If you’re itching for a great way to experience the great California outdoors, look no further than one of the state’s best features: its sparkling coastline. Whether it's up on the north end where the early morning fog opens up to cold and rocky waters, or down on the south coast where the hiking trails share space with sunny surfing beaches, California has you covered. We rounded up 10 of the best trails to explore along the dazzling California coastline for all hiking levels.
Don’t let the name scare you; the Damnation Creek Trail encompasses some of the best that California has to offer with its combination of lush old-growth redwood forests and rugged coastline. The 3.4-mile out-and-back trail is part of eight coastal miles that make up Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park near the Oregon border. It’s rated as difficult, so you’ll have to work for it, and hikers should always be prepared for roadblocks since the trail features a couple of older bridges. The trail intersects with the famous 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail at several points but no longer provides beach access.
Part of stunning Sonoma Coast State Park about an hour and a half from San Francisco, the Kortum Trail is a 5-mile round-trip trail perfect for all skill levels. Known for its wildflowers and offshore sea stacks, hikers can spend hours exploring the side trips down to the beach or tackling trailside rock formations. It connects two beaches, Wright’s Beach to the south and Blind Beach to the north, and features many opportunities to watch seabirds and whales offshore.
Just 12 miles south of the Kortum Trail, the Bodega Bay Trailhead is found right on the tip of Bodega Bay’s peninsula. The trailhead actually has two sides, with an east trail and a west trail that both meander along the coastline. The east side is an easy 1.7-mile loop that will take you past bluffs and views of sandy beaches below, while the west side’s 1.2-mile loop includes a view of Horseshoe Cove and the Bodega Marine Reserve. Despite its isolated location, it is a pretty popular spot with both locals and visitors who come to relax, fly kites, or picnic near the rocky edge. The area right past the parking lot near the restrooms is one of the best spots in the state for whale watching, so be sure to keep a look out or bring some binoculars.
Find Palomarin Trails inside Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, just about 3 miles from the famous lighthouse. The trail leads to 40-foot-tall Alamere Falls, which cascades onto Wildcat Beach (or into the ocean, depending on the tide). The rewarding view doesn’t come easy, however, since the 6-mile hike to get there will take an hour or two each way and is rated at moderate. Although many hikers take the Palomarin Trail to get there, the National Park Service has a few other recommended routes.
Fort Funston, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area near San Francisco, features 200-foot-high bluffs and long sandy beaches dotted with succulents. Apart from being a popular dog walking and hang gliding area along the coast, there is an extensive network of trails that will appeal to all types of hikers. The hike down to the beach is steep and strenuous (and the surf is known for being extremely dangerous), but the views are gorgeous. If you’re not in the mood for a leg workout, hike along one of the flatter paths at the top of the cliffs.
Moonstone Beach Boardwalk
A simple 2-mile hike following a bluff near Hearst San Simeon State Park in Cambria, Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is a great accessible option. Especially if you’re visiting the area to tour Hearst Castle or check out the famous elephant seals of San Simeon, it is worth it to take a few hours to walk along this dreamy boardwalk for a little extra exercise. Leashed pets are allowed and the trail includes a seal viewing deck along the way, coming to an end at Moonstone Beach Park.
While San Luis Obispo County’s popular Montaña de Oro State Park has a lot to choose from when it comes to hiking trails, the Bluff Trail is a local favorite. It’s an easy 4.1-mile loop trail with fantastic coastal views and ocean breezes along the way, passing by sea cliffs and the native habitats of a variety of seabirds. The trail is also a wonderful example of the meaning behind the park’s name, which translates into “Mountain of Gold,” because of the yellow and orange wildflowers that pop up every year in spring.
McWay Falls Trail
You can’t visit Big Sur without catching at least a glimpse of the iconic Mcway Falls, and the overlook at the end of this trail is the best way to do it. Located inside the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the McWay Falls Trail is a short 0.5-mile round-trip that takes hikers to the viewing point overlooking an 80 foot waterfall. The falls flood over a cliff and onto a beach spilling into the ocean, which is truly a beautiful sight. Parking is available off of Highway 1 or from the parking lot at the state park. If you want to spend more time in the area, pair the walk with a hike on the Canyon Trail, which travels along McWay Creek to a smaller waterfall.
Even though Smugglers Cove inside Channel Islands National Park requires a ferry ride or a seaplane from Ventura to get there, it is 100 percent worth it. The park is made up of five distinct islands off the Southern California coast, so it is an experience in itself and one of the most unique national parks in the state. Smugglers Cove in particular is located on Santa Cruz Island, known for its sweeping ocean views and wild landscape. This hike requires a strenuous 8-mile round-trip trek, so give yourself the whole day and plan ahead to reach your ferry ride back in time.
Point Mugu State Park in Malibu includes 70 miles of hiking trails and 5 miles of ocean shoreline. Mugu Peak Trail is one of the more difficult hikes within the park thanks to its numerous inclines and generous elevation gain. Starting from the bottom of La Jolla Canyon to the top of the peak takes about 6.5 miles round-trip, but the reward will be one of L.A.’s best unobstructed ocean views and a killer workout. Looking for an easier hike? The 2.7-mile Point Mugu Scenic and Overlook Trails Loop is a great family friendly option.