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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 destinations that are closest to downtown Fresno.

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. 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.

Do you like piers? If so, you should check out Cayucos State Beach, Avila City Beach, or Pismo City Beach as they all have piers that you can walk out on.

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.

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.

Beaches on this list

  • Santa Cruz Main Beach

    Santa Cruz Main Beach is known as Boardwalk Beach because of the popular boardwalk and amusement park at the beach on the Santa Cruz waterfront. Main Beach is a south-facing […]

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  • Seacliff State Beach

    Seacliff State Beach is a long sandy beach on the waterfront of Aptos, CA. This is a great place for sunbathing or walking the sandy shores of Monterey Bay in […]

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  • Palm Beach

    Palm Beach is a day use area of Sunset State Beach which has a separate entrance. This park provides access to a wide sandy beach on Monterey Bay that is backed […]

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  • Moss Landing City Beach

    At the end of Sandholdt Road on the peninsula that protects Moss Landing Harbor there is a parking area with beach access. On the harbor side next to the entrance […]

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  • Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge

    Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge has a long remote sandy beach at the mouth of the Salinas River north of Monterey, CA. The refuge is managed by the US Fish […]

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  • Marina State Beach

    Marina State Beach is a stunning sandy beach that sits below high rugged dunes in Marina, CA. Hang-gliders launch off the dunes and enjoy the ideal wind and launch conditions […]

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  • Window on the Bay Beach

    Window on the Bay Beach (aka Windows Beach) is the southernmost of three separate sections of Monterey State Beach. This state-owned beach is in front of the nicely landscaped city-owned […]

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  • Cayucos State Beach

    Cayucos State Beach is right on the waterfront in the town of Cayucos, California. The Cayucos Pier is a popular old wooden fishing pier that juts out from the beach […]

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  • Morro Rock City Beach

    Morro Rock Beach is the city beach between the iconic Morro Rock and Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay, CA. This is a wide sandy beach just north of […]

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  • Spooner’s Cove – Montana de Oro State Park

    Spooner’s Cove Beach sits in a cove where Islay Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean in Montana de Oro State Park. This beautiful cove has a pebbly beach, tide pools, […]

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  • Avila Beach City Beach

    Avila Beach City Beach is the large wide sandy beach that takes up the entire waterfront of the town of Avila Beach, CA. The picturesque wooden Avila Pier sticks out […]

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  • Pismo Beach Pier Beach

    Pismo Pier juts out into the Pacific from the center of the Pismo Beach city waterfront giving visitors a grand view of the beach. Pismo Pier Beach is best known […]

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  • Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

    Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only California State Park that allows non-street-legal vehicles to drive on the beach (see all the beaches that can you can drive […]

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