Off Highway 1
Zmudowski State Beach
7 miles south of Watsonville, Struve Rd. to Giberson Rd.
Moss Landing State Beach
8 miles south of Watsonville on Jetty Rd.
Salinas River State Beach
1 mile south of Moss Landing on Potrero Rd.
Marina State Beach
10 miles north of Monterey in Marina on Reservation Rd.
Day Use Free
The Dunes Beaches are a string of four similar state beaches along the northern Monterey County coast. Sand dunes serve as buffers for ocean breezes and as habitat for shore creatures. None of the state beaches has been developed beyond parking areas, simple restroom facilities, boardwalks, and a few picnic tables.
Strong rip currents make them very dangerous for swimming, although experienced surfers and windsurfers frequent some of the beaches. Nearby rivers, estuaries and wetlands are exceptional places for viewing wildlife, including birds, sea otters, and seals.
A trail leads over the dunes to the sandy beach. Among the most popular activities at Zmudowski Beach are fishing and clamming. The beach connects with Moss Landing Beach to the south, creating a continuous 3-mile stretch of sand. Next to the beach is the Pajaro River estuary, a nature preserve. Horses are allowed along the waterline.
Visitors to Zmudowski State Beach find they often have the long expanse of sand pretty much to themselves. Expect big waves crashing onto the shore and fishermen casting into the surf. Pick up supplies in nearby Watsonville before heading to the beach.
The road to the beach is filled with potholes in places and requires a little maneuvering. Restrooms consist of a single porta-potty, poorly maintained.
Moss Landing Beach draws surfers, windsurfers, horseback riders, bird watchers, nature lovers, and anglers. Its proximity to Elkhorn Slough affords beach-goers the opportunity to watch sea lions and rafts of sea otters out in the slough and even on the beach. Picnickers appreciate the row of sand dunes that shields them from the ocean wind.
Kayaks can be launched from a landing spot along the slough, but caution should be taken when entering the main channel. See our information on Elkhorn Slough. Several porta-potties are located along the side of the road. As with nearby beaches, these are poorly maintained.
The inland view includes the yacht harbor, the mouth of Elkhorn Slough, and the towering stacks of the power plant. A jetty at the edge of the slough is a good place to walk out for better views and for fishing.
A boardwalk and steep dunes trails lead down to the beach. The most popular activities here are hiking, clamming, and fishing. Horseback riders enjoy the beach. Just south of the state beach is the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge.
A sandy walking trail on the leeward side of the dunes runs the full length of the state beach. Facilities at Salinas River Beach are similar to rest of the Monterey Dunes beaches, porta-potties that are in need of servicing.
Follow a 2,000-foot boardwalk to the beach. Halfway to the beach is a wheelchair accessible observation platform. Access to the beach can also be gained from Lake Court in Marina. Pass through a gate and follow a steep trail up to the beach. Horses are not allowed here.
Hang-gliding is popular at Marina State Beach. A hang-gliding deck with a launch ramp is located at the main beach at the Reservation Road entrance. Learn more about hang-gliding on our Activities page.
The Marina Beach sand dunes extend down the coast to Sand City and are the highest in the central coast. Parts of the dunes are closed during the snowy plover nesting season. Immediately north of the state peach is the Marina Nature Preserve with a signed nature trail.
Moss Landing Beach is a great place to watch for bottled nosed dolphins through summer and fall from one of the overlooks on the bluff. A pair of binoculars is a good item to add to your beach bag. Gray whales are most often sighted from mid-December through mid-April. Humpback whales, blue whales and killer whales are sometimes seen during this same migration period. Also keep an eye out for sea otters. For bird watchers expect various shore birds, white tailed kites, western snowy plovers, and red-tailed hawks.
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