There’s nothing like getting a little ocean view on your big hiking day … except maybe getting a chance to get up close to that ocean to dip your feet in after that big hiking day.
Here are 14 incredible coastal California hikes … from south to north!
Border Field State Park
Why not start as far south as you can go without a passport? At Border Field State Park, enjoy a rare stretch of undeveloped San Diego County shoreline and some international history on a mild, family-friendly stroll along the coastline and nearby estuaries.
You don’t have to head too far away from civilization to enjoy Batiquitos Lagoon — it’s just off the Golden State Freeway in Carlsbad. And while that means you might have to endure the occasional urbanized encroachment, this is a spectacular resource for North County San Diegans looking to enjoy some coastal peace.
There are several hiking routes around Torrey Pines State Reserve — something for everyone’s preferred level of challenge in this unique and incredible landscape. But if you want to spend some quality seaside time and don’t mind checking the tide tables, this route from La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines Beach will do quite nicely.
San Onofre State Beach
Yes, there’s a controversial nuclear power plant nearby, but there’s also a shocking lack of development or suburban sprawl thanks to the large marine base (that’s far out of sight from the beach, thankfully). Enjoy an easy, flat hike along the beach and some of the best seaside views you’ll get near San Diego or Orange Counties.
People who live on the Palos Verdes Peninsula don’t really make it easy to hike there — they’ve been known to harass ‘outsiders’ on the beach and Rancho Palos Verdes has been aggressively removing parking near Del Cerro Park — but if you can deal with that nonsense you can enjoy some beautiful coastal bluffs, tide pools, and fascinating geology at a place near L.A. that really feels like it’s at the end of the earth.
This hike along Malibu Lagoon takes you on a side of Malibu that most folks don’t think of. No modern Gilded Age seaside mansions here blocking access to the coast for us hoi polloi — just some minor parking headaches along the PCH. Start out in a gorgeous and peaceful lagoon that’s home to flocks of birds, hike next to historic surfing breaks, visit a beautiful house-museum and stroll along Malibu Pier to finish up this easy trip.
From the Sara Wan Trailhead at Corral Canyon, you can hike into and above the last coastal canyon in Malibu with a watershed that runs into the Pacific with zero development. If that superlative isn’t impressive to you, the views definitely will be. This trail also boasts easy pedestrian access to the coast AND a great seafood shack.
Easily overlooked by Santa Monica Mountains hikers and beachgoers alike, this easy little exploration of Point Dume near Pirate’s Cove packs a TON of coastal scenery into its 1.5 mile length.
Ever wonder what it would feel like to hike for a while and discover a hidden beach? If you’ve got some time and can head out to Channel Islands National Park, you’ve got to trek out to Smuggler’s Cove, then. It’s a nearly 8-mile out and back, and there isn’t a lot of shade, but oh man if you want to talk about huge payoffs for effort, this is it.
Montaña de Oro State Park also has a TON of options for coastal hikers, but for our money, the Bluff Trail is kind of the king of the hill here. Depending on the time of year and the level of tide, it’s almost like you’re hiking a different trail!
In northern San Luis Obispo County, Harmony Headlands State Park preserves sweeping grasslands on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean — and will eventually bring you right down to the coastline, too.
Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park has what might be one of the most beautiful campgrounds along the California coastline, but even if you’re just visiting here for the day it’s worth the journey. To the east, dense redwood groves transport you to another world. To the west, a narrow canyon leads to a secluded beach that’s perfect for watching the sun set.
Point Lobos State Reserve is covered by a spiderweb network of trails that provide tons of different experiences. Want to hang out with some unique endemic trees? Check. Want to watch some seals sunbathing? Check. Want to go SCUBA diving? Yeah they got that, too. This four mile loop trail hits most of the highlights, but you’ll definitely want to come back for more.
Why not round things out with some epic coastal backpacking just north of San Francisco? This 22-mile loop requires some planning and permits, but it’s worth every second you spend dealing with online forms once you take in the unforgettable scenery sculpted by the San Andreas Fault.