01 of 03
Map of the California Coast
This map of the California coast was created just with travelers in mind. It shows all the most popular places along the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to Oregon. If you prefer your maps more interactive, try this version instead.
You can also click on to the second page of this guide to get a list of all the 23 places shown on this California Coast map and find links to what you can do in each of them.
Everyone seems to have a different number for how long the California coast really is. The California Coastal Commission says "1,100 magnificent miles across ten degrees of latitude." Visit California says it's 1,264 miles long. If you include small bays and inlets, it gets up to more than 3,000 miles. No matter how long it really is, it's a fascinating place for visitors.
Driving on the California Coast
If you want to drive on the California coast, I've got you covered. Most of your trip will be on the coastal highway. To find out more about it and what to do in case the... road is closed in Big Sur, check this guide to Driving on Highway One.
You may also want to check out this Guide to California's Lighthouses.
Fun Facts about the California Coast
More than 20,000 rocks and small islands can be found offshore, but only two are tourist attractions: Catalina Island and Channel Islands National Park. Alcatraz is also an island, but it's inside the San Francisco Bay, not offshore.
California is home to 11 major ports, 9 of them on the coast. The combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach make up the sixth busiest port in the world. Together, they handle a fourth of all container cargo traffic in the United States.
In parts of the Big Sur coast and north of San Francisco, the "coast" that you can reach is barely wider than the road that hugs the coastal mountains.
California's beaches and natural areas vary with its geography. In some places, the beaches are long and sandy, but in others, they can be rocky. Some are bordered with lagoons full of wildlife. A few are made of small pebbles.
Along the California coast between Monterey and San Francisco, farmers grow most of the brussels sprouts and artichokes produced in the US.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
02 of 03
Places to Visit on the Northern California Coast
If you're not into exploring the California coast on the map, just use this list of links (which are in order from north to south. And if you need more maps of California, you can find them in this guide.
The definition of Northern California varies depending on who you talk to. For the purpose of this guide, I drew the line at Carmel.
Continue to 3 of 3 below.
- Eureka: A charming, small town full of Victorian-style homes
- Mendocino: Rugged coastline several nice towns to visit. It's the best place in California for rhododendrons in the spring
- Point Reyes: A scenic national seashore with a gorgeous lighthouse
- San Francisco: The City by the Bay lets the Pacific Ocean in under the Golden Gate, just so they can have it all around them
- Half Moon Bay: A small town surrounded by agriculture and close to one of the world's most famous big-wave surfing spots
- Santa Cruz: Home to one of the best-preserved seaside amusement parks in California, popular with surfers - and home to lots of artists
- Monterey &... Carmel: A cannery town next to a former artists' colony, both of them with lots of personality and things to do
03 of 03
Places to Visit on the Southern California Coast
Starting from Big Sur and going south, you'll find plenty of places to visit on the coast.
- Big Sur: One of the most beautiful stretches of coastal scenery in the state
- Hearst Castle: William Randolph Hearst had a lot of money, and he spent a bunch of it building his castle by the sea. Today it's a popular state park with several interesting tours
- Cambria: Cute is the best word to describe Cambria, with an old-fashioned downtown and string of places to stay just across from the ocean
- Morro Bay: The bay around Morro Rock offers lots of water play - or just watch the fishermen bring in the daily catch
- Pismo Beach: It's a quintessential California beach town and their city logo (a woody car with a surfboard on top) just about sums it up
- Santa Barbara: You could be excused for thinking you landed on the Mediterranean when you reach Santa Barbara. Famous for its red-tiled roofs and "banana belt" climate, it has a pretty waterfront park and a nice shopping area downtown
- Channel... Islands: They're not far offshore, but lightly visited, especially considering how many unique plants and animals live on them
- Malibu: There's a reason a lot of celebrities live along this sun-kissed stretch of Southern California coast, but they can't keep it all to themselves
- Santa Monica: Santa Monica's thriving arts scene, its seaside amusement park, and lively beach are just a few of its attractions
- Venice Beach: Funky, weird and fun to visit. You're likely to see almost anything in Venice Beach, from rollerskating dogs to chanting Hare Krishnas
- Los Angeles South Bay: Angelinos like to keep these cute little beach towns for themselves, making them a nice little slice of local life
- Long Beach: They have a fantastic aquarium and lots of oceanfront property - and even a fleet of gondola boats
- Catalina Island: Just 26 miles away from Los Angeles, Catalina feels much further away, it's so quiet and relaxing. But just to add a touch of quirkiness, the island has its own resident buffalo herd, too
- Newport Beach: The islands in Newport Harbor are so cute you'll want to hug them. And so is the four-car ferry that runs from Balboa Island to the mainland.
- Laguna Beach: Upscale, with lots of art galleries, Laguna also has some great oceanfront hotels and a beautiful, sandy beach to play on
- San Diego: San Diego's warm climate make it a perfect place for beach play and their coastline has some of the nicest sandy beaches you'll find anywhere in the state