The Pacific meets the Northern Humboldt coast in long sandy beaches, hidden coves peppered with sea stacks and caves, tidepools and lagoons strewn with boulders and agates, and sheer cliffs glittering with gold. No matter the location, these top eight Redwood Coast beaches, listed from north to south, share two key features: pristine nature and no crowds.
Gold Bluff Beach
A mining rush in the 1800s put this ten-mile sandy strand in Redwood National and State Parks on the map. Today it is better known as the access point for Fern Canyon, a beautiful natural gorge draped in rare feathery fronds and delicate waterfalls, and for its beachfront campground, which has flush toilets, running water and solar heated showers. Whether a day or overnight guest, chances are good you’ll see more Roosevelt elk than people. To reach it, from Orick, go three miles north on Hwy 101, then five miles west on Davidson Road. There is a small day-use fee. To camp, reserve a spot in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park with www.ReserveCalifornia.com. For day-use parking at Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach, reserve a spot here.
Wildlife and adventures await in Big, Stone and Freshwater Lagoons, a string of natural coastal lakes just south of Redwood National Park, which together are a combo state and county park. Giant flocks of cormorants, waterside campgrounds, curious otters, windsurfing, fishing, lounging sea lions. Big Lagoon features shallow, warmer regions, popular with swimmers and kayakers. Stone Lagoon includes Ryan’s Cove, a waterfront promontory with a boat-in only primitive campground. And Freshwater Lagoon draws anglers of all levels. Be mindful that the ocean beaches along the lagoons have steep wave slopes and strong currents. Best to check tide and current conditions
The sight of people walking slowly with their heads bowed, intently studying the ground as though they’ve lost a contact lens puzzles newbies to this spot about seven miles north of Trinidad. But rock hounds know the treasure they seek: agates, semi-precious stones polished and dished up by nature in an amazing variety of colors, shapes and natural translucence. Strong tides churn up the agates and deliver them to shore at low ebbs, especially after seasonal storms. Be mindful of the waves during your search, which might turn up more precious moonstone and jade specimens. Reach the beach from a steep access trail at Patrick’s Point State Park.
This secluded hideaway, protected from ocean winds and waves, is a great place to sun bask and, for the hardy in the warmer months, take a brief splash in the Pacific, always mindful of current conditions, of course. Five minutes by car from Trinidad, to reach it go north on Patrick’s Point Drive, turn left on Anderson Lane, then right on Stagecoach Road. A marked entrance on the oceanside leads the shady parking and picnic area. From there, go north for a few minutes on the forested rim trail, which offers periodic scenic glimpses of College Cove below, then descend the steep trail to the cove. Bring a Frisbee, dog or picnic.
Trinidad State Beach
Adjacent to Trinidad Head, a large promontory with working lighthouse and clifftop hiking loop, this beach features a long sandy cove, freshwater and sea stacks like the Grandmother Rock, which watches over beachcombers, dog walkers and surfers, and Pewetole Island, a thick chunk of earth crowned by a clump of Sitka spruce resembling a tuft of hair. The offshore rocks are part of the California Coastal National Monument. The onshore tide pools provide specimens, like sea anemone and hermit crabs, for the nearby Humboldt State University marine lab’s touch tanks, a favorite of kids. The main beach is easily accessible from the Trinidad Pier parking lot, where a memorial lighthouse stands sentinel.
Sweeping panoramas of the Pacific greet guests at the parking lot trailhead on Scenic Drive, about two miles south of Trinidad. From there, enjoy a small picnic area or take one of two trails down, one that leads to a vista point overlook, where one can see the iconic Camel Rock, another that descends down a steep staircase, then crosses a creek to Luffenholtz Beach proper, a spectacular and kid-friendly rocky cove. Tide pools and reefs full of sea creatures lure beachcombers, but keep an eye on tides to prevent being stranded. A bonus adventure stop one-third mile south on Scenic Drive, Houda Point beach sports a large ocean-facing walk-in cave, accessible only at negative tides.
An excellent all-around beach, Moonstone is ideal for surfing, rock climbing, bouldering, picnics and family swims and splashes in the Little River, which lazily empties in the Pacific here. Along the edge of the river and ocean, big rocks shelter tide pools. Small ones welcome scampering kids. On the far side, hidden beach caves draw the curious, big sea stacks and the iconic two-humped Camel Rock the photographers. On the nearside, overlooking the beach on a bluff, the Moonstone Grill offers great sunsets over drinks and dinner. To reach Moonstone, heading south on Hwy 101, take the Trinidad exit, go south on Scenic Drive for 3.5 miles, then turn sharply at the sign for Moonstone Grill. Heading north on Hwy 101, take the Westhaven exit north of McKinleyville to Moonstone Beach Road
Hwy 101 dramatically meets the sea at Clam Beach, a long, wide strand with fine gray sand known for its tasty giant razor clams, which mollusk hunters pursue with clam guns and shovels in sand and surf. Just north of Trinidad, this county park has two beachfront campgrounds, first come/first serve, plenty of parking, and free day use. Bikers, hikers and horseback riders start at the trailhead here for the Hammond Coastal Trail, which goes south for five miles to Mad River Beach. The long gentle wave slope makes Clam Beach popular for beachcombing, fishing and surfing and runners, who splash across the finish line each spring at the