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Best for those who like some space: During the summer, Sonoma County beaches fill up fast and can get quite congested, making it uncomfortable for beachgoers who aren’t fond of crowds. Luckily, Blind Beach on the Sonoma Coast is just as secluded as its name suggests. Nestled near Goat Rock in the south of Jenner, this narrow pebble beach offers idyllic views of the ocean and the notable Arch Rock. It’s the perfect beach sanctuary for those who want to get away from it all and listen to the waves crash over the rocks while watching the sunset over the horizon. Highway 1 and Goat Rock Road, Jenner. (Courtesy California Beaches)
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Best for kids/families: Sometimes it can be difficult to find a beach that’s both entertaining and safe for children; thankfully, Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach offers essential summer activities and is one of just a few regional beaches that has lifeguards on duty. A seasonal dam produces a calm swimming area, so no need to worry about your little one being swept away by a strong current, and it also makes for a relaxing paddling experience. There are also lawns, picnic areas and a parcourse that are great for any family beach day. Don't miss Amy's Wicked Slush. 13839 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg.
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Best for beachcombers: Schoolhouse Beach, enclosed by rocky headlands on the Sonoma Coast, has a glorious pebble shore and a low tide that sea scavengers won’t want to miss. The vibrantly colored and ocean-polished small stones and seashells are great for collecting, and the tidepools are teeming with colorful marine life, such as starfish, muscles, little fishes, hermit crabs, sea anemones, and other interesting critters and crustaceans. Viking Strand and Highway 1, Bodega Bay. (Courtesy California Beaches)
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Best for dogs: Doran Beach Regional Park is popular for a number of things: camping, picnicking, fishing, paddling, bird watching, kite flying and even horseback riding. But perhaps one of the most beloved aspects of this beach is that it’s dog-friendly with plenty of space for your furry friends to explore (on a leash that is). Take your playful pup on a trail through the grassy dunes or wade by the gentle seashore for a memorable time with your best friend. 201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay.
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Best for couples: The Sea Ranch is both a private community and a popular vacation destination, and once you’ve seen the beaches you’ll know why. There are six public access trails in Sea Ranch leading to coastal beaches, all of which are a sight to see, such as the pines and meadows encasing Shell Beach and the seasonal waterfalls at Stengel Beach. But perhaps the best beach for couples here is Black Point, a long sandy cove accessed via a steep wooden staircase. The beach is typically secluded and has picturesque ocean views, making it an intimate spot for couples. 50 Brigantine Reach, The Sea Ranch. (Courtesy California Beaches)
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Best for surfers: Sonoma County isn’t really well-known for its surf offerings, yet Salmon Creek Beach has become a popular spot for the local surfing community. On days when conditions are just right for some powerful swells, experienced riders can enjoy a rewarding experience while navigating tall waves and gnarly rip currents. It’s also a good place for beginners on average days when the waves are less intense, and the sandy bottom of the ocean floor here lessens the blows of wipeouts. 3095 Highway 1, Bodega Bay. (Conner Jay)
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Best for water activities: What has come to be known as a Russian River tradition, floating and gliding along the river at Johnson’s Beach is what summer is all about for most locals. Located in the boho town of Guerneville, this beach is perfect for those who want to kayak down the flowing currents or simply relax on the water in inner tubes with a cold drink in hand. Whether you want to paddle board solo, canoe with a group of friends or take a pedal boat out with your significant other, there’s no shortage of summer fun here. 16215 First Street, Guerneville. (Alvin Jornada)
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Best for land activities: While there are plenty of water sports to engage in at Monte Rio Beach, its shore is superb for landlubbers who still want to enjoy beach recreation. Volleyball courts and horseshoe pits are free and available to anyone who likes to play in the sand. There are also barbecue areas and a food concession stand for people to grill by the beach and nosh on quintessential summer grub between the river and redwoods. 20488 Highway 116, Monte Rio. (John Burgess)
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Best for animal sightings: Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma Coast State Park is an ideal location for animal lovers. Beach-goers can go birdwatching for gliding seabirds like gulls and sandpipers, catch a glimpse of breaching whales during migrating season, and take a gander at a colony of Pacific Harbor seals with their pups all summer long. For the safety of the seals, no dogs are allowed on this beach and people should stay 50 feet away, especially during pupping season from March to August. Highway 1 and Goat Rock Road, Jenner.
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A seal and her pup navigate the waves at Goat Rock Beach, near Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River. (Christopher Chung)
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Best for sunsets: While any beach along the Sonoma Coast can provide excellent sunsets, Portuguese Beach is the ideal place to get comfortable and really soak them in. Whether you’re fishing from the rocky bluffs, sunbathing on the large sandy beach or relaxing on the grassy knoll by the parking lot, there’s no bad spot here to watch a stunning, golden sunset over the ocean. Eureka Drive and Highway 1, Bodega Bay. (Yaya Ernst)