Rock arches are some of the most spectacular of Mother Nature’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. States such as Oregon and Washington have well-known rock arches too, but not in the sheer quantity that California does. See the full list of beaches with rock arches below.
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.
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.
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 tell you where to find the rock arches or where be able to see them best.
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 the arch 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 arches, it is possible that erosion will create new ones in our lifetimes.
The arch at Natural Bridges State Beach is probably the most photographed of California’s arches. It is a beautiful spot with easy access in Santa Cruz.
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.
Many of the rock arches of California are less-known, but equally photogenic at the right time of day and from the right location. You just have to seek them out and be patient for the right shot.
California’s arches have descriptive names like Elephant Rock, The Keyhole, Jug Handle, The Kissing Rock, and of course Arch Rock (so creative).
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.
See the list below of all the beaches on the California coast that have rock arches to discover. These beaches are listed from south to north.