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The Golden State has long been world-renowned for its beaches and fun in the sun. All the romanticizing from Hollywood and the music industry is well-earned praise — it’s hard to beat California when it comes to fun on the beach. There are so many incredible options to choose from, it can be hard pin down your destination. Rest easy – we’ve done the coveted job of figuring out the best beaches in California. Keep reading to find out which spots made the cut.
La Jolla, San Diego
La Jolla is a stretch of coast known as “The Jewel of San Diego”, and is easily one of the best beaches in California. It’s a sandy beach approximately one-mile long located in the community of La Jolla. In the summer, waves at this beach are usually the most gentle of all San Diego beaches. The coastline of La Jolla features a staggering variety. It has everything from towering sea cliffs and hidden coves to gorgeous beaches.
La Jolla Cove is a great, safe place for families. Kids love the sea lions that have made the area their home. There are also plenty of areas for swimming and sunbathing. Within this area is Blacks Beach, which is a peaceful, quiet area. This beach is renowned as a bohemian getaway, long-renowned for its moonlit drum circles. It’s also been an iconic location for surfers since being discovered by a few ambitious surfers in the late 1950’s.
Santa Monica State Beach, Los Angeles
Santa Monica State Beach is routinely identified as one of the best beaches in California. Its three miles of coast is full of activities and attractions. The beach itself is one of the most popular beaches in the Los Angeles area, and there are plenty of other things to do as well. The Santa Monica Pier is a landmark for the beach and the area. Here you will find a first-class aquarium, an amusement park, as well as a variety of restaurants. Concerts are a popular activity on the pier, too.
North of the pier you will find Annenberg Community Beach House. Here you’ll enjoy wonderful views, playgrounds, and cultural events, among other activities. Everything here is free, with the exception of the swimming pool. For a little exercise, check out the Marvin Braude Beach Trail. You can bike, skate, or walk along the 22-mile paved trail and enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
When you think of California beaches, it’s usually the palm tree-lined larger beaches of SoCal that come to mind. That’s the case for most of us, but let’s not leave out the rugged, gorgeous beaches up the coast to the north. Pfieffer beach is located on the central coast in the Big Sur area and represents NorCal well.
A windy path off Highway 1 takes you two miles down to the rocky shore where you’ll find a hidden cove, pounding surf, and a large rock just off the beach that has a hole carved out that serves as a sort of keyhole to the open ocean. The beach alone is excellent for sunset photographs, but the view through the keyhole is unforgettable.
While the swimming might not be so good (currents are strong and the water is cold), the hiking in the area is excellent and the beach itself will keep you busy snapping photos. This is a great stop if you’re doing the coastal drive along highway 1.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
One of the most iconic California locales, Venice Beach is also widely-recognized as one of the best beaches in California for its unique character. In addition to the beach, this offbeat area is well-known for its eccentric shops, street performers, and colorful murals.
Its famous beachfront boardwalk is immediately recognizable for its street entertainers and vendors. Fashionistas flock to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, one of the preeminent Los Angeles shopping districts. And of course, there is the storied beach itself. Three miles long, it’s peppered with volleyball and frisbee enthusiasts, as well as the usual surfers and bodyboarders. Don’t skip the famous Venice Beach outdoor gym either!
Laguna Beach, Orange County
Laguna Beach is another iconic California beach. It’s is one of the best beaches in California for art lovers, outdoor adventurers, beachgoers, and families alike. Laguna Beach features seven miles of coastline with an excess of 30 coves. This beach is the only marine reserve in Southern California. Indeed, the waters here are immaculate, with a wide variety of sea life.
The beach area is also renowned for its vibrant art scene. The Sawdust Art Festival is an annual art festival which attracts 200,000 visitors per year, and features a variety of displays. Apart from this festival, you’ll routinely find gallery exhibits, art classes, First Thursdays Art Walk, and public art. Laguna Beach is also admired for its music scene, which features the acclaimed Laguna Beach Live! and the Laguna Beach Music Festival.
Montara Beach, San Francisco
Located just south of San Francisco, Montara Beach is about as scenic as it gets. Tall cliffs and impressive surf make for quite the dramatic scene, and the large sandy stretch of beach leaves plenty of room for typical beach activities.
As is the case up north, the water will give you a bit of a chill and the currents can be vicious. Most beachgoers stay out of the water to be safe and we advise the same. But no sweat, the scenery and open space down on the beach itself make up for the lack of options in the water. A day trip or even an afternoon trip from San Francisco is a great way to escape the traffic and congestion of the Bay Area.
El Matador State Beach, Malibu
Often called Malibu’s best secret, El Matador State Beach manages to stand out in an area world-renowned for its beaches. The beach is actually one of several that comprise the Robert H. Meyer Memorial Beach, and this one is the closest to Malibu. A long beach full of sea caves and huge rocks, the visual splendor alone is worth the visit. The fact that this location is often chosen to photograph swimsuit models should tell you all that you need to know about the beauty of this area.
Despite its breathtaking beauty, you won’t run into an abundance of tourists here. With that in mind, you won’t find a ton of commercial development either when compared to the more popular beaches in the area. Locals certainly don’t mind that, and they are more than happy to keep this place more or less to themselves.
For those looking for a taste of the high life, Newport Beach is the place to be. Home to ultra-expensive yachts and beachside bungalows, this is a good place to catch a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Even if you aren’t worth tens of millions, this is a great place to visit, especially for families.
Families love checking out Newport Harbor, where they can get a great view of the landscape, yachts and beautiful homes. Balboa Island is an excellent place to visit for shopping, dining and going for a stroll. The Balboa Fun Zone is also a big hit, with a Ferris Wheel and lots of other attractions. And there’s plenty to do in the water here, too. The weather here is comparable to that of the Mediterranean, meaning the water is good to go year-round. Surfers and kayakers are particularly fond of the area.
Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles
The aptly titled Hermosa Beach is every bit as beautiful as its name. Located in Los Angeles, California, the beach resides in one of the three beach cities in the greater Los Angeles area. As beautiful as the beach is, it’s just as well-known for its action as it is for its relaxation. Volleyball, surfing and paddleboarding are all very popular activities on this beach. Likewise, bikers, runners, and walkers are ever-present on The Strand, the beach’s well-known beachfront sidewalk.
For those more into the rest and relaxation side of things, Hermosa Beach is one of the stereotypical Southern California beaches. You’ll have no problem kicking back on the sandy beaches here, enjoying the sublime weather and peaceful atmosphere.