When someone says “take a hike”, they’re actually suggesting a great idea. Nothing soothes the mind, body, and soul like heading out for some fresh air and sunshine. And California’s coast is certainly one of the most beautiful places to hike! Between the misty, rugged northern coastline and sun-drenched, sandy beaches further south, the Golden State has a great variety of postcard-worthy landscapes to explore all year. The wide open views of the Pacific Ocean are really just the cherry on top. Especially on these eight coastal hikes!
1. Muir Beach Overlook
Difficulty: Easy (0.3 of a mile)
Short ‘n sweet, the hike to Muir Beach Overlook will give you clear, wide ocean views without even having to go a half-mile. Set just off Highway 1, north of Muir Beach, the trail leads down a series of steps along a rocky promontory. It eventually comes to a platform, where you can relax overlooking the big blue Pacific, and also find some of the area’s premier whale watching opportunities. Just looking at this photo is making us want to lace up our hiking boots!
See Related: The Best California Beach Hikes Under 5 Miles
2. Sand Ladder Trail (Baker Beach)
Difficulty: Moderate (About two hundred steps)
Climbing down sandy steps to the beach may sound relaxing, but let’s be honest: Sand Ladder Trail is a REAL sweat-busting workout in both directions. Located in Presidio of San Francisco, the trail begins from the road, Lincoln Boulevard, and leads all the way down to the north end of Baker Beach.
It consists of about 200 steps in the sand, surrounded by logs joined together by cables. From the beach, the elevation change starts out steep – but as it gets closer to the road, the steps begin leveling out. Or if you’re heading in the opposite direction, you’ll be greeted with a cool seaside breeze and sweeping ocean views as you make your way down to the beach.
Local tip: Baker Beach is well known for the occasional nude beachcombers. Don’t be surprised if you see a little extra skin down by the water!
3. Moonstone Beach Boardwalk
Difficulty: Easy (2 miles)
Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is a charming wooden path in Hearst San Simeon State Park. It follows a bluff for about two miles out-and-back, spanning the entire length of the pristine shoreline with Pacific Ocean views that are gorgeous by day, and even more dreamy by sunset. You can even bring your furry friends for the trip, as long as they’re kept on a leash.
4. Point Dume
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate (Depending how far you want to go)
Point Dume is an oasis for both new and experienced hikers in Malibu. The long bluff is set by the western end of Santa Monica Bay, between Dume Cove and Westward Beach. As soon as you get out of the car you’ll have ocean views and vibrant seasonal wildflowers to marvel at. Take an easy trail winding around the cliffside, or climb down the steep staircase to reach Big Dume Beach.
After reaching the bottom, you can venture out to Little Dume Beach, or even further, like Paradise Cove. If you do make it out to Little Dume, it’s about a two mile trip total – but of course, you can always turn around at any time.
5. Gray Whale Cove Trail
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate (2.3 miles)
On a clear day, Gray Whale Cove Trail has absolutely beautiful, glistening ocean views. The path spans from Montara Beach to Gray Whale Cove Beach for just over 2 miles, with some parts that are steeper than others. There’s also a variety of wildflowers that bloom on both sides of the trail during the spring and summer. And since the trail links between the two beaches and parking lots, you can easily start out the hike from either end.
6. San Clemente Beach Trail
Difficulty: Easy (About 2.5 miles)
Spanning beside the Amtrak railroad track, the San Clemente Beach Trail is a local favorite hike in Orange County. The rail-trail hugs Southern California’s photogenic coastline for just less than two-and-a-half miles, from North Beach to San Clemente Beach, with plenty of stops along the way, like the San Clemente Pier. It’s frequented by runners, bikers, walkers, and dog owners year round, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The seemingly endless views of the Pacific are too lovely to beat!
7. Devil’s Slide Trail
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate (2.6 miles round-trip)
Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail used to be part of the Pacific Coast Highway, but was only recently opened to hikers, bikers, leashed dogs, and others in 2014. The route stretches along a rocky seaside cliff between Pacifica and Montara for just over a mile each way. Hikers can start at the trailhead found at either end of the new Devil’s Slide Bypass Tunnel (also known as the Tom Lantos Tunnel). Tons of scenic outlooks are dotted along the route, offering plenty of places to stop and take in the unsurpassed coastal views.
8. Fort Funston
Difficulty: Moderate/Experienced (About 2.5 miles)
Fort Funston is an old military defense installation – now public park – in southwestern San Francisco, set on high cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. From the parking lot, you can hike down Dutch sand ladders through dunes to reach the beach, and the views of the waves along the way will certainly not disappoint. But be forewarned: the hike coming back up can prove to be challenging. And hold your hoodie up: with Fort Funston’s location high on top of 200-foot high sandy bluffs, the wind out here is known to get rough. On windy days, you may even catch some hang gliders.
Fort Funston is also dubbed as doggie heaven. Pet owners can let their dogs run free at the seaside park, without having to keep them on a leash.
These hikes are so gorgeous! Which one would you like to try first? We’d love to hear your thoughts and other favorite coastal trails in the comments below.