Sunset view in Treasure Island Beach

21 Best Beaches in Southern California (By a Local)

Southern California is famous for its sunny skies and warm weather, and of course, for its miles and miles of coastline. 

As a SoCal local and beach enthusiast, I’m here to give you some inside information on the best beaches in Southern California, and which to visit depending on what you want to do.

Whether you want to explore sea caves, surf, or just lay out in the sun and relax, you’ll find the perfect beach for you in Southern California. Here are some of the best beaches in Southern California – some are ionic and well known, while others are hidden gems. Let’s dive in!

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. Thank you!

21 Best Beaches In Southern California

Santa Monica State Beach

Santa Monica

The author posing for a photo in Santa Monica State Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid lots and garages near the beach and in Santa Monica ($7 to $18) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Hotel Shangri-La

Just west of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Beach offers visitors sandy shores, a bike path, and easy access to shopping downtown. The Santa Monica Pier is home to an amusement park and an aquarium, so it’s the perfect place for a day of family fun in the sun.

Santa Monica Beach is among the most popular LA area beaches for beach volleyball and biking, and even has gymnastic equipment right on the beach. Test your skills on ropes or rings while enjoying the fresh ocean air!

🎬 Read Next: What to Do in Los Angeles

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla, San Diego

The author under the blue water of La Jolla Cove
Looking for leopard sharks in La Jolla Cove!

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid lots & garages, limited street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Pantai Inn

If you’re an ocean or wildlife lover, La Jolla Cove is calling your name. The cove is considered part of La Jolla Underwater Park, where you’ll find sea lions, garibaldi, pelicans, and even gentle leopard sharks. You can explore the natural world by kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, or diving.

If you’re interested in these ocean activities, there are many rental spots and tours available, so you don’t have to bring your own gear if you don’t have any. And if you’d rather relax on one of the best beaches in La Jolla, there’s a stretch of sandy beach that’s perfect for that as well. If you somehow get bored of all that, check out my list of fun things to do in La Jolla for more inspiration.

👉 Pro Tip: If you want to snorkel with leopard sharks, visit during warmer months like August when the sharks seek out shallower water.

Sunset Beach

Huntington Beach

View of people with their surfboard on Sunset Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: free lot and street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Ocean Surf Inn

Nestled between Seal Beach and Huntington Beach along Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll find Sunset Beach. Quiet and peaceful, this rarely crowded beach is great for surf fishing, surfing, and soaking up the sun.

This laid back beach town has a few restaurants, bars, and shops you can pop into. SeaLegs at the Beach is a fun spot for food and drink options, and often hosts live music and events right on the sand.

El Matador Beach

Malibu

Rocks on the shoreline of El Matador Beach at morning

Google Maps | Website | Parking: limited parking on top of the bluffs ($8) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Westlake Village Inn

You’ll feel like you’ve left Malibu and traveled to a faraway land when you visit El Matador Beach. Since parking is limited, El Matador has a private beach feel. A trail descends from the parking lot, taking you to a beach full of rock formations, arches, and caves.

El Matador is a better beach for sightseeing and sunsets than for swimming due to its rocky nature. Walk beneath the beach’s huge stone arches and check out the aquatic wildlife in its tide pools before taking in the sunset.

Pacific Beach

San Diego

View of people in Pacific Beach under the clear blue sky in San Diego

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid lots, free street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Pacific Terrace Hotel

Pacific Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego. It’s the perfect mix of laid back surf town and trendy nightlife spot. At the beach itself, you’ll find surfers chasing waves near the pier and people relaxing under the sun. There’s a paved path that runs along the beach, so you can bike, skate, or walk right by the ocean.

This Southern California beach town is filled with restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops, so you’ll never run out of options. Pick up a latte at Pacific Bean Coffee, or split a punch bowl with friends at Duck Dive after a day in the ocean.

👉 Pro Tip: Round up the kids and take them to Mission Beach, where you can spend a few hours at the neighborhood’s seaside amusement park, Belmont Park.

Abalone Cove

Rancho Palos Verdes

A woman sitting on a rock on the shoreline of Abalone Cove

Google Maps | Website | Parking: blufftop parking lot ($6-$12) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Doubletree by Hilton Hotel San Pedro

Abalone Cove is a magical, pebbly beach that’s home to lively tide pools and three sea caves. Enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean while you take the trail down from the parking lot to the shore. This secluded beach is popular for scuba diving and spotting interesting marine life.

Visit Abalone Cove’s tide pools at low tide, where you’ll find colorful anemones, scuttling crabs, and starfish. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the trail over to Sacred Cove, an even more secluded cove filled with crystal blue water.

Venice Beach

Venice

A lifeguard station in Venice Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid lots and metered street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Inn at Venice Beach

West of downtown Los Angeles you’ll find Southern California’s funkiest bohemian beach city, Venice Beach. Here, you can catch street performers and browse local art on the boardwalk, stroll through a neighborhood full of canals, visit Muscle Beach, or dine in style.

From its eccentric boardwalk to the fine dining on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, there’s something for everyone in Venice. It’s also a popular surf spot and is home to a skate park, so whichever kind of board you bring, you’re in the right place!

Seal Beach

Seal Beach

View of a pier in Seal Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid lot and metered street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: The Pacific Inn

Seal Beach is a charming beach town in Orange County, located between Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean. Its quaint Main Street is lined with restaurants and shops, and leads down to a pier that juts out into the sea.

This beach town is the perfect getaway if you’re looking for a gorgeous, sandy beach without the crowds of more heavily populated areas. Beach volleyball and surfing are popular activities in Seal Beach, and the vibe at the restaurants and bars is casual and friendly.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

View of a foot walk in the empty Laguna Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: metered street parking ($2.50 – $4.50 per hour), parking lots | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Pacific Edge Hotel

Laguna Beach is home to seven miles of beaches and a thriving art community. Laguna offers both sandy beaches and rocky coves that are perfect to explore with a snorkel. Within the town itself, you’ll find art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and plenty of public art.

👉 Pro Tip: If you’re up for a snorkeling or scuba adventure, head to Shaw’s Cove to spot marine life in the kelp forest along the rocky bluffs.

Manhattan State Beach

Manhattan Beach

View of a pier in Manhattan State Beach during sunset

Google Maps | Website | Parking: parking lots, metered street parking, and street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Sea View Inn at the Beach

Manhattan Beach is a family friendly beach in the South Bay with a bike path and a 900 foot long pier that features an aquarium. Up near the north end of the beach is El Porto, which is a popular surf spot.

The beach here is sandy and stretches on for about two miles. You can play beach volleyball or take a dip in the refreshing waters of the Pacific Ocean. Or, head to downtown Manhattan Beach to enjoy dinner with ocean views or shop at local boutiques.

Huntington State Beach

Huntington Beach

View of an empty Huntington State Beach
View of Catalina Island from Huntington Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid parking lots, metered street parking, free street parking inside the town | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Huntington Surf Inn

Known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach offers visitors miles of sandy beaches and waves that keep surfers coming back every day. Huntington State Beach is home to the annual U.S. Open of Surfing, where you can watch the pros compete.

This Southern California hotspot is perfect for beachgoers who want to enjoy the sun and sand or hit the waves and board. The town’s Main Street is full of shops, restaurants, and bars, and boasts a lively nightlife. So bring your sunscreen and your dancing shoes!

Coronado Beach

San Diego

The author and her friends in Coronado Beach during sunset

Google Maps | Website | Parking: limited free parking on Ocean Boulevard, metered parking ($00.25 per hour) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Hotel Del Coronado

One of the nicest beaches in Southern California that’s also located on an island, Coronado Beach has lots to offer. This beach is a wonderful place for sunbathing, swimming, and catching breathtaking sunsets.

Coronado Beach is also home to the famous Hotel Del Coronado, renowned for its prime beachfront location, stunning architecture, and cinematic history.  Kick back and relax at the hotel, or hit the beach for a day of classic Southern California sunshine.

📚 Related Reading: If you’re planning to visit San Diego, check out our guide to the best things to do in San Diego!

Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach

The author with her friends having a picnic in Hermosa Beach
Me and the girls enjoying a picnic by the Hermosa Beach pier.

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid parking lots and garages, residential parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Grandview Inn

Hermosa Beach is one of Los Angeles County’s more casual beaches, with more than 90 acres of shoreline. Bike along the beach path called The Strand, start a game of beach volleyball, or walk down the Hermosa Beach Pier for sweeping ocean views.

After a day at the beach, downtown Hermosa Beach awaits with restaurants, boutiques, bars, and nightlife. Between taverns, pubs, and even a saloon, you’re bound to have an entertaining night out on the town here.

Crystal Cove State Park

Newport Beach

View of a woman walking in the sand of Crystal Cove State Park

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid parking lot ($5 per hour, $15 maximum) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas

Crystal Cove State Park is home to beautiful state beaches, backcountry hiking trails, campsites, and underwater park. The beach here is popular for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and just hanging out.

The underwater park here covers more than 1,000 acres and is filled with kelp forests. So, if you want to scope out the local marine life, this is the perfect place to do so! If you’d rather stay on land, you can hit the trails either along the beach or in the backcountry area of the park.

Zuma Beach

Malibu Beach

Overlooking view of Zuma Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: paid parking lot ($00.25 per 10 minute increment up to a maximum of 90 minutes) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Hotel June Malibu

Zuma Beach is one of the most iconic Southern California beaches. Located in Malibu Beach, Zuma Beach is a popular spot for bodysurfing, swimming, and general beachgoing. This beach’s long stretch of sand and clear blue waters make it popular among locals and visitors alike.

You’ll be happy to know that there’s plenty of parking here – so even at its most crowded, you should be able to access the beach. So if you’re looking to check out a beach in Malibu, this one’s for you!

Doheny State Beach

Dana Point

View of surfers in Doheny State Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: parking lot (hourly: $3 per hour, day use: $15) | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Best Western Plus Marina Shores Hotel

If you’ve ever gotten the Beach Boys hit “Surfin USA” stuck in your head, you’ve probably heard of Doheny State Beach. This spot in Dana Point is a popular surf spot, and is a great place to start learning how to surf.

The shore is a bit rocky, so consider bringing sandals or booties if you’re going to hand out at Doheny. The beach is close to restaurants, bars, and a marina in Dana Point, so you can make a day of it while you’re there.

Bolsa Chica State Beach

Huntington Beach

View of the sunset over Bolsa Chica State Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: multiple parking lots ($15 per day)

Perhaps one of the most versatile beaches in Southern California, Bolsa Chica State Beach has sandy shores, blue waves, and nature galore. Here, you can surf, swim, sunbathe, surf fish, or relax around one of the fire pits on the sand after the sun sets.

If you can’t get enough of Bolsa Chica in one day (and who could blame you?!), you can stay overnight in an RV. The community of Sunset Beach is nearby, where you can pick up food and browse shops.

👉 Pro Tip: Just across Pacific Coast Highway from the beach, you’ll find a beautiful ecological preserve full of nature trails and wildlife. Walk among wildflowers, spot some birds and lizards, and even a coyote if you’re lucky!

Descanso Beach

Avalon, Catalina Island

View of a boat in the blue water of Descanso Beach

Google Maps | Website | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Bellanca Hotel

For a luxurious beach experience that makes you feel like you’re on a tropical island, check out Descanso Beach on Catalina Island. The water is crystal clear, and you can rent snorkeling gear, paddle boards, and kayaks on site.

If it’s relaxation you’re after, settle down in a lounge chair or cabana and order a drink from Descanso Beach Club. During the summer, the beach club hosts parties on Saturdays, so you can boogie down at the beach.

📚 Related Reading: While you’re on the island, check out some other things to do on Catalina!

Thousand Steps Beach

Laguna Beach

The rocky shoreline in Thousand Steps Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: residential parking, metered street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: The Ranch at Laguna Beach

Don’t worry – there are actually only 218 steps that lead down to Thousand Steps Beach in Laguna. This beach tends to be less crowded than other Southern California beaches, as there isn’t as much parking and of course – all the stairs.

Thousand Steps Beach is a hot spot for body surfing, kayaking, swimming, and even skim boarding. And if you visit at low tide, you can check out the beach’s sea cave and tide pools.

East Beach

Santa Barbara

View of the clear blue sky over East Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: limited free street parking

East Beach in Santa Barbara is a vast stretch of sandy shoreline nestled between the Pacific Ocean and a grassy park. This Santa Barbara beach has volleyball courts, a paved path, picnic tables, and a playground, and is perfect for families.

East Beach is within walking distance of Stearns Wharf and the downtown Santa Barbara area. You can chill at the beach or head into town for fresh seafood, wine tasting, and live musical performances.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach

View of a sailing boat in Newport Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: parking lots, metered street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Doryman’s Inn

One of the most popular Southern California beaches, Newport Beach offers visitors sandy shores, boat trips, and a laid back and fun atmosphere. Newport Beach has ten miles of sandy coastline for locals and visitors to enjoy, including surf spots like The Wedge.

Check out the Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Island, where you can find local eats and browse shops. Or, head out to sea by booking a fishing trip or whale watching tour to add to your nautical Southern California experience!

San Onofre Beach

San Clemente

View of the clear blue sky and the blue water in San Onofre Beach
View of the Pacific Ocean from the bluffs near San Onofre’s campsites.

Google Maps | Website | Parking: parking lot, rates vary | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Surfbreak Hotel

San Onofre Beach is an outdoor lover’s paradise. It’s the perfect spot for fishing, kayaking, swimming, cycling, camping – and especially surfing. Nearby Trestles is a popular Southern California surf spot.

Spend a few nights at San Onofre’s bluff top campsites, which are just a short walk from the beach below. Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins, as they’re a common sight off the coast here.

Victoria Beach

Laguna Beach

View of a tower on the shoreline of Victoria Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: limited street parking | 👉 Best Nearby Hotel: Laguna Beach House

If you’re looking for something a little different, head to Victoria Beach in Laguna. This secluded white sand beach is home to a castle-like tower right on the ocean, locally called the “Pirate Tower.”

Victoria Beach is a hidden gem among Southern California beaches, with a private feel and loads of natural beauty. Whether you come to explore the tide pools in Victoria Beach’s rocky areas, lay out on the sand, or snap a photo with the tower, your visit won’t disappoint. 

👉Want More? Read all our free California travel guides.

FAQs about Beaches in Southern California

What is the clearest beach in Southern California?

Laguna Beach has the clearest beaches in Southern California. With more than twenty different beaches and coves, Laguna Beach has some of the clearest water in California and has been ranked as one of the cleanest beaches.

How many beaches are in Southern California?

There are more than 100 named beaches in Southern California. From entire towns to smaller beaches within them, Southern California is home to many beaches. There are more than fifteen beaches in Los Angeles County alone.

What is the prettiest Southern California beach?

Coronado Beach is considered by many to be the prettiest Southern California beach. The clear blue waters, white sand shoreline, and iconic sunsets make Coronado Beach one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California.

What are the warmest beaches in Southern California?

La Jolla and Newport Beach are some of the warmest beaches in Southern California. The water temperature is consistently higher in La Jolla and Newport Beach than other Southern California beaches.

Are there black sand beaches in Southern California?

Sacred Cove, otherwise known as Smuggler’s Cove, is a beach that has black sand in Southern California. The black sand beach at Sacred Cove can be accessed through hiking trails in Palos Verdes.

What are the best beaches in Southern California for swimming?

The best beaches in Southern California for swimming are Seal Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Huntington Beach. Surf conditions vary by season and weather, but these beaches are generally excellent for swimming.

***

Southern California is full of fantastic beaches, and I hope this guide can serve as inspiration for your visit! Whether you choose one or want to visit them all, I’m confident you’ll fall in love with the beaches of Southern California.

If you want to see what else there is to do in SoCal, check out my other guides: 

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