Monterey Dunes Beaches Activities

Zmudowski, Moss Landing, Salinas River, & Marina Beaches

Nearby Activities and Events

Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge

A great birding site just a mile north of Marina State Beach. Take the northern Del Monte exit off Highway 1 and head north as Del Monte becomes a dirt road, Neonset Road. Follow it a short distance to the trailhead for the wildlife refuge. Pick up a brochure and map there. Look for Brant's Geese, mallards, Ruddy Ducks Avocets, and Snowy Plovers.
Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge

Locke-Paddon Wetland Community Park

Located off Reservation Road in Marina
Trails around the wetlands, picnic tables, restrooms
Locke-Paddon Park

Specialized Aviation
Whale Spotting Tours

40 minute helicopter tours.
Watsonville Airport
(831) 763-2244
Specialized Aviation

Monterey Bay

A Classic

Wildlife Viewing

Zmudowski State Beach

At the mouth of the Pajaro River on the north end of the beach is an estuary frequented by a variety of birds. Likely you will see brown pelicans along with several types of terns and gulls.

In the dunes Snowy Plovers nest from February to September and use the dunes as a rookery all year long. Hiding in the dunes you might see a black legless lizard or a Santa Cruz long-toed salamander.

Moss Landing Beach

Visitors to Moss Landing Beach are often rewarded with sightings of a variety of marine mammals from sea lions to sea otters. The best places for viewing are near the mouth of the Elkhorn Slough where they tend to congregate. It's not usual to spot rafts of sea otters in the harbor channel or individuals on the beach.

Birders will sight pelicans, sea ducks, loons, grebes, and many other species at the nearby 728-acre Moss Landing Wildlife Area on the north side of Elkhorn Slough. Access the wildlife area across Highway 1 from the Elkhorn Yacht Club. The salt ponds and salt marshes provide habitat for all kinds of wildlife.

Salinas River State Beach

Like all the other beaches in the area, the dunes are habitat to western Snowy Plovers. Caspian terns also use the vegetated dunes for nesting from April through August. Near the mouth of the Salinas River keep an eye out for the short-eared owl. More often spotted at Salinas Beach are brown pelicans.

Leatherback sea turtles swim just offshore from May through November. Pismo clams are buried in the intertidal zone sand. In the kelp beds offshore look for sea otter.

Marina State Beach

Western Snowy Plovers nest in the dunes. Brown pelicans fish the water just offshore. Sea otters like the kelp beds.

Swimming and Surfing

While strong rip currents at the Dunes Beaches makes swimming very dangerous, experienced surfers take to the waves at many of the beaches. Most of the best surfing is done in the morning when the winds are lighter.

Zmudowski State Beach:
Moss Landing State Beach: Especially popular with local surfers. Right and left beach break. Swells known to reach more than 10 feet. Less experienced surfers usually stick to the area near the jetty.
Salinas River State Beach:
Marina State Beach: known for consistent waves, usually 3 to 5 feet. Sharks are a concern here.
Monterey Bay Area Water Temperatures

Riding the Wind at Marina Beach

Ocean winds blowing inland at Marina Beach are forced upward as they push against the dunes that rise behind the beach. This upward draft makes the area especially good for hang gliding. At the Reservation Road entrance to the beach is a hang gliding launch ramp.

Caution: Check with rangers or lifeguards that conditions are safe for your planned activities.

Hang Gliding and Parasailing

The Marina Coastal Condors, a hang gliding and paragliding club, works with the California Department of Parks and Recreation and is responsible for all flying activities at Marina State Beach. Marina Beach is a United State Hang Gliding & Parasailing Association (USHPA) regulated site.

For reasons of safety, in order to fly at Marina Beach you must be a USHPA member and have a rating of H3/P3 or above. Regardless of where you plan to fly on the state beach, upon arrival you must check in at the main entrance on Reservation Road. See the complete list of rules for flying at Marina State Beach. Flyers new to the beach should contact a Condors club member prior to your visit.

Kites and Gliders

The same winds that keep hang gliders aloft, are also great for kite flying and radio controlled gliders.

Marina International Festival of the Winds

Apparently no longer held, the annual festival celebrated all kinds of wind-based activities from kite flying to hang gliding. The festival included live music, entertainment, kite making, skim boarding, food and drink, and a giant inflatable air park. Most events were held at nearby Glorya Jean Tate Park and the Marina Skate Park. Admission was free.
Marina International Festival of the Winds

Horseback Riding on the Beach

Several of the Dunes Beaches allow horseback riding. At Zmudowski State Beach riders must keep to the wet sand along the water line, while at Moss Landing and Salinas River beaches riders can enjoy the whole beach. Marina State Beach does not allow horseback riding.

Monterey Bay Equestrian Center

The Monterey Bay Equestrian Center offers guided rides on Salinas River State Beach. For groups as small as 2 and for riders of varying abilities, the Equestrian Center will tailor a ride to meet your needs. Rides are from one to two hours. Riders must be at least 8 years old.
Monterey Bay Equestrian Center

Seahorse Equestrian Tours

Seahorse Equestrian Tours leads trips on both Zmudowski State Beach and Moss Landing Beach. Among their outings is a popular Sunset Ride.
Seahorse Equestrian Tours


The coast of northern Monterey County provides some of the best surf fishing in the area. Among the fish most often caught are surfperch, kingfish, sole, jacksmelt, surf smelt, striped bass, California halibut.

Most surf anglers report their best success in the early morning or that last hour before dusk. Fishing on the incoming tide when fish are feeding increases odds of success.

Ocean Safety

California State Parks and Recreation cautions that "large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly." Learn more about ocean safety at CA State Parks: Ocean Safety

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