Beautiful Beaches to Visit From Fresno, California

Cayucos State Beach is the perfect spot for swimming and surfing
Cayucos State Beach is the perfect spot for swimming and surfing | © Hanna Tor / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alice Johnston
Food Editor6 August 2020

As Fresno is over 100mi (161km) away from the coast, it can’t by any stretch be described as a beach town. However, there are plenty of stunning beaches like Santa Cruz and Cayucos State Beach within a two-and-a-half-hour drive of the city.

Marina State Beach

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Sunset at Marina State Beach , Pacific Ocean , Southwestern California , California , USA
© Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Marina State Beach is the type of beach you see when you’re sitting at your desk and close your eyes for a second to dream about the ocean. A picture perfect sandy beach with rugged dunes in Marina, California. The surf and wind here mean it’s great for water sports, with plenty of hang-gliders launching from the dunes and surfers riding the waves, although the surf can be dangerous so be careful. Plenty of parking and a sandy boardwalk make this an ideal spot for a beach day.

Santa Cruz Main Beach

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You most likely have seen this beach and its boardwalk in movies. Main Beach stretches from the mouth of the San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf wooden pier. South-facing, it gets a lot of sun so it can be very busy. This spot is for you if you’re after a classic American beach day out, with amusement park rides, minigolf, a swimming pool, a bowling alley and many restaurants within walking distance. If you forget your bucket and spade, don’t worry – you’ll be able to find what you need here.

Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge

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An offbeat choice, this remote, long and sandy beach lies at the mouth of the Salinas River north of Monterey. You’re guaranteed to find isolation and quiet at the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to swimming and sandcastle-building, there are many hiking trails with stunning views. Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the wildlife refuge has unique things to look out for, including a large beached barge in the surf, visible a half-mile north of the beach. The blue water, yellow sand and green dunes here combine for a postcard-worthy scene.

Spooner’s Cove

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Montana De Oro State Park, looking at Spooner's Cove, California, USA
© Matt Dayka / Alamy Stock Photo

In a cove where Islay Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean in Montaña de Oro State Park, this pretty, pebbly beach is ideal for exploration, especially at low tide. It also features tide pools, caves and unique rock formations to clamber around on. A campground is right across the street if you want to stay longer. You can also bring your furry friends, as dogs are allowed year-round (on a leash). Trails surround the area, so if you’re into horseback riding or mountain biking, this place is perfect.

Cayucos State Beach

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Right on the waterfront of the town of Cayucos is its beach. This sandy shore is perfect if you want to experience some old-fashioned fun. The attached Cayucos Pier, which dates to 1875, is open to fishing day and night. Beautiful views abound here, so you can lie on the sand and take in the beach, town, rolling hills and even Morro Rock in the distance. A gradual slope into the water makes it great for little ones.

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

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While the name of this beach doesn’t make it sound like a bundle of fun, it really is. It’s the only California State Park where you can drive non-street-legal vehicles freely on the sand. Dune buggies, motorbikes and four-wheel-drives can all run riot here. At 5mi (8km) long, it’s a great place to blow off steam. Just be careful driving your ordinary car here because you might get stuck in the sand. Beach camping is allowed and recommended as the scenery here is completely stunning.

These recommendations were updated on August 6, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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