It’s hard to visit the west coast and not explore the sunny beaches in California. California beaches are home to some of the best surf breaks in the U.S., some of which are even neighbored by coastal giant redwood trees.
I grew up only an hour from some of the most famous Southern California beaches. I’d spend my weekends doing homework on the sandy beaches next to hungry seagulls and hopeful greenhorn surfers. In this article, I’ll spill the beans on the very best beaches in California. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 27 Best California Beaches
- Huntington Beach
- San Clemente
- Santa Monica
- Venice Beach
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Crystal Cove State Park
- Santa Barbara
- San Onofre
- Newport Beach
- Laguna Beach
- La Jolla
- Carmel Beach
- Hermosa Beach
- Santa Cruz
- Coronado Beach
- Zuma Beach
- Baker Beach
- Ocean Beach
- Stinson Beach
- Moonstone Beach
- Pismo Beach
- Morro Bay
- Manhattan Beach
- Long Beach
- Seal Beach
- Sunset Beach
- FAQs About Beaches in California
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27 Best California Beaches
The most popular Orange County beach that hosts a world-renowned surf competition each summer.
📍 Google Maps | Huntington Beach Website | 🅿️ Parking: $15 per day during peak season, $10 per day during the off-season, free street parking | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach
If you only have time to visit one California beach, you can’t go wrong with Huntington. Also known as “Surf City USA,” Huntington Beach is one of the best beaches in California.
Enjoy the huge downtown shopping area of Huntington Beach, equipped with stores like Tommy Bahama and Rip Curl and restaurants like Sandy’s Beach Shack and BJs.
The best time to visit Huntington is in late July or early August when the famous U.S. Open of Surfing competition is in full swing. Watch professionals battle it out on the waves for the championship title or head over to the beachfront skate arena to witness professional skaters expertly perform their craft.
Get planning with our list of Huntington Beach activities.
👉 Pro Tip: Huntington Beach can be extremely crowded during the U.S. Open of Surfing. Be sure to get there early in the morning to snag a parking spot.
My favorite CA state beach has a cliffside campground with aerial views of the ocean.
San Clemente is one of my favorite California beaches. This lesser-known state beach receives far fewer crowds than other Southern California beaches and hosts premiere surf breaks.
I recommend staying at San Clemente State Beach Campground in the dry campsites of 81-85, which have the best view of the ocean. The beach access trail is also only a short walk from the campground, another great reason to stay overnight.
The most elegant Los Angeles beach with fun pier activities.
If you’re coming to California to visit Los Angeles, then a day trip to the sandy beaches of Santa Monica is a must. This beach town boasts luxurious waterfront shopping as well as fun pier rides, among other fun things to do in Santa Monica.
Only about an hour’s walk or 30-minute bike ride from Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier is the best place to visit for families with children or on date night. Go for a refreshing dip during the day then put your adrenaline endurance to the test on the boardwalk coaster during sunset. Settle down at night with a delicious ice cream cone for dessert.
👉 Pro Tip: Check out the top Santa Monica tours next time you’re in town.
You won’t encounter a quirkier Los Angeles beach community.
You don’t have to search far for personality at Venice Beach. Venice sports funky shops, eclectic vendors, and spunky street performers along the beach walk.
The spirit of Venice Beach is almost as weird as the City of Angels itself. Shop for a rasta t-shirt or attend the weekly Saturday and Sunday night drum circle on Venice Beach. This isn’t an official event but happens like clockwork on the weekends during sundown.
No, you’re not in Kansas anymore, you’re at one of the best beaches in California; a Big Sur reincarnation of heaven on earth.
The beauty of Pfeiffer Beach is so stunning, you won’t believe you’re not in the Mediterranean eating a Gyro in Greece or sunbathing in Croatia. The quintessential rock formations at Pfeiffer are as discernable as the McDonald’s golden arches.
Take a slight detour from Highway 1 to kayak through the open Keyhole Arch in the huge Big Sur ocean rocks, an activity that’s sure to be one of your California beach favorites. You can also find pockets of purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach, which photograph beautifully when backdropped by the ocean formations at sunset.
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Crystal Cove State Park
Hike throughout the coastal hills towering over the ocean below at this SoCal state park.
Crystal Cove State Park is an enormous sandy slice of paradise and is at the top bunch of California’s best state parks. Hiking trails have been chiseled into the Crystal Cove hills and wind their way through heaps of sagebrush and other coastal shrubs above the cresting ocean waves.
I recommend hiking to a bluff top to find yourself surrounded by 360-degree views of sensational coastal scenery. There are also year-round state parks events like guide-led hikes, tidepool walks, and geology talks.
Follow the PCH to arrive at a colonial Spanish-style town with a desert beach vibe.
The hypnotic ring of crashing waves can be heard throughout the entire Spanish-style town of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is an archetypal example of California desert and marine ecosystems colliding. Capture photos of cacti and other desert flora right on the beach before you head out for a morning surf sesh.
There are so many fun things to do in this romantic California getaway destination like taking a historic tour of the Old Santa Barbara Mission or celebrating local pride at a UC Santa Barbara Gauchos soccer game.
👉 Don’t Forget to Pack: I love bringing my body board every time I go to a new California beach.
Skirt busy beach crowds by hanging out at this San Diego County surf beach.
San Onofre takes the cake for one of my favorite beaches in California. The San Onofre Surf Beach is far less crowded than surrounding beaches and even has sandy beachfront fire pits available for free use.
You will undoubtedly feel a local vibe while hanging out at San Onofre Beach. The Pacific Ocean is almost never devoid of surfers here, making this beach entertaining as always.
Experience one of the best beaches in California just outside of Huntington.
Newport Beach is an iconic Southern California beach. Located next to Huntington and Balboa beaches, Newport Beach is an epicenter of entertainment. Not only are their grassy areas for dogs and soccer lovers to roam free, but Newport also offers beach fire pits, volleyball courts, and a Ruby’s Diner at the end of the Balboa pier.
Newport Beach is also near various shopping centers like the Costa Mesa Lab and Fashion Island. Make an entire day out of your Newport excursion with beach-filled activities, shopping, and waterfront dining. Get planning with my guide to all the things to do in Newport Beach.
Search for tide pools or play beach volleyball at this Orange County Beach.
One of the more opulent beach towns in California, Laguna Beach offers beachgoers volleyball courts, tide pools, and beach bonfires. It’s also fun to visit Laguna Beach and gawk at the beautiful beachfront properties, towering over the water.
The profusion of shops and restaurants at Laguna Beach is tenfold. There are also fun annual events at Laguna like the arts and crafts Sawdust Art Festival and the Laguna Pageant of the Masters art festival.
Scale giant ocean-sprayed rock walls at this Hollywood celebrity beach.
Known as the celebrity beach, Malibu is one of the cleanest beaches in California. The beaches of this elegant seaside town are free to access if you can find street parking. Otherwise, there’s only a small fee to enjoy the beaches, hiking trails, and other top activities in Malibu.
Enjoy the raw beauty of Malibu’s Leo Carrillo State Park, an impeccable dog-friendly beach on the western end of town, or journey over to the Malibu Pier to excite in the fervor of successful pier fishermen.
You’ll often find me at Point Dume in Malibu, a sought-after top-rope rock climbing spot right on the water. If you ever see me scaling the huge rock face, be sure to say hi!
No trip to San Diego is complete without visiting its most famous beach.
Everything is better in San Diego, including the famous La Jolla Beach. Known for its white sandy beaches, La Jolla also accommodates a very vocal bob of seals, always seemingly posing for an assumed camera.
After you’ve admired the wildlife and tried your luck catching waves with local surfers, explore La Jolla’s tide pools. When the tides are low, you may just find treasure in the form of mollusks, sea slugs, and anemones. This just scratches the surface of the myriad of fun things to do in La Jolla.
Feel like royalty while exploring this whimsical, fantastical beach town.
Carmel Beach may not be as notoriously hot and sunny as other Southern California beaches, but it is one of the most stunning. Lupine meadows welcome the beginnings of white shimmery sands at Carmel Beach, a Northern California gem.
As one of California’s best beach towns, the storybook-style town of Carmel offers travelers a whimsical beach experience, teetering on the edge of magical when considering the solitude of the town and the romance of the sunset hues.
The virgin beaches are a big draw to this fantastical colony, as well as the cobblestone streets of the downtown art galleries, wineries, and charming boutiques.
There’s room for the whole family at this wide Southern California beach.
As the name implies, Hermosa Beach is a looker. I recommend visiting this quiet Los Angeles County beach town if your goal is to experience beautiful beaches in California without overwhelming crowds.
With 94 acres of public beach, there’s room for everyone to sprawl out on the hot sand of Hermosa Beach. Don’t leave too soon, there’s also a booming nightlife scene in this beach town. Play some beachfront pool in your bikini or shake your rump in one of the downtown Hermosa Beach bars.
One of the best beaches in California with an amusement park on its sandy boardwalk.
Santa Cruz is a prime stop along your iconic California coast road trip. This is one of many pristine beach stops along the Pacific Coast Highway but is the only California beach with an enormous boardwalk amusement park.
As one of the best day trips from San Francisco, Santa Cruz offers more than just fun boardwalk games and rides. Experience Baja Mexico-like ocean arches at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. Swim through the natural arch or wait until sunset to capture a photo with a perfect composition.
A famous San Diego Beach that established a reputation for itself in a number of Hollywood movies.
The San Diego County Coronado Beach was a famous California beach even before Marilyn Monroe’s 1958 film “Some Like it Hot” featured the sandy beach. Coronado Beach quite literally sparkles, thanks to a mineral called mica that’s found abundantly in the lustrous sand.
Backdropped by the historically luxurious Hotel del Coronado, this romantic beach also promotes a healthy downtown area, lined with shops, restaurants, and the award-winning Coronado Brewing Company, one of the top California breweries.
A quiet Malibu enclave that’s perfect for morning exercises.
This golden sandy beach is the most popular in Malibu. The wide Zuma Beach offers beachgoers volleyball courts, picnic tables, and over 2,000 parking spaces, which is rare for a California beach.
Surrounded by foliage-covered sandy cliffs, Zuma Beach is a picturesque place to go running or catch a good swim workout before the workday starts. Keep your eyes out for celebrities, as this area is crawling with famous residents.
The most iconic beach in San Francisco, right next to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Also known as the Golden Gate Bridge Beach, Baker Beach is a Northern California classic. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, odds are you’ve seen the iconic beach under the golden red landmark.
Lounging around Baker Beach is a great way to mix up your San Francisco city tour. Sure, museums and other cool San Francisco attractions are well worth checking out, but a lazy day on a beach by the Golden Gate Bridge easily wins in my book.
A lesser-crowded beach with delicious eateries on the outskirts of San Diego.
With so many beaches in San Diego, it can be overwhelming knowing which to choose during your short trip to the Southern California city. Odds are, you’ll likely visit La Jolla but if you have more time in San Diego, Ocean Beach is another must.
Besides prime surf conditions, Ocean Beach also offers fun annual events like the annual street fair and chili cook-off. I also recommend checking out the quirky burger joint, Hodad’s. Located in downtown Ocean Beach, their “world’s famous burgers” are a must try and now are offered in a vegan version.
If swimming is your main priority, this Northern California beach should be on top of your California beaches list.
Marin County Stinson Beach is a small Northern California cove just outside of San Francisco. This is one of the best beaches in California for swimming and the white sandy beaches invite travelers to stay a while with a good book or to get some shut-eye to the mesmerizing song of crashing waves.
There are volleyball courts at Stinson Beach as well as surrounding hiking trails, picnic tables, and prime spots for both fishing and surfing. Stinson is a less crowded beach in the Bay Area and is worth checking out if you wish to avoid crowds.
👉 Don’t Forget to Pack: I like to be prepared with all the picnic essentials like this picnic basket when I go to a California beach.
A pebble-covered Northern California beach with a prosperous marine life population.
You may want to book an overnight stay in Cambria once you experience the views of the dramatic coastline offered at Moonstone Beach.
Adequately named, the sand is replaced by colorful pebbles at Moonstone Beach, a fun alternative to most other beaches in California. Moonstone Beach is one of the best beaches for viewing playful marine life, so keep your eyes peeled on the horizon.
The activities never run dry at this NorCal entertainment hub.
Explore California’s Central Coast at Pismo Beach. There really isn’t a greater duo than beaches and wineries, both of which are plentiful at Pismo.
Pismo Beach is one of the most unique beach enclaves in California. Here, you’ll find monarch butterfly sanctuaries, Dinosaur Caves Park with scant fossils but copious hiking trails, and the wetlands of Chumash Park.
Situated along the Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo Beach receives many California wanderers and nomadic souls. Travelers are attracted to the great weather, quality golf courses, sand dune fun, and horseback riding amid the rolling Pismo hills.
A sleepy beachside community in Ventura County with a local feel and gorgeous coastline.
Morro Bay is one of my favorite getaway destinations in California. Located in San Luis Obispo County, Morro Bay is along a road less traveled and still retains a local, not overly-touristy feel.
Make a splash in the ocean waters of Morro Bay State Park or take a photo of nesting sea otters by the Morro Bay T Pier. There are so many more cool things to do in Morro Bay like shopping for antique records at the downtown music store or trying your luck with a game of pool at a local bar.
Go for a ride along the beach bike path just outside of LA to truly experience the best of Manhattan Beach.
Venture outside of Los Angeles for some peace and quiet to arrive at the laid-back suburb of Manhattan Beach. My favorite part about this coastline abode is The Strand bike path that parallels the oceanfront passing by beach mansions on one side and families playing volleyball in the sand on the other.
Take a stroll down the Manhattan Beach Pier to encounter a humble aquarium, fisherfolk hoping to get lucky with the catch of the day, and benches to watch eager surfers.
There’s always something to do in this LA County beach city.
Also known as “The LBC,” Long Beach is one of the best beaches in California for entertainment. Long Beach is also a college town, a port city, and an industrial acropolis, so the beach town is always teething with life.
Enjoy the many bars and restaurants of 2nd Avenue, the vintage shops on 4th Street, or go roller skating down the beach bike path.
Long Beach is also an incredibly happening spot for windsurfers. If you’re like me and have no idea how to maneuver those kinds of contraptions, simply watching the athletes do their thing is a fun activity too.
A quiet beach town in Southern California that’s known for sandcastle competitions.
I recommend steering clear of the frequently over-populated Long Beach beaches on the weekends and instead head over to Seal Beach. Seal Beach is the quieter and cleaner neighboring beach with famous surf spots and delicious waterfront eateries.
This is one of the coolest spots to hang out in Orange County and is a huge hub for building extravagant sandcastles.
One of the coolest spots in SoCal to take on the Pacific Ocean waves.
Sunset Beach is Seal Beach’s neighbor and is another good option for finding a quiet beach refuge on the weekends. A small locality like Seal Beach, Sunset Beach is one of the best beaches in California for surfing.
Don’t forget to bring your wetsuit when you visit Sunset Beach, the mecca beach town for surfing.
FAQs About Beaches in California
What is the nicest beach in California?
What’s the cleanest beach in California?
What is the best beach to swim at in California?
What is the best beach to surf in California?
Those are the top beaches in California. Thanks for reading my complete guide, now you’re ready to hit the waves and explore the best California beaches. For a deeper beach dive, check out the top La Jolla beaches.
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