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!
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Beaches In Southern California
- Santa Monica State Beach
- La Jolla Cove
- Sunset Beach
- El Matador Beach
- Pacific Beach
- Abalone Cove
- Venice Beach
- Seal Beach
- Laguna Beach
- Manhattan State Beach
- Huntington State Beach
- Coronado Beach
- Hermosa Beach
- Crystal Cove State Park
- Zuma Beach
- Doheny State Beach
- Bolsa Chica State Beach
- Descanso Beach
- Thousand Steps Beach
- East Beach
- Newport Beach
- San Onofre Beach
- Victoria Beach
- FAQs about Beaches in Southern California
- What is the clearest beach in Southern California?
- How many beaches are in Southern California?
- What is the prettiest Southern California beach?
- What are the warmest beaches in Southern California?
- Are there black sand beaches in Southern California?
- What are the best beaches in Southern California for swimming?
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21 Best Beaches In Southern California
Santa Monica State Beach
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
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.
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
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 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.
Rancho Palos Verdes
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.
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 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 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 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
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!
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 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
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 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
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
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!
Avalon, Catalina Island
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
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 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.
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 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.
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:
- 23 Best Things To Do In Long Beach
- 27 Best Things To Do On Catalina Island
- 35 Best Things to Do in Oceanside