Oh, California, the genuinely golden state, which stretches from the Mexican border along the Pacific Ocean for nearly 900 miles. The terrain includes cliff-lined beaches, redwood forest, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central Valley farmland, and the Mojave Desert.
California beaches have something for everyone, whether it’s sunbathing, hiking, surfing, or swimming. Below is a guide to the 13 best beaches along the California coast.
1. Coronado Beach, San Diego
Starting with the most southern city of California, San Deigo, we have the beautiful Coronado Beach. Coronado Central Beach runs along Ocean Boulevard with a backdrop of beach-front mansions. This beach is set against the stories and iconic Hotel del Coronado and featured in Marilyn Monroe’s 1958 film Some Like It Hot. Coronado Beach is perfect for a romantic getaway or a fun-filled family vacation. The beach sparkles thanks to the funeral mica in the Coronado sand, which is why TripAdvisor ranked it number 15 on their 2022 Travelers’ Best Tally of the best beaches in the United States.
This wide sandy beach is approximately 1.75 miles long and bordered on either edge by the United States naval base beaches. Popular activities at this beach include surfing, paddle boarding, boogie boarding, sunbathing, body surfing, and swimming in the gentle waves. Visitors can also participate in beach volleyball and fishing from the Ferry Landing Pier.
Take the San Diego-Coronado Bridge over the bay to Coronado from the Five Freeway just south of Downtown San Diego. The bridge opens onto Third Street. Turn left on Orange County and follow it past the Hotel del Coronado to Coronado Bay Road and look for signs to parking.
2. La Jolla, San Diego
This stretch of the San Diego coastline is known as “The Jewel” to many S.D. natives. The La Jolla coastline varies dramatically, from 300-foot sea cliffs to rocky reefs, secluded coves, and vast golden sandy shores. Due to La Jolla’s picturesque bluffs and cliffs, some of La Jolla’s coastline is inaccessible, but it offers a beautiful cliff for a sunset picnic. The views are spectacular as waves hit rocky outcroppings and seals, and sea lions rest and stretch on smooth rocks.
If you’re looking to sunbathe and swim, La Jolla Shores stretches a mile-long crescent of white sandy beach favored by local San Diegans and visitors of all interests. This is a busy swimming area popular for swimmers and surfers. Shielded by La Jolla Bay, this beach is also a launching ground for scuba diving and kayaking. At night, the beach twinkles with freckles of light from the glow of bonfires.
Windansea Beach is a famous family beach, so kids of all ages are welcome. The beach has access to rich tide pools during low tides. It’s also a famous surf spot and a favorite beach among San Diego natives. Some locals even swear the crystal clear water feels warmer than other S.D. beaches.
From the northbound I-5 freeway, exit La Jolla Parkway west to La Jolla Shores Drive. Turn left at Avenida De La Playa, right on Camino del Oro, two blocks to Kellog Park.
From the southbound I-5 freeway, exit La Jolla Village Drive west, then left on Torrey Pines Road and right on La Jolla Shores Drive. Turn left at Avenida De La Playa, right on Camino Del Oro, two blocks to Kellogg Park.
3. San Onofre, San Diego
If you love to surf, San Onofre is the best beach. This beach is in San Diego’s North Coastal region, known for its long ride and good surf. In harsh contrast to its natural side, the beach hosts a decommissioned nuclear-power generating facility and a state-of-the-art military base. San Onofre offers three unique beach areas, Trestles, Old Man’s, and Trails.
Lower Trestles boasts a world-famous surf break reputation. Many pro surfers honed their craft at Trestles. On any given day, particularly in the summer/fall south swell season, you can witness a three-ring circus of modern power surfing and aerial maneuvers.
Old Man’s is the perfect beach for beginners for its fun, gentle waves. This beach is easy to access, with good facilities and a safe, clean, sandy beach. Beachgoers and non-surfers can kick back and watch the surfers do their thing at the neighborly tailgate party scene in the parking lot.
San Onofre State Beach Campground is a great family-friendly campground with 380 sites for R.V.s or tent camping. Some amenities include picnic tables, fire pits, bathrooms, and showers.
To find Old Mans and Trails, exit the I-5 freeway at Basilone Road and head south. The entrance to the San Onofre State Surfing Beach (Old Man’s) is a turnout on the right before reaching the Power Plant. Continue south past the Power Plant to contact the San Onofre State Beach campground entrance (Trails). The rangers at either end of the gates can direct you to a parking area and provide information about availability, regulations, fees, and current conditions. Management advises first-timers to park at Old Man’s and walk north to the beach to get to Trestles.
4. Victoria Beach, Orange County
As we drive north up the coast into Orange County, It is hard to pick the best beach because the stretch from San Diego to Lon Angeles is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The majority of this south-west facing beach lies mansions right at beach level. This beach has beautiful tide pools to explore and a “pirate tower” you can take pictures in front of. For the natural explorers, you can hike out onto the rocks, and around the Point north of the stairway access, you can see the Victorian La Tour Tower, built in the 1920s. This residential stair tower has been confused for a lighthouse structure, but it is merely an enclosed staircase. If you keep walking near the building, a circular concrete pool fills with sand and saltwater from the waves.
Parking at Victoria Beach is scarce, but you can walk alongside the highway or a side street a walk away. If you arrive earlier in the day, you have a better chance of getting a spot. Some activities at Victoria Beach include sunbathing, volleyball, skimboarding, bodysurfing, scuba diving, fishing, sightseeing, photography, and tide-pooling.
2713 Victoria Dr., Laguna Beach, CA 92651
5. Tablerock Beach, Orange County
This is the perfect beach for influencers and anyone looking for a secluded paradise to toss on Insta. Tablerock Beach is a “local favorite” among Laguna residents due to the mix of seclusion and space, natural scenery, and envy-inducing mansions on top of the bluffs. This beach is small enough to feel private but big enough to stretch out.
The beach is cut in half by a flat rock from which its name comes. When the waves calm, you can swim around this “table rock” to find a secret beach hidden by the waves. It is fun to explore and hike the rock formations and watch pro skimboarders take on the waves. Table Rock is a beach for adventure types. The lifeguards leave every day at 6 pm, and people will climb up to a vast rock formation off the water and cliff dive.
Access-wise, this beach is challenging to find. You must park on Pacific Coast Highway near West Street and walk to the bottom of the hill, where shady land will lead you to wooden stairs. The approach will feel straight out of a movie.
31595 Table Rock Dr., Laguna Beach, CA 92651
6. Thousand Steps Beach, Orange County
This beach is the best for those beachgoers willing to put a little effort into getting a little extra space. It’s not a thousand steps (more like 200 or so), but you feel it every step when you trek back up. However, this stunning beach, boarded to the north and south by sandstone cliffs that jut into the water is not for the faint of heart.
This beach is one of Orange County’s classic shore break spots, where the Pacific waves crash right into the sand. This makes the beach beloved by body surfers and skimboarders alike. However, if the swell is high-tide, use caution and ask the lifeguards about where there might be submerged rocks you cant see.
Heading south along the shoreline, you will come to Laguna’s most famous sea cave. It has a complete walkthrough that makes even adults feel like pirates searching for treasure.
It is directly across the street from 9th Street and South Coast Highway.
7. Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles
As you keep going up the coast, you will find the friendly beach town and coast of Manhattan Beach. This beach offers two miles of coastline and 115 acres of sand. Situated conveniently close to LAX in L.A.’s South Bay region, Manhattan Beach’s biggest draw is, of course, the beach. The sand and surf here are the real deal, and the beach looks like an updated version of Baywatch.
This family-friendly beach has soft sand that Hawaiian beaches import to their shores. There are a bunch of water sports to choose from: you can try body surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and more. If going into the water isn’t your thing, you can shop under an umbrella and people-watch or read a book. The ultra-smooth sand has a never-ending stream of volleyball nets and is home to the Manhattan Beach Open, the pro beach volleyball summer tournament. This beach is also a hot spot for surfing and hosts the International Surf Festival every summer.
The Manhattan Beach Pier is where Manhattan Beach Boulevard meets the Pacific and offers a relaxing stroll and breathtaking views of Los Angles’s most expansive beachside homes. Along the beach is a kindly paved path called The Strand that is popular with cyclists, runners, and casual walkers taking in the idyllic scenery.
Manhattan Beach is also famous for its downtown, which boasts high-end boutiques, retailers, hotels, bars, and many popular casual and fine-dining restaurants, along with its perfect coastline.
2 Manhattan Beach Blvd
8. El Matador State Beach, Malibu
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Malibu. The beach boasts incredible ocean views from the rugged cliffs above and can only be accessed through a steep trail leading down the shore. The magnificent cliffs, unique rock structures, and hidden sea caves make the beach feel like a scene from Game of Thrones. El Matador Beach is home to one of the most amazing sunsets in the world. If you come to this beach in the winter, you can find the beach all to yourself. After a long day of swimming, hiking, and exploring, head to Malibu Seafood for fresh fish! Enjoy an ocean view from the restaurant while eating a new fried bucket of fresh and cold fish.
El Matador is a popular spot for photographers to capture swimsuit models and stunning sunsets. Up north on the beach, you’ll find caves and rock arches in the blue ocean water. The largest cave at El Matador faces the ocean at the end of a vast flat rock connected to the bluff.
32220 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
9. Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara
At Stearns Wharf, you can paddle board into the east and west beach harbors, separated by the famed Stearns Wharf. As you paddle board, you can find yourself up close and personal with seals known to stretch and “practice yoga” upon the harbors’ buoys. Both beaches outside the pier are enshrouded with palm trees, making for a perfect, lazy day at the beach during summer. Fall in Santa Barbara is just as magnificent. Stroll along the iconic Stearns Wharf, where you can pick everything from local souvenirs to fish, chips, and homemade ice cream.
217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA
10. Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo
Located on California’s iconically beautiful central coast, Pismo Beach is the most well-known for its Monarch Butterfly Grove. Ten thousand butterflies pass through every year between late October to February. During this time, the beach is sprinkled with bright orange and blue hues as the Monarch Butterflies migrate south for winter. This beach is also a great place to horseback ride or four-wheel ATV and then explore the wineries of San Luis Obispo.
100 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach
11. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
In Big Sur, this beach is iconic for its “purple San beach,” but it is a favorite beach among Californians for countless other attributes. Pfeiffer Beach is one of the top sights in Big Sur. In addition, it is one of the most beautiful beaches in Monterey County.
Getting to Pfeiffer Beach takes a little effort, but the superb scenery and serene ambiance are well worth the short detour from California Highway 1. Keyhole Arch is visible to visitors with a full view of the beach. The natural arch sits just off the beach, and you can spend hours enjoying the mesmerizing view of waves gushing through the “keyhole” in the rock formation.
12. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel-By-The-Sea
In the small, fairytale-like city of Carmel-by-the-Sea lies Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a beautiful area to visit for wildlife-watching and water activities such as kayaking and snorkeling. You can swim in the water, but depending on the season, the water tends to be quite cold and the seas rough. However, this is one of the best spots for hiking and a picnic to enjoy Northern California’s beauty.
Landscape painter Francis McComas called Point Lobos “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is outstanding for photography, painting, sightseeing, nature study, picnic diving, scuba diving, and jogging. The offshore area, part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, forms one of the richest habitats in the world, popular with divers. In addition, there are rare plant communities, unique global formations, and vibrant flora and fauna on land.
The reserve is located on the central coast of California in Monterey County. The entrance is located three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1.
13. Bakers Beach, San Francisco
On one of those rare sunny days when the fog clears, locals know it’s time to hit Baker Beach. Many San Franciscan natives would argue that the best way to enjoy the Golden State Bridge is by strolling down Baker Beach during sunset. At this particular time of day, the golden glow pairs well with the fantastic view of the bridge bearing the name of this shade of light. Baker Beach is an excellent option for picnicking with the family or hiking with your dog.
This is one of the park’s best beaches near the Golden Gate Bridge, so arrive early on warm days and weekends. The parking lot fills up quickly. Unfortunately, the water at Bakers Beach is too cold and rough for swimming, but it’s perfect for a barefoot walk, and you can even bring your pup!
Nature lovers can glimpse sea stars at low tide and native wildflowers that bloom year-round on the dunes. Look up and spot a V-shaped formation of brown pelicans or a red-tailed hawk hunting for an afternoon nibble or gaze out to sea where dolphins and harbor seals occasionally surface in the ocean waters.
1770 Gibson Rd, San Francisco
Summary of 13 Best Beaches in California
Here’s a recap of the top 13 beaches in California that we took a look at.
|Thousand Steps Beach
|El Matador State Beach
|San Luis Obispo
|Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Zhukova Valentyna/Shutterstock.com
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