North Cornwall is home to some of the best beaches in the whole of the UK. I’ve been visiting the area every year since I was 5 so have had plenty of time to discover the best beaches in North Cornwall. I have so many happy memories of rockpooling, discovering forgotten caves and learning to surf in the fantastic waves.
This post was updated in August 2021.
And now love sharing those memories with my daughter as she develops her own love of Cornish beaches.
The North Coast of Cornwall has grown massively in popularity over the last few years. And with that has come the inevitable overcrowding. But don’t worry, there are plenty of secret beaches left to find. You may just have to walk down a steep coast path to get to them. Or a little further to the left or right of a car park and you’ll find plenty of space. We’ve even been known to wade through the sea over rocks when the tide is in to access a secluded little bay. Here we can set up our picnic, pull on our wetsuits and start exploring. We’re just back from two weeks exploring the area in the summer of 2021. Possibly the busiest Cornwall has ever been and we still managed to find plenty of space to play.
The North coastline of Cornwall is rugged, unforgiving and utterly breathtaking so we always combine a day at the beach with a walk along the coast path to tire out the dog before setting up camp on the sand. At most of the beaches mentioned below you’ll be able to do both – walk and relax.
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Let’s start with the big hitter – Watergate bay has always been a popular beach to visit with kids in North Cornwall. Made even more so now since the Watergate Bay hotel has had an upgrade and with the arrival of a few high end restaurants and cafes.
This beach really does have something for everyone. The waves are amazing and there’s a popular surf school near the entrance. The sand is soft so perfect for sun worshippers and sandcastle builders. Further along the beach, to the right you’ll find small caves to explore and plenty of rock pools for fishing. For adventure lovers, this beach is also popular with kite surfers. Watergate bay is also home to an annual polo on the beach competition.
Flags will indicate where it is safe to swim or bodyboard and there is a RNLI lifeguard on duty from mid June until the end of October. Watergate bay beach is a European Designated beach and has achieved the highest standard for bathing water in the UK.
This beach does get very busy but the sand stretches for over two miles so just walk a little further to the right of the entrance and you’re bound to find plenty of space. These pictures were taken during the staycation boom of the summer holidays in 2020, as you can see, we were metres from anyone.
Watergate Bay is bordered by high cliffs and the North Cornish Coastal path. You can follow that all the way to Newquay but I probably wouldn’t recommend that with a bag full of beach clobber. It is however a lovely 45 minute walk if you want to switch up your work out from surfing and swimming.
Dogs are welcome year round on the beach – probably best to head away from the crowds though and make sure you always clean up after your dog.
Watergate bay has everything you’ll need for a day at the beach. There are toilets by the car park and a small shop selling nets, boards and wetsuits for hire. There’s also plenty of places to grab a snack or larger meal. I love the Watchful Mary, a beautifully designed and laid back beach bar with fantastic views across the sand. They serve delicious flatbreads which are perfect for a beach lunch break.
Parking for Watergate Bay beach
Watergate bay beach has two carparks, you’ll find them at the bottom of the hill as you drive down from Newquay. The one beach side is quite tricky to park in – spaces are quite tight but there is an overflow one on the other side of the road which offers more space.
Porth Joke Beach
This has to be one of my top contenders for hidden beaches in North Cornwall. It was recommended to us by a family we met having dinner one night and I doubt we would have found it otherwise. Sometimes known as Polly Joke beach or in our household, Polly Jolly beach which perhaps explains its exclusivity! Nobody can find it!
This is another soft, sandy beach. There is a small stream running down the middle which little kids can splash in if they don’t like the waves. The beach is a bit tricky to get to with a 20 minute walk from the car park which means it’s never too busy.
When the tide is out, the stretch of sand is huge and surrounded by many caves and rockpools just waiting to be explored. There are no facilities at Porth Joke beach, pack a picnic and plenty of water and you have a super cheap day out!
Dogs are welcome on Porth Joke beach year round. Although sheep do sometimes graze behind the beach, just be sure to keep them under control. There isn’t any lifeguard cover available so make sure you keep a close eye on the kids at all times. Currents can get very strong at times.
Parking for Porth Joke beach
There is a small National Trust Carpark at the top of Crantock village. It’s free for National Trust members. If you need to pay, you’ll need cash.
This one is definitely not a secret beach but is absolutely well worth a visit. Even on the busiest days you’ll be able to find yourselves some space and the facilities make it a dream to visit with kids. It’s located halfway between Padstow and Newquay so ideal if you’re staying in any of these popular tourist spots.
Mawgan Porth is well sheltered due to the towering cliffs on each side. The waves are brilliant for body boarding or surfing and there is lifeguard cover over the summer months. Do make sure you take note of the flags to keep you all safe.
If you’re looking for a quieter spot on the beach, arrive when the tide is at its lowest and head as far right as you can. This is where the best rockpools are and the shelter of the cliffs mean a breeze free day out. It’s just a considerable walk back to the main facilities and to enter the sea where the lifeguards are.
The wealth of facilities at Mawgan Porth are probably what makes it so popular. Near the main parking area there are pubic toilets, convenience shops selling groceries and beach equipment, surf hire, fish and chips, a cafe, ice cream and the brilliant Catch restaurant.
Dogs are allowed on the beach year round.
Parking for Mawgan Porth Beach
Mawgan Porth beach is wildly popular over summer which means you may struggle to get a parking space if you visit any time after 10am. Out of season or on cloudier days the best carpark is located opposite the beach just behind the catch restaurant. I think it’s £3 for the day and remember to bring cash. Use the postcode TR8 4BA to find it. We love heading down to mawgan porth in the early evening and can always find space.
If you struggle to find parking here or just fancy a good walk before your visit then I recommend parking at the Carnewas at Bedruthan car park which is managed by the National Trust. This has the bonus of being free for National Trust members and has a delightful cafe serving some of the best cream teas! The walk from here down to Mawgan Porth is a fairly challenging 30 minutes along the coast path. The views are stunning but it can be tough if you’ve got a lot of beach equipment. And remember, you’ll have to walk back at the end of the day. Use the postcode PL27 7UW.
Another popular north Cornish beach, this one is located just out of Tintagel. This is my favourite place to visit when we want a full day by the coast. We always arrive early to find good parking, spend a couple of hours walking the coastal path, then enjoy a drink at the Port William while we wait for the tide to go out.
Trebarwith Beach gets super busy during peak UK school holidays you’ll often see families sat on the rocks, waiting for the waves to go back so they can get safely to the sand. But with the crowds come the facilities. As mentioned, there’s a great pub overlooking the beach which serves some of the best fish and chips in Cornwall.
There are several clean toilets at the entrance to the beach, a sweet cafe serving takeaway hot drinks and snacks and a wonderful beach shop to grab any wetsuits or rock pooling accessories you may have forgotten.
This is another fabulous beach for rock pooling, cliff climbing (safely) and even a bit of sea jumping. I recommend turning to the right of the cliffs when you enter the beach and keep going until you find a quiet spot of sand. Just make sure you don’t get cut off by the tide on your return. Each year several people have to be rescued having left it a little too long. I have seen people scale the rocks to get ahead – probably not the safest with kids.
Dogs are allowed year round on Trebarwith beach. There is a lifeguard on duty during the summer season.
Parking for Trebarwith Beach
As mentioned, Trebarwith Beach can get really busy so aim to arrive early if you want to secure a parking space. There are two carparks – one right down by the beach and a larger overflow one a little further back. You’ll need cash for both car parks.
Vugga Cove, Crantock
Another secret beach in North Cornwall is Vugga Cove, just to the side of the more popular Crantock beach. I’ve struggled to get an exact name for this hidden away bay but Vugga Cove seems the closest. This is probably one of the best beaches in North Cornwall to escape the crowds this summer. It’s actually part of Crantock beach which is definitely one of the most popular on the North Coast. Although this side of the beach can get cut off from the main beach when the tide is high so it always seems quiet, we’ve also never struggled to find parking which is absolutely a bonus in summer.
This is another one which takes a little effort to reach but it really is worth the bother (and wet feet!). It’s a tiny stretch of sand which grows ever larger as the tide goes out, slowly opening up other coves, ripe for exploring. Eventually linking up with Crantock beach. On the day we visited we shared the sand with just one other family for several hours and were able to relax as the kids explored the absolutely epic rock pools which slowly grew in number as the tide receded.
This cove is where Piper found some of her best hauls, starfish, crabs and small fish were all scooped up in her net. It’s also where Holly, our dog finally got over her fear of water as she had to swim from cove to cove to keep up with Piper.
To access the beach head to the brilliant Bowgie Inn and park in the carpark next door. Walk down to the coast path and then keep heading down until you hit the rocks. It’s not a tough walk but it is quite challenging on the knees when you want to head back up. Once you reach the rocks at the bottom, you’ll have to walk along the rocks – careful not to slip, until you reach water. You may then have to wade through the sea partially to get to the sand. Whilst it does sound a bit complicated, a secret beach is always worth a bit of effort!
There are no facilities at Vugga Cove although you’ll find plenty at Crantock Beach. There is a public toilet in the carpark which was pretty clean and never busy. I highly recommend a visit to the Bowgie Inn for dinner or a drink after your day at the beach. It’s one of the best pubs in the area.
Parking for Vugga Cove
Head to the large West Pentire car park behind the Bowgie Inn. It’s cash only but not bad value for a morning at the beach.
Heading closer to Padstow, Harlyn Bay is another popular beach in North Cornwall. This is my favourite in the late afternoon when it starts to get a bit quieter.
It attracts local families and tourists alike due to its huge stretch of sand and abundance of facilities. You’ll find toilets behind the car park and several ice cream vans parked along the beach road and even a surf school if you want to learn a new skill.
The sheltered, crescent shape means waves tend to be fairly calm in the bay making it ideal for families with young children. There’s a life guard on duty between May and September.
Dogs are allowed on Harlyn Beach year round.
Car Parking at Harlyn Bay
Parking is located in a large field right by the beach. There always seems to be plenty of space and there are several large bins located at the entrance so you can get rid of rubbish before you leave for the day.
Mother Ivey’s Bay
One of the best beaches in North Cornwall we discovered this year is Mother Ivey’s Bay. This one felt like we’d ended up on a tropical island rather than the North Cornish Coast. It’s a bit of a faff to get to which therefore meant it was lovely and quiet. I think it will be our new go to when the weather is good. We discovered it on a walk around the Trevose Head lighthouse from the National Trust car park which took around an hour. But if you walk there directly from the car park it’s only around 15 minutes.
Located just around the corner from Harlyn this one is fairly close to Padstow. The sand is enticingly soft and the rock pools perfect for hunting. When the sea is out you can walk around to the left of the bay and see the stunning Padstow lifeboat station. This part of the beach is by far the quietest although you will get cut off if the sea come in – stay alert and check tide times before you visit.
There are no facilities at Mother Ivey’s Bay although you will find bins close to the main entrance. There are also no lifeguards or flags so please be very careful if you enter the sea. Maybe save this one for paddling rather than swimming or boarding. Dogs are allowed on the beach year round.
Parking for Mother Ivey’s Beach
We parked at the National Trust Car Park for Trevose Head. Use the post code PL28 8SL to get you there. The road down to the car park is pretty narrow so involved lots of reversing and stopping. Just be aware and take it slow. There is often a coffee van in the carpark serving hot drinks, ice creams and snacks. It’s lovely. From here it’s not too far down to the beach.
You could also park at Harlyn Bay and walk. This is another bay which made it into our list of the best beaches in North Cornwall.
Rock Beach (Brea Beach)
The small village of Rock has become an extremely popular, luxury staycation destination for families recently. With 5 star guest houses, super expensive holiday cottages, artisan bakeries and high end cafes and restaurants bordering the road down to the beach. Take a walk in the soft sand though and you’ll understand why. A trip to Rock beach makes you feel like you been transported to a tropical island. I definitely think it’s one of the best beaches in North Cornwall to head to if you’re missing that foreign holiday!
It’s very sheltered as it’s located on the Camel estuary between Rock and Padstow. On the marina side of the beach you’ll find the ferry boat, transporting visitors between the two towns.
There is no lifeguard cover at Rock beach and, although the water tends to be fairly calm, you’ll have to watch out for the many boats, paddle boards and other watersports enthusiasts enjoying the sea.
We often make a full day of our visit to Rock beach, heading over to Padstow by ferry for lunch at Rick Steins Fish and Chips then returning when Rock gets a little quieter to enjoy a final paddle before a drink at one of Rocks cafe bars. Perfect!
Parking for Rock Beach
There is a reasonable sized pay and display car park right by the beach. Aim to arrive early or you wont find a space. Parking on the road towards the beach gets very busy too and is always a nightmare to inch past in traffic.
Probably the most famous beach in North Cornwall due to its many surfing championships, Fistral is also one of the busiest. It’s definitely one of the best beaches in North Cornwall to ride the waves. Located just outside of Newquay, it’s known for its amazing waves and attracts young families and holidaying teenagers alike.
I love the atmosphere on Fistral, it’s full of beach sports, energetic kids and surf lessons a plenty. It can feel pretty busy though at times. I recommend heading to the side furthest away from Newquay – towards the Pentire headland.
You’ll find plenty of cafes and hotels bordering the beach if you need a drink or snack. I recommend the Surf school for great food and a lovely, relaxed vibe. Or you could head to the wonderful Lewinnick Lodge for delicious food and great views of the beach.
Life guard cover is available at Fistral from April until the end of October.
Where to park for Fistral beach
Honestly, parking for Fistral beach can be a total nightmare. There is a large pay and display next to the International Surf School but even that can get full at peak times. If you head closer to the Pentire headland you may find a spot on the road which is free. But these are very tricky to come by. Aim to arrive early, you can always treat yourself to a coffee whilst you wait for the waves to pick up.
Port Isaac beach (harbour)
Whilst definitely not the prettiest, sandiest or even officially a beach (more a harbour). But I love spending an hour or two by the sea at Port Isaac. The village itself is absolutely beautiful, totally “Cornish” and my favourite place to grab a Cornish Pasty in North Cornwall. It’s also where Doc Martin and the film Fishermans Friends is based so you’re bound to recognise parts of the village.
The “beach” at low tide is an ideal place for rock pooling with heaps of shallow pools and caves leading out to sea.
Port Gaverne, just down the road is a more traditional beach although unfortunately, dogs are not allowed.
Parking for Port Isaac
I do not recommend driving down into Port Isaac, it’s just too tight and there are too many people on the roads. Some do risk it and park on the stoney beach itself. But I always prefer to park at the pay and display at the top of the hill and then walk down into the village. It will take about 5 minutes – just make sure you save some energy for the walk back up!
Where to stay on the North Cornish coastline.
If you’re wondering where to stay whilst you enjoy all these amazing beaches then I highly recommend booking the Bedruthan Hotel and Spa. It’s a stunning hotel with heaps of family friendly features which will make your stay absolutely magical. The hotel is home to one of my very favourite Spas in the whole country. It also has an amazing restaurant and overlooks another gorgeous section of Cornish coastline. Have a read of my review of the Bedruthan Hotel and get planning!
Check here for the best prices at the Bedruthan Hotel for your dates.
Taking dogs to the best beaches in North Cornwall
Dogs are welcome on most beaches in Cornwall. In fact, they’re welcome pretty much everywhere including restaurants, cafes and hotels. Some beaches have dog restrictions over summer and some require dogs to be on a lead. Restrictions only tend to apply between 10am and 6pm.
When I was a child, we always bought our flat coated retriever to Cornwall with us and we always stayed at the Watergate Bay Hotel. One day, my sister and I didn’t quite shut the door, our dog escaped and ran down to the beach, spending a few free hours running up and down the surf, begging for sandwiches. We were all in bits but I just can’t imagine people putting up with it now. If you are going to let your dog run free on the beach (and that is half the joy!) then I recommend heading away from the crowds or visiting one of the secret beaches mentioned above.
Please also make sure you clean up after your dog and don’t leave a trace of litter. Try not to let them drink too much seawater either, we learnt this the hard way on Fistral beach when Holly was sick after a day playing in the water.
Tips on visiting the best beaches in North Cornwall
- Check the tide times for the specific beach you want to visit before you go. These can vary wildly day to day and make a huge difference to wether a beach is accessible or not. Just google tide times and the name of the beach for that days adventure and it should show up.
- If you’re planning on swimming or boarding, make sure you stay between the flags – this is the area patroled by the lifeguards. And never go in the water alone. The Atlantic sea can be highly unpredictable.
- This is Cornwall so make sure you pack for every weather eventuality. I actually love the beach on a slightly cloudy or drizzly day but it does make all the difference if you bought along an extra fleece and a few blankets.
- Take a spare bag to transport your rubbish. This is such an important one, we all saw the horrific pictures of litter strewn beaches this summer. It’s bad for the ecosystem, beach creatures and just can ruin what would otherwise be a lovely day. It’s rare to find bins at Cornish beaches so bring a bag and take your rubbish home with you.
- Most beaches in North Cornwall have specific carparks and most of these are pay and display. Have plenty of change for parking as few of them take notes or card. Some of them are payable by phone via a downloadable app but you’re never guaranteed a signal.
If you like this, you may also enjoy my post on driving from Newquay to Tintagel and all the best stops along the way. Or another beach post, this time on the best Llyn Peninsula beaches in North Wales.
Make sure you pin for the next time you’re planning a trip to the best beaches in North Cornwall.