must-do in the winter and spring when gray whales make their migration.

For a taste of local history, the Ford House Museum provides insights into the town’s past.

mendocino coast sinkhole

βœ… Insider Tip: Many don’t know about the hidden coves and beaches accessible from the headlands.

Try and give these places a visit if you can.

5. Gualala

2022 Population: 2,093

Gualala charms visitors with its scenic river and ocean views, nestled right where the Gualala River meets the Pacific Ocean.

gualala california (1)

This town is a gateway to outdoor adventures, offering kayaking and canoeing on the Gualala River amidst towering Redwoods.

Art lovers will enjoy the Gualala Arts Center, hosting exhibitions, workshops, and performances year-round.

gualala california 2

For beachgoers, Gualala Point Regional Park features trails along the bluff and access to a sandy beach which is perfect for picnics and bird watching.

The local community is vibrant and welcoming, with farmers’ markets and festivals celebrating the area’s natural beauty and culture.

Gualala Point Regional Park Campground is also on our list of top places for beach camping in Norcal.

Related Reading: Best Places For BEACHFRONT CAMPING In NorCal

βœ… Insider Tip: In May, the Gualala Arts Center hosts the Architectural Tour, showcasing unique homes and gardens in the area.

It’s a rare opportunity to see innovative designs harmonizing with the stunning landscape.

6. Bodega Bay

2022 Population: 1,186

Bodega Bay is best known for its spectacular coastal views and fresh seafood, making it a hotspot for foodies and nature lovers.

bodega bay california

Bird watching and hiking at Bodega Head offer stunning vistas and a chance to spot local wildlife, including migrating whales.

The town gained fame as the filming location for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” and fans can visit sites seen in the movie.


For a day on the water, charter boats offer fishing trips and tours, promising a direct taste of the Pacific’s bounty.

Golfers will find a challenge at The Links at Bodega Harbour, with ocean views from every hole.

βœ… Insider Tip: Doran Regional Park features a long sandy beach perfect for flying kites and windy day walks, often missed by those heading straight for the headlands. It’s also a top camping spot in NorCal.

7. Sausalito

2022 Population: 7,096

Sausalito is a picturesque waterfront town with stunning views of San Francisco across the bay.

Its Mediterranean vibe is complemented by waterfront restaurants, art galleries, and boutique shops, making it a perfect day trip from the city.

sausalito hills california

Kayaking and sailing are popular, with the marina offering a unique perspective of the Bay Area.

The Bay Area Discovery Museum is a hit for families, offering interactive exhibits for kids.

sausalito waterfront (1)

For a relaxing end to your visit, stroll along Bridgeway for breathtaking city skyline views.

βœ… Insider Tip: Hidden away from the main tourist paths, the Sausalito houseboat community offers a colorful and eclectic look into local life.

Tours are available to explore this vibrant living art.

8. Half Moon Bay

2022 Population: 11,176

Half Moon Bay is famous for its dramatic coastline and the annual Mavericks surf contest, where some of the world’s biggest waves challenge elite surfers.

The town’s Main Street is lined with shops, galleries, and eateries, embodying small-town charm.

half moon bay california (1)

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Coastal Trail offers miles of scenic walking and biking paths along the bluffs.

Half Moon Bay State Beach is ideal for picnics, beachcombing, and sunset views.

Nearby, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve provides hiking trails through lush Redwood forests.

βœ… Insider Tip: Visit in October to experience the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, celebrating the local pumpkin harvest with crafts, food, and a giant pumpkin weigh-off.

9. Capitola

2022 Population: 9,659

Capitola is a vibrant seaside town known for its colorful Venetian Hotel by the beach and the relaxed, festive atmosphere of the Capitola Village.

It’s one of those places in California that will make you feel like you’re in Europe.

The town’s wharf and beach are perfect for sunbathing, surfing, and paddleboarding, with rental shops nearby for all your gear needs.

capitola california

Capitola hosts several events throughout the year, including the famous Capitola Art & Wine Festival, which brings together local wineries and artists.

For those who enjoy a scenic stroll, the Capitola Historical Museum offers insights into the town’s rich past.

capitola beach seagulls

Nearby, the Santa Cruz area provides even more outdoor activities, from redwood hikes to exploring the boardwalk.

βœ… Insider Tip: Don’t miss the chance to explore the town’s hidden alleys and courtyards, where you’ll find unique shops and local eateries away from the main tourist paths.

10. Monterey

2022 Population: 29,571

Monterey is a city rich in history and marine beauty, famous for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which showcases a wide array of sea life.

Cannery Row, once the sardine-packing hub of the area, now hosts shops, restaurants, and historic sites.

cannery row california monterrey

Nearby you can take the scenic 17-Mile Drive which takes visitors through Pebble Beach, offering stunning coastal views, majestic forests, and world-renowned golf courses.

For those who love the outdoors, kayaking and whale-watching tours provide close encounters with marine wildlife.

monterey bay northern california

The city’s vibrant downtown is filled with historic buildings, including the old Monterey Customs House, where California was first claimed by the United States.

βœ… Insider Tip: Many overlook the Monterey State Historic Park, a collection of significant homes and buildings where you can dive deeper into the area’s past.

11. Carmel-by-the-Sea

2022 Population: 3,146

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a fairy-tale town with storybook cottages, white sandy beaches, and upscale galleries that capture the hearts of all who visit.

carmel by the sea 4

This quaint town also boasts the Carmel Mission, a historic church with beautiful gardens and a museum.

The town’s beach offers stunning sunsets that you’ll never forget and peaceful walks that send your worries away.

Oh, and the beach is dog-friendly too! 🐢

carmel by the sea duo

It’s also a popular wine destination with 18 wine-tasting rooms where you can try the local Mendocino County Vintages.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

For outdoor enthusiasts, the nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve provides trails with breathtaking views and wildlife spotting opportunities.

βœ… Insider Tip: Venture to the hidden courtyards and passageways of Carmel for unique shops and secret gardens not found on the main streets.

These might be some of the best coastal towns in NorCal, but what if you want to visit SoCal coastal towns instead?

Well, you’re DEFINITELY going to want to read this -> SoCal Beach Towns That Are TOO GOOD To Ignore 🀯

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.

Share to...