California has quite a few picturesque beach waterfalls and falls near beaches that are profiled below. Waterfalls that flow right onto the sand are a much more unique phenomenon – only two exist in California.
Southern California has large sandy beaches, but this arid environment has few waterfalls anywhere near the ocean. Central and Northern California however, have several waterfalls right on the beach. All of them require some sort of hike to reach, but in most cases the hikes are short and the trails are in good condition. Below is a list with pictures of the best beach waterfalls in California.
Note that all of these waterfalls will be a trickle after a long dry spell. If you want to see them at full throttle, it is best to visit during the wetter months or after a heavy rain. We think these waterfalls are beautiful even they are barely flowing. For a map and location of each waterfall, click on the links under the photos.
McWay Falls, Big Sur
At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park you are not allowed to go down to the waterfall, but you do get a perfect vantage point for photography. In addition to a waterfall, this beach has a rock arch (barely visible on the right in the zoomed picture above). See more rock arches in California. McWay Falls is one of the most photographed spots on the Big Sur Coast.
Alamere Falls, Point Reyes
Alamere Falls is a hard one to find. It’s on a remote beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. That said, many diehard waterfall fans will hike all the way out here to see and photograph it. McWay might be the best-known beach falls, but Alamere Falls is much more rewarding as you can get right up to it. The long day-hike to get here and back to the car is strenuous, but doable. Start at the Palomarin Trailhead and hike north.
Point Reyes has another cascade behind Secret Beach. It’s small and probably not worth the long trek out there by itself, but Secret Beach has a rock arch and natural amphitheater and is one of the most unique beaches in California.
Phillips Gulch Falls, Jenner
This waterfall is seasonal and doesn’t fall onto sand, but it is cool to see in person. Few people know about Phillips Gulch Falls, but they should. It’s just a short walk from Highway 1 near Salt Point State Park between Jenner and Sea Ranch in Sonoma County.
Soberanes Creek Falls, Carmel
Soberanes Creek passes under scenic Highway 1 in Garrapata State Park about 8 miles south of Carmel-By-The-Sea and then tumbles down toward the ocean. These are not big falls, but the setting is beautiful. The creek cascades down in a series of pools directly above a small rocky beach that is a accessible via a steep scramble.
Russian Gulch Waterfall, Mendocino
This 36-foot waterfall is a short hike away from the beach at Russian Gulch State Park. In addition to the Russian Gulch Falls, this beautiful park has a wonderful sandy beach, a picturesque concrete arch bridge, and a “punchbowl” which is one of the most unique features on the California Coast.
Black Swift Falls, Big Sur
photo Big Sur Lodging
Black Swift Falls flows down a cliff right behind a beach located below Ragged Point Inn on the Big Sur Coast. During most of the touristy high season Young Creek is just a trickle as seen in this photo, but after a rain it can be an impressive sight. The hike down from the inn down to Young Creek Beach is a steep one but it’s worth the effort. Staying at the inn is also highly recommended.
Other Big Sur Waterfalls
Big Sur has several other waterfalls that are easily accessible from Highway 1, but are not right at a beach.
Salmon Creek Falls is a short hike from a ranger station along Highway 1.
Limekiln Falls can be found up a trail in Limekiln State Park.
Canyon Falls on Mcway Creek is a short distance up the Ewoldsen Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Pfeiffer Falls are in the Big Sur area, but not that close to the beach. The hike up is over 400 feet elevation gain, but an easy day hike.