State of the Beach/Model Programs/Beach Access

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Beach Access

Below, examples pertaining to beach access follow an outline of the Surfrider Foundation's goals in this area.

Beach Access Goals

  • Free and uninterrupted access along the beach (at a minimum to the mean high water line, and ideally inland to the line of established upland vegetation).
  • An access to the beach at least every half-mile in high population areas.
  • A diverse range of access types (pedestrian, vehicular, view) with a range of amenities to meet user needs (parks, walkways/boardwalks, street ends) and minimize adverse environmental impacts.
  • An accurate and up to date inventory of access sites.
  • Dedicated funds for land acquisition.
  • 'No net loss' of beach access.
  • Regular collection of beach attendance records and analysis of supply and demand, including an economic evaluation of beaches.
  • Public education about beach access, including customary or prescriptive right to beach access.

Program Examples


The California Coastal Conservancy is a key player in public access in California. The California Coastal Conservancy uses entrepreneurial techniques to purchase, protect, restore, and enhance coastal resources, and to provide access to the shore. Conservancy staff works in partnership with local governments, other public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private landowners. To date, the Conservancy has undertaken more than 700 projects along the California shoreline. The goals of the California Coastal Conservancy are to:

  • Improve public access to the coast and bay shores by acquiring land and easements and by building trails and stairways. It also seeks to create low-cost accommodations along the coast, including campgrounds and hostels.
  • Protect and enhance coastal wetlands, streams and watersheds.
  • Restore urban waterfronts for public use and coastal dependent industries, especially commercial fishing. · Resolve coastal land use conflicts.
  • Acquire and hold environmentally valuable coastal lands for purposes that are in keeping with the Coastal Act.
  • Protect agricultural lands.
  • Accept donations and dedications of land and easements for public access, agriculture, open space, and habitat protection.

Since 1976, the Conservancy has used well over $200 million to complete its projects. The Conservancy has primarily been funded by state general obligation bonds.

Along the California coast the general public has historically used numerous coastal areas. Trails to the beach, informal parking areas, beaches, and bluff tops have provided recreational opportunities for hiking, picnicking, fishing, swimming, surfing, diving, viewing and nature study. California law provides that under certain conditions, long-term public access across private property may result in the establishment of a permanent public easement. This is called a public prescriptive right of access. The Coastal Public Access Program includes a prescriptive rights element whereby the Coastal Commission researches and inventories the historic public use of areas with the potential for significant public access benefits. Where research indicates that the public use is substantial enough to create potential prescriptive rights, the Attorney General's office has the authority to proceed with the legal action necessary to protect those areas. California's Prescriptive Rights Program website is a MUST SEE for surfers and other ocean enthusiasts interested in maintaining and preserving beach access. For more details see also Some Facts About Public Prescriptive Rights.

The revised and expanded sixth edition of the Coastal Access Guide California identifies more than 890 public access coastal areas. Access sites have a range of amenities, from basic features like a dirt pull-off along the highway or a staircase at the end of a street that descends to the beach, to large parks complete with parking, campgrounds, and restrooms.

Also see Beaches and Parks in Southern California


Several publications are available online via the Florida Coastal Management Program (FCMP) website, including the 150 page Florida Assessment of Coastal Trends (FACT) 2000 report.

This document is a great source of information on beach health indicators in Florida. It describes and reports on what are actually referred to as a series of 'INDICATORS' in areas including biodiversity and natural areas, coastal access, coastal hazards, and community stewardship. It is filled with facts and figures that paint a picture of the state of the beach in Florida. This thorough, well-written document is a MUST READ, and may well serve as a national measurement model.

The 2000 FACT report, which among its 12 pages on beach access, outlines two goals:

  • To provide and/or enhance public access to natural, historical, cultural, and recreational coastal resources that does not damage or degrade these resources; and
  • To promote and enhance community awareness of public access points, as well as the rights and responsibilities surrounding access.

These goals have been adopted by the FCMP.

According to the 2000 FACT report, the state of Florida has invested more money than any other state to purchase land and conservation easements for recreational access, preserve the state's drinking water supply, and provide essential wildlife habitat. Two programs, the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) and Florida Communities Trust (FCT), acquire coastal lands to provide permanent public access points. Since 1990, CARL and FCT have received most of their funding through a $3 billion Florida Preservation 2000 bond referendum passed in 1990. A new $3 billion Florida Forever bond measure to continue funding land acquisition was passed in 1999. From 1990 to 1999, they have spent a total of $835,221,545 to purchase land that increases the public's access to the coast. In 1999, they acquired 236,118 acres of coastal lands.

Several Surfrider Foundation chapters in Florida, along with others interested in a establishing a comprehensive set of laws to protect citizen's access to public beaches, have drafted a Florida Open Beaches Act that they hope to have adopted by the Florida legislature. More info.


The state's position is that although state ownership ends at the mean high water line, the public has always enjoyed the right to use the full width and breadth of the state's ocean beaches seaward of the dune line, under the common law theories of customary use since "time immemorial," the public trust doctrine, implied dedication, or alternatively, prescriptive use. Therefore, the state is asking the court to declare that the public is legally entitled to use the entire beach between the ocean and the vegetation or dune line.

The North Carolina Division of Coastal Management's (NCDCM) interactive online Public Beach and Waterfront Access site locator provides a wealth of information on beach access sites in North Carolina including: amenities (restrooms, showers, etc.), parking, directions, and a site photo. The public access sites presented here are grouped into four main types: regional, neighborhood, local, and urban waterfront. This access site database includes only those sites for which DCM provided funding. There may be other locally funded public access sites that use the DCM sign but are not shown in their data.

DCM continues to add access sites every year. Twenty access sites were added since 1999. The North Carolina Shore & Beach Preservation Association (NCSBPA) and NCDCM announced on November 18, 2002 a new joint initiative to fully map all of North Carolina's public beach accessways in time for the 2003 summer beach season. DCM has already identified many public beach and waterfront accessways on its website, focusing on those sites that have been funded at least partly through CAMA grants over the past 20 years.

A survey conducted by NCSBPA and NCDCM in 2003 and 2004 identified 550 public access points, 6,256 parking spaces at lots and street ends, and 43 restroom facilities along the state's ocean beaches. In the survey, Emerald Isle led other coastal communities in access points per mile -- 17 sites per mile. North Topsail Beach had the most access parking spaces at 897 spaces. Wrightsville Beach averaged the most access parking spaces per mile -- 150 spaces per mile.

The Division of Coastal Management awards matching grants to local governments to establish public-access sites. Coastal Management has awarded grants totaling $1.4 million to 17 local governments for public-access projects in 2001.


According to the Hawaii Coastal Management Program (HCMP), all beaches in Hawaii are publicly owned.

Hawaii's 1997 CZM Assessment reports that on August 31, 1995, the Supreme Court of Hawaii issued its decision in Public Access Shoreline Hawaii v. County of Hawaii County Planning Commission, commonly known as the "P.A.S.H. Decision." The litigation arose when the Planning Commission denied the plaintiffs a contested case hearing on whether they had traditional and customary rights to access and use of certain anchialine pools situated within the developer's property. At its core, the decision established that the plaintiffs had standing to present evidence before the Planning Commission with respect to their rights to exercise traditional and customary practices.

Hawaii's 1997 CZM Assessment reports that public-private partnerships and private land conservation efforts exist on a small scale in Hawaii, but in recent years they have been increasing. Frequently known as the "land trust movement," private conservation organizations are acquiring greenways, open space, community gardens, natural habitats, trails, and other lands with high "public" values. Projects like the acquisition of the shoreline areas of the Marks' Estate on Windward Oahu by the City and County of Honolulu with the assistance of The Trust for Public Land, illustrate the potential for these activities. In addition to the well-established The Nature Conservancy - Hawaii, other national organizations such as The Trust for Public Land and Ducks Unlimited are also becoming more active in Hawaii. Local organizations such as Maui Open Space Trust, Kauai Public Land Trust, and Protect Kohanaiki Ohana, are also becoming more active. More recently, the North Shore Community Land Trust, working with many partners including the Trust for Public Land, Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter, Surfrider Japan, the state and federal governments and the military, successfully concluded the Campaign for Pupukea-Paumalu, purchasing and protecting the 1,129-acre Pupukea Paumalu coastal bluff that overlooks the world's most famous surfing breaks on the North Shore.

Two other good sources of beach access information are and Surfrider Foundation's Oahu Chapter. Their website has a good summary of Hawaii beach access issues and a collection of photos of blocked beach accesses.

Hawaii has approximately 319 total public-access sites for 360 miles of coastline, which is on average one access point every 1.1 miles. In addition, the State's public access is high quality. Maui has 24 beach parks, and most have parking with paved access and restrooms. Oahu has seven regional parks and 61 local beach/shoreline parks. Kauai has 18 beach parks, and Molokai has six beach parks. In total, Hawaii has 116 beach parks, which is 36% of all the beach access on the islands.

A great new resource is a Coastal Access in Hawai'i website created by University of Hawai'i Sea Grant that attempts to address the longstanding need to provide accurate information on coastal access laws and policies in Hawai'i. UH Sea Grant is working on populating this website with maps that show the actual access points.

The following websites contain county-specific beach access information:



  • In December 2011 Beach Toolz, LLC announced the availability of the Kauai Beach Guide exclusively for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The Kauai Beach Guide allows you to find beaches on Kauai based on a number of selectable options, including location, activities, and safety. Color-coded pins identify three beach safety levels: green - beaches with lifeguards, yellow - beaches that are generally safe under good conditions and red - beaches which call for extreme caution.
  • See the website of the Open Space Commission and especially the 2005 Report to the Kauai County Council. The Open Space Commission website also has reports for subsequent years.



Each county planning or tourism department publishes a shoreline or beach access guide:

  • Maui County Office of the Mayor. Maui County's Shoreline Access Guide. 1994. (Also contains information for Molokai and Lanai)
  • County of Kauai Planning Department. Kauai Beach Access Guide. June 1984.
  • County of Hawaii Planning Department. Shoreline Public Access Guide. April 1981.
  • City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting. Summary of Public Access. Date Unknown.

Some of these access guides may have updated editions.


Oregon's 'Beach Bill' guarantees the public the right to use the dry sand beach along the entire coast. The public rights under the beach bill are managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) under ORS 390.610. This statute spells out the policies ensuring free and uninterrupted public use of the beach from ordinary high water up to the statutory vegetation line or the line of established upland shore vegetation, whichever is further inland.

Statewide Planning Goal 17 - Coastal Shorelands also serves to preserve and protect public access. This goal requires that public lands, rights of way, and easements which provide physical or visual access to coastal waters not be sold unless some public access or potential for access across the property is retained.

The 2001 Assessment states that ninety percent of Oregon's 362 miles of ocean shoreline is open to the public. A survey in 2000 identified 645 points of 'perpendicular' access to the ocean shore.

The Oregon Coastal Atlas is an interactive beach access Website. It includes 684 known ocean beach access locations, most of which are protected as official inventoried sites. The Website allows users to view ground photos of access sites and provides information on location, path to beach, parking, landforms (such as bluffs, dunes, wetlands, forest, or bay), man-made features (such as a lighthouse, bridge, jetties or marina), and recreational activities, including surfing, at each access site. It also provides orthophotography for the entire Oregon coast.

Oregon State Parks has a site with an interactive map that lets you zoom in on your area of interest and locate state parks. The site provides basic descriptions of the parks, including parking, beach access, camping restrictions, etc.


Texas has an Open Beach Act preserving the public's right to free and unrestricted access to and use of the beach. The responsibility for protecting the public's right to use and enjoy the beach is shared by the state and local coastal governments. Cities and counties along the coast are required to adopt laws to protect the public's beach access rights. Usually these local laws are adopted as beach access plans. Signs should be posted to explain the nature and extent of vehicle controls, parking areas, and access points. For more information please refer to the Texas General Land Office website.

The boundaries of the public beach extend from the line of mean low tide of the Gulf of Mexico landward to the natural line of vegetation or larger contiguous areas to which the public has acquired a right of use or easement over. Some beaches allow vehicles on the public beach, while some are pedestrian only. Where vehicles, including recreational vehicles, are prohibited from driving on and along the beach, public access should be provided every half-mile with adequate parking on or adjacent to the beach to accommodate one parking space for every 15 linear feet of beach.

The online Texas Beach and Bay Access Guide, 2nd Edition allows users to locate a variety of public access sites, coastal state parks, and recreational areas along the Texas Coast. This guide highlights the five areas that make up the Texas Coast: Southeast Texas, Houston-Galveston, Golden Crescent, Coastal Bend, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Each section provides a brief description of the primary recreation activities of each county, and includes location maps and recreational grids. The maps show the general location of marinas, county/state/federal parks, boat ramps, and areas of recreational interest. The recreational grids provide information about available activities such as fishing, swimming, and picnicking, and amenities such as boat ramps and facilities that are accessible to the disabled. Phone numbers are also provided, so that users can call ahead to get complete directions and any updates to site conditions.

A new resource unveiled in 2009 is, a website that allows you to:


A great new online coastal access resource is University of Wisconsin Sea Grant's Wisconsin Coastal Guide. From this site you can click on "Beaches" and then a particular beach to get a map and for many locations a 360 degree panorama.