Located inland from the coast, San Jose isn’t exactly known for its beaches, but it’s the perfect base from which to explore a piece of California’s scenic coastline along Highway 1. The 70-mile stretch of coast that runs south of San Francisco to Santa Cruz is where you’ll find some of the most picturesque beaches in Northern California.

From secluded coves to bustling tide pools, whale watching, black sand and sweeping views over craggy sea arches, these are the best beaches near San Jose, California.

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A sea arch next to natural bridges state beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is the perfect spot for relaxing day with the family © mhgstan / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Natural Bridges State Beach

Best beach for families

With its signature sea arch, tide pools and monarch butterfly grove nearby, Natural Bridges State Beach has a lot to offer families and day-trippers.

Take in the views from the lookout point at the end of West Cliff Drive where you can usually spot lounging seals and maybe a breaching whale in the distance.

On warm days, enjoy the sandy beach that’s just big enough to never feel too crowded. Watch the diving pelicans trying to catch lunch and long-necked egrets and herons enjoying a walk along the sand. On the west side of the beach, discover colorful tide pools teeming with various sea life during low tide.

If you’re visiting in the late fall or winter, explore the monarch butterfly grove a short walk from the beach. The 8000 butterflies that call these eucalyptus trees home for a few months each year are stunning to see up close. If all else fails, there’s always surfing, swimming, picnicking, photography, or exploring the hiking trails in the 65-acre state park.

Half Moon Bay State Beach
People relax outdoors on a sunny day at Half Moon Bay State Beach © Gado Images / Getty Images

Half Moon Bay State Beach

Best beach for beautiful views

Half Moon Bay is perhaps most famous for nearby Mavericks Beach, which is where some of the largest waves in the world come through each winter. Just four miles south, however, you’ll find a quieter and more serene experience at Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Known for its impressive scenery, an abundance of wildflowers in the spring and long stretches of sand, Half Moon Bay State Beach is easily one of the most beautiful beaches near San Jose.

The four-mile state beach is actually made up of four smaller beaches: Francis Beach, Venice Beach, Dunes Beach and Roosevelt Beach. Choose one or explore them all and walk along the sand or the coastal trail that runs parallel to the beach.

Spend the day swimming in the usually calm waters with small waves and chow down on a packed lunch at one of the picnic tables with a panoramic view. When you’re done, explore the small downtown area of Half Moon Bay with its seafood restaurants and local boutiques, only a five-minute drive away.

The distinctive shark-fin-shaped rock jutting out of the ocean at Shark Fin Cove
It's not hard to see why photographers make the journey to Shark Fin Cove © Yesenia Diaz-Flores / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Shark Fin Cove

Best beach for photography

Before it became popular with photographers and the Instagram community, Shark Fin Cove was relatively unheard of a decade ago. Even today, it doesn’t get the same traffic that most Santa Cruz beaches do. It’s far enough away from the city on a remote part of Highway 1 that it’s still mostly frequented by locals and photographers who are willing to make the trek.

With its jutting rocks and waters that can change from calm to crashing in a matter of seconds, this isn’t a beach to swim at but to admire.

Bring your camera to capture the beach’s most notable feature – the fin-shaped rock a few feet from shore. To the left of the beach is a sea cave that can be explored with caution during low tide. Afterward, walk along the cliffside path above the beach to take in the vibrant green algae surrounding the rocks and swirling aquamarine waters below.

If you want the beach mostly to yourself, visit during the week or in the winter, just note that there are no facilities at the beach.

Rugged Northern Californa beach in Pacifica near San Francisco on a cloudy day with a beam of sunlight on the sand with spring flowers in the foreground
There are few better places to be than Pacifica State Beach when the fog clears © SvetlanaSF / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Linda Mar State Beach

Best beach for surfing

As the go-to beach for beginner surfers in the Bay Area, Linda Mar State Beach (also known as Pacifica State Beach) can get crowded on the weekends. Luckily, the crescent-shaped beach is just big enough at nearly a mile long to make it enjoyable even on crowded days for beachgoers and novice surfers to test their skills on beginner waves.

As one of the foggiest places in the Bay Area, you’ll be lucky if you can catch the beach on a sunny day. When you do though, it’s one of the best places to be in town. With colorful stacked houses on a hillside in the distance, plenty of dogs to say hello to and a coastal trail with abundant wildflowers, there’s a lot to love about this beach besides the surfing.

Before you leave, grab some chalupas from “The world’s nicest Taco Bell” next door and enjoy the view from their outdoor patio. If you’re more of an advanced surfer, bring your wetsuit and board just over a mile north to Rockaway Beach, where the waves are often larger and wilder.

Introducing Northern California

Sharp Park Beach

Best black sand beach

Just north of Linda Mar and Rockaway, you’ll find another Pacifica beach and one of the few black sand beaches near San Jose – Sharp Park Beach.

Take in the golden-hued cliffs in the distance and lay out on the pebbled sand, turned black from a natural iron-oxide mineral called magnetite. Enjoy a picnic on the beach, walk along the promenade that runs parallel to the ocean and make your way out to the Pacifica Pier where fishermen catch fresh Dungeness crab in the winter and salmon in the summer.

End your day with a hike to Mori Point to feel the wind on your face and see the beach from a bird’s eye view at the top of Bootlegger’s Steps.

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