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National park beaches: Best of the West

I just skimmed a CNN Travel article about 10 of the best beaches in national parks of the U.S. West, and I decided to write about them, because 6 out of 10 are in California! Go figure! 😉

The article was originally from Sunset, one of the best companions for western living.

Besides, if you ever tire of beaches in the NATIONAL parks, you can always check out California’s wonderful “state beaches” and hundreds of other beaches too numerous to mention. :-)

So without further ado, here are the 6 from California. I will leave it to my friend Peter in Hawaii to talk about the one there. :-) The CNN article includes comments about sights to see at the beaches, phone numbers to call, and any fees that may apply.

Best lazy float: Yosemite National Park – The two main beaches along the Merced in Yosemite Valley, Cathedral and Sentinel, are great places to take your trusty “inner tube.” one of the best things left out of tubeless tires! Or… take the Merced by raft! Rent a raft (holds 4-6 people) at Curry Village Recreation Center and FLOAT the 3 miles to Sentinel Beach! The $26 fee includes the shuttle service back to the starting point.

Best for surf and sun: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational AreaEl Matador (PDF), one of the three state beaches that comprise Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach (Yeah, I have never heard of it, either! :-) Although a DIFFERENT Rob Meyer was a friend of mine in graduate school….) is a gem at the foot of sandstone cliffs and accessed by a dirt trail and stairway! El Matador has surfing and bodyboarding, and the sea caves on shore are favorites with photographers. The article also recommends taking sunset photos at El Matador.

Best for solitude (even on weekends): Point Reyes National Seashore – Most visitors to Point Reyes are unaware of Limantour Beach and miss the turn at Limantour Road, on their way out to the lighthouse, North Beach, or Drakes Beach (which has a visitors center and café. Too bad! :-) My photograph at the beginning of this entry is from near the end of Limantour Spit, at the extreme northwest end of THE ROUGHLY SEVEN MILES :-) of Limantour Beach! Or… walk your dog on the SOUTHERN end from the parking lot…. Limantour Spit can be windy, and there are both rip currents and sharks. :-) Neither of these stopped two folks kiteboarding off the spit the day we were there (you can see them, WAY in the background, in the photo above). The article also notes the birds and harbor seals at the protected end of the spit, since so few humans “make the trek.”

Best for thinking really, really big: Redwood National Park – OK, Sunset cheated on this one… the place that they describe is OFFICIALLY in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, but the beach is cooperatively managed by California State Parks and the surrounding Redwood National Park. What are the things to see? Gold Bluffs Beach, Roosevelt elk (America’s largest elk) grazing in meadows (by the way, there are also elk at Point Reyes, in the area west of Tomales Bay), and Fern Canyon….

Best for a city stroll: Golden Gate National Recreational Area – The article discusses Crissy Field, an historic Army airfield that was transformed into “a native plant-lined beach oasis.” :-) Yes, the place has great people (“jogging moms with strollers, kitesurfers, picnickers, dog walkers, cyclists, fishermen, and 8-year-olds letting the cool bay water lap their toes”), great coffee, and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Other treats…? Book browsing at the Warming Hut and Let’s Be Frank’s superior grass-fed beef hot dogs from the cart outside the Warming Hut…. But don’t be fooled…. the Golden Gate National Recreational Area is a COLLECTION of areas scattered around the Golden Gate, and not just Crissy Field.

Best escape from reality: Channel Islands National Park – Hey, reality has not always been so good during the last several years. Why not escape? :-) The article suggests taking a catamaran (everyone owns one of these, right? :-) ) across the Santa Barbara Channel to Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. The trip will take an hour and your troubles and worries can drip from you into the sea during that passage. Just in case you don’t own your OWN catamaran (I don’t), the article recommends Island Packers boats leaving from Ventura Harbor at $48, round trip. The pretty beach that you will find is your base for snorkeling the kelp forests (my friend Peter, mentioned above, has utterly WONDERFUL underwater photos [yes, by SCUBA: he is a dive master] of the kelp forests off the Channel Islands. You can also kayak past the dark cliffs and sea caves of the island. The article cautions you NOT TO MISS the short hike from the beach up Smugglers Road to the high bluff and the stand of cypress trees known as Delphine’s Grove, with its sweeping panoramic views of the ocean and sounds of wind in the branches.

Shall I repeat a well-kept secret of California? It’s NOT TOO LATE to GO! :-) October is actually a wonderful beach month in California (September is “no slouch,” either!), with sunny, warm days and more clearing at the beaches than we see in the summer.

Go for it! :-)

-Bill at

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