9 Best Northern California Coastal Towns For A Cheap Getaway
Who wouldn’t want to reside in the coastal town sinking their feet into warm sand getting a natural tan, drinking lemonade and enjoying crashing waves?
The best cities to live in northern California are often busy with urban lifestyles and hectic schedules whereas Northern California coastal towns are paradisiacal.
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Northern California is home to wild deserted beaches, vintage roller coasters, wooden boardwalks, Redwoods, river estuaries, craggy cliffs, and diverse cuisine.
The beach towns in Northern California offer simple life, cool weather, diverse cuisine, hiking trails, and memorable sports to perform.
This blog offers complete information on the coastal towns in northern California. Therefore, I make sure your relocating to California stories are smooth.
Cost of Living – Northern California Coastal Towns
Are places like Crescent City, Shelter Cove, Fort Bragg, and Trinidad are in your list?
North California beach towns are gifted with silky white sand covered with dunes, and sometimes small sandy stripes on river shores.
If you want to buy a beautiful home in the best coastal towns in California, you have to spend a good amount of dollars.
According to the data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in 2020, the cost of living in California is $46,636 annually. Therefore, it comes to $3,886 per month.
However, beaches in northern California tend to be more windy and cold, unlike SoCal beaches which have calm wind and warm sunlight.
North California coastal towns are culturally diverse and considered surfing havens. Hence, purchasing an affordable home can be a complex process.
The rough estimate of the cost of living in northern California coastal towns is approx. $1500 – $ 2000 per month. One room apartment in City Centre can cost $650.
However, if you plan to buy a property, the maintenance cost of the yard will be much higher. To afford to live in California, renting is a much better option.
Additionally, to survive you need to pay for a few basic things like electricity, water, internet, and gas.
You have to do your research to find affordable northern California beach towns. Cities like Crescent City and Oxnard can be cheap and affordable.
As per information collected from the Government office of California, the average utility cost is $375/ month. Moreover, electricity and internet cost is above $110/ month.
Furthermore, health care expenses per person on average will be around $7,638/ year and average grocery and food costs will be $302.50/ month.
Therefore, calculating the average median household income has to be a minimum of $65,500 to offer a good standard of living.
The coastal living in northern California is more dynamic and the crime rate per resident in Crescent City is 56.35.
Differences between Southern & Northern California Coastal Towns
“Where exactly is Northern California”
However, there is no hard boundary separating Northern and Southern California, but as per the internet, the border sits south of Big Sur.
Starting from Monterey County to Sonoma County is considered as North California. However, you cannot deny how spectacular North California’s beauty is.
The dress code of Northern California is mostly in layers rather swimsuits. This is because the weather is mostly gloomy and colder.
There are a lot of theories and debates regarding the physical boundary but few things are all sorted.
San Francisco and its constituents are north whereas, San Diego and Los Angeles are south.
However, Southern California is full of sunshine and has a lot of warm deserts. Northern California is home to pristine redwood forests and hubs of rural outposts.
Napa and Santa Barbara are gorgeous places and Wine County is famous vineyards. There are thriving urban centers that make the place beautiful.
Northern California Coast Maps with Cities
Beach Towns in Northern California
I am listing some iconic northern California coastal towns that are family-friendly with plenty of natural scenery to admire. You can also reside here forever or stay for a few days.
These places are well managed and have proper hotels, restaurants, recreation centers, schools, and industries to work.
1. Pescadero – San Mateo County
Population: 585 (2020 US Census estimate)
Pescadero is an offbeat small coastal town in northern California which is located just a short drive from Half Moon Bay and 45 miles south of San Francisco.
The unique rural environment with gigantic redwoods, gorgeous views of the Bay, and small local markets is so picturesque and beautiful.
The place offers an appealing old-fashioned vibe that it feels like you are in the Victorian era. However, the cost of living is 75% higher than the national average.
As per area vibe, housing is 182% higher than the national average in Pescadero. Moreover, the median household income is around $120139.
Things to do in Pescadero
- Visit Harley Farm, the local goat dairy farm for a picnic around the pond at the weekend. Do not forget to taste goat milk.
- Also, a weekend visit to Pescadero Winery at Sante Arcangeli Winery to enjoy 6 flight wine paired with the famous cheese
- To enjoy the picturesque Pacific coast with whales and fishes, and rocky reefs, visit Pigeon Point Lighthouse. I would suggest you stay here at night and enjoy the stars twinkling.
- Wear your beautiful swimsuits at Pistachio Beach, Bean Hollow State Beach, Pescadero State Beach, Pomponio State Beach, and San Gregorio State Beach. Also, a small hike from Bean Hollow Beach visits Arroyo De Los Frijoles Beach to enjoy rust-brown sands.
- Hike through redwoods at Butano State Park
- Watch elephant seal and go for a guided walking tour at Ano Nuevo State Park
- A simple stroll around downtown Pescadero is so light and enticing. You will see colorful doors that sell gorgeous antiques.
2. Morro Bay – San Luis Obispo County
Have you ever got fooled by the size of a product? You thought such small products won’t have value! If yes, then let me warn you, don’t let Moro Bay’s size fool you.
Morro Bay is a small fishing village surrounded by natural features like Moro Rock, a national estuary, and home to hundreds of species of birds.
Morro Bay is not only my favorite but also one of the best coastal towns to visit in northern California. This seaside escape is perfect for people who love waterfront views and life at the bay.
Residents here lead a simple life with a median income is around $64,040 and a median home value is $637,249. A single adult expense can be around $ 46,187 a year.
The laid-back vibes, fewer tourists, and cooler temperatures make Morro Bay an ideal destination to settle down.
Things to do in Morro Bay
- Go on a whale-watching expedition to spot blue whales, grey whales, humpback whales and dolphins too.
- Visit Morro Rock, 576 feet tall natural piece, the Morro Rock at Morro Bay. Also, come to Black Hill, Anchor Memorial Park, Morro Bay T Pier, and Morro Rock Beach.
- Visit Morro Bay State Park for sweeping views of the bay and the ocean beyond. There are some popular hiking trails that you might follow.
- For evening snacks at Tognazzini’s Dockside, try the clam chowder, sea scallops, and fish tacos.
- Have you heard of windsurfing? Check out the Museum of Natural History in the Morro Strand State Beach.
3. Gualala – Sonoma County
At the border of Mendocino and Sonoma counties sits Gualala, an amazing place to live on the northern California coast. This is the most creative spot for artists.
The natives call it “q-ahwala-li” meaning “coming down water place”. It has been named after the Gualala River. Because of its beauty, it is also known as an art mecca.
With a relaxed atmosphere with towering redwoods, a unique micro-climate, gorgeous beauty and pristine beaches, Gualala is the ideal northern California coastal town.
The median income in Gualala is around $36,201 with the median home price being around $558,400. Moreover, the economy has improved and jobs have increased by 0.5%.
Things to do in Gualala
- Have you ever gone for a seagrass and shells hunt? Come to the dunes at Gualala Point Regional Park (also dog–friendly). Also, hike to Bluff Top Coastal Access trail for some amazing views.
- Take up premier Golf courses at Sea Ranch Golf Links.
- Stroll around several art galleries and studios. The town is very artsy and you will love it. I love Dolphin Gallery and Gualala Arts.
- Go kayaking up the Gualala River and do not forget to click dozen of photos of the beauty around. Camp at the Gualala River Redwood Park to witness amazing views of the sky at night.
- From Salt Point State Park hike to Point Arena Lighthouse and the Point Arena-Stornetta Public land. The star of the show is the gorgeous views and coastline.
- For some offbeat destinations at Gualala, come to Bowling Ball Beach. You will see the coast with spherical sandstone formations. Come here during low tide.
4. Trinidad – Humboldt County
Trinidad is a small non-touristy spot that is just 1.5 hours south of the Oregon border in Humboldt County.
You might know about Humboldt County’s Redwood National Parks and the forests but do you know it has the most tranquil beaches and best scenic ocean views?
If you have planned for a life that immerses in nature, sunshine, and opportunities then Trinidad is the best coastal town to visit in northern California.
Also, as per 24/7 Wall St, an expense of a single adult in Trinidad is around $35,973 a year which is even less than the annual cost of living in California’s cities.
A median home value can range from $ 530,000 to 560,000. On the other hand, the rented apartment can cost around $1000 – $ 1,688 per month.
Sitting with a glass of wine in a sea shack and enjoying the views of a placid beach and standing rocks in the ocean is unexplainably memorable and calming.
Things to do in Trinidad
- Visit the Trinidad Harbor for fishing or boating. Check out Head beach. Also, visit the Trinidad Pier near the harbor.
- Spend your evening in Trinidad State Beach witnessing the most beautiful sunset. Also, Little River State Beach is gorgeous
- Eat and taste seafood as much as you want but do not forget to burn calories by hiking to Trinidad Headland Trail or Sue-Meg State park. Also, go whale watching.
- Take your child or granddaughter to Trinidad Museum in the morning and to Yurok village to understand Trinidad’s roots.
- Known for powdery sand and calm water, Moonstone beach is perfect for tan. Moreover, its proximity to Eureka makes it an ideal location to reside
5. Fort Bragg – Mendocino County
I am sure you have heard and seen videos of the famous Glass Beach in North California. Yes, it is in Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg is 15 minutes north of Mendocino.
An army officer named Braxton Bragg in 1857 turned this place into a military garrison and later it turned into a garbage dump.
And, now it is one of the most beautiful beach towns in Northern California with perfect coastal weather and a mild climate.
According to 127wallst, a single adult expense in Fort Bragg is around $ 40, 256/ year whereas the median home value in Fort Bragg is $329,900.
Comparatively the home value is higher than the national average which is just a value of $204,900.
This is because Fort Bragg offers a good standard of living with natural spectacular views like dunes, rugged beaches, and gorgeous views of the Pacific.
Things to do in Fort Bragg
- Glass Beach needs a special mention because of its uniqueness and beauty. You will find polished sea glass all over the beach. These are the ocean-worn remnants making different colors as carpet to sea.
- Visit Pacific Star Winery for luscious wine and an amazing view of the surrounding. Or, go to North Coast Brewing Company, a local brew at Fort Bragg.
- Explore the downtown home and witness the vibrant murals showing the destruction that happened because of an earthquake.
- Some dog-friendly tours to Noyo beach and riding a Skunk train. The train takes you through 7- mile Pudding Creek which offers gorgeous views of Redwoods.
- For a glimpse of rich marine life like elephant seals and migrating birds come to Laguna Point.
- Evening plan to MacKerricher State Park for watching whales and enjoying the fresh air.
- Come to another famous spot of Fort Bragg, Mendocino Botanical garden, a 47-acre site. You can spot carnivorous plants, rhododendron, birds, and camellias here.
6. Stinson Beach – Marin County
Just north of San Francisco sits Stinson Beach one of the cheapest coastal towns in northern California for families with a booming economy.
Do you know that Stinson Beach is the only swimming beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area? However, jump at your own risk, the water is so cold!
Also, north of Stinson beach is dog-friendly and good for a long walk. The 3.5 miles of soft sand surrounded by cliffs make the beach so dramatic for romantic walks.
The area feels rural however the median home value is around $ 1,622,800. The median household income is $120,250.
If you think the price is out of your budget, consider residing in Bolinas. The lush forest trail and simple life is perfect for residing.
Things to do in Stinson Beach
- Stroll around Micky’s Beach or visit the small town of Bolinas. Bolinas beach is perfect for surfing. Whereas, Bolinas Lagoon is ideal for watching birds.
- Hike to Point Reyes National Seashore
- Come to Tomales Bay. They run a food-and-farm tour that includes lunch too.
- Hike to Muir Woods and enjoy horseback riding on the Stinson Beach.
7. Eureka – Humboldt County
25 miles south of Trinidad on 101 sits another gorgeous town called Eureka which is approximately 3 hours from Mendocino.
Eureka got famous by a gold miner for being home to precious metals.
Just imagine you are residing in a place that is surrounded by Sequoia trees, redwood trees that are century old and more than 100 years Victorian buildings.
The attractive fact is some trees are so wide that you can drive through them.
Also, the three-story Carson Mansion is so grand and one of the greatest examples of history.
This Redwood Empire region of California is one of the major commercial fishing ports with a lot of walking area and open space.
According to upgraded home, the median home cost of living in Eureka is $261,900; however, this does not include groceries, child care, taxes, and miscellaneous things.
Average homes will cost around $284,600; however, the rent of 2 bedroom size homes is $995. I would rather say that Eureka is affordable compared to other towns.
Things to do in Eureka
- A day tour of historical Victorian-style buildings. You will be amazed to see asymmetrical pillars, porches, and cupolas.
- A drive from Mendocino to Eureka is so divinely beautiful. You will unwind through the Avenue of the Giants and Tree Park. Also, the area between Humboldt Bay and Arcata Bay is a paradise for surfers and swimmers.
- Do you know Eureka is home to Rockefeller forest? Visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Sequoia Park, Arcata Community Forest, and Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
- A knowledgeable class at the Morris Grave Museum of Art to know more about arts and music.
- Visit Dick Taylor Craft, a chocolate factory with your child to taste some products and witness its making process is a must.
8. Bodega Bay – Sonoma County
Bodega Bay sits just outside the town of Inverness. Take Highway 1 and you will be in Bodega Bay, the most charming whale-watching destination in California.
A single adult expense is around $51,729 per year with a median home value is $703,300. However, renting is cheaper, it will cost around $1,198/ month.
This coastal city in northern California is a bit expensive moreover, you cannot complain because the place is so scenic and offers views to mesmerize your mind.
Additionally, Bodega Bay is an ideal wine destination and its location next to the shores of the Bodega Harbor makes it perfect for tons of recreational activities.
Things to do in Bodega Bay:
- Taste fresh fish, clam chowder, and fresh seafood at Spud Point Crab Company, The Tides Wharf and Restaurant.
- Come to Doran Regional Park to hike through the serene park, watch birds, fly kites, and enjoy the air. Come to Bodega Head Peninsula to spot whales. The parking fee is around $7 per vehicle.
- There is an unexplored beach on the way between Jenner and Bodega Bay that can be accessed from Highway 1.
- If you are at Bodega Bay, a visit to Sonoma Cost Vineyards is a must. Also, Bodega Bay offers scenic coastal hikes.
- Stroll at Wright Beach or Shell Beach. Do not forget for horseback riding tours
9. Shelter Cove – Humboldt County
Shelter Cove is the hidden gem of southern Humboldt County that can be reached only by backtracking from Highway 101 and then riding towards a 24-mile low coastal trail.
Let me warn you, that shelter Cove is offbeat and it is 2.5 hours north of Fort Bragg.
This beach town in Northern California is a secret gem for people who dream to spend quality life on the shoreline surrounded by complete silence.
Black Sand Beach is its special attraction and beach lovers love to explore this natural black sand and tidepool.
Also, driving through Lost Coast is a beautiful experience to reach Shelter Cove. It is a natural underdeveloped area and offers the best view of the wilderness.
The place offers a more rural feel and rewards you with a simple life. The median home value in Shelter Cove is $412, 700 with $38,553 as the median household income.
Things to do in Shelter Cove
- Make a weekend plan to Richard Grove State Park for a short hike to witness giant redwood and fun
- A bike trip through Lost Coast Trail and walking along the coast of Black Sand Beach are so soothing for the busy mind. It’s like meditating!
- Go to your house roof and just stare at the sky. You will be shocked to see – a sky full of stars twinkling and smiling
- Also plan a trip to Cape Mendocino Lighthouse and have soul-filling food at Gyppo Ale Mill. Never forget to taste their beer too.
- Take your grandfather and enroll him on the golf course at Shelter Cove Gold Course.
I hope these above pieces of information on northern California coastal towns are helpful.
The panoramic ocean views and jaw-dropping sunset views from Pescadero, an offbeat coastal town is incomparable.
These coastal towns in northern California are gorgeous and you can reside anywhere you want to. Personally, I love Gualala.
The other coastal towns like Pacific Grave, Eureka, and are some of the best places to retire in California and enjoy the simple life.
The Victorian-style architecture and Redwood make it one of the desirable places to settle down in California.
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FAQ – Best Coastal Towns in Northern California
1. What is the cheapest coastal city to live in California?
A: Ventura is the cheapest coastal city to live in California with only a $2283 average cost of living. Therefore, if your income is $81,480 per year then you can afford a good standard of living.
2. Where should I vacation on the northern coast of California?
A: You should come to Jenner, Sea Ranch, and Timber Cove for a vacation on the northern coast of California. The curvy roads, cool air, and gorgeous views of cliffs hug you at every moment which you do not want to miss.
3. What is the most underrated California beach town?
A: Fort Bragg is the most underrated California beach town that sits on the north Mendocino coast. Not only the place is famous for its glistening sea glass beach but its stable economy and natural atmosphere are unimaginably beautiful.
4. What is the safest beach town in Northern California?
A: Trinidad records 17.5 violent crimes which is less compared to the US average. Apart from the crime rate, Trinidad is home to beautiful beaches with low tide and stunning sunsets making it ideal for nature lovers and swimmers.