State of the Beach/State Reports/CA/Beach Access

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Beach Access


Article X, Section 4 of the California State Constitution states:

No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage of tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State, shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose, nor to destroy or obstruct free navigation of such water; and the Legislature shall enact such laws as will give the most liberal construction to this provision so that access to the navigable water of this State shall always be attainable for the people thereof.

The 1976 California Coastal Act, Section 30001.5 states:

The legislature further finds and declares that the basic goals of the state for the coastal zone are to: . . .(c) Maximize public access to and along the coast and maximize public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone consistent with sound resources conservation principles and constitutionally protected rights of private property owners.

See also Section 30211 of the Coastal Act:

30211. Development shall not interfere with the public's right of access to the sea where acquired through use or legislative authorization, including, but not limited to, the use of dry sand and rocky coastal beaches to the first line of terrestrial vegetation.The state owns the tidelands and submerged lands seaward of the "mean high tide line." The public/private boundary is also sometimes referred to as the "ambulatory high tide line." Although it can be difficult to ascertain the boundary between public and private lands, the general rule is that visitors have the right to walk on the wet beach.

According to California Coastal Commission (CCC) staff, a variety of state and local governments, and private as well as nonprofit organizations, manage the beaches. Data on beach management is kept by the CCC and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.[1]

The California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) is a key player in public access in California. The SCC uses innovative 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 SCC 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.

The Conservancy website provides access to past issues of their excellent Coast and Ocean magazine. Unfortunately, publication of this magazine was discontinued in 2009.

The California Coastal Commission Statewide Coastal Access Program assists in the acceptance of Offers to Dedicate (OTD), providing additional horizontal (along the coast) and vertical (to the coast) access points along the California coast.

Pursuant to the Polanco Bill, SB 1962, the State Coastal Conservancy is now mandated to accept any OTD within 90 days of expiration. This considerably streamlined the OTD acceptance process and should result in additional coastal access in California.

For an additional discussion of coastal access in California and the OTD process, see: Coastal Access in California.

A January 2005 report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office says that the California Coastal Commission and the state Legislature could do a better job overseeing public beach access and open space along the state's coastline. The report recommends that the Coastal Commission develop a plan and tracking system to ensure access agreements obtained from landowners don't expire and are developed with usable stairways and trails. Other recommendations include increasing development fees, and redistribution of revenue from the sale of "whale tail" license plates.

In 2009 the Coastal Commission embarked on a comprehensive county-by-county review of Coastal Commission required vertical OTD public access easements and Vertical Public Access Deed Restrictions acquired through Coastal Commission permit actions, dating from 1973 to 2009. Their first report assessed these easements and accessways in San Diego and Orange Counties. That report, dated November 20, 2009 found that since Proposition 20, predecessor to the Coastal Act of 1976, the California Coastal Commission has acquired:

  • 26 Vertical Accessways in San Diego County -- 20 of which have been opened to the public.
  • 21 Vertical Accessways in Orange County -- 15 of which have been opened to the public.

The report contains photos and maps showing the location and details of all 47 vertical accessways.

Additional information and reports covering the progress of the Coastal Commission's OTD public access easement process can be found in the Site Inventory section below.

Sign indicating Beach Access next to private property in Oceanside, CA

While attempting to improve coastal access, California also takes a variety of steps to minimize environmental impacts associated with coastal access, including prohibiting access across dunes, restricting off-road vehicle use, protecting nesting areas, providing designated accessways, and installing educational signage.[2]

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. Ocean views are taken into consideration by the CCC when making coastal impact decisions. 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. Under the Prescriptive Rights program, studies have or are being conducted in Mendocino, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego and for the Hidden Beach area of Santa Cruz County. A lawsuit was filed by the State Attorney General in this latter case, which covers 5 acres of sandy beach in the community of Rio Del Mar. For more details see also Some Facts About Public Prescriptive Rights.

In 2014, the Legislature and Governor gave the California Coastal Commission the authority to fine property owners who intentionally block public access to the coast. That authority was included in the 2015-2016 state budget. More.

Site Inventory

60% of the shoreline in California is publicly owned, according to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs", Coastal Management 27:219-237.

This same document identifies 850 public access sites. This corresponds to about 1 public access site for every 4 miles of shoreline of tidally affected land or one public access site for every 1.3 miles of the coast.

According to the 2003 California Coastal Access Guide (there is now a 7th edition of this guidebook (2014)), approximately 42% of the shoreline is publicly owned and accessible, while the remaining 58% is owned privately or is held by federal, state, or local government, and is not open to the public.

According to CCC staff, approximately 50% of coastal lands adjacent to the beach are publicly owned, and perhaps 25% of private beaches are publicly accessible. The CCC has detailed information on this, but lacks the staff to compile the data and calculate an exact number.[3]

Each local government has a list of beach access sites, and the CCC maintains an overall list. The data is updated regularly, as needed, by the CCC. The CCC tracks change in quantity, but not quality. This information is now available online! (see below). Also there is a great seventh edition of the California Coastal Access Guide (2014). The guide catalogs every coastal access site and provides a description of the site along with a map and directions on how to find the access. The preparation of the Coastal Access Guide is mandated by California Coastal Act.

The Coastal Access Guide identifies more than 850 public coastal access sites. 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. Below is information from the Guide giveing the proportion of California's access sites with the given characteristics. Many of the access sites include several of the described amenities, but the statistics only count each individual feature.

Characteristics of Beach Access Sites
  • Fees 24%
  • Parking 87%
  • Restrooms 55%
  • Campgrounds 12%
  • Staircase to Beach 41%
  • Path to Beach 56%
  • Street-end Access 26%

All of the above statistics were calculated using the information in the guidebook.

In July 2015 the California Coastal Commission unveiled a beach access website and app YourCoast. The website explains:

To find coastal accessways while on the road, look for the Coastal Access Logo symbol (the Coastal Commission's coastal access logo) that marks many (but not all) coastal access points. The California Constitution guarantees the public's right of access to tidelands, that is the area seaward of the mean high tide line. When visiting the coast, please observe any posted rules and please do not trespass on adjacent private lands. Always be alert for sleeper waves and other hazards; stay safe and enjoy the coast. Location and attribute data are collected primarily from entries in the statewide California Coastal Access Guide: Seventh Edition (2014), and the 4-book set of regional Experience the California Coast guides (2005, 2007, 2009, 2012), all published by the University of California Press.

For the shoreline of San Francisco Bay, the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) has published the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Guide. The Guide allows you to navigate the shoreline using a map to find trails for bicycling, hiking, jogging, skating, bird watching and other activities and how and where you can access them. The San Francisco Bay Trail is a 500-mile recreational corridor that will encircle San Francisco and San Pablo Bays with a continuous network of shoreline bicycling and hiking trails. The Bay Trail links nine counties and 47 cities, and will cross seven toll bridges in the region. Over 270 miles of trail are complete providing easily accessible recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hikers, joggers, bicyclists and skaters. BCDC, the California Coastal Conservancy, the Association of Bay Area Governments Bay Trail Project and other agencies and organizations are planning a San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail that will serve non-motorized small boats such as kayaks.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) has jurisdiction for large portions of the coastal land from Marin County through San Francisco County to San Mateo County. Their website lists and provides information on all the beaches and other coastal sites throughout the area.

A November 2005 publication of the California Coastal Commission is Experience the California Coast - A Guide to Beaches and Parks in Northern California. This guide includes a comprehensive list of more than 300 beaches, parks on or near the coast, and paths to the shoreline.

The Northern California guide is the first volume in a new series of coastal guide books, each devoted to a portion of the coast. This volume includes sections on Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin Counties.

The second volume in CCC's series of coastal guidebooks includes sections on Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and is titled Beaches and Parks from Monterey to Ventura.

Volume 3 is Beaches and Parks in Southern California, covering Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties.

Volume 4 is Beaches and Parks from San Francisco to Monterey.

The California Coastal Commission's Conservation/Open Space Easement Program is responsible for researching, documenting and negotiating acceptance of the Offers to Dedicate Easements (OTDs) required as development mitigation through Commission permit conditions. There are approximately 875 OTD conservation/open space easements throughout the coastal zone required as development mitigation through Commission permit conditions. During 2006 staff successfully negotiated acceptance of 45 OTDs (a 32% increase over 2005); accepting entities included two state agencies, seven local governments, and four non-profit entities. Entities accepting for the first time in 2006 included the Cities of Monterey and Oxnard, Santa Barbara County and the Jacoby Creek Land Trust. Notable acceptances in 2006 include a 30-acre easement in the Santa Monica Mountains, more than 30 acres in the Moro Cojo Slough area, 22 acres in the City of Monterey, nearly eight acres of sandy beach in Oxnard, as well as two wetland easements in Eureka totaling 78 acres.

The numbers of total OTDs, OTD acceptances and OTDs remaining to be accepted will continue to change as research on the OTD status is completed. There are an estimated 224 cases out of those 794 remaining to be accepted where CCC staff is trying to confirm the existence of a valid legal document. During such research staff also finds additional OTDs not previously logged and in turn finds cases where permits with OTD requirements were never issued or had expired.

A January 2009 report Access Accomplishments: March 2005-October 2008 noted that the acceptance rate for OTDs had increased from 67% in 2005 to 82%, the number of outstanding OTDs (18%) was now 249, and that there had been several new locations opened up for public access as a direct result of the Coastal Commission actions.

The Annual Report on Protecting Conservation/Open Space OTDs (January 2010) summarizes the progress made by staff during calendar years 2008 and 2009 in achieving permanent protection of coastal resources through the acceptance of conservation/open space OTDs. In 2008 staff successfully negotiated acceptance of 39 OTDs covering over 260 acres of sensitive lands. In 2009, 30 OTDs covering over 170 acres were accepted. Some of the key lands protected by these acceptances include 66 acres of marsh area in Humboldt County, dune habitat in Pacific Grove, oak woodlands in the Santa Monica Mountains and native coastal sage scrub chaparral habitat in San Diego.

Annual Report on Protecting Conservation/Open Space OTDs (November 24, 2010) reported:

"Staff successfully negotiated acceptance of 40 OTDs covering over 670 acres of sensitive lands. Resources protected by these acceptances include 150 acres in the Malibu Canyon Significant Watershed, wetlands in Monterey and San Diego Counties, and riparian ESHA and butterfly habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains."

The report also notes: "...the bulk of the outstanding OTDs are in the South Central Coast District" (Santa Barbara through Malibu).

Status of Vertical Accessways Acquired by California Coastal Commission Actions, 1973 to 2011 provides details concerning the 67 vertical accessways acquired through Commission permit actions that have been opened in the six counties covered in this report. This represents 60% of the 111 accessways acquired to date in these counties. The Coastal Commission and the Coastal Conservancy continue to work together to acquire new accessways, including this one in Malibu.

Annual Report on Protecting Open Space/Conservation OTDs (November 22, 2013) summarizes the progress made in calendar years 2012 and 2013 to achieve permanent protection of coastal resources through the Program. During those two years, Coastal Commission staff successfully negotiated acceptance of 43 OTDs covering 530 acres of sensitive lands. Resources protected by these acceptances include 183 acres of Monterey pine forest ESHA in San Luis Obispo County, over 200 acres of chaparral ESHA in the Santa Monica Mountains, one acre of wetland buffers at three San Diego County lagoons, and 6 acres of scenic resources at Navarro Head in Mendocino County.

The California Coastal Conservancy was expected to approve spending $470,000 in December 2012 to fund preparation of a Malibu Coastal Access Public Works Plan by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for a dozen access sites located in the City of Malibu. The access sites are at Las Tunas Beach, Las Flores Beach, La Costa Beach, Carbon Beach, Malibu Cove Beach, Escondido Beach and Lechuza Beach.

One of Northern California's largest parcels of privately owned coastline -- five miles of rocky shoreline north of Santa Cruz -- were given to the state in August 2006 by the nonprofit group Trust for Public Land. The Coast Dairies Ranch property consists of 407 acres west of Highway 1 which includes the beaches Scott Creek, Davenport Landing, Davenport, Sharktooth, Bonny Doon, Yellow Bank and Laguna Creek. These beaches have long been popular with tourists and surfers who probably never knew that they were trespassing. There are also 5,701 acres east of Highway 1 that are being given to the federal Bureau of Land Management.

In contrast, about 30 miles north of the Coast Dairies Ranch property is Martins Beach, where for decades, the property owner allowed the public access to the beach and ocean. That changed when the property was sold and the new owner denied the public access. Learn more about this and watch this video.

California Department of Parks and Recreation manages more than 260 parks, including 63 state beaches. More information be found at the California State Parks website. At their website you'll find Find-a Park, a feature which lets you search by name, county, city, region, or activity (including surfing), and provides you with detailed information for each park, including a description of amenities, driving directions, and contact information.

The cost of an annual day-use pass for California State Parks increased from $125 to $195 on 5/1/12. Day use fees currently range from $2 to $15, depending on the park and the season. Proposition 21 on the November 2010 ballot would have provided sustainable long-term funding for California's State Parks through an $18 per vehicle registration fee. Vehicle owners paying this fee would have been allowed unlimited free admission to all state parks. Unfortunately, this measure did not pass.

In Los Angeles County there is a Malibu Public Beaches Guide (also available in Spanish), as well as a detailed guide for Carbon Beach. And there's more - an App was due to be released in summer 2013 showing access information for Malibu's beaches.

An Orange County Beach Access Map has been produced by the California Coastal Commission, County of Orange Harbors, Beaches and Parks, and California State Parks. There is also a beach access guide for Capistrano Beach in Dana Point.

Coastwalk is a non-profit organization that has been helping people to experience the California coast in an intimate and respectful way for 22 years. The Coastwalk vision is a completed California Coastal Trail that will stretch continuously from Oregon to the Mexican border, while preserving the fragile coastal environment. Coastwalk partners with various groups - large and small - up and down the state to complete the Trail.

The California Coastal Trail (CCT) is a dream in the making: when completed, it will be a 1,200 mile, continuous trail stretching along the California coastline from Mexico to Oregon. This dream started with the simple idea that the whole California coastline belongs to all of us, and should be accessible to everyone who will enjoy it with respect. Unfortunately, although our shoreline is universally considered to be a national treasure and one of California's great draws, portions of it remain fenced-off, over-built, or otherwise inaccessible. Through a great deal of effort, the tide is slowly turning, and each year a bit more of the Trail becomes available to those who want to enjoy it while helping to preserve it. Coastwalk has led the effort to create the CCT, but along the way they've picked up countless supporters and allies, from important agencies such as the California Coastal Conservancy, to individuals. They hope you'll join the effort. The Hiker's Guide provides maps of the Coastal Trail (CCT) and information for hikers and visitors to the California coast. Here's another map, showing the portions of the trail that are completed and the portions that remain to be completed.

Beach Attendance Records

According to CCC staff, beach attendance records for state parks are collected by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and attendance records for local beaches are kept by the corresponding municipality.[4]

There is a published summary of State Park attendance records for the years 1997 to 2001. Annual statistical reports for the state park system are available here.

Each year over 50 million people visit the California coast. Almost 9 million people visited Southern California beaches during just the first half of 2001.

A more recent evaluation indicated that each year between 150 million and nearly 400 million visits are made to California beaches (Pendleton et al., 2006).

About 80% of California's 33 million residents live within 50 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean.[5]

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

The California Department of Boating and Waterways sponsored a 1999 report titled The Fiscal Impacts of Beaches in California. According to the executive summary:

  • In 1998, California's beaches generated $14 billion dollars of direct revenue. When the indirect and induced benefits of this spending are added, California's beaches' total contribution to the national economy is $73 billion.
  • The federal tax revenues generated by this beach activity are substantial. The direct federal tax revenues generated are $2.6 billion; however, the total federal tax revenues generated are much higher: $14 billion.

The report California's Ocean Economy was released in July 2005. From the Executive Summary of that report:

California has the largest Ocean Economy in the United States, ranking number one overall for both employment and gross state product (GSP), an impressive position, because California was the 5th largest economy in the world in 2000. The sectors of the Ocean Economy studied include: (1) coastal construction, (2) living resources, (3) offshore minerals, (4) ship and boat building and repair, (5) maritime transportation and ports, and (6) coastal tourism and recreation. The total GSP of California’s Ocean Economy in 2000 was approximately $42.9 billion. California’s Ocean Economy directly provided approximately 408,000 jobs in 2000, and almost 700,000 jobs when multiplier effects are included. It provided more than $11.4 billion in wages and salaries in 2000, and more than $24 billion when multiplier effects are included. The NOEP also evaluated the total value of all economic transactions within 19 coastal counties (mainland coast and four additional counties added within San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River Delta) and identified approximately $ 1.15 trillion of economic activity, (86% of total state economic activity), that is referred to as the “Coastal Economy.” The natural resources of the coast and coastal ocean are a solid foundation for California’s economy and these resources must be sustained to maintain the strength in the six sectors evaluated within the Ocean Economy and the

much larger Coastal Economy.

The website for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary reports:

California has some of the most popular beaches in the country. Over 150 million day visits are generated by tourists and residents use them annually to swim, wade, surf, and dive. Beach visitors spend over $10 billion each year in California.

The California Beach Restoration Study, released in fall 2002 by the California Department of Boating and Waterways, estimated that the beaches of North San Diego County generate $562 million annually. Tax revenues associated with these expenditures are estimated at $172 million annually.

Valuing Recreation and Amenities at San Diego County Beaches by Daniel K. Lew and Douglas M. Larson, was published in the Journal of Coastal Management (vol. 33(1): 71-86, January 2005). This paper presents economic values associated with beach recreation in San Diego County generated from a recreation demand model that explains a beach user's choice of which beach to visit. These include estimates of the economic values of a beach day, beach closures and beach amenities. The first author is Daniel K. Lew, with the Alaska Fisheries Center, NMFS, in Seattle. The second author, Douglas M. Larson, is in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

A socioeconomic study of surfers at Trestles Beach by Chad Nelsen, Linwood Pendleton and Ryan Vaughn characterizes the demographics, visitation patterns and expenditures of surfers who visit Trestles Beach in San Clemente, CA. Also see this interview.

In an article which appeared in the August 2002 issue of Surfrider Foundation's newsletter Making Waves, Charles Tilley of California State University Monterey Bay performed a study which estimates the net value of the "Pleasure Point" surf spot in Santa Cruz to be $8.4 million annually.

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

The first comprehensive review of the state's Coastal Access Program, the California Coastal Commission Public Access Action Plan, was published in June 1999. It identifies the key issues that affect the public's ability to use and enjoy the coast for recreation. Among other things, this document provides a statewide and county-by-county overview of access needs and significant impediments to improving public access. It notes that:

  • Public access along the North Coast is provided primarily by the numerous federal, state, and county parks found there. While there are significant trail systems in this region, there are also large gaps in access. Major needs in the North Coast include closure of coastal trail gaps, and protection of public access rights acquired through historic use.
  • Along the Central Coast, public access to the beach in urban areas is generally open and encouraged. However, many miles of private and/or military property in rural and semi-rural lands often block access. In this region, conflicts between local residents and visitors to the coast are often expressed through exclusionary actions such as preferential parking programs or the non-permitted installation of "no parking" or "no beach access" signs. In addition, the installation of seawalls in response to erosion at sites throughout Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties has dramatically affected lateral beach access, limited the overall area available for general beach recreation, and reduced natural supplies of sand. Conflicts between public access and protection of natural sites such as tide pools or elephant seal haul-out areas, are also increasing in the central coast.
  • In several South Coast locales, access to the beach is impossible. For example, in parts of Orange County exclusively gated communities totally prevent direct access to the beach. In areas such as Malibu, residents discourage beach use and intimidate visitors through a variety of methods including use of "no parking" or "no beach access" signs and private security patrols. However, there are miles of South Coast coastline that have been protected by public purchase, are open to the public year-round, and serve millions of visitors each year. Still, this access is increasingly impaired due to traffic congestion and its attendant problems. For example, in many areas hundreds of parking spots have been constructed but the public demand frequently exceeds the supply. Moreover, the increasing population's desire to use and enjoy the coast leads to ever-increasing problems with overcrowding and tensions between conflicting uses.

The Public Access Plan includes 39 recommendations on how to improve public access in California.

A long-running (since 1983) access dispute at Carbon Beach in Malibu was apparently resolved in May 2005 when entertainment mogul David Geffen opened a 9-foot-wide walkway past his seaside mansion. Meanwhile, at nearby Broad Beach, homeowners have used heavy equipment to push sand from the public beach area up toward their homes, creating barriers up to 8 feet high and shrinking the public beach. The California Coastal Commission has ordered the homeowners to stop this practice. In July 2004, the Coastal Commission demanded that homeowners remove warning signs stating "private property, do not trespass" and stop employing private security guards who target outsiders. The California Coastal Commission has published adetailed access guide for Carbon Beach to aid the public in accessing this beach.

A beach access issue sprang up in 2008 at Martin’s Beach, a small, privately owned cove and residential community about a half-mile south of Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. Before the property changed hands in 2008 it was owned by the Deeney family, which had farmed hay on coastal property since the 1930s. Starting around the same time, the Deeney family began leasing the beachfront end of their property and charging visitors a small amount to drive through their property to enjoy the beach. A convenience store and restaurant were built at the site to cater to tourists. The secluded beach also grew to encompass a small community of about 20 leased homes. The new owner sporadically opened the beach to the paying public, but more and more frequently it was closed to everyone except residents in the leased homes. Closing a stretch of coastline that was once accessible has irked many beachgoers, who began complaining last year to government officials and organizing to re-open the beach. A Facebook group, Friends of Martin’s Beach was started. Following the outcry, the San Mateo County Chapter of Surfrider Foundation began investigating the issue and prodding local authorities to act. Starting in February 2009, San Mateo County officials ordered the beach owner to apply for a Coastal Development Permit for changing signs along Highway 1 and for planting trees on the property. The property owner never filed for the permit. County officials say they want the new owners of Martin's Beach to abide by longstanding practice and open the secluded shoreline to visitors. Months later, county officials were surprised to learn that the owner was instead filing a lawsuit against them and the Coastal Commission for forcing the property to be open to the public. More info and a video and a 2017 update on this issue.

According to CCC staff, there is generally not sufficient beach access, beach parking, or public transportation to meet current or projected demand in urban areas. In more rural areas there often is sufficient beach access and parking.[6]

Public Education Program

According to CCC staff, the primary means of education/outreach is their website and other books/publications, including the 7th edition of the Coastal Access Guide noted above.

Pursuant to funds from the settlement of the American Trader Oil Spill off of Huntington Beach in the early 1990s, the CCC produced a map of Orange County beaches. This is the first time CCC has produced a folding pocket-sized map (based on information from the California Coastal Access Guide) covering a single county.

A November 2005 publication of the California Coastal Commission is Experience the California Coast - A Guide to Beaches and Parks in Northern California. This guide includes a comprehensive list of more than 300 beaches, parks on or near the coast, and paths to the shoreline.

The Northern California guide is the first volume in a series of coastal guide books, each devoted to a portion of the coast. This volume includes sections on Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin Counties.

The second volume in CCC's series of coastal guidebooks includes sections on Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and is titled Beaches and Parks from Monterey to Ventura.

Volume 3 is Beaches and Parks in Southern California, covering Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties.

Volume 4 is Beaches and Parks from San Francisco to Monterey.

Contact Info

Linda Locklin, Manager
Statewide Coastal Access Program
California Coastal Commission
725 Front Street, Suite 300
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 427-4875

Elizabeth A. Fuchs, Coastal Program Manager
California Coastal Commission
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105-2219
Phone: (415) 904-5400


  1. Surfrider Foundation 2002 and 2003 State of the Beach Report, state survey responses.
  2. Linda Locklin, CCC. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response, December 3, 2002.
  3. Surfrider Foundation 2002 and 2003 State of the Beach Report, state survey responses.
  4. Melanie Coyne, California State Coastal Conservancy, written communication. February 2002.
  5. California Sea Grant.
  6. Surfrider Foundation 2003 State of the Beach Report, state survey response.

State of the Beach Report: California
California Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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