Pillar Point Harbor in San Mateo County made Heal the Bay's 'Beach Bummer' list this year. (geoff dude/Flickr)
Pillar Point Harbor in San Mateo County made Heal the Bay’s ‘Beach Bummer’ list this year. (geoff dude/Flickr)

Seven out of 10 of the state’s most polluted beaches are in Northern California, according to environmental group Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card, released Thursday.

Each year, Heal the Bay ranks California beaches on water quality. They test for bacteria that signal the presence of microscopic critters that can make people sick. This year, 95 percent of beaches got clean A or B grades, a record. That’s thanks to the drought, explained Amanda Griesbach with Heal the Bay.

“There’s a lack of rainfall, urban runoff and pollutants and debris and everything that’s washed into the beach water and that elevates the level of bacteria,” she said. “So if there’s a drought we typically see better grades.”

But not everywhere. The polluted beaches that made the “Beach Bummers” list below suffer from problems like poor circulation — enclosed beaches like Marina Lagoon in San Mateo don’t have enough water flow to break up bacteria — and outdated sewage systems that leak contaminated water like the corroded pipes at Santa Cruz’s Cowell Beach, explained Griesbach.

Here they are, listed from worst to, well, maybe you’ll get a sinus infection.

  1. Cowell Beach, at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)
  2. Marina Lagoon (San Mateo County)
  3. Marina del Rey, Mother’s Beach (Los Angeles County)
  4. Cabrillo Beach, Harborside (Los Angeles County)
  5. Stillwater Cove (Monterey County)
  6. Clam Beach County Park (Humboldt County)
  7. Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)
  8. Pillar Point Harbor (San Mateo County)
  9. Capitola Beach, West of jetty (Santa Cruz County)
  10. Windsurfer Circle, Candlestick Point (San Francisco County)

Griesbach and other officials stressed that water quality can change from day-to-day especially after big rainstorms.

“When we have a big storm, even if it’s in May, stay away from the water, just for a few days,” said Deb Self, the excecutive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental group that fights sewage contamination. “Let the bacteria break up and let the beach get clean again.”

Every Friday, beachgoers can check up-to-date water quality stats on Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

Seven of 10 of California’s Most Polluted Beaches Are in Northern California 23 May,2014Shara Tonn

  • flipperfeet

    Curious how Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove did not make this list. Closures have been chronic over the years and any diver exiting can attest to the foul smell that comes from disturbing the bottom. As recently as February of this year it was closed for a spill of 900 gallons of sewage. http://www.kionrightnow.com/news/local-news/sewage-spill-near-lovers-point-shuts-down-beach/24401066

  • JDub

    FTFY – “Nine out of 10 of California’s most polluted beaches are in Southern California”.

    Hi, true Northern Californian here. I’m tired of you Southers not knowing how to use a map. The only beach on that list that is north of the SF Bay is Clam Beach. The rest are all located SOUTH of San Fransisco Bay. San Fransisco/Sacramento are CENTRAL California because that is the middle of the state. Areas north of SF/Sac are “Northern California”. Areas south of SF/Sac are “Southern California”.

    • flipperfeet

      Folks who live in the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Area refer to it as the Central Coast, not Southern California. Don’t be as clueless about the regions as you would paint the editors at KQED. http://oag.ca.gov/gambling/game/central_coast

    • Kelly Decker

      Um yeah. Raised in Napa here. You don’t get to make up your own geography. SF is not the border and Sac definitely not the border….If Sac was the border then SF would be in SoCal….silly.

      • Jeff Schmitt

        Um yeah. Kelly, you don’t get to make up YOUR own geography. Look at the damn map!


        • Kelly Decker

          That map is not coded by a geographer, obviously.

          • Jeff Schmitt

            Who made the map is irrelevant. It is logical to split the state into three equal areas designating Northern, Central, and Southern California. The social, economic, and environmental environments are completely different north of the Bay Area. The differences between Central and Southern California are less obtruse, except the social environment. Now if you want to split the state into simply Northern and Southern California, you could make an argument that Northern California starts at San Jose, but the climate, geography, and social and economic diversities just don’t support a two way split.

          • Kelly Decker

            Or you could split it into coastal, central and mountain, but that isn’t the point. A geographer’s 2 way N-S split is at Monterey…which I admit is farther south than I would have thought

          • Jeff Schmitt

            But like I stated above, California is too long for a single North-South split. You didn’t like the “Truckers” map (although they may know better than anyone since they drive the roads every day). How about a map from the Attorney General for the State of California? It pretty much shows Northern California where the “Truckers” map shows Northern California. Apparently, the Attorney General feels that California needs more than a simple Northern and Southern designation.

          • Jeff Schmitt

            Sorry, here is a link to the map:


          • Kelly Decker

            It all depends on which way the author wants to break it up and the original poster was, frankly, laying claim to the knowledge of THE BEST way to break up CA….to which I say it is the author’s perogative. I also think that Monterey – N is culturally a natural boundary along the coast.

          • Kelly Decker

            By “original poster” I meant JDub, and by author I mean “Shara Tonn, M.S. Student of Earth Systems at Stanford.

          • Kelly Decker

            Clearly the author is doing N-S. Not N-C-S. And there are MANY different ways to split CA, but if you split N-S (as the author is) then it is Monterey up that is N.

        • Kelly Decker

          That’s a trucking map, silly.


Shara Tonn

Shara Tonn is a Master’s student at Stanford University in Earth Systems, an interdisciplinary environmental science degree. Her focus is science communication and education. She is a part of the environmental radio group on campus, GreenGrid Radio and also enjoys performing improv with the Stanford Improvisers (SIMPs). Born and raised in Tennessee, Shara loves to travel and has lived overseas in Italy, Japan and Australia.

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