California's 7 Most Unusual - and Instagrammable - Beaches

More than Just Sun and Sand

There's a lot more to California beaches than volleyball games, beach bonfires and surfers. In fact, California has some of the most unusual and exciting beaches you'll find anywhere. 

This bunch of beaches all offer something unusual for you to see. That might be purple sand, bowling ball-size boulders, sea glass, kooky people or elephant seals, or something else. They are listed in geographical order from north to south.

  • 01 of 07
    Glass Beach in Mendocino
    ••• Glass Beach in Mendocino. John "K"/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    This unique beach in Fort Bragg is possibly the prettiest thing that ever happened to a city dump. These days it's all over Pinterest and Instagram, but that doesn't make ti any less beautiful.

    Decades after the ill-placed city dump closed, all the broken glass left behind has been tumbled and softened in the surf, leaving the beach covered with colorful, polished glass shards.

  • 02 of 07
    Hole in the Rock at Pfeiffer Beach
    ••• Sunset at Hole in the Rock, Pfeiffer Beach. ©2013 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Just offshore at Pfeiffer Beach is this dramatic hole in the rock that nearly glows in evening sunlight. But that's the least unique thing about it.

    The sand on Pfeiffer Beach is purple. In fact, it almost looks like someone spilled a package of grape Jell-O on the sand. The real explanation is that the color comes from tiny, sand-sized garnet stones that wash down onto it from the hillside above.

  • 03 of 07

    Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino

    Bowling Ball Beach in Mendocino
    ••• Bowling Ball Beach in Mendocino. Images by John "K"/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    You might be excused if you thought for a second that some cutting-edge artist decorated this Mendocino County beach with real bowling balls, but in fact, they are big, round boulders.

    They make it one of Mendocino's most photogenic beach, although it's a little hard to get to. Go at low tide to get the best look.

  • 04 of 07

    McWay Beach, Big Sur

    McWal Falls at Twilight
    ••• McWal Falls at Twilight. U.S. Geological Survey/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    You can't get to this beach on foot, but it's unusual and spectacular nevertheless. McWay Falls cascades 80 feet over a cliffside onto the beach below. At high tide, the falls drops straight into the ocean.

    There's only one vista point and no trail going down to the beach. To see it from above, look for the McWay Canyon sign on US Hwy 1. It's south of the main part of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Oceano Beach, Pismo Beach

    Camping at Pismo Beach
    ••• Camping at Pismo Beach. ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Oceano Beach in Pismo Beach is beautiful, but what's unusual is the human activity on and around it, It's the only California beach where you can drive a vehicle on the sand. And park your RV or camper trailer on it, too. 

    The nearby dunes are gorgeous, and you'll find it full of plucky drivers kicking up sand as they take their Off-Highway vehicles over the contours. Nearby is a spot where migrating monarch butterflies spend the winter.

  • 06 of 07

    Piedras Blancas, San Simeon

    Northern Elephant Seals
    ••• Northern Elephant Seals. Michael Mike L. Baird/Moment Open/Getty Images

    Piedras Blancas Beach is one of the most popular places in California for sex on the beach.

    In this case, it's Northern Elephant Seals getting it on. And having babies and nursing them. The adult males engage in loud, vicious fights for breeding rights. The babies are just plain darling. It's quite a show, even when only the "weaners" are left on the beach to grow up a little before they go out to sea.

    Piedras Blancas is the most accessible place in California to see them haul out of the ocean to give birth and mate,  just a stone's throw from the highway.

  • 07 of 07
    Making Sidewalk Art at Venice Beach
    ••• Making Sidewalk Art at Venice Beach. © 2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Venice Beach takes top honors for California's most unusual beach scene. That's for its funky, anything-goes ambiance, scantily-clad but enthusiastic roller skaters and general quirkiness.

    Just a few of the things you might see at Venice Beach are chanting Hare Krishnas, street performers, bodybuilders at Muscle Beach and dogs wearing sunglasses.