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Rock arches are some of the most spectacular of Mother Natures’s hand-crafted artwork. The California Coast displays more of these natural pieces of art than any other state. You won’t find any rock arches in the sand of the otherwise stunning sandy beaches of Florida, Texas, or the Carolinas. Other states such as Oregon and Washington have well-known rock arches, but not in the sheer quantity that California does.

Arched Rock Beach Sonoma Bryce Sept2015 (4)Arched Rock at Arched Rock Beach near Bodega Bay

Each rock arch is unique. They vary from huge seastacks with small openings to wide narrow spans to long tunnels. You’ll find such diversity along the shores of California.

IMG_9637 la jolla cave arch (Large)La Jolla Caves Rock Arch

Some are on the beach where visitors can walk right through them. Leo Carrillo State Park has several of these arches, as does El Matador Beach. Both of these popular beaches are on the Malibu Coast. The arch at Seaside Beach in Fort Bragg leads to a hidden beach that has no other access. Hole In The Wall Beach is another beach that can only be reached by going through a rock arch.

El Matador BeachEl Matador Beach in Malibu

IMG_4440 leo carrillo rock arch (Custom)One of the many rock arches at Leo Carrillo State Park

Other beaches are far offshore and are best photographed with a zoom lens during the day and wide angle in the evening to capture sunset light. In many cases it takes a little searching to find the rock arches and the best vantage point for taking pictures. When you get to the beach, start walking the shoreline to seek out the best place for your shot. Our beach descriptions often tell you where to go to find the rock arches or be able to see them best.

elephant rockElephant Rock at Chadbourne Gulch

Note that these rock arches won’t last forever. The same erosional forces of nature that created them will eventually take them down. Point Reyes National Seashore lost one in 2015 when the span at Arch Rock Beach collapsed. Unfortunately people were on it at the time and one person was killed. Another rock arch crumbled down at Tennessee Beach in Marin County in 2012. A photographer at the beach was lucky enough to capture this rare event as it happened (link). Dinosaur Park in Pismo Beach also lost a unique rock arch in recent years. Even though we are losing some arches, it is possible that erosion will create new ones in our lifetimes.

arch rock collapse pt reyes NPS photo bdsCollapsed Arch Rock at Point Reyes (NPS photo)

The arch at Natural Bridges State Beach is probably the most photographed of California’s arches. It is a beautiful spot and easy to access in Santa Cruz.

Natural Bridge in California at sunsetThe Arch at Natural Bridges State Beach

Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur is also frequently photographed. Professional photographers set up their tripods to catch the sun’s last rays as they pass through the opening in the huge rock that towers over the beach.

pfeiffer-beach-inspirationPfeiffer Beach Rock Arch

Many of the rock arches of California are less-known, but equally photogenic at the right time of day and from the right location. These arches have names like Elephant Rock, The Keyhole, Jug Handle, and, of course, Arch Rock (many of them).

Laguna Beaches 3.28.14 195 (Custom)The Keyhole at Pearl Street Beach in Laguna

Check tide tables before you go and consider visiting the beaches at low tide. Several of these arches are only accessible when the tide is out. In some cases secret beaches can be found by going through the arches at low tide.

IMG_7335 (Large)The arch that leads to Hole In The Wall Beach

Beaches on this map

  • Arches At Natural Bridges State Beach

    Natural Bridges State Beach

    Natural Bridges State Beach is named for the natural arch in the huge rock located in the shore break here. This is one of the most photographed beach icons in […]

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  • Arched Rock Beach Sonoma Bryce Sept2015 (10)

    Arched Rock Beach

    Arched Rock Beach is named for the big rock with a hole in it that is visible to the north. The rock is actually right next to Marshall Gulch Beach, […]

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  • El Matador Beach

    El Matador State Beach

    El Matador Beach is one of three beaches within Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. El Matador is the most popular of the three and the closest to Malibu. The […]

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    Pfeiffer Beach

    Pfeiffer Beach in the Big Sur area is definitely off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. Just south of Big Sur Station on Highway 1 is unsigned Sycamore […]

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    Hole-in-the-Wall Beach

    Hole-in-the-Wall Beach is located immediately south of Panther Beach between Santa Cruz and the town of Davenport, CA. The only access to Hole in the Wall Beach is by walking […]

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    Panther Beach

    Panther Beach is a popular sandy beach north of Santa Cruz near the hamlet of Davenport, CA. It’s part of the Coast Dairies State Park land acquisition and will eventually […]

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    Pearl Street Beach

    Pearl Street Beach is located below a stairway that begins at the west end of Pearl Street in Laguna Beach, CA. Pearl Street ends at Ocean Way just one block […]

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  • Portguese Beach Mendocino Bryce June2015 (15)

    Portuguese Beach

    Portuguese Beach is on Mendocino Bay on the south side of town in Mendocino. The visitor center for Mendocino Headlands State Park is in the old Ford House on the […]

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  • Corona Del Mar At Low Tide 2

    Little Corona Del Mar Beach

    Little Corona Del Mar Beach is a popular small beach at the end of a ravine called Buck Gully in the Newport Beach neighborhood of Corona Del Mar. This is […]

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  • Caves and rock formations at Leo Carillo South Beach

    Leo Carrillo State Park – South Beach

    South Beach at Leo Carrillo State Park is across Pacific Coast Highway from the main park entrance. Inside this entrance is the main day-use parking area and a small visitor […]

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  • Chadbourne Gulch Bryce June2015 (15)

    Chadbourne Gulch Beach

    Chadbourne Gulch Beach, known locally as Blues Beach, is just south of the small Mendocino County town of Westport. The creek in Chadbourne Gulch flows across the middle portion of […]

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  • Seaside Beach Fort Bragg Bryce June2015 (9)

    Seaside Beach

    Seaside Beach is just north of MacKerricher State Park where Seaside Creek sometimes flows through the sand to the ocean. A rock sticks up out of the sand at the […]

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  • La Jolla Cove Beach BryceApr16 (5)

    La Jolla Cove Beach

    La Jolla Cove Beach is located at the northeast end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla. This beach is protected by a rocky point which blocks waves rolling […]

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    Davenport Cove Beach

    Davenport Cove is locally known by several different names including Shark Fin Cove and Shark’s Tooth Beach because of the huge rock in the mouth of the cove that looks like […]

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    Thousand Steps Beach

    Thousand Steps Beach is one of the largest beaches in South Laguna Beach, CA. It’s a wide sandy beach with volleyball courts, restrooms, and tide pools and caves to discover. There […]

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    Mussel Rock Park Beach

    Mussel Rock Park is made up of a lot of trails connecting to paragliding launch points on a hillside in south Daly City. The shoreline below the park is bouldery […]

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  • College Cove Trinidad Bryce June2015 (10)

    College Cove

    College Cove Beach is in the north cove of Trinidad State Beach in the small town of Trinidad. College Cove has a more secluded feel than the main state beach near […]

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  • Sculptured Beach Mountain

    Sculptured Beach

    Sculptured Beach is a remote beach in the southern portion of Point Reyes National Seashore. The beach is accessible by walking or mountain biking from the Point Reyes Hostel via […]

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    Blind Beach

    Blind Beach is located south of Jenner and the Russian River in Sonoma County. It’s a long narrow beach that is great for beachcombing and fishing. Offshore is a large […]

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  • Greenwood State Beach Bryce Sept2015 (12)

    Greenwood State Beach

    Greenwood State Beach is located in the tiny town of Elk where Greenwood Creek flows into the ocean. Greenwood was the name of Elk back in the logging times of […]

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    Sacred Cove

    Sacred Cove Beach is part of Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. This deep cove is bookended by two prominent points, Portuguese Point and […]

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  • Abalone Cove

    Abalone Cove Beach

    Abalone Cove Beach is below the parking lot at Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. The bluffs in the park are protected in a state […]

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  • Navarro Beach

    Navarro Beach

    Navarro Beach is located at the mouth of the Navarro River in Mendocino County. It’s part of Navarro River Redwoods State Park, a long narrow park along the Navarro River […]

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    Its Beach

    Its Beach is the name of the south-facing beach below the bluff on the west side of Point Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA. Lighthouse Field State Beach manages the […]

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    Middle Man Cove

    Middle Man Cove is the name given to the beach area between Goff Cove Beach and Treasure Island Beach below the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. This is a small […]

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  • Mendocino Headlands Bryce June2015 (9)

    Mendocino Headlands Beaches

    The Mendocino Headlands along Heeser Drive in Mendocino California has several stunning coves tucked below the bluff. Most are best photographed from above even though the eager adventurer could probably […]

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    Point Lobos SNR – China Cove

    China Cove is an emerald green cove with a tiny pocket beach in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Carmel, CA. It’s a narrow deep sandy beach surrounded by rock […]

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  • Coon Creek Montana de Oro BS-DC Mar2015 (13)

    Montana de Oro State Park – Coon Creek Beach

    Coon Creek Beach is the southernmost beach in Montana de Oro State Park. There is no access to the beach from the state park, but where there’s a will there’s […]

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    Arch Rock Beach

    Arch Rock Beach is below the Arch Rock Overlook in Point Reyes National Seashore. In March of 2015 the arch collapsed and took the middle part of the overlook down […]

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    Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

    Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the Big Sur Coast is home to iconic McWay Falls. It’s just a short walk out on a trail to an overlook where many […]

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    Table Rock Beach

    Table Rock Beach is a locally-known tucked away beach in South Laguna Beach, CA. This is an excellent sandy beach in a deep cove with homes high above. Rocks of […]

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  • Eddie White Beach Westport Bryce June2015 (10)

    Eddie White Beach at Westport Headlands

    Westport Headlands Park is a nine acre public open-space right in the town of Westport along the Mendocino Coast. The beach below the park is locally known as Eddie White Beach. […]

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  • Photo by Arleen Olson: Courtesy Humboldt County CVB

    Freshwater Lagoon Beach

    Freshwater Lagoon is the northernmost of four separate lagoons in Humboldt Lagoons State Park, but the ocean beach side of Freshwater Lagoon is situated within the boundary of Redwood National […]

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    Bodega Head Beach

    Bodega Head is the prominent rocky point that protects Bodega Harbor from the west. This large point has a rugged coastline that is exposed to strong waves and cool damp […]

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    Seabright Beach

    Seabright Beach is a popular sandy beach next to Santa Cruz Main Beach in Santa Cruz, CA. Seabright Beach is on state-owned property in that is part of Twin Lakes […]

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    Dinosaur Caves Park

    Dinosaur Caves Park is a family-friendly park in the Shell Beach area of Pismo Beach, CA. The park has open grass areas, picnic tables, walking paths, ocean overlooks, and an […]

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    Margo Dodd Park Beach

    Margo Dodd Park is a small patch of grass on the bluff in the Shell Beach neighborhood of Pismo Beach, CA. A gazebo, two picnic tables, and several benches look […]

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    South Rodeo Beach

    South Rodeo Beach is a small beach in a secluded cove south of Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. It has a reputation as a clothing-optional beach. At low tide you […]

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  • Mattole Road Beaches Bryce June2015 (12)

    Mattole Road Beaches

    There are many unnamed beaches along the remote Mattole Road near the town of Petrolia in Humboldt County. These beaches are seldom visited. Access to them isn’t obvious but where […]

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  • Sutro Baths Bryce April2015 (17)

    Sutro Baths

    The ruins of the Sutro Baths are an historic site on the western waterfront of San Francisco. In March of 1896 these elaborate privately-owned saltwater and freshwater pools opened to […]

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    Three Arch Bay Beach

    Three Arch Bay Beach is on Mussel Cove in the private gated community of Three Arch Bay in South Laguna Beach. Mussel Cove is walled off on both ends by […]

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  • Navarro Point Preserve Trail Bryce Sept2015 (11)

    Navarro Point Preserve

    Navarro Point Preserve is just north of the beach at the Navarro River mouth in Mendocino County. Mendocino Land Trust acquired these prairie lands on the headlands west of Highway […]

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    Mugu Beach

    Mugu Beach is just north of Mugu Rock in along Pacific Coast Highway in southern Ventura County. This is one of several beaches along a five-mile stretch of coastline in […]

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  • Rock arch at Damnation Beach

    Damnation Creek Beach

    Damnation Creek Beach is a remote rocky stretch of coastline in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. This shoreline isn’t a wide sandy beach, but it still works well as […]

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  • Pete's Beach Westport Bryce June2015 (12)

    Pete’s Beach

    Westport-Union Landing State Beach has two public beaches separated by the private beach at the Westport Beach RV Park & Campground. The southern beach is a little-known California State Beach […]

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  • Hearn Gulch Gualala Bryce sept2015 (6)

    Hearn Gulch Beach

    Hearn Gulch Beach in Mendocino County is in the deep protected cove called Saunders Landing, an old schooner mooring spot for lumber shipments back in the 1800’s. The beach is […]

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  • Martin Creek Trinidad Bryce June2015 (9)

    Martin Creek Beach

    Martin Creek Beach might be the most hidden beach in Northern California. Except for locals this beach is pretty much unknown, yet it is a wonderful spot to visit. It […]

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  • Little River Blowhole Bryce June2015 (9)

    Little River Blowhole

    The Little River Blowhole is a natural feature near the shoreline in Little River, CA. The waves from the ocean roll in through a rock tunnel and have created a […]

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    Little Sur River Beach

    Little Sur River Beach is a picturesque beach on the rugged coast between Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea. This is a sandy beach with dunes, drift logs, and steep mountains behind […]

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  • Credit Bob Wick BLM

    Stornetta Public Lands

    Stornetta Public Lands is an open area next to the ocean north of the town of Point Arena. These lands are managed through a partnership with the Bureau of Land […]

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    Pirate’s Cove Beach

    Pirate’s Cove is a well-known clothing optional beach between Avila Beach and the Shell Beach area of Pismo Beach, CA. This south-facing cove is somewhat protected from the weather and […]

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  • Point Bonita Lighthouse at sunset in Bay Area

    Point Bonita Lighthouse

    Point Bonita Lighthouse is out on the rocky point on the north side of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. There is no beach access from this point, but there […]

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  • Russian Gulch State Park Bryce June2015 (2)

    Russian Gulch State Park

    Russian Gulch State Park, north of Mendocino, has a sandy beach below the Highway 1 bridge where Russian Gulch Creek flows into a narrow cove. Kids can play in the safe […]

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  • Hardy Creek Beach Bryce June2015 (18)

    Hardy Creek Beach

    Hardy Creek Beach in Mendocino County is located where Highway 1 turns inland and heads north never to return to the coast. The beach is in a small cove where […]

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    Needle Rock Beach

    Needle Rock Beach is near the Needle Rock Visitor Center at Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. From the visitor center walk back on the road a bit to the old wooden […]

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    Martins Beach

    Martins Beach, located just south of Half Moon Bay, is a public beach in front of a private gated community. The land and all the homes here were purchased by billionaire […]

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  • Pt St George Stevens Mar2015 (4)

    Point St. George Beach

    Point St. George is a prominent rocky point about three miles north of Crescent City. The Point is where the St. George Reef Lighthouse keepers lived when they were ashore […]

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  • No Surf Beach Sunset Cliffs Bryce Feb2015 (5)

    No Surf Beach

    The San Diego area beach known as “No Surf Beach” is located between Hill and Froude Streets below Sunset Cliffs Boulevard in the Sunset Cliffs neighborhood. There is a short steep […]

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    La Jolla Caves Beach

    La Jolla Caves Beach is a hidden rocky beach between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores Beach. During low tides you can walk here from La Jolla Shores, but […]

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  • Anacapa Island

    Anacapa Island – East Isle

    Anacapa Island in Ventura County is part of Channel Islands National Park. It has three small islands (East, West and Middle) but access is mainly to East Anacapa Island. There […]

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