Wade Into the Water at Tomales Bay Beaches
- Family Time
If you’re looking for a calmer, more sheltered alternative to the typical Northern California beach experience, then head out to Tomales Bay for a weekend getaway.
Newcomers to California are always shocked that Northern California beaches are not the same as the (Southern) California beaches they see on tv. The beaches up here are big and beautiful but can also be cold, windy, with waters too rough for swimming. While lakes provide an excellent alternative, for some people, there’s an unmistakable vibe that only saltwater bodies of water like Tomales Bay can offer.
The western shore of Tomales Bay has a few beaches where you can get a saltwater experience without the ocean hazards of big waves and strong currents. The water is also warmer, allowing for safe swimming and wading during hot days, especially for families with kids.
For the classic and convenient beach experience, head straight to Heart’s Desire Beach with its protected swimming area. This beach is the main one in the area, with a nearby parking lot, so it can get crowded. Arrive early if you’re coming on a warm weekend.
The other beaches are more remote and require a short hike to reach. Indian Beach has an educational trail about Coastal Miwok Native Americans along with reconstructions of their bark shelters. Pebble Beach is a small beach where you can escape the crowds at Heart’s Desire. Shell Beach and Chicken Ranch Beach are beautiful beaches close to the town of Inverness.
You can expand this trip by driving to the other side of the bay to sample Tomales Bay’s famous oysters.
You’ll want to get an early start to find parking, so arrive on Friday. Spend the day at the beach or hiking or kayaking and cap it off with a seafood dinner at the nearby Saltwater Oyster Depot (make a reservation first). On Sunday, visit the Tomales Bay Shipwreck before you drive home.
Things to Do
- Sunbathe, swim, and picnic on the beach.
- Hike the coastline and beaches via the Johnstone Trail. You can start from Shell Beach, the Jepson trailhead, or Heart’s Desire Beach.
- Go kayaking or paddleboarding.
- Take photos of the shipwreck in Inverness.
- Eat delicious fresh oysters.
When to Go
Visit during warm weather in the summer and fall.
It costs $8 per vehicle to park at Heart’s Desire Beach or Vista Point Group Picnic Area. Kayak and paddleboard rentals start at around $65-90.