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18 Best Beaches to Visit in Southern California

Updated: Apr 5

Welcome to the sun-soaked paradise of Southern California's coastline! Along this stretch of golden sands and sparkling waters, you will find a treasure trove of the best beaches, from bustling city beaches to hidden gems in quaint towns. Join me as we explore the top 18 beaches that capture the essence of Southern California's coastal beauty, offering endless opportunities to soak up the sun, enjoy the waves, and discover the unique charm of each sandy retreat. 

1. Santa Monica Beach

Aerial view of Santa Monica Beach and the Santa Monica Pier with Pacific Park

Santa Monica Beach stretches 3.5 miles along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, epitomizing California's renowned state beaches. Drawing locals and tourists alike, its focal point is the iconic Santa Monica Pier, featuring an amusement park, aquarium, and the world's first solar-powered Ferris wheel.

South of the pier is the Original Muscle Beach, catering to fitness enthusiasts with its gymnastics equipment. At the northern end lies the welcoming Annenberg Community Beach House, inviting year-round enjoyment with its playground, splash pad, and volleyball courts. Additionally, the pool area, operational during summer, offers a refreshing escape for a nominal fee.

2. Huntington Beach

Someone surfing at Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach, famously dubbed Surf City USA, epitomizes the Californian beach experience with its inviting turquoise waters and vibrant atmosphere. Visitors revel in its many restaurants, boutiques, and shops, making it an ideal destination for a leisurely weekend of surfing, shopping, and indulging in delectable cuisines.

Alongside the famed surfing scene, the beach boasts an International Surfing Museum, a testament to its surfing culture. The charming streets lined with majestic palm trees add to the coastal allure and the area's Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve offers nature enthusiasts a chance to explore a 1,400-acre haven for wildlife and bird watching.

3. Newport Beach

View under the Newport Beach pier

Newport Beach, a charming coastal city in Southern California, boasts a stunning 10-mile stretch of picturesque beaches and a delightful pier. Beyond its renowned Seaside Donuts Bakery, famous for its delectable treats, this destination caters to all with an array of attractions and activities. The Balboa Fun Zone, featuring a Ferris wheel and arcade games, promises family-friendly entertainment, while the Newport Pier and the Balboa Pier draw in millions of people for their serene strolls above the crashing waves.

Embracing its seaside allure, Newport Beach invites visitors to engage in a plethora of water-based activities, from surfing and kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding, complemented by its Mediterranean-like climate. This city is not just a beach destination it also embraces an active community, offering extensive boardwalks, bike routes, and trails that beckon walkers, runners, cyclists, and even Segway riders to explore its scenic outdoors.

4. Laguna Beach

View of the Pacific Ocean from Laguna Main Beach

Laguna Beach, nestled in Orange County, California, captivates visitors with its artistic charm and scenic coastal beauty. While lacking a pier, its downtown area exudes a cozy ambiance akin to a Hallmark Christmas movie set, boasting boutiques, restaurants, and bars that add to its small-town allure. The town's array of beaches, including Main Beach with its tide pools and boardwalk, and Aliso Beach Park, a popular spot for surfing, cater to water sports enthusiasts.

Beyond the coastline, Laguna Beach beckons adventurers with over 20,000 acres of protected wilderness, offering a myriad of trails for hiking, biking, and running. Art aficionados find solace in the town's vibrant arts community, showcased through numerous galleries, public art displays, and their First Thursdays Art Walk evenings, ensuring a year-round haven for art lovers amid the coastal splendor. Additionally, Treasure Island Beach, the southernmost city beach, boasts elevated overlooks and stunning sunset views!

5. Venice Beach

People walking and riding bikes at Venice Beach. One of the bicyclists is holding a surfboard.

Venice Beach, a bustling tourist hotspot, entices visitors with its vibrant attractions. The Venice Beach Boardwalk stretches for two miles, filled with street performers, vendors, and diverse dining options. Beyond the boardwalk, beachgoers revel in activities like swimming, beach volleyball, and surfing - while the iconic Venice Breakwater serves as a notorious surf spot. Meandering through Venice Strand unveils a street adorned with quaint gift shops, offering treasures from beat generation artists.

The area's bay views add to the allure, providing picturesque vistas across the sandy shores. Abbot Kinney Boulevard stands out with its trendy eateries, chic boutiques, and coffee bars - while the site also boasts the famous Muscle Beach outdoor gym and a skate park, complemented by colorful murals that define Venice Beach's funky charm.

6. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Pier and Beach with the beautiful mountain views in the background

Santa Barbara's allure lies in its expansive, pristine beaches that stretch along the Pacific, providing opportunities for world-renowned surfing or tranquil stand-up paddleboarding at Butterfly Beach in Montecito. The vibrant Cabrillo Boulevard links West and East Beach, bustling with activities like pick-up volleyball games, picnics, and relaxing spots for leisurely reading. Beyond its coastline, Santa Barbara offers inland spaces and hosts the lively Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show every Sunday, showcasing the city's love for fresh air, outdoor fun, and artistic expression.

7. Manhattan Beach

Palm trees, businesses, cars, and in the background Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach, known for its relaxed atmosphere, appeals to families and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Its vast 2-mile ocean frontage and 115 acres of sandy beaches offer many activities, from strolling the pier, indulging in beach volleyball, and visiting the Roundhouse Aquarium to leisurely walks or bike rides along the Strand.

With ample opportunities to surf, savor ice cream, and relish the ocean, the area caters to varied interests. Adding to its charm, Manhattan Beach features a quaint downtown area bustling with boutiques, brunch cafes, pubs, and upscale eateries, making it a delightful destination for leisure and exploration.

8. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach with plants in the foreground and a lifeguard post all the way in the back

Coronado Beach, located on Coronado Island, spanning 1.75 miles of coastline and neighbors Naval Base beaches, remains a sought-after tourist spot for its broad sandy shores, tranquil waves, and serene ambiance. The shimmering golden sands owe its sparkle to mineral mica, adding to the beach's allure.

Notably, the area boasts the iconic Hotel del Coronado, established in 1888 and recognized as one of the globe's premier resorts. This architectural gem, ranking as the second-largest wooden building in the United States, has welcomed esteemed guests, including former US presidents, contributing to Coronado's prestigious charm.

9. Zuma Beach

Zuma Beach with lots of people surfing in the ocean

Zuma Beach, situated west of Point Dume, stands out as one of Los Angeles County's premier destinations, celebrated for its expansive sands, renowned surf, and pristine waters. While popular for swimming, body surfing, surfing, and windsurfing, it is also known for its rough surf and riptides, attracting adventurers and beach enthusiasts.

Notably, the beach offers a unique opportunity to witness gray whales during their winter migration and observe dolphins and seals from the hiking trails along the ridge. Adding to its charm, Zuma boasts a lengthy boardwalk, perfect for romantic strolls while soaking in breathtaking sunsets and even sunrises, making the most of its south-facing orientation.

10. San Clemente

San Clemente with beautiful tall palm trees, a pier, a lifeguard stand, and beach umbrellas

San Clemente, a sought-after tourist spot, offers an array of attractions, including its famed beaches, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, and stunning views of the ocean, hills, and mountains, all complemented by a delightful climate. The San Clemente Coastal Trail spans 2.5 miles from San Clemente State Beach to North Beach, providing access to various beaches and serving as a versatile path for walking and biking, inviting visitors to explore this scenic coastal area.

11. La Jolla Cove

Small rock pier at La Jolla Cove with baby seals on the shore

La Jolla Cove, located in San Diego County, is a picturesque gem hugged by rugged cliffs famous for its abundance of marine life and captivating sea caves, making it an ideal haven for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. This small beach, nestled in the cliffs and part of a marine reserve, attracts swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers year-round.

Its north-facing orientation grants mild surf during the summer, enhancing its appeal. Visitors can enjoy convenient amenities like showers, public facilities atop the bluffs, and charming picnic areas in Ellen Browning Scripps Park - while shaded seating in the form of coastal green huts, known as belvederes, dot the scenic promenade.

12. Long Beach

A gloomy image of Long Beach with a lone lifeguard stand in the image

The charm of Long Beach City Beach lies in its expansive 5.5-mile stretch featuring a paved bike path connecting downtown to Belmont Shore. While surfing is not possible due to the protective Long Beach breakwaters, this coastal gem offers a plethora of activities like walking, running, biking, or skateboarding - along with water activities such as swimming, sailing, kayaking, and jet skiing, ensuring a diverse range of options for outdoor enthusiasts.

13. El Matador Beach

Rock formations at El Matador Beach

Nestled within California's Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Park, El Matador Beach entices visitors with its diverse attractions. This popular spot is known for birdwatching, snorkeling, tide-pooling, picnicking, sunbathing, photography, and breathtaking sunset views.

With a lengthy expanse of sand, striking sea caves, and colossal rocks, the beach's main allure lies in its captivating rock formations, featuring small arches that invite exploration - some spacious enough to stroll through, while others require a crawl. These arches offer stunning photo opportunities, especially during low tide, allowing visitors to capture the picturesque scenery from inside the arches.

14. Dana Point

The marina full of boats at Dana Point

Dana Point, acclaimed as the global hub for dolphin and whale watching, hosts daily tour boats departing from its expansive 2,500-boat and yacht slip marina at Dana Point Harbor, offering enthralling marine excursions.

Moreover, Dana Point boasts various activities, from leisurely sunset wine cruises and indulgent experiences at luxury spas to exhilarating surfing and picturesque ocean-view golfing. Visitors can also explore the scenic beauty of Doheny State Beach, Salt Creek Beach, and the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area, promising varied and memorable experiences for all.

15. Hermosa Beach

A dusty image of Hermosa Beach with people enjoying the beach

Hermosa Beach, a sought-after coastal destination, encompasses 94 acres of inviting public beach with exceptional surf and safe swimming spots. Notably, the area boasts beach volleyball courts lining the shore and a smooth strand walkway linking Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, catering to enthusiasts of skateboarding or biking.

Pier Avenue, spanning from the Pacific Coast Highway to the oceanfront, offers an abundance of culinary delights, coffee shops, fashion boutiques, a wine shop, and various amenities for those keen on shopping or dining experiences. In this quaint town, street art flourishes, featuring captivating displays, including the current creation of a mural celebrating Shohei Ohtani's team change to the Los Angeles Dodgers for avid baseball enthusiasts to admire.

16. Seal Beach

Someone surfing a wave at Seal Beach

Seal Beach, favored among locals, boasts expansive sandy shores and distinguished surf breaks, perfect for various water activities like kitesurfing, windsurfing, and sandcastle building. Families frequent the beach for swimming, bodyboarding, and fishing, making it an ideal spot for a day by the sea.

Visitors can explore Main Street with its diverse selection of restaurants and bars or wander through Old Town's vintage stores and gift shops. You can also embark on sport-fishing boat rides or stroll along the impressive 1,865-foot-long wooden pier, which hosts an ocean-view diner.

17. Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach at sunset with the pier on the left and people on the shore

Nestled along California's central coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo Beach is known for its scenic shores, wineries, and monarch butterflies. Despite being a hub for recreation and tourism, offering an array of over 65 restaurants and diverse lodging options, including hotels, motels, inns, and RV parks, the beach is not suitable for swimming.

Visitors can partake in various activities, such as bicycling or exploring attractions like Dinosaur Caves Park, known for its trails with breathtaking ocean vistas and a vibrant playground. Additionally, nature enthusiasts can appreciate the serene wetlands at Chumash Park or the stunning bluff-top setting of Margo Dodd Park.

18. Santa Catalina Island

A view from a mountain top of Santa Catalina Island

Situated southwest of Los Angeles in California's Channel Islands, Catalina Island is celebrated for its diverse wildlife, pristine white sand beaches, and opportunities for thrilling water sports and scuba diving. Beyond its captivating natural offerings, the island boasts attractions like Mt. Orizaba, the highest peak, the picturesque Descanso Beach adorned with swaying palm trees and inviting cabanas in Avalon, and the striking art deco Catalina Casino, housing a movie theater, ballroom, and museum.

The island's ecological richness is evident through its resident native species, including foxes, squirrels, and many bird species. Accessible only by boat or flight, Catalina Island beckons travelers to its enchanting shores.

The Beach is Calling!

Laguna Beach with lots of green plants on the shore

Southern California is a great place to visit beautiful beaches, as it is home to some of the best beach towns. The Golden State has something for every beach lover, so pack your sunscreen and embrace the coastal wonders of the Pacific Ocean!

Have you visited any of these beaches in Southern California? Let me know below, I would love to hear about your favorite one! If you have not gone, is it on your bucket list of places to visit now? Let me know in the comments, and share this article with the person or people you want to go with! Either way, SUBSCRIBE below to learn about other places to add to your "To Visit" List! Ready? Okay, vamos. Time to have fun!

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