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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 have rocky shorelines and are not your typical Southern California sunbathing spots. These hidden coves include Golden Cove, Christmas Tree Cove, Honeymoon Cove, and Lunada Bay.

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 in places. This helps a lot as the trail surface is sloped and the dirt 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 three 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

Copyright (C) 2002-2017 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 fabulous 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.

Beaches on this list

  • Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – Garbage Beach

    Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a steep hillside park between Point Loma Nazarene University and the ocean. There are boot-beaten footpaths all over the hillside here to explore. The beach […]

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  • New Break Beach

    New Break Beach is a hard to reach surfing spot in the Sunset Cliffs area of San Diego. This beach is narrow and probably all wet at high tide. Access […]

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  • No Surf Beach

    The San Diego area beach known as “No Surf Beach” is located between Hill and Froude Streets below Sunset Cliffs Boulevard in the Sunset Cliffs neighborhood. There is a short steep […]

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  • Black’s Beach

    Black’s Beach is a famous clothing-optional beach below a “gliderport” parking area on Torrey Pines Mesa. Blacks is a combo of Torrey Pines City Beach and Torrey Pines State Beach […]

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  • Golden Cove

    Golden Cove is a semicircular cove just north of Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. This cove doesn’t have a sandy beach, but it has some of the best […]

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  • Christmas Tree Cove

    Christmas Tree Cove is a rocky cove that straddles the border of Rancho Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Estates, CA. The cove doesn’t have a sandy beach, but it does […]

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  • Honeymoon Cove

    Honeymoon Cove is a small cove surrounded by high bluffs with homes built right to the edge in Palos Verdes Estates. The beach in this cove is very rocky so […]

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  • Lunada Bay Beach

    Lunada Bay is a small bay or large cove, depending on how you look at it, in the Palos Verdes Estates area. It’s probably best known for surfing although the […]

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  • Cave Landing Beach

    Cave Landing Beach is a hidden and hard-to-reach beach below Cave Landing in Avila Beach CA. Most of the visitors to the Cave Landing parking lot will head down the […]

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  • Jade Cove

    Jade Cove is a rocky cove south of Sand Dollar Picnic Area on the southern Big Sur Coast. Jade Cove is known for the jade stones that have been plucked […]

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  • North Jade Cove

    North Jade Cove is between Jade Cove and Sand Dollar Beach in the Big Sur area of Monterey County. Like Jade Cove just to the south, this spot is filled […]

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  • Davenport Pier Beach

    Davenport Pier Beach is the northern of two beaches right in the tiny town of Davenport, CA. This beach is across from the huge concrete and cement plant that’s visible […]

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  • Tunitas Creek Beach

    Tunitas Creek Beach is a large, but hard-to-reach beach along Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay. Those who get to visit the beach would agree that this is one […]

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  • Little River Blowhole

    The Little River Blowhole is a natural feature near the shoreline in Little River, CA. The waves from the ocean roll in through a rock tunnel and have created a […]

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  • Secret Beach of Coast Dairies

    Secret Beach in the Coast Dairies state lands is hidden below a farm between Davenport Cove and Davenport Beach in northern Santa Cruz County. The cliff walls around the beach […]

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