Fresno is 100 miles inland from the California Coast so it’s not a beach community by any stretch of the imagination. But many friends and family members visit this area in the south central valley of California and need to know what their options are for driving to ocean beaches.
There are two areas to choose from and they are separated by the vast remote Big Sur coast which is hard to reach from Fresno. The northern option is Monterey Bay and the southern option is in San Luis Obispo County. To reach the Monterey Bay area, you’ll take Highway 99 north then head west on Highway 152. For SLO County the route to the coast is on Highway 41.
It’s about a 2.5 hour drive to both areas and luckily each has some of the nicest beaches in all of California. Below is a list of the cities that are closest to downtown Fresno.
- Moss Landing (2.5 hours west)
- Santa Cruz (2.75 hours west)
- Monterey (2.75 hours west)
- Morro Bay (2.5 hours SW)
- Cayucos (2.5 hours SW)
- Avila Beach (2.5 hours SW)
- Pismo Beach (2.5 hours SW)
In the Monterey Bay area there are so many beaches to choose from. Some are right in the towns and others have a short hike leading to remote strands. Moss Landing City Beach is an example of the former and near there is a remote beach at Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. See our map of all the beaches on Monterey Bay. These beaches are best for fishing, beachcombing, and long beach walks.
Santa Cruz has over 30 beaches which is overwhelming. Consider visiting Santa Cruz Main Beach if you don’t mind sharing a beach with many others, and Palm Beach near Watsonville if you don’t. Main Beach is great for families as the Santa Cruz Boardwalk behind the beach caters to kids. Palm Beach and many others south of Santa Cruz are off the beaten path and don’t have lifeguards or other amenities but they are gorgeous. North of Santa Cruz the beaches get much quieter as you approach the town of Davenport.
In San Luis Obispo County the triple treat of Morro Bay, Avila Beach, and Pismo Beach attracts students from all over to attend nearby Cal Poly University. These towns offer surfing, sunbathing, beach culture, and even the chance to drive on the beach in Pismo State Beach.
One of our favorite places to explore in SLO is in Montana de Oro State Park just south of Morro Bay. There you’ll find hidden beaches, rock arches and tide pools to discover plus excellent hiking trails in the mountains and along the shore.
So if you are visiting Fresno anytime soon, set aside a couple days to head over to the coast. Book a hotel near the beach and drive back the next day. These hotels are all near the coast.
Below is our list of the best beaches near Fresno in order from north to south.