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Sand dunes are diverse natural habitats that can be sources of endless fun whether it is hiking or just playing around. California has dunes all along its Pacific Ocean shoreline so no matter where you are traveling you’ll find one to discover.

These sand dunes can be organized into two different categories. The first is the kind that kids (and adults) love to climb up and leap off knowing that the sand provides a safe landing. The second is a beautiful natural world that is filled with many different plants and animals. Often, both dunes types are in the same general area.

The recreational sand dunes are typically void of plants and animals except for bugs that are hard to spot. These dunes are usually open to the public to explore on foot and in some cases with motorized vehicles.

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

Oceano Dunes is probably the best known dunes on the California Coast. There ATV’s and dune buggies can roam around the vast expanse and make all the noise they want. Just a few miles to the south there’s a similarly-sized quiet dunes that is little known and seldom visited. That’s because Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge has no direct access and getting there on foot is an all day adventure (but worth the trek).

The Crater

One of the best places to play in the sand is a unique spot called The Crater. At this location right next to the beach on Monterey Bay you’ll find a depression with sand rising up on all sides. Another spot is next to Thornhill Broome Beach between Malibu and Ventura. There a sandy hillside is popular with families who pull off Highway 1 to climb up and slide down the steep slope. Some of the other beaches on this list have dunes that can be fun for jumping around, but if you visit them be careful not to trample any plants next to the open sandy slopes.

Natural dunes structures can be found up and down the Northern and Southern California Coast. Paths meander between the plants on the way to the beach at most of these dunes. Take care to always walk on the sand as there are bird nests and snakes and sensitive plant species off the trails. Also, heed all signage as many of these areas are closed to entry even if they have paths.

Here is our list of the best sand dunes on the California Coast.

Beaches on this map

  • Border Field State Park Beach

    The beach at Border Field State Park is the southernmost beach in California. This beach starts at the Mexican border and continues north to the mouth of the Tijuana River. […]

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  • Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

    Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge is part of Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, a large protected area of wetlands south of San Diego. The beach in Tijuana Slough National […]

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  • Coronado Beach

    Coronado Beach, aka Central Beach, starts at the famous Hotel del Coronado and continues north to Sunset Park. At the north end of the beach in front of Sunset Park […]

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  • Balboa Peninsula Beach

    Balboa Peninsula Beach is a long stretch of sandy beach south of the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, California. Just south of Peninsula Park at B Street on Balboa Peninsula […]

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  • Thornhill Broome Beach

    Thornhill Broome Beach in Point Mugu State Beach is in front of a long campground on the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway in southern Ventura County. There is a […]

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  • Ormond Beach

    Ormond Beach is the beach fronting the Ormond Wetlands and coastal farmlands near Oxnard in Ventura County. Ormond Beach fills a two mile gap between the city of Port Hueneme […]

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  • Mandalay State Beach

    Mandalay State Beach is a protected area of beach, dunes, and wetlands between a power generation plant and the Oxnard Shores neighborhood of Oxnard, CA. This is a popular place […]

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  • Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve

    Ranch Guadalupe Dunes Preserve County Park near Guadalupe, California has the northernmost beach along the Santa Barbara County coastline. These large sand dunes are managed by the Santa Barbara County […]

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  • Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge

    Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge contains a remote dunes complex and a seldom visited beach near Guadalupe, CA. Access to this 1.8 mile long stretch of coastline is via a […]

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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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  • Sandspit Beach – Montana de Oro State Park

    Sandspit Beach at Montana de Oro State Park is a long beach that starts south of Morro Bay and continues out onto the long sand spit barrier that protects the […]

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  • Morro Dunes Natural Preserve

    The northern end of the sand spit that divides Morro Bay from the ocean is a protected area called Morro Dunes Natural Preserve. This natural area is covered with dunes […]

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  • Point Sierra Nevada Dunes Beach

    Point Sierra Nevada sticks out into the Pacific Ocean north of San Simeon and Point Piedras Blancas. North of the point is a seldom visited sand dunes structure and a […]

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  • Asilomar State Beach

    Asilomar State Beach is located on the Pebble Beach side of Monterey Peninsula in Pacific Grove, CA. This linear state park is along Sunset Drive between Jewel Avenue and Crocker […]

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  • Sand City Beach

    The small city of Sand City, California is completely wrapped around by the city of Seaside. Once an industrial area along the shoreline, Sand City Beach is going through changes. […]

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  • The Crater Beach

    “The Crater” and its adjacent beach are known as a clothing-optional area, but they should be known for the sandy playground that they comprise. The Crater is a huge depression […]

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  • Fort Ord Dunes State Park Beach

    Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a relatively new California state park that protects the beach and dunes for a four-mile stretch south of Marina State Beach. This is an […]

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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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  • Marina Dunes Beach

    Marina Dunes Beach is located just north of Marina State Park about ten miles from Monterey, CA. Behind the beach is a resort, two hotels, and the Marina Dunes RV […]

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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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  • Zmudowski State Beach

    Zmudowski State Beach is located north of the small town of Moss Landing, CA. It’s a long remote sandy beach with tall dunes and vast wetlands behind it. The most […]

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  • Gazos Creek Beach

    Gazos Creek Beach Access is the northernmost part of Ano Nuevo State Reserve in southern San Mateo County. There is a parking lot just off Highway 1 north of a […]

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  • Pescadero State Beach – North Beach

    The North Beach at Pescadero State Beach is the main beach in this San Mateo County state park. It’s a wide sandy beach backed by dunes that are fun to […]

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  • Dunes Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach

    Dunes Beach is one of the northern beaches in Half Moon Bay State Beach. To reach the parking area turn onto Youngs Road just north of Half Moon Bay on […]

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  • Fort Funston Beach

    Fort Funston is the southernmost beach on the Pacific Coast side of San Francisco and is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Fort Funston is known for windy conditions […]

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  • Limantour Beach

    Limantour Beach is a south-facing beach on a sand spit between Drakes Bay and the Limantour Estero esturary. Limantour Beach has a nice large parking lot near the beach. Trails […]

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  • Abbotts Lagoon Beach

    Abbotts Lagoon Beach is along the rugged western shoreline of Point Reyes National Seashore. The beach is backed by huge sandy dunes and a couple large lagoons. To get here […]

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  • Lawson’s Landing Beach

    Lawson’s Landing is a privately-owned campground and resort on a wide sandy beach known as Sand Point at the entrance to Tomales Bay. The resort caters to tent and RV […]

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  • Bodega Dunes

    Bodega Dunes is a large state park campground and coastal dunes structure in the town of Bodega Bay. The beach at Bodega Dunes is vast and remote so beachcombers will […]

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  • Manchester State Park Beach

    Manchester Beach in Manchester State Park has about four miles of beach in Mendocino County north of Point Arena, CA. The sandy beach and dunes at Manchester stretch from Point […]

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  • Ten Mile Beach

    Ten Mile Beach is the long stretch of coastline at Inglenook Fen Ten Mile Dunes Preserve in MacKerricher State Park. The beach, which is actually about four miles long, starts […]

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  • Mattole River Beach

    Mattole Beach is at the sandy mouth of the Mattole River at the north end of King Range National Conservation Area. This remote area is reached via a long winding […]

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  • Centerville Beach County Park

    Centerville Beach County Park gives access to a long sandy beach that stretches from the parking area north all the way to the mouth of the Eel River. Behind the […]

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  • Eel River Wildlife Area

    Eel River Wildlife Area includes a long expanse of beach between the Eel River and the south end of Humboldt Bay near Eureka. The California State Department of Fish and […]

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  • Samoa Dunes Recreation Area

    Samoa Dunes Recreation Area is a sandy off-highway vehicle play area on Samoa Peninsula near Eureka. The recreation area is located on the south end of the North Jetty at […]

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  • Manila Dunes Recreation Area

    Manila Dunes Recreation Area is the section of beach on the Samoa Peninsula that fronts the small community of Manila not far from Eureka and Arcata. Access to the beach is easiest […]

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  • Friends of the Dunes Beach

    Friends of the Dunes is a non-profit organization with a visitor center, hiking trails, and beach access on Samoa Peninsula. The Humboldt Coastal Nature Center at Friends of the Dunes […]

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  • Ma-le’l Dunes – South Unit

    Ma-le’l Dunes on Samoa Peninsula is a Bureau of Land Management property that is open to the public daily during daylight hours. This land is part of the Ma-le’l Dunes […]

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  • Ma-le’l Dunes – North Unit

    Ma-le’l Dunes is a part of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge and managed through the Ma-le’l Dunes Cooperative Management Area. These north and south dunes are owned by different agencies […]

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  • Mad River Beach County Park

    Mad River Beach County Park is located where Mad River approaches the ocean a couple miles south of the actual river mouth. This location provides a great ocean beach access […]

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  • Clam Beach County Park

    Clam Beach is a Humboldt County Park just off Redwood Highway 101 near the city of McKinleyville. The beach is named for the plentiful razor clams that you can dig […]

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  • Little River State Beach

    Little River State Beach is a long wide sandy beach and sand dunes just south of the Little River mouth near Trinidad. The beach is a sandy walk through the […]

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  • Tolowa Dunes State Park – South Section

    Tolowa Dunes State Park, north of Crescent City, has two different areas that are separated by Earl Lake Wildlife Area. The south part of Tolowa Dunes SP is accessible via […]

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  • Kellogg Beach

    Kellogg Beach is a small Del Norte County beach access surrounded by state lands north of Crescent City. The beach access has a parking area and a path for vehicles […]

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