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If you are not afraid of using a rope to descend down to a beach, then this is your To Do List. Unlike Florida where all the beaches are flat and easy to get to, California has areas with steep rocky cliffs and beautiful hidden beaches below. Some of the beaches in California are inaccessible without a boat, but in a few cases the locals have gotten crafty and installed fixed ropes for descending the cliffs.

We have been to pretty much all of the beaches in California and we’ve found about ten amazing beaches that have fixed ropes to make access safer. Even with the ropes these beaches should be considered dangerous and not attempted by anyone that isn’t comfortable climbing down and back up using fixed ropes. Also, we should point out that these ropes can get frail over time so don’t trust them with all your weight. Inspect the anchors and the rope itself as you descend. You’ll want sturdy shoes and two free hands to make the descent and ascent safer. If it’s been raining, don’t try going down to these beaches as the routes become very slippery. Below is our list of the most difficult beaches to get to in California.

Sunset Cliffs Beach in San Diego

The route down to Sunset Cliffs Beach is not death defying as some of the others, but it still has a fixed rope at the bottom that makes it much safer. The steep cliffs in San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs neighborhood continue to erode and make shoreline access difficult.

Black’s Beach in La Jolla

There are several ways to get to Black’s Beach and none of them are easy, but there is one that has several challenges that make it one of the toughest beach accesses in California. It’s called the Ho Chi Minh Trail and it starts at an entrance hidden in the northern La Jolla “hood.” This neighborhood is one of the most expensive places to live in state, but the trail is for everyone, not just the nearby residents. Locals have been using this trail for years and have modified it to be safer and more fun too. Along the way, you’ll go through narrow eroded gullies with unique steps, cross over a ravine on a wooden plank, and then hold onto a rope as you carefully lower yourself to the beach below.

The Many Coves of Palos Verdes

Several coves on the Palos Verdes Peninsula between LA and Long Beach are difficult to access. Each has at least one route down, but locals often install fixed lines to make it easier to descend especially if they are carrying snorkeling or scuba equipment. Most of these coves including  Golden Cove, Christmas Tree Cove, Honeymoon Cove, and Lunada Bay have rocky shorelines and are not your typical Southern California sunbathing spots.

Cave Landing Beach in Avila Beach

The cliff at Cave Landing Beach is so steep that access is nearly impossible without the rope. Even though the rope is short, the exposure is great and a fall could be disastrous. After you reach the bottom the shoreline can be explored in both directions. Another fixed rope helps with a tricky traverse to another part of the beach. Several caves and alcoves are down there to be discovered!

The Jade Coves on Big Sur Coast

Jade Cove and North Jade Cove are two small rocky coves in south Big Sur that have green jade rocks scattered about. Access to both is via steep cliffs that are crumbly and loose. North Jade Cove has a long rope installed that runs the full length of the descent. Most of the valuable jade stones have been stolen over time, but there are still many green rocks to look at (don’t take any).

Davenport Pier Beach

The beach at Davenport Pier ranks high on beach bucket lists for coastal photographers. The old concrete arches from a former pier are used to frame winter sunsets that are spectacular from the beach level (in summer the sun sets farther north). However, the route down to the beach is steep and crumbly. It often has a fixed rope and competent scramblers take their time getting from bluff to beach. If there is no rope in place don’t take a chance. It’s not worth the risk.

Tunitas Creek Beach near Half Moon Bay

Tunitas Creek Beach is one of those beaches that tourists speed by on Highway 1. It’s a big beach that draws attention enough to stop and take a picture, but other than locals, few venture down to the beach. The access is a steep dirt trail that has fixed ropes which helps as the surface is slippery even when dry. This beach recently got some good news. A local trust has purchased the land above it and will work with San Mateo County to create a beach park over the next few years. Ropes will no longer be necessary!

Little River Blowhole

Little River Blowhole is completely hidden from view so it is seldom discovered by anyone from outside the Mendocino area. This tiny sandy beach is at the bottom of a hole in the Earth that is cliffs on all sides. Locals have installed a rope on one side where there are hand holds in the form of roots and tree branches. At the bottom you’ll discover a cave that leads out to the ocean!

Secret Beach in Davenport

Photo by Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project,

Secret Beach is part of the Coast Dairies State Property near the small town of Davenport. Few people have ever seen this beach as it is hidden below steep cliffs behind a farm. It is between two of our favorite beaches Davenport Cove and San Vicente Beach and if access was easier it would be well-known like the other beaches in the area. One of the nicknames we have found for this beach is “Rope Beach” but the fixed rope might not be there anymore. If it is, enjoy the beach, but otherwise don’t attempt this one.