Mendocino County Beaches

Exploring Mendocino County's Coastal Charms
George Rose / Getty Images
  • 01 of 05

    Schooner Gulch Beach

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

    Mendocino beaches aren't the first thing people think of when they hear "California beaches," and that's understandable. In Mendocino, you won't find people in skimpy swimwear playing volleyball on the sand. What you will find is some beautiful, natural beaches with stunning scenery - and very few people.

    Schooner Gulch Beach and Bowling Ball Beach

    Schooner Gulch Beach is a pretty, west-facing beach in Mendocino County. Schooner Creek runs into the ocean here, creating some very pretty small rivulets through the sand. The beach is backed by cliffs, and has rocks at both the north and south ends. Driftwood collects where Schooner Gulch Creek pours into the Pacific.

    At low tide, the beach is really pretty, with wide, sandy areas to play on. You can cross the rocks on the north end then to reach another nice, sandy area - taking care of course to get back before the tide gets too high.

    At high tide, much of the beach will be under water.

    Bowling Ball Beach (which is right next to Schooner Gulch) takes its name from spherical, bowling ball-sized boulders that cover a portion of it.

    Bowling Ball Beach is best for: photographers who are trying to get those great shots like the one on this page. If you want a photo of the boulders in the sand, choose a day when low tide happens near sunset. If you prefer a long exposure that turns the water smooth as silk, try for a time when the tide is coming in or going out. You also need to know that the trail to Bowling Ball beach is eroded and dangerous - but that doesn't keep some people from slip-sliding down there anyway.

    What is There to Do at Schooner Gulch Beach?

    On a nice day with good waves, you can surf or windsurf. Some people also snorkel and scuba dive off the shore.

    When the tide is low, you can explore tide pools and enjoy a walk on the sand. 

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Schooner Gulch Beach

    There is no entrance fee and no parking fee.

    There are no facilities at this beach. If you need it, bring it with you. Pit toilets are provided.

    If you want to explore or cross the rocky outcrops, wear sturdy shoes.

    No food nearby. Bring your own.

    Fires are not allowed.

    Dogs are allowed, as long as they are on a leash

    How to Get to Schooner Gulch Beach

    Schooner Gulch Beach is three miles south of Point Arena on CA Hwy 1, near mile marker 11.4. The small parking area is immediately north of the Schooner Creek Bridge, on the west side of the road. If you don't know how to navigate using call box numbers and mile markers.

    There is a blind curve in the highway which makes getting in and out of the parking area dangerous. If you can, approach it from the north and exit toward the south.

    Two trails lead from the parking lot to the beach. The one nearest the bridge goes to Schooner Gulch Beach, about a two-minute walk down a dirt path.

    The other path goes to Bowling Ball Beach. When I last visited, this path was blocked by a sign warning that the stairs leading to the beach were unsafe.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Manchester State Beach

    Fishing at Manchester Beach in Mendocino
    Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Manchester Beach is a 5-mile-long beach, with dark-colored, fine sand, protected by cliffs. It can be wildly beautiful and is seldom busy. 

    The San Andreas Fault finally leaves California and runs into the sea at Alder Creek. The location is not marked, but if you look closely, you might be able to figure it out.

    Manchester Beach is best for: Beach walks, beachombing and photography.

    Camping at Manchester Beach

    There's a campground nearby in the state park, but it's not on the beach.

    What is There to Do at Manchester Beach?

    The curving, northeast-facing coastline catches a lot of sea debris, including driftwood. It can be fun to just walk on the beach, beachcombing to see what you can find.

    In the spring, you'll see a variety of coastal wildflowers nearby, including sea pinks, poppies, lupines, baby blue eyes and blue irises.

    This beach is good for photography - especially if you like long stretches of untrampled sand. At its south end is Point Arena and the Point Arena Lighthouse. From October to April, you might catch a glimpse of migrating humpback and gray whales.

    The water is too dangerous at this beach to try swimming or surfing. 

    If you have a fantasy of riding a horse on the beach, this might be just the place for you. Ross Ranch offers private, guided rides at Manchester Beach.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Manchester Beach

    Manchester Beach is gorgeous, but not near any towns. If you plan to be there around meal time, pick up some picnic supplies or snacks on your way there.

    There is no entrance fee and no parking fee.

    The cliffs are made of sand and can crumble easily. Don't go too close to the edge or you may find yourself in trouble.

    Rainfall can be heavy in this area from September through May.

    Morning and evening fog is common during the summer months.

    Winds are strong all year.

    If you want to visit at low or high tide (or in between), you can check the tide times.

    You'll find pit toilets near the parking area.

    Dog are not allowed on the beach.

    The endangered, tiny Snowy Plover nests here March through September. Follow posted warnings to avoid disturbing them.

    The marine life at the beach - and all the offshore underwater world - are part of a protected area. 

    How to Get to Manchester Beach

    Manchester Beach is just off CA Hwy 1, about seven miles north of Point Arena. Exit Highway 1 where you see the entrance sign. The main park entrance is at 44500 Kinney Lane, 1/2 mile north of the town of Manchester.

    To get down to the beach from the cliffs, walk between the toilets. You will find a gently descending path. Be careful to stay on it; side paths can lead to dangerous, steep drops.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Glass Beach View

    Glass Beach in Mendocino
    John "K"/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Glass Beach is a beautiful, rugged beach west of the town of Fort Bragg, California. The scenery there is spectacular, with cliffs and crashing waves. There's little sand, but it's still one of California's most interesting beaches to visit.

    In fact, the lack of sand is just fine with most visitors. Here's why. It all started with a city dump near the sea. It closed in the 1960s, but of course, they didn't clean all that trash all up. As the years passed, the ocean's waves have tumbled and polished all the bits of broken glass into, smooth, colorful "sea glass." You can find it in blue, red, green, amber, brown and clear.

    For many years, a steady stream of visitors collected glass to take home. They obviously weren't thinking that the beach would ever run out. Finally, before this unique sight was lost forever, the state parks took it over and removing glass is now prohibited. I've seen plenty of people saying that you won't get caught and still hear of people taking it away by the bucketful. I'd urge you to do your part and let it stay put where everyone can enjoy it instead.

    Glass Beach also collects lots of pretty seashells. There's no entry fee and no charge for parking. 

    Glass Beach is best for: Scenic views and enjoying the beautiful sea glass.

    What is There to Do at Glass Beach?

    The most popular activity at Glass Beach is photography. The photo on this page is just one sample. Other people like to climb around on the rocks. 

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Glass Beach

    You'll have the best chance of seeing the most glass if you go to the state park, where removing it is controlled.  

    There are no restrooms at the beach. If you need one, stop in town before you drive there.

    It can be windy at the beach, so you may want a hat and a jacket, just in case. Because of the old dump, metal trash can wash up from time to time. Take care where you walk and wear shoes with thick soles.

    Dogs are allowed at Glass Beach, but bring your leash.

    If you go in the late afternoon, you might also get a chance to see a nice sunset. Low tide is also a good time to go when more of the beach is exposed.

    How to Get to Glass Beach

    Glass Beach is in Fort Bragg, north of the town of Mendocino. Turn west on Elm Street, go to the parking lot at the end and follow the path to the beach. 

    Don't get confused and end up disappointed. Go left from the parking lot and down the stairs. If you go on the dirt road instead, you won't get to where you want to be.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    MacKerricher State Beach

    MacKerricher State Beach at Night
    Jason Todd / Getty Images

    North of the town of Fort Bragg, Mackerricher Beach is very popular with locals. It has some nice sand and good places for walking and extends for 9 miles along the coast.

    Camping at Mackerricher Beach

    MacKerricher Beach has a campground that can accommodate tents as wella s trailers and RVs up to 35 feet long. The campsites are near Lake Cleone, just off the coast and a short walk to the beach.

    What is There to Do at Mackerricher Beach?

    Mackerricher Beach is a great place for watching coastal wildlife. More than 90 species of birds live around or visit Cleone Lake. You can watch migrating whales from the headlands in winter and spring and you may see harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks near Laguna Point.

    People also like to hike, run and ride horses in the park. Other activities include scuba diving and snorkeling, windsurfing, surfing and fishing.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Mackerricher Beach

    Restrooms and coin-operated showers are available. 

    The park has a wheelchair accessible nature trail and a beach wheelchair is available on request. Call 707-937-5804 at least 7 days in advance to reserve it. The wheelchair does not fold up and you will need a vehicle that can transport it from the kiosk or visitor center to the beach. 

    How to Get to Mackerricher Beach

    The beach is three miles north of Fort Bragg on CA Hwy 1, near the town of Cleone.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    A Few More Great Mendocino Beaches

    Exploring Mendocino County's Coastal Charms
    George Rose / Getty Images

    Irish Beach: Just north of Manchester Beach, Irish Beach is a small vacation rental community, with houses and cottages just above the cliffside. It's a wonderful place for a quiet, relaxed getaway with friends, family, the girls - or by yourself.

    Big River State Park Beach: Located at the base of the cliffs near Mendocino Village, Big River is in Mendocino Headlands State Park. It's a wide, sandy beach where you can play beach volleyball, walk your dog or have a bonfire on the beach. The Big River flows into the ocean in the park. Follow the sand east of the bridge and you'll find an old road that runs inland through the park, which is a great place for a hike or a mountain bike ride.

    Jughandle State Park: This beach park is small in size, but it has some noteworthy things to see. Above the beach, you'll find the Ecological Staircase. It's a series of five natural, wave-cut terraces that were formed by glaciers, ocean waves and tectonic activity. It includes a unique pygmy forest, where the knee-high trees are possibly several decades old.  The beach here is one of those cozy ones mentioned above and it has a nice trail along the bluffs, too.

    Other small beaches you might like include Greenwood State Beach in Elk, Bonham Beach in Gualala, Fish Rock Beach (also called Anchor Bay Beach) in Anchor Bay, Caspar Headlands State Beach near Mendocino and Westport-Union Landing State Beach in Westport.

    Dog-Friendly Mendocino Beaches

    If you're looking for a place to go the beach with your dog, try Big River State ParkVan Damme State BeachCaspar Headlands State Beach in the town of Caspar or the south end of Mackerricher State Park.

    Mendocino County Beach Hotels

    The Sea Rock Inn sits on a clifftop, with spectacular coastal views.