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20 Best Beach Towns in California to Visit

21-12-2021 · Beach cities in California offer activities like surfing, shopping, and fine dining From sunny SoCal to the moody skies of the Pacific Northwest, California's beach towns have something to offer everyone. Surf shacks, fine dining, quirky markets, people-watching, and people-escaping are all time-honored traditions here.

21-12-2021

Blue lifeguard house with a white, red, and blue flag on a golden sandy beach

Beach cities in California offer activities like surfing, shopping, and fine dining

From sunny SoCal to the moody skies of the Pacific Northwest, California's beach towns have something to offer everyone. Surf shacks, fine dining, quirky markets, people-watching, and people-escaping are all time-honored traditions here.

But each nook and cranny along the expansive coastline has a distinct personality to it, which may leave you wondering where to begin. This list of the 20 best beach towns in California will either help you find a favorite or give you itinerary ideas for an epic road trip. Continue scrolling to learn more!

  • 20 California beach towns

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20 Best California Beach Towns

California Beach Towns Map

A map of California. Use the map to explore all the beach towns.

One of the best beach towns in California to visit is La Jolla

La Jolla is one of the best beach towns in California to visit

La Jolla

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About fifteen minutes from Downtown San Diego, the upscale beach town of La Jolla inhabits a craggy coastline with no shortage of seafood, steakhouses, international fare, and vegan creations. These dining options are often paired with sweeping views of the Pacific, Michelin ratings, or both.

With a full belly, head to La Jolla Cove, one of the famous landmarks in San Diego, to see seals and sea lions. Or, take a short trip north to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve where you can catch migrating humpback whales, desert foxes, and plenty of cacti.

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Two surfers on a sandy beach with waves, on a windy and sunny day
Encinitas is a prominent surfing destination that has also inspired Beach Boys songs

Encinitas

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Encinitas is one of the original surf towns in California and has attracted beach bums and misfits alike for nearly a century. The resultingly eclectic town is famous for inspiring Beach Boys songs and for its midnight picnics at Moonlight State Beach.

Downtown Encinitas is home to boutiques and cafes intermingling with century-old buildings, giving it a satisfyingly bohemian feel.

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Waves crashing against rocky cliffs with ocean-view mansions at the top

Camping, scuba diving, and snorkeling are some favorite activities in Carlsbad

Carlsbad

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About halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, you'll find the town of Carlsbad. It's a resort community with a European feel, and the addition of Legoland makes it a great stop for families and grown-up kids alike.

For the outdoorsy types, enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and even some beach camping along the protected coastline and warm waters of Carlsbad State Beach.

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Beach mansions on a rocky cliff overlooking the sand and ocean at sunset

You can access Thousand Steps Beach by going down two hundred steps

Laguna Beach

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Moving further from San Diego towards Los Angeles and into Orange County, the next of the coastal California towns is Laguna Beach. For many, its equidistance between the two megacities of the West Coast makes it the ideal combination of comfort, convenience, and getting away from it all.

Thousand Steps Beach in South Laguna Beach may sound intimidating, but in reality, only about two hundred stairs line the path down to the shore. This beach is also one of the fun free things to do in Orange County, California.

If you want to get even further away, Laguna Beach gives you easy access to both Corona del Mar State Beach Park and Crystal Cove State Park.

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Wooden pier with benches, umbrellas, and palm trees in the background

Avalon is just a one-hour ferry boat ride from Dana Point or Long Beach

Avalon

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For time away from the mainland, catch a one-hour ferry from Dana Point or Long Beach to get to Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. There's a romantic, old-world charm here, and it's small enough that visitors mostly get around on foot or in rented golf carts.

Jeep tours are available if you want to see Catalina's unique landscape and wild bison, and you can even board a submarine to explore the aquatic life surrounding the island.

Check out tour options, pricing, and availability.

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Palm trees line a boardwalk as people walk alongside a sandy beach under a blue sky

Venice Boardwalk in L.A. is one of the most famous attractions in the world

Venice Beach

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Venice Beach and its world-famous boardwalk are cultural staples of the Los Angeles area. It was created as the "Coney Island of the West" but has transformed into something altogether unique.

Once you're done exploring this lively boardwalk and famous Los Angeles landmark, you can head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard for a shopping mecca. The restaurants, retail outlets, and trendy boutique shops will allow for nearly endless days and nights here without repeating the same stops.

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A theme park on a pier with a beach and buildings in the background

The amusement park in Santa Monica is a must-visit attraction when you are in L.A

Santa Monica

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Santa Monica is the last of the Los Angeles, CA beach towns to see on this list. Once you arrive, you probably won't need your car anymore in this highly walkable town, and its bike paths offer twenty-two miles of roaming.

Be sure to stroll down to Santa Monica Pier, a famous California landmark, for the amusement park and concessions. Or, just head there to catch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean before venturing out after dark for the bustling nightlife.

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Beach mansion with trees overlooking the ocean and a rocky beach

Malibu is a famous surfing destination and where many celebrities live

Malibu

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Nestled between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, you'll find the picturesque town of Malibu. Its status as a surfing capital and a neighborhood of choice for celebrities make it an exciting destination in Southern California.

For some more seclusion, take a quick trip past the surfers at Zuma Beach to reach Matador State Beach Park. You'll find hiking, sunbathing, and snorkeling opportunities, but the rocks make swimming dangerous.

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Aerial view of a Spanish church with houses, trees, and mountains in the background

Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 by Franciscan Friars

Santa Barbara

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Santa Barbara's history stretches back to the founding of the Mission Santa Barbara in 1786 by the Franciscan Friars.

The Old Mission still remains active, with the kiosks along State Street Promenade and renowned art exhibits joining it as popular destinations. It is one of the fun things to do in Santa Barbara.

You can also enjoy the city's own beaches; head to the nearby Arroyo Burro Beach, or take an hour-long ferry ride to Channel Islands National Park.

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Rocky cliff near the ocean on a sunny day

There are lots of activities at Pismo Beach, such as a docent-led hike and golfing

Pismo Beach

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In Pismo Beach, you can take a docent-led hike through the Pismo Preserve, go golfing at nearby Avila Beach, or try your hand at clamming, though finding any large enough to keep has been unlikely for decades now.

If you happen to arrive between November and February, you'll be migrating with Monarch butterflies escaping the cooler weather of Northern California. They make their seasonal home in the Eucalyptus trees of the aptly named Monarch Butterfly Grove.

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Sea lions relaxing on a wooden deck surrounded by water, with boats in the background

Morro Bay is famous for its dive sites and is one of the smallest beach towns

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is among the smaller of the CA coastal cities on this list and offers a slower pace of enjoyment. Scuba divers can take a quick boat ride to explore the bay's teeming kelp beds and vertical sea walls and easily be back in town for lunch.

The "Mural Mile" is another great way to meander through this beach town, taking a self-guided tour through artworks that depict the history and culture of the town.

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Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a one-square-mile town

Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Carmel-by-the-Sea is perhaps most famous as the town that Clint Eastwood once "Mayored," in real life, and this one-square-mile town really packs in the architectural charm.

Good thing it's small, too, as the lack of street addresses would otherwise make it difficult to find the many inns and restaurants that populate its largely cobbled walkways.

Add that it's a great launching point to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and a trip here is a no-brainer.

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A bridge between green mountains overlooking the turquoise ocean on a sunny day

Monterey is a cool-weather town with rocky cliffs and misty seascapes

Monterey

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Crossing into Northern California and cooler climates, Monterey beachgoers are less likely to go for a swim but are compensated with a rugged, rocky beauty on the often-foggy coast.

The more temperate weather also marks this as the beginning of California's wine country, and wine tours in nearby Salinas Valley are a must for connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike. Popular attractions also include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a fun thing to do on California's Central Coast, and Cannery Row.

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Colorful homes reflecting in still water during sunset

Capitola is famous for its brightly colored houses and is certainly worth a visit

Capitola

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The colorful Capitola is the next of the California coastal towns you'll want to see. This once small town has grown into the larger Santa Cruz urban area, and it is known for its brightly-painted adobe seafront buildings.

It's more than just a pretty postcard or social media posing location, though. Outdoor movies and concerts are staples of the warmer months, so do your research to see what you can catch.

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View from the sea of a sandy beach with a colorful amusement park

Santa Cruz is a beach town known for its seaside amusement park and rich history

Santa Cruz

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At the far northern end of Monterey Bay, you'll find the quirky Santa Cruz. Along with many smaller, hidden beaches, Santa Cruz has a city beach that provides a carnival atmosphere.

When you're finished with the rides and games, you can go exploring its thriving streets steeped in history and thick with eateries. The eclectic combination of modern and colonial-style architecture makes it a journey for the eyes as well as the stomach.

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Sunset by a rocky coastline with a hill in the background

Half Moon Bay is a popular spot for photographers because of its amazing cliff views

Half Moon Bay

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Half Moon Bay is further up the Pacific Coast Highway and into San Mateo County. Its proximity to San Francisco makes it a popular getaway from city life and offers heaps of outdoor fun.

Visitors can go horseback riding, bird-watching, SUP boarding, or just take a spa day in town. Photography enthusiasts will have a blast here seeking views of its dramatic cliffs descending into the beach and ocean.

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Cars parked in front of homes with green trees and blue sky behind
Sausalito is a small town near the famous Golden Gate Bridge

Sausalito

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Protected from the sprawl of San Francisco by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sausalito has maintained a small-town identity. It's one of the coastal towns in California that manages to be both busy and relaxed, thanks to its low population and a steady stream of day-trippers.

It's worth a trip across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of North America's famous landmarks, to sit in one of Sausalito's many seafood restaurants, gazing upon the notorious Alcatraz Island between you and San Francisco.

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A winding road through foggy mountains overlooking the ocean

Bodega Bay is a beach town in Northern California famous for Sonoma Coast vineyards

Bodega Bay

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Getting further into Northern California, there are now some truly remote towns on the coast of California. Bodega Bay is just such a beach town, with little around it but the ocean, nature trails, and of course, the Sonoma Coast vineyards.

If mixing world-class wine with Pacific panoramas ever gets old, Point Reyes National Seashore is an easy trip south along Route 1.

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Breaking waves on a beach covered in multicolored sea glass and rocky cliffs behind

Colored stones can be found at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg

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The moody coast of Fort Bragg is great for nature lovers. Beachcombers will love the menagerie of colorful stones on Glass Beach, and woodsy types can hop on "Skunk Train" to see the local redwood forest.

The redwoods through here are not as massive as the sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park, but this region's forests do host "Mendocino," which have been ruled the world's largest tree until 2000, at a neck-aching 368 feet skyward.

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A huge tree trunk near a walking path passing through a luscious forest

Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Crescent City

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Finally, the northernmost of the California coastal cities on this list is Crescent City, near the border of Oregon. In-and-around the town, you'll find Crescent Beach, Pebble Beach, and the historic Battery Point Lighthouse, built in 1855.

Crescent City is also at the doorstep of both Redwoods National Park, a popular West Coast national park, and the 10,000-acre Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the latter of which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its concentration of old-growth redwoods.

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There are far more beach towns to see in California, but this sampler should have something for everyone.

It's easy to switch any of the beach towns on this list with some of the day trips or activities mentioned within them, so go have some fun and enjoy the cities in California by the beach!

This article was edited by Loredana Elena.

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One of the few accessible beaches in Big Sur is also one of the most photogenic in all of California. Located about 10 miles southeast of Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Beach impresses with ...

16 Must-See Beach Towns & Coastal Cities in California ...

20-06-2020 · California is one of the US states located along the West Coast, which makes it perfect for road trips and weekend getaways. It is also one of the largest and popular states in the country with stunning cities like San Francisco, Santa Cruz to LA, and beach towns like Morro Bay, Catalina Island, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and more!

20-06-2020

In need of a quick beach getaway? We have the perfect beach towns and coastal cities in California to soak in those gorgeous sunset views and warm vibes. 

California is one of the US states located along the West Coast, which makes it perfect for road trips and weekend getaways. It is also one of the largest and popular states in the country with stunning cities like San Francisco, Santa Cruz to LA, and beach towns like Morro Bay, Catalina Island, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and more!

Coastal cities in California to visit

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Coastal Cities in CaliforniaPerfect Getaways

Here are our top picks for bucket list coastal cities in California that you must visit!

San Francisco

Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco California USA West Coast of Pacific Ocean
Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco

San Francisco is not known as a beach city, but it is a perfect base to experience coastal vibes in and around the bay area. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, the city is inviting for those who love city vibes with a coastal twist. 

With tons of things to do in the city which are ocean and beach perfect. Start with the Lands End Park, located in San Francisco within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Go hiking, meditate or just soak in the sun.

Baker Beach is one of our favorites, with those stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A close second is the pretty Crissy Field East Beach, all located in San Francisco. 

China Beach is another cool spot in San Francisco, located between Lands End and Baker Beach. 

Half Moon Bay

Poplar Beach Road Trips from San Francisco
Poplar Beach

Half Moon Bay is a small coastal city, located only 45 minutes outside of San Francisco. It is a perfect spot for a day or road trip from SF. Being a coastal city it has multiple beaches that are perfect for picnics, day hikes, fishing or sun-bathing. 

Poplar Beach is one of the popular beaches here, which is completely free to enter. This beach is only open during the day (hours, and no overnight camping or stay). 

Our favorite is the Half Moon Bay State Park, which is a stunning and a picturesque site. It is a great spot for nature walks, picnic with kids, camping and fishing. 

The resort town in Half Moon Bay is super pretty, with small outdoor cafes and ice-cream parlors. 

READ: All the amazing West Coast Road Trips that you can take 

San Diego County

San Diego coastal cities in California
San Diego

By Maria from San Diego Explorer

San Diego is the perfect California beach city and a must for any California itinerary. Also known as America’s Finest City, San Diego has a lot to offer, whether you are looking for a beach getaway at one of the many beach resorts in San Diego, a fun time in the city, or a mix of both. Here are some of the best things to do in San Diego:

Explore Downtown: There is a lot of stuff to do in Downtown San Diego. From eating delicious Italian fare in Little Italy, visiting the Midway Museum, strolling through Seaport Village, or having a fun night out in the Gaslamp Quarter, there is something for everyone. If you love the outdoors and animals, visit Balboa Park and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.  

San Diego Beaches: San Diego has some of the best beaches in Southern California. Some of the most popular ones are Mission Beach, Coronado, and beaches in La Jolla. You can relax on the sand, take surfing lessons, or ride your bike along the boardwalk for a fun day on the beach.  

San Diego has so much to offer and is simply a fun city, no matter what you are in the mood for. 

La Jolla

La Jolla stunning coastal towns in California

By Maria from San Diego Explorer

La Jolla is simply stunning. Whether you are looking for long, white sandy beaches or stunning cliffs, La Jolla has it all. This upscale California beach town should definitely be on your list of places to soak up the SoCal vibe. 

There are tons of things to do in La Jolla from outdoors, to retail therapy and food & dining! 

Go Kayaking: Kayaking is a fun way to explore La Jolla’s stunning coastline and see some wildlife. You can explore some of the caves and even kayak into them. Depending on your skill level, you can rent kayaks and go out on your own, or go on a guided tour. 

Snorkeling or Diving: While there might not be any coral reefs in La Jolla, it still has a fascinating underwater world to explore. If you visit between June and October, you can even swim with Leopard sharks – an exciting, but harmless adventure. 

Shopping and Art Galleries: La Jolla Village is a great spot for some high end shopping. If that is out of your budget, you can still enjoy window shopping and visiting some of the many art galleries in La Jolla. 

So if you are visiting Southern California, definitely put La Jolla on your list of places to check out. 

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara - Best Coastal cities in California

By Melissa from High Heels & a Backpack 

Santa Barbara is a charming upscale beach town. It is situated just an hour north of Los Angeles, making it an easy day trip option in Southern California. Every corner of Santa Barbara is aesthetically pleasing – from the red-tiled clay buildings to the pristine coastlines. 

The town is affectionately known as “The American Riviera”. The locals here are every bit as elegant as the scenery. State Street is the main boulevard that leads from Stearns Wharf and up towards the mansions of Mission Canyon. There is a charming old, San Francisco-style trolley that runs up and down the length of State Street and is free to use.

The majority of the town’s architecture has been built in Spanish style – stemming from the town’s roots in 1602 when Sebastián Vizcaíno arrived here from Mexico. Locals are proud of their town’s Spanish heritage, and the “Old Spanish Days” festival is celebrated here every August.  

Dozens of chic boutique stores and international eateries line State Street. You will find well-known stores, in addition to trendy spots that showcase the works of local independent designers. Paseo Nuevo, La Arcada, and De La Guerra Plaza are great spots to search for clothing and accessories. 

There are countless dining choices in Santa Barbara, but the town, like everywhere, has those places that are local favorites. Head to Natural Cafe for incredibly flavourful vegetarian and vegan food, as well as fresh-pressed juices. The Hamburger Habit is every Santa Barbarian’s favorite burger joint. Expect a queue outside, but know it will be worth the wait! 

As far as nightlife is concerned, the Santa Barbara bar scene is diverse. The Funk Zone is an area filled with independent breweries and wineries. Be sure to sample the local 805 beer – named after the town’s zip code. 

Many of the wineries here offer tastings for as little as per person. If unassuming dive bars are more your thing, head to The Neighbourhood Bar on West Montecito street and enjoy All-American food, beer pong, and heavy rock music. 

East and West Beach are the most popular beaches. However, even during the height of summer, they are never overbearingly crowded. For something more secluded that oozes desert island vibes, head to butterfly beach. Amtrak trains run almost hourly between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara along with Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey Bay make up the Central Coast of California.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach coastal towns in Cali

By Heather from That OC Girl

Possibly the most picturesque beach town in Orange County is Laguna Beach. With 30 different little coves and beaches, the cutest downtown area filled with boutique shops, restaurants with rooftop views, and a massive wilderness park, there are so many reasons to visit Laguna Beach!

The most popular thing to do in Laguna Beach is obviously hit the beach. You can find beaches with coves like Crescent Bay, a beach that takes 222 stairs to get to like Thousand Steps, and a beach that has a magical “pirate tower” complete with an Instagram famous round man-made pool. 

There are miles of hiking and mountain biking trails in Laguna Beach, and a lot of them with panoramic ocean views. You can explore Laguna Coast Wilderness Park or Crystal Cove State Park, which also has hiking and biking trails, beaches, camping, and a cute little historic district with cottages for rent.

Laguna Beach is very much into the arts and you will find a lot of galleries and events around that theme. The Sawdust Art Festival and Pageant of the Masters are a must-see. These are only offered on a seasonal basis so be sure to check the schedule first.

If there is one thing that you absolutely have to do, at least take a stroll through Heisler Park. It is the most gorgeous spot in Laguna Beach and a great place to start if it is your first time visiting.  

Santa Monica

California's coastal cities - Santa Monica

By Sarah from Dukes Avenue

Whichever LA itinerary you choose to follow, Santa Monica will likely feature in all of them. Located a mere 20 minutes’ drive away from Beverly Hills, Santa Monica beach offers a plethora of things to see and do.

Aside from the gorgeous weather, soft sand at your feet and every water sport you could think of, there are plenty of attractions to see too. The most popular is the Santa Monica pier. Most notably, it marks the end of the infamous Route 66, symbolic of the highway only ending when the sea stands in the way. 

In addition, visitors can enjoy the restaurants and arcade games at Pacific Park – the pier’s very own amusement park. A short stroll down the beach will take you to the Original Muscle Beach; what can best be described as an open-air gym where spectators often watch the acrobatics taking place on the rings and bars.

Whilst others work out though, be sure to head over to Shutters on the Beach and order yourself a slice of coconut cake. You will not regret it! 

For those that wish to explore more, wander away from the beach and head to Santa Monica Place just behind the pier. It’s the perfect place to stop and shop for some luxury treats whilst in LA. The Farmers Market is close by too – voted the best farmers market in the county by Travel and Leisure!

San Luis Obispo 

San Luis Obispo Coastal towns in California

San Luis Obispo is one of the must-visit coastal towns in California, especially if you are road-tripping from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is located at a convenient halfway point between the two cities. 

However, it is also worth visiting for gorgeous views alone. Coastal mountains and warm weather definitely entices this Canadian gal. Their town is the coolest with a farmer’s market, and delicacies.

The popular historic sites of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and Mission San Miguel, are a must-visit if you have additional time on your hand.

Apart from the small town, coastal vibes, you can also opt for kayaking at the Morro Bay, or hang out in Pismo Beach or Avila Beach.

Avila Beach

Avila Beach California USA

By Abi from Happy Go Abi

When you’re looking for beach towns in California to visit, one place you will definitely want to add to your list is Avila Beach. There are so many fun things to do in Avila Beach that make it the perfect place to enjoy a vacation!

This charming town offers up all the fun beach-related activities you could wish for—from swimming in the ocean, to kayaking, to building sandcastles. But beyond this, you’ll also find there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. 

Be sure to check out the small but fun aquarium near the main beach (they even have shark eggs that you can see—so cool!) as well as stopping by Avila Valley Barn to see all the animals and enjoy a delicious lunch or snack.

Avila Beach is also a favorite as you can explore some more secret/local spots, including finding the secret beach you can access via a rope. And once you’ve exhausted all that the beach scene has to offer, there are also plenty of wineries in the nearby vicinity to enjoy.

So if you’re looking for a beach vacation in California in a cute coastal town with plenty to offer, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Avila Beach. You’ll be surprised at all the fun things to do, the delicious food to enjoy, and more…and will definitely be ready to visit here again soon!

Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach Plaza

By Marta from Learning Escapes

Hermosa Beach calls itself ‘Best Little Beach City’ and indeed, it is hard to disagree with this assessment.

Located along scenic Highway 1, just south of Los Angeles, it has all you dream of when you think about the perfect Southern California town: a stunning sandy beach perfect for swimming and surfing, a long strand for rollerblading and a plethora of cafes and restaurants offering anything from farm to table food to international specialties.

The heart of the city is the beach and the lovely plaza in front of it, Pier Avenue. This is a large space with cafes and restaurants and the place that hosts the weekly farmer market, a favorite event for the locals. 

Here is also where you can get a first taste of the murals of Hermosa Beach: the town is proud of its street art and you can see many examples of it taking a short stroll around the compact town center.  

Away from the beach, the town has a relaxed and family-friendly vibe with some nice green spaces perfect for kids or runners and many yoga and pilates studios. 

Hermosa is perfect if you are looking for a relaxed beach city however it is a stone throw away from LA so it is also a great base if you want to tap into the attractions of the big city. 

Carmel in Monterey county

Carmel Town

By Noel from Travel Photo Discovery

One of the prettiest cities on the California coast to visit is Carmel in Monterey county. 

A very popular day trip destination from San Francisco or even an overnight stay, Carmel is scenic and old world in a European vibe with a lovely downtown area filled with European styled buildings with art galleries, boutique stores, bakeries and take out specialty food venues and a host of bars and restaurants to choose from. 

The typical way of exploring Carmel is to start at the top of town and walk downhill to the beach area. The gorgeous scenery at the ocean park front areas of Carmel are truly spectacular with stunning coastal views that are made for those perfect selfie moments on the waterfront area. 

Walking back uphill on the other side of the main drag includes more unique shopping and dining venues to choose from and a nice stop for a dessert or snack is always an easy thing to take away and enjoy some pleasant window watching. 

You’ll love visiting and exploring Carmel in Monterey on a weekend getaway to Carmel by the Sea, as there are tons of things to do here as well as the surrounding areas of Monterey County in Central California.

Cambria

Pacific beach overgrown with mosses and lichen near Cambria, California, United States, North America

By Stefania from Every Steph

Cambria is a quaint, charming coastal town, located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles (which makes it the perfect destination for a weekend away from either city).

This town on the California Central Coast offers a lot for being such a small town, starting with the raw, beautiful landscapes. Don’t expect the typical California beach town!

If you walk down the Coastal Bluff Trail, you’ll be able to admire the coastline, Moonstone Beach, pine trees, and a rugged landscape.

Other things to do in Cambria include going for seafood at Sea Chest Oyster Bar and wandering around the (small) downtown area, where you’ll find artsy and vintage shops.

And of course, most visitors use Cambria also as a starting point to visit the surroundings, in particular, to visit Hearst Castle that is just a few kilometers away. This castle is eccentric and opulent, and you’ll even see zebras roaming around!

You definitely can’t skip visiting this destination, and when you’re done, stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. If it’s the right season, you’ll be able to see hundreds or thousands of elephant seals on the beach! In short, there are many reasons to plan a trip to Cambria – in our opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful beach towns in the state.

Encinitas

Encinitas Moonlight Beach

By Gina from Evergreen and Salt

Encinitas is one of the stunning coastal cities in California, located right on the Pacific coast in North County San Diego. It is located less than 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, and just south of Carlsbad (home to Legoland California). 

Heading up to Encinitas from San Diego is worth the drive for visitors to explore this hip coastal suburb. No car? Make more of an adventure out of the journey and take the San Diego Coaster up to Encinitas where you’ll be dropped off right in its lively downtown area. 

The downtown area in Encinitas has a chill, surfer vibe with lots of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and boutiques lining the Coast Highway, which goes right through the middle of downtown Encinitas. It’s fun to walk around the area and pop into stores to browse California-style clothing or to get a drink on an outdoor patio and enjoy the SoCal sunshine. 

From the Coast Highway, it’s just a few blocks to the beach and you’ll walk past quaint cottages and other beach housing, including a couple houses shaped like boats. 

Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas is popular for families and friend groups thanks to onsite restrooms and showers, a playground, and bonfire pits — plus miles of gorgeous sand.

If you love gardens, head away from the coast to the San Diego Botanic Garden, a beautiful garden to walk around that is located just east of the 5 freeway in Encinitas.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz California Coastal cities
Santa Cruz

By Noel from This Hawaii Life

One of the most typical and iconic California Beach towns that you should visit is Santa Cruz in the Central California coastal area. With a youthful demographic, university town and fun places to visit, Santa Cruz really echo’s that total beach town vibe especially along the waterfront with it’s boardwalk area and playground. 

You’ll find this entertainment zone packed with fun rides, amusement games and junk food, boardwalk strolls and even a nice wharf area to explore. 

The downtown district is also cool with some quirky and fun shops, outdoor dining areas on the main drag, art galleries and other touristy driven shops to explore. 

If you’re into nature then a nice coastal drive along scenic Hwy 1 will get you out to the beautiful and rugged coastal areas and hidden beaches real fast and you can have your pick of cool and sunny spots to lounge and enjoy the water and sandy beaches around Santa Cruz. 

If you’re into gardens, then the well established botanical garden next to the university is a mediterranean garden lovers nature garden to enjoy and walk through. 

You will love all the outdoor adventures that happen around the city from surfing, wind sailing, boogie boarding, sailing, hiking, biking to so many other extreme adventure sports that draws a very active crowd to the area. 

Whatever your interest, Santa Cruz and the surrounding communities are really fun to explore and be a part of an active beach town vibe in Central California.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach - Stunning beaches in California
Pismo Beach

By Chantae from The Salt Siren

Pismo Beach, a beach named after its resident Pismo clams, is one of the most underrated beaches in California. On the northern end of this 13-mile stretch of sand you’ll find the quirky town of Pismo Beach. Venture south for spectacular sand dunes, butterfly gardens, and campsites.

Pismo Beach is ideal for swimming and surfing even in the dead of winter, and kitesurfers often take over the water when the wind blows. At low tide, it’s worth exploring the tide pools home to shell-encrusted anemones, crabs, fish, and other forms of marine life. 

No visit to Pismo Beach is complete without walking along the Pismo Beach Pier. Cafes and restaurants are easily found in town whenever hunger strikes.

While there are plenty of accommodation options in town, consider camping in between the sand dunes at Pismo Beach. Those with a penchant for adventure can grab an old skateboard or snowboard deck and attempt to sandboard down some of the steeper dunes.

Come sunset, admire the sky turn to its hazy orange before tucking into bed beneath the stars. The southern end of Pismo Beach tends to be less crowded, allowing you to find a patch of sand to yourself

Venice Beach

Venice Beach Canals
Venice Beach Canals

By Ale from Sea Salt & Fog

Venice Beach is an artsy beach town in the Southern California coast known for its beach boardwalk, canals, and funky, bohemian vibe.

One of my favorite things to do in Venice Beach is to walk alongside the Venice canals. Gorgeous homes and cottages sit alongside several miles of canals, and are connected by white bridges.

Walking through the canals, you’ll see canoes, ducks, and locals paddleboarding in the water. It’s absolutely stunning, and you’ll feel like you’re in a European village the entire time.

From the canals, you can make the easy walk to the Venice boardwalk. You’ll see people juggling, riding bikes, playing music, roller skating, and hanging out. This is where the artsy spirit of Venice shines. The boardwalk is the perfect place for people-watching, or join in on the fun yourself!

Packing for this California adventure is super easy, so long as you don’t forget to pack your favorite swimsuit! You’ll definitely want to take a dip in the cool Pacific Ocean just a few steps away.  

For a different side of this beachy town, head on over to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where you’ll find super trendy local shops and restaurants. Walk down the mile-long district and pop into the various shops, you won’t be disappointed. 

We hope you enjoyed this list of handpicked beaches and coastal cities in California. Happy planning!

Travel Tips for visiting Coastal cities in California

There are some quick tips for preparing for your trip to coastal towns in California.

  • If flying from overseas, opt for a major city like Los Angeles or San Francisco. For our trip, we flew to San Francisco, and then took road trips from there. 
  • Although the weather in most coastal towns will be warm, just like the Mediterranean climate (mild and dry summers and wetter winters), with not a lot of precipitation. The Northern coast will be colder and wetter. 
  • In terms of packing, here is a list of essential items

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People also ask
  • What are the top 10 beaches in California?

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  • What are the cheapest beach towns in California?

    The Most Affordable Beach Towns in CaliforniaThe Cheapest Beach Towns in Northern California. Crescent City's famed Battery Point Lighthouse is a California Historical Landmark and one of the town's many attractions.Crescent City. One of the cheapest places to live in Northern California, Crescent City has something for everyone.Eureka. ...

    We evaluated all the data to find the cheapest beach towns in California for 2022 so you can surf and soak in the sun all year round. While the Golden State is not known to be cheap, we were able to find the most affordable places to live in California near the beach that were mostly at or below the state’s average cost of living.

    We used data from AreaVibes and BestPlaces.net to determine each town’s affordability. We chose the cost of living index and the median home price as the guidelines for determining the most affordable beach towns in California.

    With that being said, these values and indexes are all relative since California is notorious for being a costly place to live. Keep in mind that we are defining the idea of “cheap” and “affordable” compared to the rest of the state. These levels are generally much higher than the rest of the US. Remember, the median home value in California is almost 0,000 while the average cost of living is 41% higher than the rest of the nation.

    Still, we managed to find a handful of places across the state that offer a reasonable value while being near the beach. We also made note of the overall desirability, which includes aspects like crime levels, things to do, and location, so read each summary carefully to figure out which of these places are right for you.

    Alright, let’s see the top 12 cheapest beach towns in California for 2022.

    Please note that some links below are affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you make a purchase through our links, but at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support!

    12 Cheapest Beach Towns in California – 2022 Update

    12. Ventura

    cheapest-beach-towns-in-california-ventura-california

    Population: 109,067
    Cost of Living Index: 5% Higher than California Average
    Median Home Price: 8,700
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Ventura is a relaxed, yet dynamic beach town that is just 1 hour up the coast from Los Angeles. It exudes quintessential beach town vibes and offers miles of coastlines and tons of parks across the city. There is also a historic downtown that features numerous restaurants and an overall laid-back atmosphere.

    It’s not the cheapest beach town ever, but it is actually a bargain compared to the glamorous beach towns in Los Angeles and the rest of SoCal that are nearby. It basically offers the same chilled out lifestyle, but with less fanfare (and much lower costs).

    11. San Pedro

    Population: 73,264
    Cost of Living Index: 3% Higher than California Average
    Median Home Price: 4,044
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    San Pedro is a neighborhood in the south part of Los Angeles that sits right on the beach. Since it is in LA, the median home prices are still quite high, but the rest of the costs are actually close to the state average. It is one of Los Angeles’ busiest port towns, yet still feels like a small beach town.

    Its crime rates are 24% lower than the rest of the LA area, while housing prices are actually 10% lower than the surrounding neighborhoods, making it one of the most affordable places to live in California near the beach in Los Angeles.

    10. Grover Beach

    Population: 13,484
    Cost of Living Index: 1% Higher than California Average
    Median Home Price: 3,200
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Here is a small beach community that is located in San Luis Obispo County, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Highway 1 passes right through this family-friendly town that is famous for its sand dunes and the limitless number of outdoor activities that are possible directly on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

    Grover Beach is also quite safe, with a crime rate that is 25% lower than the national average. Considering the amenities it offers and its prime location between 2 major cities, Grover Beach is a good value and a strong option for the cheapest beachfront property in California.

    9. Long Beach

    Population: 469,793
    Cost of Living Index: 0% Lower than California Average
    Median Home Price: 3,600
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Here is another neighborhood directly within Los Angeles. Long Beach is the largest place on this list and is located in South LA, right next to San Pedro and just 20 minutes away from its much pricier neighbors of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. It’s not exactly a sleepy, coastal village, so be prepared to live a faster pace of life here.

    Long Beach may not have had a stellar reputation in the past, but it has been rapidly improving, with many new high-rise buildings and residential townhouses that have been built recently. Crime rates are just 5% higher than the California average, but just like any city, there are some good and some not so good neighborhoods, so take time to research it further.

    Still, Long Beach offers a great value considering its location and its access to legendary SoCal beaches that are just minutes away.

    8. Oceanside

    most-affordable-places-to-live-in-california-near-the-beach-oceanside

    Population: 174,811
    Cost of Living Index: 1% Lower than California Average
    Median Home Price: 9,000
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Oceanside is the 3rd largest city in San Diego County, just 35 minutes north of San Diego. It is also right next to Camp Pendleton, a U.S. military base.

    There is the famous, scenic pier that reaches far into the ocean and a beautiful stretch of beachfront that is lined with palm trees. Just a few blocks from the water are lively streets filled with restaurants, shops, and cafes.

    Oceanside is relatively affordable for a city in this area, and the fact that it is right on the beach makes it one of the most affordable beach towns in California in the San Diego area.

    7. Oxnard

    most-affordable-beach-towns-in-california-oxnard

    Population: 204,572
    Cost of Living Index: 3% Lower than California Average
    Median Home Price: 3,100
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Oxnard is a seaside community about 1 hour northwest of Los Angeles. It’s a neighbor to Ventura, which was #12 on this list.

    Like Ventura, Oxnard offers miles of sandy and rocky beaches, but its population is double its size and it is generally more affordable. In fact, home prices here are about 0,000 less than Ventura on average.

    Oxnard represents a great value, especially considering everything it has to offer. Residents can enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities on the beach or around the famous Channel Islands Harbor. There is also a historic downtown that is packed with charming little restaurants and boutiques. It even has its own airport and two automotive museums.

    Crime is also 6% lower than the rest of the nation, making it an ideal place for families who want a laid-back environment but still want to be close to Los Angeles.

    6. Imperial Beach

    Population: 27,180
    Cost of Living Index: 3% Lower than California Average
    Median Home Price: 9,600
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Imperial Beach is a residential community in San Diego that is just 15 minutes from downtown San Diego. It is also only 10 minutes away from the Mexican border.

    Residents can take long strolls along the beach as well as enjoy the southernmost pier in California. There are also many restaurants and shops along the busy Seacoast Drive that is just one block away from the water.

    Additionally, you can spend time at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which is an excellent place for hikers and bikers to enjoy nature.

    The homes in Imperial Beach aren’t super cheap, coming in at over 0,000, but the rest of the living costs are reasonable, at a rate of 3% less than the state average. That’s not bad considering the fact that you get direct access to the beach and are in close proximity to San Diego.

    5. Oceano

    Population: 8,262
    Cost of Living Index: 9% Lower than California Average
    Median Home Price: 6,300
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Oceano is a small little town that is right next to Grover Beach, which was #10 on this list of the cheapest beach towns in California. Oceano is about 7% cheaper than Grover Beach, while its median home price is almost ,000 lower. What are the possible reasons for this?

    Generally, Oceano has fewer amenities than Grover Beach. It offers fewer restaurants and stores compared to Grover Beach, which features the area’s Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Vons, and Aldi. So, you would need to drive a bit further to get to these places.

    But, you would get the same easy access to the sandy beaches along Pismo State Beach. Oceano offers a strong balance of value and the beach life in California for those looking to save some cash, making it one the most affordable places to live in California near the beach.

    4. Arcata

    Population: 17,775
    Cost of Living Index: 10% Lower than California Average
    Median Home Price: 5,400
    Location: Check on Google Maps

    Arcata is located in Northern California in Humboldt County, about 5 hours north of San Francisco. This cheap beach town sits right on Arcata Bay and is just 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean’s shoreline at Humboldt Beach.

    The town offers a relaxed lifestyle with a strong, tight knit community among the vast forests surrounding it. In fact, the Redwoods National and State Parks are just 30 minutes from Arcata.

    Within the city, there are a handful of locally-owned restaurants and shops primarily clustered near Arcata Plaza, which is the core of the quaint downtown area. Arcata even has its own university within the city. Humboldt State University helps provide the town with a youthful energy that makes it a fun, yet affordable place to live in California near the beach.

    3. Eureka

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12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

16-07-2019 · 12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay) Laguna Beach. Located in Orange County, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach is seven miles of coves and beaches that lay claim to tide pools, boardwalks, and bluffs. The town itself is known as being an art haven, with plenty of galleries and boutiques to check out.

16-07-2019

This guide to the 12 best small beach towns in California covers where to stay in each town, the top things to see and more!

With over 800 miles of beautiful coastline, California has its fair share of quintessential sun-soaked beach towns. Having lived in California for all of my life, I’ve had the pleasure to travel up and down this magnificent coast, visiting many of these cute towns along the way.

Most California beach towns are similar in that they have warm, inviting spirits, with friendly locals and great ocean views, but they’re all different in things to do and general atmosphere. Here are the 12 best beach towns in The Golden State!

Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Laguna Beach

Located in Orange County, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach is seven miles of coves and beaches that lay claim to tide pools, boardwalks, and bluffs. The town itself is known as being an art haven, with plenty of galleries and boutiques to check out.

Aside from the beach, Laguna Beach is home to upwards of 20,000 acres of pristine wilderness, which you can check out via mountain biking and hiking trails.

Where to Stay in Laguna Beach

For a budget stay in Laguna Beach, check out The Tides. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the town center and has an outdoor saltwater pool for use.

For a great mid-range option, check out Laguna Brisas Hotel. This hotel is right down the street from the beach itself and offers an outdoor pool and views of Catalina Island.

If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, the Surf and Sand Resort is for you. This hotel overlooks the ocean, gives guests private beach access, and is located in central Laguna Beach.

Read more: The Best Photography Locations in California

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Capitola

Capitola is one of the oldest resort towns in California and is situated in Santa Cruz County on the coast of Monterey Bay. The town itself is incredibly picturesque with idyllic beaches and colorful buildings and is full of eclectic boutiques and restaurants.

I love visiting Capitola no matter the time of year – in the winter, it tends to be a relaxing and quiet escape, while in the summer it gets busy and has a classic California beach town vibe.

Where to Stay in Capitola

Quality Inn & Suites Capitola is a budget motel just 10 minutes from the beach. The property features free WiFi and a seasonal swimming pool

Fairfield Inn & Suites Santa Cruz – Capitola is a mid-range hotel that offers an outdoor pool and spacious suites.

Inn at Depot Hill is a beautiful 4-star B&B that’s walking distance from Capitola Beach and Wharf and features an evening wine reception and a full breakfast.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Avila Beach

A community in San Luis Obispo County, Avila Beach is a great California getaway for the whole family. In the summer, the beach welcomes concerts of all sizes, farmers markets, wine tastings, and so much more. Meanwhile, on the San Luis Pier, Fishermen haul in their daily catch – giving you the freshest seafood experience in the local restaurants.

Not to mention, the waters themselves are perfect for watersports. Because of the calm conditions, renting a kayak or paddleboard for an afternoon is super easy to do. With your kayak, definitely make a point to head to the historic Point San Luis Lighthouse!

Where to Stay in Avila Beach

Avila Village Inn is an adults-only mid-range property that offers free bike use, an outdoor swimming pool, and a gym.

Avila La Fonda Hotel is a luxury property that is home to a spa bath, fireplaces in every room, and free WiFi.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Cayucos

Located on the central California Coast on the colorful Estero Bay, Cayucos is a resort town only 30 minutes away from Hearst Castle. The town is full of Americana, and makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the Wild West, but with a beach setting. Saloons and antique shops are aplenty!

Calm waters make Cayucos an ideal spot for water sports, including swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and diving. If you’re into fishing, head over to Cass Wharf – a great public fishing pier.

Where to Stay in Cayucos

Dolphin Inn Cayucos is a great budget hotel less than a mile away from Cayucos State Beach.

Shoreline Inn is a mid-range property located right on the beach and offers a continental breakfast and an afternoon biscuit reception.

Pier View Suites is a boutique hotel adjacent to the beach. This is a great place to stay if you want a breezy, bungalow-style place to stay.

Read more: 15 Best Weekend Getaways in California (And Where to Stay!)

Carpinteria

Carpinteria is a small city just east of Santa Barbara that lays claim to having the world’s safest beach – Carpinteria State Beach — and to being an all-around family-friendly destination. The waves at Carpinteria are small, so while it’s not great for catching a wave, they are great for splashing around in. That said, if you are looking for a great surfing spot, one of the state’s best surfing beaches, Rincon, is just three miles southeast.

The town itself is fairly easy-going, offering many casual dining options, mom-and-pop shops, and small bars.

Where to Stay in Carpinteria

Sandyland Reef Inn is a budget-friendly stay less than a ten-minute drive from Carpinteria State Beach.

Cliff House Inn is a mid-range property offering private beach access, on-site dining, and an outdoor pool.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Fort Bragg

Located on the northern Mendocino coast, Fort Bragg, California has lived many lives. Originally a military garrison and later a lumber town, Fort Bragg is now one of the top beach destinations in the state, and for good reason. Not only is the area home to a beach full of glistening sea glass, but it also has a striking, craggy, coastline that will sweep you off your feet.

The town itself is full of cool museums – logging, train history, tattoo culture, sea glass, and marine science, to name a few – as well as great farmers markets and boutique shops.

Where to Stay in Fort Bragg

Seabird Lodge is a trusted budget option that offers an indoor pool.

Emerald Dolphin Inn & Mini Golf is a great mid-range stay in Fort Bragg. The Inn features an 18-hole mini golf course, arcade, and it’s just 1 mile away from Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

North Cliff Hotel is more of an upscale stay that offers a hot breakfast buffet and great views of the ocean and Noyo Bay.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Cambria

Whether you have just a couple days or a week to spend in a California beach town, Cambria and its many attractions will be sure to keep you occupied. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria is home to Moonstone Beach (that’s full of glittery gemstones of all colors), wineries, the incredible Hearst Castle, a cute downtown area, coastal bluff trails, and elephant seals.

So many of these places are incredibly photogenic too, so be sure to bring your camera!

Where to Stay in Cambria

Cambria Palms Motel is a budget stay in Cambria that is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown Cambria and offers BBQ facilities.

El Colibri Hotel & Spa is a central mid-range property that is walking distance to Moonstone Beach and offers a full-service spa and wine bar.

A little more upscale, Pelican Inn & Suites features a seasonal outdoor pool and unique room décor.

Read more: Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide – Everything You Need to Know

La Jolla

Nicknamed “the jewel” of San Diego, La Jolla is everything from luxury hotels and upscale shopping to casual beach vibes and gorgeous scenery. The town itself is filled with one-of-a-kind shops, fine dining restaurants, and great museums, while the beach gives way to dramatic coastline and hiking trails up to the cliffs.

La Jolla is one of the most popular beach destinations in the world and is a must on any trip to San Diego.

Where to Stay in La Jolla

The Shoal Hotel La Jolla Beach is a budget stay that features an outdoor pool and is only an 8-minute walk from Windansea Beach.

Empress Hotel is a mid-range boutique hotel that is just a 10-minute walk to the beach and is home to an Italian restaurant.

La Valencia Hotel is a luxury property that is close to the beach and provides modern rooms with an old-charm feel.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Carmel-by-the Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque little town that looks as though it popped straight out of a fairy tale. Located in Monterey, the town is one-square-mile big and is full of charming restaurants, boutiques, and cafes – there are no fast food chain restaurants here.

While in Carmel, head down to Carmel Beach and stroll the scenic road, go wine tasting (the village has almost 20 wine tasting rooms!), pay a visit to the Carmel Mission, and catch some live music at Sunset Center.

Fun fact, Clint Eastwood was once the mayor and now has a restaurant here!

Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel Oaks is a budget stay in Carmel that has free continental breakfast delivery, and is close to many shops and sites.

Hotel Carmel is a mid-range hotel right in the heart of Carmel. The hotel serves a daily continental breakfast and features a hot tub.

The Vagabond’s House Boutique Inn & Spa Studio is a 4-star property just 1-mile from Carmel Beach City Park. The hotel features a stone courtyard and unique décor in every room.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Bodega Bay

A town of roughly 1,000 people in Sonoma County, Bodega Bay is home to fishermen, shopkeepers, and creative types of all kinds. Within and surrounding the town, you’ll find fresh seafood eateries, spas, and wineries, as well as great hiking, fishing, and whale-watching spots.

Bodega Bay tends to be rather quiet and is the perfect place to go if you want to unplug and relax.

Where to Stay in Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay Inn is a mid-budget property less than a 5-minute walk to Bodega Bay and offers free WiFi.

Bodega Bay Lodge is a 4-star hotel with beautiful views of Doran Regional Park and the ocean.

Read more: 15 Best Things to Do in San Diego, California

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Morro Bay

Also known as “the Gibraltar of the Pacific”, Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County is home to an extinct volcanic peak (that juts out 567 feet above the ocean), over six miles of sandy beaches, and an eclectic array of photogenic shops and restaurants.

Morro Bay has all the elements that make a beach town spectacular, but what makes it even more so is that it tends to be much more affordable than many of the surrounding towns. It’s easy on the eyes and on the wallet!

Where to Stay in Morro Bay

Harbor House Inn is just two blocks from the waterfront and is a great budget stay in Morro.

Masterpiece Hotel is a mid-range stay just 5 minutes away from Morro Rock. This Andalusian-style motel features an indoor hot tub and a daily wine reception.

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Shelter Cove

A Humboldt County hamlet, Shelter Cove is known as being the gateway to California’s Lost Coast. From Shelter Cove, you can visit Black Sands Beach, stroll the Lost Coast Hiking Trail, visit the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, whale watch, go diving, or fish.

Of course, while there are many activities to do, rest and relaxation should also be on the menu for things to do in Shelter Cove. The town and surrounding area are so peaceful, it’s an ideal situation to unplug and be present.

Where to Stay in Shelter Cove

The Oceanfront Inn is a mid-range property offering a private beach area.

Inn of the Lost Coast is another mid-range stay located right on the beachfront and offers a hot tub and karaoke nights.

Read more: Where to Stay in San Francisco (And The Best Hotels in Each Area)

After traveling consistently for over 10 years, we’ve come to trust and rely on a few websites to help us find the best deals on flights and accommodation.

Flights: Momondo is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. It searches hundreds of sites for the best fare and includes both standard and budget airlines. The calendar feature shows the cheapest days to fly in your preferred month of travel.

Accommodation: Booking.com offers savings on hotels, apartments, and villas in 80,000 destinations worldwide. You can browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.

Travel Insurance: We never travel without a travel insurance policy because it’s not worth the risk! We use and trust World Nomads, which we’ve used for the past 8 years.

10 Best California Beach Towns to Check Out This Summer

The best California beach towns for a weekend getaway. These under-the-radar destinations are some of the best California beach towns. Written by …

Sandy beach with multicoloured beach huts on a sunny day in Santa Cruz, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

These under-the-radar destinations are some of the best California beach towns

When looking for the best California beach towns, you're probably envisioning golden rays hitting sand, waves crashing against warm rocks, and surfboards propped against vintage Volkswagon campervans. California’s beaches have an intoxicating hold for any traveler looking to spend a few quality days with the ocean and the state’s coastline is full of places to stop and satisfy your craving.

But what if you want something different or less crowded than favorites like Malibu and Big Sur? Check out our list of lesser-known California beach towns to get your seaside fix, complete with adorable small town communities, breathtaking views, and gorgeous beaches to sink bare feet into against the endless ocean.

RECOMMENDED: The ultimate California road trip

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Playa del Rey
Photograph: Shutterstock
Dana Point
Photograph: WPPilot/Wikimedia
Fort Bragg
Photograph: Shutterstock
Cayucos
Photograph: Shutterstock
Capitola
Photograph: Shutterstock
Cambria
Photograph: Shutterstock
Pacific Grove
Photograph: Shutterstock
Mendocino
Photograph: Shutterstock
Carpinteria
Photograph: Shutterstock
Morro Bay
Photograph: Shutterstock

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More on Summer

27 Cutest Coastal Towns in California: Beach Towns to ...

03-05-2021 · The shopping in this cute coastal California town can only be beat by large cities like LA and San Francisco. Insider Tip: Make some time to visit Escondido Falls if you are there in the cooler parts of the year or take a horseback ride through the Zuma Canyon.

03-05-2021

California is often best-known for its beaches. While there is a lot of other fun activities to enjoy in the rest of the state, it seems like we just can’t seem to help ourselves from being drawn to the coastline!

And because California is such a large state with hundreds upon hundreds of miles of coast to enjoy, it is uniquely able to offer special beach town experiences in many, many locations.

If you are planning to go to California for a weekend getaway, or you want to visit every single well-known beach town on this list, you will never be disappointed in your time spent along the California coastline. There’s just something about the California coast that is special, moving, and memorable.

I try to make time to visit at least one California beach town each year because I find that there is just no comparison with the California coast anywhere else on earth!

Cute Coastal Towns in Southern California

Malibu

the beaches of malibu california and fancy houses on the beach

Contrary to popular belief, Malibu is not just a single beach, it’s a city as well as a beach region in the state. You can visit 21 miles of beach when you visit the Malibu area, and each square foot is as delightful as the last!

The Malibu area is dotted with state beaches like Topanga State Beach and Pointe Dume Beach, but you can also visit the Malibu Pier and the Malibu Surfrider Beach.

If you visit sites like Surfrider, you can watch the surfers training and catching waves, or you can sit down in the sand and enjoy the weather. Smaller beach locations up and down the Malibu coastline offer a more quiet and serene experience, but one that is no less delightful.

You don’t need me to tell you that the shopping is amazing in Malibu and there is any kind of store you can imagine if you head back into town! The shopping in this cute coastal California town can only be beat by large cities like LA and San Francisco.

Insider Tip: Make some time to visit Escondido Falls if you are there in the cooler parts of the year or take a horseback ride through the Zuma Canyon.

Where to Stay: A stay in Malibu will not be cheap, but it will be amazing! One of the most luxurious places to stay is the Calamigos Guest Ranch & Beach Club. Located in the mountains on a 200-acre property, it also has its own private beach club for the best of both worlds. With several pools and a spa, it’ll be hard to tear yourself away!

For a more affordable stay, the M Malibu is an option. Honestly, it’s nothing special — and the price is still on the high side — but it’s the best option for the price.

Ventura

a fountain in front of the ventura mission in this cute California coast town

Located near Carpinteria and Oxnard, this famous beach town in Southern California is near a working harbor, a fishing marina, and a delightful shopping area with restaurants and waterfront activities.

You can jet ski, paddleboard, or enjoy a boat trip here — and best of all, your dog is welcome on the beach! This is one of the must-see locations along California’s coastal towns for a whole host of reasons.

Enjoy the surf and sand as you sunbathe near the water, or walk along the famous Ventura Pier and catch the views over the water at sunset. This is a truly phenomenal beach town that is famous for both its beauty and serenity.

Where to Stay: For a unique stay, book a night in the retro-chic Waypoint Ventura, where converted Airstream trailers have been given a modern facelift with gorgeous furnishings and private outdoor patio spaces.

For a more traditional stay, the Crowne Plaza is beachfront, complete with an outdoor terrace with a firepit and Pacific sunset views!

Montecito

palm trees at sunset in the southern California beach town of Montecito near Santa barbara

This delightful beach town has enjoyed new fame recently because it has been associated with Megan Markle and Prince Harry as they traveled down the Montecito Coast. But it’s no stranger to celebrities: Oprah has been living in Montecito for years.

These ex-royals have taken up residence near Butterfly Beach in Montecito near Santa Barbara, bringing new interest to this little gem of a beach town.

Where to Stay: There are a handful of hotels in Montecito itself, and more options in downtown Santa Barbara. In Montecito, check out charmers like the Montecito Inn or the Coast Village Inn. Both are pretty comparable in terms of rooms, amenities, and price.

Encinitas

the beach at swamis in encinitas

If you are in Encinitas, a charming surf town in California, you have to go see the sunset at Moonlight State Beach!

Visit the local shops and have dinner nearby, then wander down to the beach and enjoy the end of the day with some snacks from the snack bar. There are fire pits and volleyball courts here as well.

For a different experience, head up to Swami’s to watch surfers navigate the big waves. You can also head over to Sea Cliff and sit in the shade or at a picnic table and listen to the waves.

D Street is another great option for access to the water and you can sunbathe here. Be aware of possible sunbathers in their birthday suits at D Street beach, especially if you are traveling with children!

Where to Stay: For a luxe resort stay, the Alila Marea Beach Resort is an incredible option. The rooms are spacious with sweeping views of the Pacific, located right on a bluff overlooking the beach. It’s got all the 4-star amenities you can dream of: a heated infinity pool, a spa center, a fitness center, a restaurant, etc.

For a more budget-friendly option, the charming Cardiff by the Sea Lodge offers a more relaxed B&B style stay. The rooms each have their own style, and there is a rooftop garden with beautiful views of the ocean. 

La Jolla

the beautiful oceanfront town of la jolla california with palm trees and houses

The La Jolla area offers the extremes of rocky cliffs and delightful sandy beaches that you have probably come to expect from California.

You can visit Torrey Pines State Beach to see the 300-foot sea cliffs and rare eponymous Torrey pines (found only in a few places in the world, all of them along small stretch of the California coast) or head down to the long sandy beaches near Black’s Beach for some sunbathing.

La Jolla Cove offers access to seas coves and you can sea kayak here or check out the marine life with a snorkel or by diving.

La Jolla is the quintessential California beach town near San Diego, and the surfer vibe of the city puts one in mind of Hawaii. Downtown, or “The Village” to locals, is full of shops, museums, and other fun things to do. 

Enjoy the San Diego zoo or the Safari Park which is associated with it. There is also great hiking near here and you can see the coastline from nearly every hiking trail as you work your way up the hills near the coast.

Where to Stay: The beautiful Pantai Inn in La Jolla offers unique, Balinese-inspired rooms with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Each room comes equipped with a kitchenette and spacious seating area. Best of all, it’s just a 5-minute walk to La Jolla Cove!

Another option is the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, located right in the heart of one of the prettiest patches of San Diego coastline. It’s got all the 4-star amenities you’d expect from the Hilton name, like an outdoor pool, hot tub, restaurant, etc.

Seal Beach

View of the water and the wooden pier at sunset, with the tide flowing out

This gorgeous California coastal town is located in Orange County and it retains its small-town feeling despite being near one of the most populous and posh areas in the state!

10 Great Things to Do in Huntington Beach

Visit the Seal Beach Wildlife Refuge or visit the Hyatt Regency for a meal in the delightful downtown area.

Head down to the water to see the second-largest wooden pier in California or pick out a place on the beach itself and sunbathe.

You can watch the surfers or head over to the shady grass park to eat your lunch and listen to the waves — there’s no shortage of things to do in Seal Beach!

Where to Stay: There aren’t too many accommodations in Seal Beach, but luckily, you won’t need much choice as the best is obvious: the Ayres Hotel! The lobby is really luxurious and classic, with beautiful library vibes, and the rooms are simple, modern, and spacious. Plus, a heated swimming pool is on-site! Best of all, the price is right!

If that gets booked up, there is always the Hampton Inn & Suites Seal Beach, but it’s nothing special to be honest, and the price is very similar to the Ayres Hotel, which is definitely the better value.

Newport Beach

the beach at newport beach with houses, palm trees and a mountain behind in the distance

Newport Beach is delightfully scenic coastal city in California with its cliffside views and some of the best surfing in the state. Take the ferry to Balboa Island and visit this beautiful little tourist trap for the day. You can even ride the Ferris Wheel or play in an arcade.

Get a frozen banana while you are on Balboa Island (Arrested Development, anyone?), and then head back to visit the shops at Fashion Island which are arranged in an open-air mall.

If you want to see surfers navigating impressive waves, head to The Wedge where waves get as high as 30 feet! If that is too wild for you, there is a whole host of delightful beach locations to take a towel and some sunscreen and catch some rays.

Where to Stay: Part of the exclusive Autograph Collection of hotels, the boutique Lido House is a beautiful historic place to stay in Newport Beach. Each room is decorated uniquely and full of individual character, with pops of color and tons of attention to detail. Amenities include an outdoor pool, hot tub, fitness center, restaurant, and sun terrace.

Another great choice is the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, with spacious rooms (hello, king beds!), a great pool area, and lots of freebies like bikes, lounge chairs at the pool, beach umbrellas, and fire pits for public use.

Dana Point

the houses of dana point on the cliff bluff

Dana Point is well known by Californians as having some of the best beach locations to enjoy the sun and waves!

One of the best features of a visit to any of the beaches in Dana Point is that you can enjoy year-round whale watching during your visit! Take your small children to Baby Beach where the waves are gentle and the water is shallower or head up to Doheny State Beach for some surfing and swimming.

If you are visiting in the fall, make a stop at the Tall Ships Festival to see the old sailing ships that are moored there during the event. Round out your trip with a visit to Pirate’s Cave near the Ocean Institute and enjoy this amazing natural feature at low tide.

Where to Stay: New to the area is the Waldorf-Astoria Monarch Beach Resort. This resort sits on 175 acres near the beach, complete with 7 on-site restaurants, 3 swimming pools, a golf course, an on-site spa, and a private beach! Unique to this property is an outdoor fitness facility, where they offer over 40 fitness classes every week with a fresh ocean breeze.

Another nice place to stay is the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa. It’s a more reasonable price than some of the other more luxurious hotels in Dana Point, without skimping on excellent amenities like two heated swimming pools, a luxe spa center, and a fitness center.

Oceanside

the street in oceanside california with palm trees and ocean

Charming little Oceanside is a truly SoCal beach town and has a great laid-back vibe.

The beaches are phenomenal and make you think you are in Hawaii while the town, called O’side by locals, is home to the California Surf Museum.

Visit the historic pier or the Oceanside Harbor on your way to lounge in the sun at the beach itself.

Take a wine harbor cruise, or enjoy live music at Coomber Craft Wines. This is a young, hip town with a ton of fun activities to do at all times of the year.

The bike trails are well worth a visit, and there are many great natural areas to hike and enjoy scenic views of the entire stretch of beach.

Where to Stay: For a lovely boutique place to stay in Oceanside — which mostly has chain hotels — The Green Room is a wonderful option. Each room is a little standalone studio unit, with a private entrance and personal patio area. The decor is cute and modern, and you can walk to the beach!

For a trendy new place to stay, the Seabird Resort (a Hyatt property) is another good option in downtown Oceanside, right on Mission Ave. There’s a great pool area with lots of sun lounger, as well as a restaurant and fitness area. While not a beachfront property, some rooms have ocean views!

Carpinteria

the stairs leading down to the beach at carpinteria

The Santa Barbara area is one of the prettiest parts of California, and Carpinteria — a charming beach town — is located on the Southeast side of this iconic part of the state.

The beach at Carpinteria offers a gentle slope and soft swells for much of the beach’s length. This makes it perfect for sunbathing and strolling. The city is part of the coveted California Riviera that draws tourists each year for its Mediterranean climate.

The Spanish-style architecture of this city offers old-world charm and you can drop in to Teddy’s By The Sea for an ocean view meal. Stay at the local smaller hotels near the water and shop along Linden Avenue.

Pop over to the Seaside Gardens to check out art installations and beautiful natural scenery, or buy some cute beachwear at Seastrand.

Where to Stay: The oceanfront Cliff House Inn is definitely the best place to stay in Carpinteria! With private beach access, a pool facing the ocean (hello, sunsets from the pool!) and balconies in every. single. room. — this is a winner.

If that’s all booked up, the charming Casa del Sol is not a bad option, though it wouldn’t be my first pick!

Cute Beach Towns in Central California

Pismo Beach

the famous surfboard sign at pismo beach a cute surf town in california

Pismo Beach is one of the best-known beach towns in California, and it is located between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Stay along the seven miles of oceanfront in a resort like the Vespera on Ocean, or head just south of the town to visit one of the local wineries like Santa Rita Hills.

Stroll along the iconic Pismo Beach Pier, or walk along the long stretch of flat and soft beach sand. You can sunbathe here or you can head over to the Pismo State Beach and Oceano Dunes to see the monarch butterflies which migrate through the area each year.

If you love ATVs and off-roading fun, this is the perfect dunes location to have a blast!

Where to Stay: The charming Cottage Inn on the Sea offers stunning views over Pismo Beach from a bluff above it, with a fire pit and chairs to watch dreamy views of the sunset. Score! It also has beautiful rooms (some with fireplaces and ocean views) as well as a pool and hot tub.

For a brand new, luxury hotel experience, Vespera Resort on the beach offers spacious and beautifully designed rooms on a gorgeous property with 4-star amenities (fitness center, giant pool, etc.).

Cayucos

the craggy ocean shore of cayucos beach town

The white sands of Cayucos State Beach are one of the biggest attractions in the cute coastal town of Cayucos.

Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary: 7 Day California Coast Road Trip

Cayucos has a well-known pier that dates back to 1872 from the days of this town’s past when it was an important commercial port for ships sailing from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

This is a small beach town with a ton of character and lots of delightful shopping and dining.

Cayucos has preserved its Salinan and Chumash history, and visitors can learn more about the land’s original inhabitants by visiting Cass House Cayucos.

Learn about the original ranching and shipping families who created the little town before heading out of town to see the impressive Estero Bluffs State Park.

Where to Stay: For a charming B&B in Cayucos, look no further than the Cayucos Sunset Inn. It has patios with sunset views just a short walk from Main Street and great touches like fireplaces and en-suite baths.

Another great option that’s a little more affordable is Cayucos Beach Inn, which is a lovely no-frills inn just one block from the scenic Cayucos State Beach. Rooms are clean, cozy, bright, and airy!

Morro Bay

kayaks in the harbor at morro bay

Nearby Morro Bay has a lot to offer from kayaking in the harbor, to biking along the beach, to checking out the daily catch that is locally caught and served in the town’s excellent restaurants.

This town is near San Luis Obispo, one of the most beautiful areas in the state.

In Morro Bay, you can visit the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History to learn about the local history and the Chumash people who lived here first.

Take a bay cruise to catch the sunset, or take a stroll along the Embarcadero which is full of activity every day.

Check out the art at the Seven Sister gallery, or get some saltwater taffy at Carousel Taffy. This is a great place to go birding or to see sea life like otters, whales and sea lions as well.

And of course, make sure to set aside some time to see the famous Morro Rock at Morro Strand State Beach, the most significant landmark of this cute California beach town.

Where to Stay: The stunning Inn at Rose’s Landing has the best views in town! It’s right on the Embarcadero, with a front-and-center view of Morro Rock. The rooms are spacious with a modern flair, and the terrace has great views of the bay and the famous rock!

For a more budget-friendly option, the cheap and cheerful Pleasant Inn has that renovated vintage motel vibe with updated rooms, great prices, and a solid location.

Cambria

houses on the beach at cambria on california's central coast

Cambria is more correctly classified as a village and comes complete with local charm and seaside activities and hotels.

The beach is large and smooth, making it perfect for a stroll or for laying out on a sunny day, and you can enjoy views of the beach from almost every downtown café that might invite you in for lunch or dinner.

Moonstone Beach and the Moonstone Boardwalk are a mile long and are a great place to walk if you want to see dolphins and whales.

If you come during the right season, you should head to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal rookery to see elephant seal pups and their parents.

Hearst Castle is just ten miles from Cambria and is well worth the visit to see the art collection as well as the house itself. Consider staying at Cambria Pines Lodge or the picturesque Fogcatcher Inn.

Where to Stay: The charming Cambria Beach Lodge is located just across from Moonstone Beach, offering a beautiful sun terrace with a sunset view. Rooms are large with lovely beachy decor, with a seating area and en-suite bath. Best of all, sunny yellow bikes are available for free to guests!

Another great option is Creekside Inn in downtown Cambria located right on Main Street, a 5-minute walk from downtown. Rooms are spacious and clean and the prices are really affordable. Plus, there’s a hot tub on site for guest use!

Carmel-by-the-Sea

the charming fairytale houses of carmel by the sea

This California beach town was well-known before Clint Eastwood served as its mayor — but that certainly helped!

This beautiful seaside town offers a blend of galleries, boutiques, hotels, and shops, and the styling of the whole area is full of whimsy and romantic architecture, like something out of a fairytale.

Contrasting with the beautiful architecture, the coastline offers up rugged cliffs as well as soft, sandy beaches. Truly, there are not many places on earth that are this beautiful.

Visit Point Lobos State Reserve which is famous for being one of the most stunning protected lands in California, or head to the Carmel River State Beach for ocean swimming, kayaking, surfing, or just enjoying the sun and the waves.

Monterey County is one of the prettiest places anywhere in the US, and Carmel-By-The-Sea is one of the jewels in its crown.

Capitola

the rainbow colored beach houses of capitola

Although not one of the better-known beaches along the California coast, this bustling and fun city offers visitors the lovely Capitola beach, its colorful rows of beach houses, and the Esplanade park that is located nearby.

This is the location of a bandstand that comes to life during the hotter parts of the year and there are free movie screenings during summer nights right by the beach.

Shop at the cute little shops in town or dine at famous Zelda’s on the Beach to enjoy live music and a great torch-lit patio that overlooks the beach.

Snag a room at the colorful and picturesque Capitola Venetian Hotel right on the beach and walk out onto the sand each day, or into town for your breakfast and coffee each morning.

Best Coastal Towns in Northern California

Davenport

the sands on the beach of davenport california

Located near Half Moon Bay, this delightful little town is sometimes referred to as part of the “slow coast” of California. This is a historic area with a ton of charm and the city dates back to 1867, making it a good place to stop if you love to visit museums and learn about local history.

Visit the famous “Davenport Crack” in the surrounding hills near Davenport Beach or go see the unique rock formations like Shark Fin Cove.

If you want to visit some more rugged coastal areas, head over to walk Bonny Doon Beach and visit the cliffs and rock shelves near this scenic stretch of beach.

Half Moon Bay

the ocean waters of half moon bay on the california coast near san francisco

Half Moon Bay is one of the best-known places towns on the California Coast and for good reason!

This is a much larger city than some of the others on this list and it boasts the Pillar Point Harbor area as well as the unincorporated Princeton-by-the-Sea.

This a great place to visit any kind of beach that you want to see, from Half Moon Bay State Beach with its cliffs and sea rocks, to Dunes Beach and Miramar Beach which offer up rugged sections of cost with large waves.

This beach town is close enough to San Francisco to get daily fog during certain parts of the year and those who have visited the Oregon Coast will feel right at home here.

The town is full of cute bed-and-breakfasts (and some ritzy options, including the literal Ritz Carlton) as well as yummy dining and quaint shops, as it’s a favorite beach getaway from San Francisco.

Pacifica

mori point at pacifica a cute beach town on the california coast

Another beautiful beach town near San Francisco, Pacifica is well-loved by locals for good reason. There are great hiking trails here (Mori Point is a real stunner) and the beach allows dogs.

This also is a great place to learn to surf, and the University of Surfing will help you learn to catch a wave.

Stay at the Pacifica Beach Hotel or the Lighthouse Hotel and head to the Moonraker for a delightful meal, or walk into town for some snacks and take them down onto the beach. This is a casual and friendly beach town that makes for a fun getaway, whether you are planning a day trip or a longer stay.

Sea Ranch

Old barn on trail with sea in background and dry grass

This town is best known for its distinctive back-to-nature architecture and its scenic golf course, but it is also a great location for whale watching and hiking on the public access trails near Gualala Point Regional Park.

Make time to stop and see the Sea Ranch Chapel, or to visit the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

This is a great jumping-off point to head into Sonoma for some wine tasting or to stay and hang out for a weekend!

Gualala

View from mountain of twists of Gualala river emptying into the Pacific Ocean with sunset tones of blue and orange

This little town is nestled into the bluffs along the Gualala River in the “banana belt” of the California coast. This area has a unique micro-climate, and you might experience foggy beach days along with sunny days.

This is the perfect place to go if you love hiking, whale watching, and sport fishing. You can golf, head out to see the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, or buy some art at one of the galleries in town.

This is a beach town that is best enjoyed when you rent a beach house and stay for a few days.

Elk

houses in elk california on the beach

Elk is a tiny town and not well-known, but it is well worth a visit. This is a secluded stretch of beach near the Navarro River and the coastline is surrounded by hilly pasture and redwood forest on one side and the shoreline on the other.

This is a great place for a quiet seaside lunch as well as a great place to buy some local art. From Queenie’s Roadhouse Café to the Elk Store, local charm is everywhere in this little town.

Well-known by Californians for being an artistic community, locals come here often to buy art and enjoy the unique community feeling of this little town.

San Francisco residents view this as a local getaway, but the town was originally a logging settlement and there are plenty of opportunities to learn about the late 19th century and California’s logging history.

This tiny California coastal town with its two-hundred-fifty residents is always a great place to choose for your beach trip in California if you want to get a bit artsy and off-the-beaten-path.

Mendocino

A picturesque cabin house in Mendocino with birds of paradise orange flowers overlooking a cliff with blue ocean beneath it

Famous for its unspoiled scenery and local charm, this area is adjacent to the famous Redwood trees and known for its oceanfront botanical gardens and stunning wines.

The town is also well-known for being connected to a cluster of charming Victorian villages!

You can go wine tasting here or ride the Skunk Train through the redwoods. There is a whale festival that is held locally each year in March and a series of wine and food-related events are put on throughout the year.

Having to travel Highway 1 on the way to Mendocino can be a bit tedious owing to the twists and turns in the road, but the views are phenomenal.

This little town was made famous when it was used for filming “Murder She Wrote” and the homes in the town still demonstrate the old-world charm that was made famous during the run of the TV show.

Fort Bragg

The pebbles of the Glass Beach at Fort Bragg, low angle with glass detail and water coming in as tide

Fort Bragg offers some truly charming and comfortable beach hotels like the Shoreline Cottages, and the tiny beach town is full of beautiful beach areas connected to downtown.

Visit Glass Beach and admire pieces of colorful sea glass (though don’t take any home!), or go scuba diving and snorkeling to see the beautiful glass beneath the waves.

Look for whales from the headlands, or head into town to see the historic downtown with its vibrant murals and to learn history related to the 1906 earthquake which destroyed San Francisco.

Kayak the Noyo River and look for sea lions, otters, or sea birds. It is also well worth heading up to Ten Mile beach to see the Cypress Tree Tunnel on California Highway 1.

Shelter Cove

the beach at shelter cove with black sand

This is a great remote area that offers access to hike the Lost Coast or to visit the King Range Conservation Area. You can enjoy fishing or visit the tidepools and Black Sands Beach.

There are some local B&B options for your stay that should not be missed out on!

The town feels like a time capsule by intention, and you can see how the history of this little city was impacted when it was cut off from the major highway system when the Pacific Coast Highway was diverted further inland.

Crescent City

Pink wildflowers on the hill around the white and red Battery Point lighthouse in Crescent City on a sunny spring day

Crescent City is a beautiful place to visit on the Redwoods Coast. The town is full of great stretches of beach to go beachcombing and it is also a perfect place to look at tidepools. Kellogg Beach is a hidden gem near town and nestled right by Tolowa Dunes Park. This is a great place for sand camping as well.

Go to Castle Rock Wildlife Refuge for a safari experience blended with a sanctuary trip. Take a sea kayaking tour with Redwood Rides, or head into town and enjoy some fresh-caught seafood at Elk Valley Casino.

It is also well worth making time to head to Rumiano’s Cheese Factory to try the offerings that are crafted by this family-run business. There is no shortage of outdoorsy and indoorsy adventures here in Crescent City.

***

California beach towns are some of the most picturesque and fantastic places to take a day trip or to go for an extended stay.

The California coast blends all the rugged splendor of the coastline to the north with the sunny weather of SoCal with its almost tropical-feeling locations.

There is no wrong way to spend a day at a California beach town and you will be so glad that you decided to travel to California’s coast from the moment that you step out onto the warm sands!

Pin This Guide to Cute California Coastal Towns

Brianna York has spent many years of her life traveling for work and pleasure, and grew up in Oregon in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. She embraces each new place she visits and makes the most of seeing all the best that each city or place has to offer.  She is a published author and competes with her Arabian Show horses all over the United States. She embraces each day like a new adventure and is always ready for new experiences!

The ULTIMATE Guide to the Best Beaches in California (2022)

06-07-2020 · Who It’s For: Families who aren’t content with just chilling on the sand.There’s so much to do here! Don’t Miss: Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier. This classic theme park is fun for everyone. One of the most popular beaches in California, Santa Monica is not just a great base for beach holidays, but also for visiting LA. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in the area ...

06-07-2020

In a state packed with natural beauty, iconic cities, and amazing things to do, it’s hard to find any fault with California. It boasts nine national parks, epic road trips, and some of the best quality of city living anywhere in the world. It’s no wonder California is the most visited state in the United States!

Yet another top attraction – the beaches in California! From epic stretches of sand in the cities of LA and San Diego to quiet secluded beaches along the stunning Big Sur seaside drive, California’s beaches will delight, surprise, and most likely take your breath away.

In this post, we’ll look at the best beaches in California. We’ll also show you some of the best places to stay nearby, whatever your budget and travel style. If all that doesn’t sound like enough, we’ve also picked out some of the best things to do and see nearby. So, let’s hit the sand, dude!

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Beaches in California
Sunset’s like these make the California Beaches some of the best in the world!

The best time to visit California depends on what you want to do during your stay. The great thing about the state is that it’s a year-round destination. However, for visiting the beaches in California, it’s not recommended to come between November and April, even if you’re visiting the warmer climate of Southern California.

The best time to head to California for a beach vacation is from May to October. August and September are the warmest months, although July and August can be very crowded and expensive. If you visit in September, the crowds will have thinned, and you’ll be able to swim in tepid waters and sunbathe to your heart’s content, especially in the south of the state.

Since California is such a large state, there are some regional factors to take into consideration. San Diego can be very foggy during May and June, meaning that the beaches might be a bit colder than you like. It can get foggy in July and August in San Francisco, too.

Taking everything into consideration, the best month to travel to California is September. Visiting at any other time of the year won’t be too big of an issue, though – if you can’t go to the beach, there are plenty of other things to do on your backpacking trip to California!

What is the One Item Every Traveller NEEDS???
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There is one item every traveller NEEDS. Some travellers don’t even know they need it, but those travellers need it more than anyone.

What is this forgotten essential of the backpacker-life? SPOILERS! Guess you’ll just have to click the button to find out. 😉

Find Out What It Is!
Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles, California
Santa Monica Beach is our favorite beach in California.
  • Who It’s For: Families who aren’t content with just chilling on the sand. There’s so much to do here!
  • Don’t Miss: Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier. This classic theme park is fun for everyone.

One of the most popular beaches in California, Santa Monica is not just a great base for beach holidays, but also for visiting LA. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in the area, places to eat, and hotels to stay in. The only criticism you could make is that this place gets a bit crowded. But if you can deal with that, then no worries! It is, after all, one of the best beaches in the United States.

This comfy private room is just 12 blocks from the beach – easy walking distance. If you want to cruise along the ocean front, you’ve also got somewhere to park your car for free!

HI Los Angeles - Santa MonicaBest Hostel – HI Los Angeles – Santa Monica

This hostel should be the first port of call for solo travellers in Santa Monica. There’s always something happening, and the friendly staff can help you organise tours of nearby attractions.

Hampton Inn and Suites Santa MonicaBest Hotel – Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Monica

Right on the beachfront, this affordable hotel is an excellent base for your Santa Monica beach break. You’re welcome to enjoy a free hot breakfast and a dip in the pool too!

Large premium studio by the beach, Santa Monica BeachBest Studio – Large premium studio by the beach

This cosy studio apartment boasts a fully equipped kitchen for those beach days when you’re wiped out and can’t even be bothered to head to one of the awesome local restaurants!

One of the most recognisable theme parks in the world, stroll down the midway with some candy floss as you search for the next thrilling ride to go on! [image credit]

Heal the Bay Aquarium, Santa Monica BeachHeal the Bay Aquarium

Just moments away from the Pacific Ocean, this aquarium has more than 100 species of marine life. Perfect for kids – especially in the unlikely event the weather isn’t perfect. [image credit]

Rusty's Surf Ranch, Santa Monica BeachRusty’s Surf Ranch

Serving casual food during the day and welcoming bands during the evening, this relaxed restaurant boasts good food and an even better atmosphere. [image credit]

introductory volleyball class

Play Volleyball

Learn the ropes of one of the most fun beach sports at this introductory volleyball class.

bike ride

Take a Ride

Stretch your legs and see the best that Santa Monica and nearby Venice Beach have to offer on a bike ride.

bar crawl

Go Bar-Hopping

Find out more about the best bars and nightlife in Sant

El Matador State Beach
  • Who It’s For: Those who want to get off the beaten track and fully appreciate California’s natural beauty.
  • Don’t Miss: Tacos and Seafood at nearby Malibu Seafood.

This beautiful beach is made up of three small coves with stunning rock formations. Your first introduction will be from the rugged cliff tops. Want to swim? You’ll need to head down a steep dirt trail to do so, but it’s so worth it to get into that water. If you come here outside of summer, you might even have the whole beach to yourself. What more could you want?! This is an easy sell as one of the top beaches in California.

This gorgeous apartment allows you to make the most of the stunning ocean views. Perfect for a couple or a small group of friends/family.

There are so many beautiful Airbnbs in Malibu!

Freehand Los Angeles, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Hostel – Freehand Los Angeles

Since El Matador is on the Pacific Highway, it’s tricky to find somewhere to stay nearby. However, the Freehand is one of the best hostels in Los Angeles, so why not stay there?!

Residence Inn Los Angeles Westlake Village, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Hotel – Residence Inn Los Angeles Westlake Village

In nearby Westlake Village, you can make use of a hot tub and indoor and outdoor pool if swimming at the beach isn’t quite enough for you!

Six Acre estate with infinity pool, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Villa – Six Acre estate with infinity pool

Meet the “if money were no object” Malibu mansion! If there are any Hollywood A-lister’s or premier league footballers reading this, you know where to stay!

Head a little inland to try some of the fine wines grown in the area and meet some wild animals!

Malibu Seafood

When it comes to fresh fish, you won’t find anywhere better than this. BYOB and settle down with your favourite seafood dish.

Charmlee Wilderness Park

Set on a bluff above the coast, Charmlee is the perfect spot for a picnic with views over some of the best beaches in California. There are more than eight miles of hiking trails too.

Alpacas and goats are just some of the cast that you’ll meet at one of the best-loved animal sanctuaries in California.

Go Hiking and Surfing

This will be a tiring but rewarding day for your legs as you combine surfing and hiking. It’s okay though; there’s wine at the end!

Make Cheese

Want to get a taste of Malibu before you visit? Why not make cheese with the help of a mama goat in the comfort of your own home!

exploding-suitcase-packing-cube-sack-plug-800x800.jpg

My missus travels with all her clothes in ziplock bags: don’t be like my missus. UP YOUR PACKING GAME!

Packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise its volume too so you can pack MORE.

Or, y’know… you can stick to ziplock bags.

View Our Fave Cubes Or Check Out the Sacks!
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
How beautiful is Pfeiffer Beach?
  • Who It’s For: Anyone looking to see one of the most awe-inspiring sights in California. Don’t forget your camera!
  • Don’t Miss: Keyhole Rock – the main focus of the beach. It’s an enormous natural arch that looks especially spectacular at sunset!

Hidden away in the Big Sur State Park, chances are you’ll need your own transport to get to this epic beach in California. But this spot is well worth the hassle of renting a car on your travels! You could be forgiven for thinking that the purple sand found here has transported you to the Mediterranean. And those rock formations with the waves crashing against them are just something else. Pfeiffer Beach is sure to boost your popularity on the Gram!

Want to stay on a working farm and wake up to the sounds of cows lowing and roosters crowing? This friendly farm welcomes guests, who leave as friends!

America's Best Value Presidents Inn, Pfeifer Beach, CaliforniaBest Hostel – America’s Best Value Presidents Inn

While there aren’t any hostels in Big Sur, this budget hotel is a superb alternative. Although it’s inexpensive, it boasts an outdoor pool!

Big Sur Lodge, CaliforniaBest Hotel – Big Sur Lodge

Get into Big Sur’s state park and stay in a lodge of the same name. You have a restaurant, pool, and bar on-site! This is one of the best places to stay in Big Sur.

Ocean view Sanctuary, CaliforniaBest Cabin – Ocean view Sanctuary

For somewhere to completely escape and disconnect from day to day life, you won’t do much better than this cabin. Ideal for a couple who want to create everlasting memories!

There’s not a lot surrounding Pfeiffer Beach, but this restaurant does exquisite food in nearby Big Sur Village. [image credit]

Big Sur Tap House, CaliforniaBig Sur Tap House

Fancy a beer? Grab one at this tap house – either at the bar or in the outdoor seating area. [image credit]

Redwood Deck

If you’re driving to Pfeiffer Beach, you may as well explore what else Big Sur has to offer. Redwood Deck is where you can view the tallest trees in the world!

Go biking

A car isn’t the only method of getting along Big Sur’s coastal road. Why not try it on a phat bike instead?

Meet honeybees, California

Watch How Honeybees Work

Meet honeybees at nearby Carmel By The Sea. You’ll be able to taste their honey too!

what's in the tidepools, California

Explore The Marine Life

Nearby Carmel is a great place to go wildlife watching. See what’s in the tidepools near town.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
  • Who It’s For: Looking for a boho vibe where anything goes? Venice Beach in California is the one for you!
  • Don’t Miss: Take some time away from the beach to stroll along Venice’s canals, which give the neighbourhood its name.

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the earlier mentioned Santa Monica Beach in LA, Venice is another of California’s most popular beaches. It’s also one of the most famous in the world! Check out the street art or just watch the locals running and biking along the promenade. It’s mad how quickly the time passes when you’re doing this! You’ll see crazy sights like rollerblading guitarists and chainsaw jugglers – to name a few.

Within walking distance of the bars of Venice Beach, this cool suite is everything you need for a short break away. If you fancy a night in, there’s a comfy sofa, TV, and books for guests to use.

Samesun Venice Beach, CaliforniaBest Hostel – Samesun Venice Beach

Right on the boardwalk with views of the Pacific Ocean, can you think of a better hostel in Venice Beach than this? If the location doesn’t sell it, the hospitality of the staff will!

The Kinney – Venice Beach, CaliforniaBest Hotel – The Kinney – Venice Beach

One of the coolest hotels on Venice Beach, the three-star Kinney is covered in street art. There’s also a fire pit, ping pong tables, and a heated pool where you can meet fellow travellers.

Hip Venice Experience, CaliforniaBest Tiny House – Hip Venice Experience

Modelled on an Airstream caravan, this tiny house has a garden and a private entrance. An unusual but romantic Venice Beach Airbnb.

Take care of yourself with the help of Moon Juice’s alchemists. They do some awesome cold-pressed juices!

Small World Books, CaliforniaSmall World Books

Find a mixture of independent prints with classic literature at this much-loved bookshop. Your next beach read is here! [image credit]

Venice Skate Park, CaliforniaVenice Skate Park

Watch the locals pull off some incredible moves on their skateboards. If you consider yourself a pro, why not have a go yourself?!

Learn to surf with the help of a professional instructor on one of the most iconic beaches in California!

scavenger hunt, California

Do a Scavenger Hunt

Stuck for ideas for your bachelorette party? Leave it in the hands of the professionals with a scavenger hunt!

limo ride, California

Arrive in Style

Feel like a superstar by taking a limo ride to some of the coolest clubs in Hollywood!

Point Lobos State Reserve Carmel by the Sea, California
We love how remote some of the beaches in California are.
  • Who It’s For: Those who want several options for their beach break in terms of activities.
  • Don’t Miss: Taking a hike along the coast and spotting all the seals.

Point Lobos State Reserve’s waters are quite cool and can be rough depending on the season, so it’s not ideal for swimming. However, for everything else, it gets a big tick! Hiking in the national park and watching wildlife are incomparable, and outdoor enthusiasts will love using this beach as the base for a day trip.

This cute and cosy cabin makes for a heavenly base for couples. It’s just off highway one and is within walking distance of restaurants, galleries, and shops.

HI Monterey, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Hostel – HI Monterey

This popular hostel in nearby Monterey is ideal for visiting Point Lobos State Park. It’s just five minutes from all the attractions in town, too!

Candle Light Inn, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Hotel – Candle Light Inn

This downtown Carmel hotel is within ten minutes of Point Lobos State Reserve. It’s an excellent option for digital nomads, as there’s a work desk and a small fridge.

Cathedral Redwood Studio with Loft, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Cottage – Cathedral Redwood Studio with Loft

This cottage is ideal if you want privacy. It’s on the edge of the state park at the end of a lane off Highway One. The views from the floor to ceiling windows are to die for!

Once the whaling station in the 19th century, this building has a whole lot of history, which you can learn about with a visit.

South Shore Trail, CaliforniaSouth Shore Trail

One of the many hiking trails in the state reserve, this one takes you along to the gorgeous Hidden Beach in California. [source: Serj Malomuzh (Shutterstock)]

Bird Island Lookout, CaliforniaBird Island Lookout

This overlook has views of two sandy beaches. You may even see seal pups here during the spring. [image credit]

golf experience

Want to practice your swing? Take this Nocal VIP golf experience!

scavenger hunt, Point Lobos, california

Do a Team Activity

See the sights of nearby Monterey in a fun and interactive way on a scavenger hunt!

food tourTake a Food Tour

Find the best places to eat in Monterey on a food tour through the old town.

Coronado Beach San Diego
We bet your kids will love Coronado Beach in California.
  • Who It’s For: Families looking to spend time paddling in the waves and having lots of space on the sand will be delighted with Coronado Beach.
  • Don’t Miss: Hotel del Coronado. The historic beachfront hotel is part of a very special group: it’s one of the only surviving examples of the American Victorian beach resort-style architecture.

Coronado Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego, California, and sits in the shadow of the second-largest wooden structure in the US – the Hotel Coronado. The supposedly haunted hotel has to have a spot on your San Diego itinerary! The beach is wider than most in California, and at 1.5 miles long, you’ll never have trouble finding a spot on the sand. If that’s not enough, there are a plethora of activities on offer here, including boogie boarding, volleyball, and tide-pooling!

Solo travellers looking for a homestay near Coronado Beach will not be disappointed with this private room. Enter through the garden into a 20s style Spanish home.

HI San Diego DowntownBest Hostel – HI San Diego – Downtown

Right in the heart of downtown San Diego, there are regularly free or cheap tours and activities on offer here. There’s also a games room where you can make the most of arcade games and a pool table!

El Cordova, CaliforniaBest Hotel – El Cordova

This Spanish village-style resort has four restaurants on-site, as well as gardens and boutique shops. Couples love this place!

Beautiful Beach Cottage in CoronadoBest Beach Cottage – Beautiful Beach Cottage in Coronado

This beautiful green cottage is the ideal base for a relaxing stay at Coronado Beach. The traditional Spanish architecture is a nice touch!

What says beach more than ice cream? Exactly. MooTime Creamery is probably the best in Coronado! [image credit]

Glorietta Bay Park Promenade

Take a walk along this promenade and see more of the San Diego Bay.

Coronado Ferry Center

This market gives you the chance to sample some delicious local seafood before shopping to your heart’s content.

bike, California

Want to cover the whole of Coronado Island in a day? A bike is the best way to do so!

trike, California

Explore on an Electric Trike

If you want a different kind of workout and some more stability, choose an electric trike tour instead!

Gaslamp Quarter, California

Take a Crime Tour

Learn about the grisly goings-on of the nearby Gaslamp Quarter on a true crime tour.

Huntington Beach, Orange County, California
Check out those waves!
  • Who It’s For: Surfers will be delighted with the challenging waves and the gorgeous evening sunsets.
  • Don’t Miss: The International Surfing Museum – it’s one of the coolest places to go on a rainy day.

In a state packed with great surfing spots, it’s hard to pick a favourite beach in California. However, since it’s also known as Surf City USA, we guess it will have to go to Huntington in Orange County. It’s where the US Open for surfing takes place annually, and it’s home to the International Surfing Museum. There’s more to the beach than surfing, though. It’s also a wonderful place to watch the sunset or bring the family – since there are lots of other activities on offer too!

Looking for privacy just a block from the beach? This studio boasts a sun deck, patio and entrance – all of which no-one else has access to.

Sea Rock Inn – Long Beach, CaliforniaBest Hostel – Sea Rock Inn – Long Beach

This motel doesn’t quite fit into the hostel category. However, it’s cheap, and there’s plenty of space to park your VW Camper. (Other vehicles to transport surfboards are available).

Huntington Surf Inn, California

Best Hotel – Huntington Surf Inn

You’ve got the surf beach, the surfing museum, and now the surfing hotel. Rooms come with a private bathroom and extra-large beds. Great for couples!

Private Cottage Downtown, CaliforniaBest Cottage – Private Cottage Downtown

Originally an early 20th-century carriage house, this comfortable California Airbnb has been repurposed with you in mind. There are two beach cruiser bikes at your disposal should you want to cover more distance in the neighbourhood.

This fun museum shows you the history of surfing and muses on its future. Its coolest attraction is the world’s largest surfboard! [image credit]

Huntington Beach PierHuntington Beach Pier

Looking for somewhere to eat or drink after a day of surfing? You have plenty of options on the pier!

Huntington Beach Symphony Orchestra

Musicians will be bowled over by the sheer amount of genres this orchestra performs. Check out a gig when you’re in town!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance for California

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It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.

There’s one travel insurance provider The Broke Backpacker trusts for all his wildest shenanigans… World Nomads!

Click the button below to get a quote on your insurance or read our in-depth review of World Nomads’ coverage. And then… let the shenanigans begin. 😉

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camping stove for backpackers

1. Backpacking Stove: If you want to cook your own food, either because you’re sick of takeout or want to save money, then you’ll need a cooking stove. Some campgrounds have fire pits with grills but I find these very inefficient. Campfires also may be outright banned as well if the fire season has been particularly bad that year, in which case you’ll definitely need your own stove.

I like the MSR Pocketrocket because it’s affordable, reliable, and very convenient.

Thermarest Prolite Plus Sleeping Pad for camping

2. Sleeping Pad: I really cannot sleep without some sort of camping pad. I’ve slept in some pretty rough campgrounds, full of rocks and roots, and my sleeping pad saved my life many times. The self-inflating sleeping mats, like the Thermarest Prolite, are my favorite, though people often settle for the foam ones.

Eno Hammock

3. Hammock: Taking a tent and pad on a road trip are not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy, and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Eno parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.

Matador NanoDry Packable Shower Towel

4. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

Headlamp

5. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.

Grayls Geopress Water Bottle

6. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl geopress is a true behemoth amongst water bottles acting as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.

AR Toiletry Bag

7. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.

Final Thoughts on the Best Beaches in California

Now that you’ve seen the best beaches in California, you’ll probably have a better idea of how to plan your trip. Whether you want to catch some waves on Huntington, enjoy Santa Monica with the family, or just soak up the coolness of Venice, there’s a California beach for you.

Make sure you set some time aside in California to visit more than just the beaches, though. Cross San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on your bike, see the wonders of Yosemite National Park, and be sure to take a drive along the coastline – perhaps you’ll stop off at some deserted beaches, too!

However you choose to spend your trip to California, we hope you have an amazing time. And remember to keep this post bookmarked so that you can find the best places to stay and things to do near your chosen California beach!

Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀

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20 CA Beach Towns Ranked As Best Places To Live In The U.S ...

31-03-2021 · Of ranked California towns, Newport Beach in Orange County ranked the highest, with Santa Monica in Los Angeles County coming in second with Carlsbad in San Diego County ranked behind them.

31-03-2021

CALIFORNIA — It's no surprise that 20 California beach towns landed among 50 of the best seaside towns ranked in the U.S. in a recent Stacker report. After all, the Golden State is known for its sprawling coastline and rolling surf.

Stacker gathered 2020 data from Wallethub to compare living in coastal towns across the country. Using six categories — affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life — Stacker ranked each beach town for livability.

Cities ranged in population from 10,000 to 150,000, but they had to have at least one local beach, according to Stacker.

Read Stacker's full methodology here.

Two states ranked the highest in the report: California and Florida as both of these sunny states feature dozens of coastal havens.

Of ranked California towns, Newport Beach in Orange County ranked the highest, with Santa Monica in Los Angeles County coming in second with Carlsbad in San Diego County ranked behind them.

Of the 50 best beach towns to live in, here are the 20 ranked in California:

- Total score: 60.0

- Affordability rank: #69

- Weather rank: #56

- Safety rank: #44

- Economy rank: #44

- Education & health rank: #12

- Quality of life rank: #13

- Total score: 59.9

- Affordability rank: #122

- Weather rank: #26

- Safety rank: #108

- Economy rank: #15

- Education & health rank: #29

- Quality of life rank: #3

#8. Carlsbad, California

- Total score: 58.9

- Affordability rank: #22

- Weather rank: #69

- Safety rank: #66

- Economy rank: #8

- Education & health rank: #19

- Quality of life rank: #27

#9. Encinitas, California

- Total score: 58.2

- Affordability rank: #24

- Weather rank: #66

- Safety rank: #36

- Economy rank: #21

- Education & health rank: #14

- Quality of life rank: #33

#11. Santa Barbara, California

- Total score: 58.0
- Affordability rank: #114

- Weather rank: #82

- Safety rank: #39

- Economy rank: #38

- Education & health rank: #74

- Quality of life rank: #6

#14. Laguna Beach, California

- Total score: 57.1

- Affordability rank: #83

- Weather rank: #53

- Safety rank: #75

- Economy rank: #29

- Education & health rank: #42

- Quality of life rank: #22

#16. San Clemente, California

- Total score: 56.4

- Affordability rank: #42

- Weather rank: #48

- Safety rank: #46

- Economy rank: #23

- Education & health rank: #15

- Quality of life rank: #52

#18. Hermosa Beach, California

- Total score: 56.2

- Affordability rank: #64

- Weather rank: #30

- Safety rank: #11

- Economy rank: #18

- Education & health rank: #47

- Quality of life rank: #39

#19. Seal Beach, California

- Total score: 56.2

- Affordability rank: #93

- Weather rank: #52

- Safety rank: #65

- Economy rank: #7

- Education & health rank: #4

- Quality of life rank: #59

- Total score: 55.3

- Affordability rank: #132

- Weather rank: #70

- Safety rank: #92

- Economy rank: #78

- Education & health rank: #49

- Quality of life rank: #5

#25. San Mateo, California

- Total score: 55.1

- Affordability rank: #130

- Weather rank: #18

- Safety rank: #47

- Economy rank: #3

- Education & health rank: #55

- Quality of life rank: #37

#26. Coronado, California

- Total score: 55.0

- Affordability rank: #43

- Weather rank: #74

- Safety rank: #16

- Economy rank: #62

- Education & health rank: #22

- Quality of life rank: #48

#27. Alameda, California

- Total score: 54.9

- Affordability rank: #81

- Weather rank: #81

- Safety rank: #58

- Economy rank: #6

- Education & health rank: #37

- Quality of life rank: #42

#28. Dana Point, California

- Total score: 54.6

- Affordability rank: #51

- Weather rank: #50

- Safety rank: #34

- Economy rank: #52

- Education & health rank: #66

- Quality of life rank: #45

- Total score: 54.4

- Affordability rank: #101

- Weather rank: #61

- Safety rank: #27

- Economy rank: #40

- Education & health rank: #59

- Quality of life rank: #36

#35. Morro Bay, California

- Total score: 54.1

- Affordability rank: #117

- Weather rank: #55

- Safety rank: #3

- Economy rank: #26

- Education & health rank: #34

- Quality of life rank: #58

#37. Goleta, California

- Total score: 53.7

- Affordability rank: #111

- Weather rank: #46

- Safety rank: #15

- Economy rank: #22

- Education & health rank: #32

- Quality of life rank: #66

#39. Manhattan Beach, California

- Total score: 53.6

- Affordability rank: #86

- Weather rank: #60

- Safety rank: #24

- Economy rank: #20

- Education & health rank: #65

- Quality of life rank: #64

#40. San Buenaventura (Ventura), California

- Total score: 53.5

- Affordability rank: #62

- Weather rank: #126

- Safety rank: #26

- Economy rank: #47

- Education & health rank: #39

- Quality of life rank: #32

- Total score: 52.6

- Affordability rank: #137

- Weather rank: #58

- Safety rank: #90

- Economy rank: #51

- Education & health rank: #69

- Quality of life rank: #19

#49. Pacifica, California

- Total score: 51.6

- Affordability rank: #72

- Weather rank: #17

- Safety rank: #59

- Economy rank: #27

- Education & health rank: #24

- Quality of life rank: #112

Quiet California Beach Towns - Best Hidden Coastal Cities

23-04-2021 · Read More Our Favorite Hidden Beaches In Northern California. Victoria. When it comes a beach vacation, Vic is the person who certainly has tips on where to go and what to do no matter it is a luxury tropical holiday, peaceful seaside getaway or a family trip to the ocean. She enjoys exploring new places, trying out various water sports and ...

23-04-2021

When traveling through California, there are so many things to explore and enjoy. There are coastal cities here that are must-see, however, don’t forget to stop at some of the quiet California beach towns. You will be absolutely amazed at all the things these charming places have to offer including beautiful views and friendly people. As a bonus, some of the best California beaches can also be found in these locations that you can explore without crowds!

Eureka

Eureka is certainly one of those hidden California beach towns that you have to make an effort to visit. It is strategically located between amazing redwood trees and the shoreline. When you stand in the middle of town, anywhere you look is breathtaking.

Kids playing at the beach eureka

You can enjoy a beautiful beach area, the Eureka Zoo, which has Red Pandas among its residents. Venture over to Sequoia Park and see some of the largest redwoods in the state.

Make sure that you take time to go into the downtown area. Here you will find amazing Victorian homes that are as stunning as they are unique. The downtown area is known for its arts district, unique shops, and great dining establishments.

Fort Bragg

Your California beach vacation would not be complete without stopping at Fort Bragg. The City of Fort Bragg is a little community with one of the most unique beaches in the world.

Pacific ocean at Fort Bragg

The most famous beach here is Glass Beach that is covered in sea glass of many different colors. It is amazing to see, and it is free to visit. You can even take a shimmering piece or two home if you like, but it is better to leave it there for others to enjoy.

Fort Bragg California glass beach

Take a ride on the “Skunk Train” through the redwoods, or have even more fun by taking a rail bike through the forest and hiking back on a trail that takes you through some of the largest redwoods in the world.

Mendocino

Mendocino is one of the smallest quiet California beach towns with a population of fewer than 900 people. But don’t let the size fool you. This small beach community has also been a favorite filming spot for movies and television programs because of its picturesque appearance and breathtaking coastline.

Houses in Mendocino CA

This town is home to a film festival each year and has an extensive artist community in the area. Visitors can enjoy museums, art galleries, and Russian Gulch State Park, a popular hiking destination where you can see a 36ft waterfall.

Mendocino coast

Families will sure to enjoy the Big River Beach area that is known as one of the most picturesque warm water beaches in California. Take time to hike through the redwoods or go kayaking with your kids for some quality time. Mendocino also has a few bed and breakfast locations and several unique shops and dining areas to enjoy.

Bodega Bay

The quiet California coastal town of Bodega Bay is most famous for its seafood. Home to a small fishing fleet, you can indulge in some of the most delicious fresh-caught seafood when you visit Bodega Bay.

The second thing you must do when you are in this area is visiting the Bodega Head Peninsula, part of the Bodega Bay Beach. Here you can whale watch throughout the year.

Bodega bay houses by the ocean

The fact that Bodega Bay belongs to the less crowded beach towns in California doesn’t mean that there Is nothing to do here. There are many bike and hiking trails in the area, and many people enjoy just walking the long coastline. It is a town that you must make an effort to visit, even if it is only to stop and look for whales.

Davenport

Davenport is one of those hidden California beach towns that no one knows by name, but everyone knows by picture. The beach area of Davenport is very rock and has many tide pools that you can explore.

However, the most famous part of this beach is Shark Fin Cove where a large rock jutting out of the ocean right offshore. It is one of the most often photographed rock structures in the world.

Davenport shark fin cove

Davenport is also one of those small beach towns in California where you feel like you already have been there, even if this is your first visit. It is a “beachy” town with cute shops and restaurants and an overall feel of relaxation. Also, make sure to visit some local wineries too that serve some of the state’s best wine!

Carmel by the Sea

When you feel to take a break from faster-paced, big towns, Carmel by the Sea is where you need to go! It is one of those quiet California beach towns that has almost stood still with time.

Carmel Mission Saint Junipero Serra - Carmel by the Sea

The historical town is most well known as an artist colony from the late 1800s and early 1900s and continues to cater to those who desire a peaceful setting to pursue their artistic talents.

Carmel beach - Carmel by the Sea

The beautiful beach area and amazing views make this place one of the most romantic beaches in California. When you are at Carmel by the Sea, you must visit one of the beautiful Spanish missions in the area, and you must go downtown to visit the small shops. The largest road that runs through Carmel by the Sea is SR 1, so you can imagine that it is the epitome of a quaint little town.

Capitola

Every beach trip should include a visit to Capitola! This small town is located at the end of Monterey Bay and has a Mediterranean feel. The Capitola Venetian Hotel is built right down to the sand and has multi-colored units that give the area a real charming appeal.

Colorful beach houses Capitola

The area is famous for being an art colony and continues to embrace these roots today. In the evenings you can enjoy walking along the brightly painted Venetian-inspired beach bungalows, watching movies on the beach, art shows, and twilight concerts.

You can also visit many different shops, dining areas, and outdoor recreation places. Capitola is a unique area and a place that everyone will enjoy.

Cayucos

Cayucos is one of those beaches in California that is often overlooked or bypassed because, at first glance, you cannot see the beauty from the road. However, if you take the time to stop and look, you will find the amazing Estero bay area that is worth spending a day enjoying.

Cayucos beach - California

The most prominent part of the place is the pier. You can go out on it and fish or enjoy the view. Surfers absolutely love Cayucos and try to keep the name under the radar so that only the locals can enjoy the perfect waves. When you visit the beach, make sure that you save some time to enjoy some fresh seafood at one of the area restaurants.

Carpinteria

Carpinteria is one of those underrated California beach towns that you do not want to miss during your vacation. It lies on the southeastern end of Santa Barbara County.

The city beach can almost be considered two separate beaches because of the distinct differences on each end. One end is very sandy and has calm waters perfect for swimming and sunbathing, while the other end has craggy rocks and big waves perfect for surfing.

Sunset over the ocean Carpinteria

You can see the sea lions and seals here during the winter months, and the tide pools are always filled with fascinating sea life year-round. Carpinteria is also the home of the California Avocado Festival, the only festival honoring avocados in the country.

SeaSpiration Tip: should you decide to visit the area, make sure to visit other secluded Santa Barbara beaches too!

Oxnard

Oxnard is a laid-back beach town in Ventura County just west of Los Angeles and has a beautiful sandy beach that extends almost five miles long with very mild waves, making it perfect for swimming. There are also places where you can play volleyball, BBQ, and picnic.

One of the best things about Oxnard that there is ample parking, and a majority of the parking is free. You can usually find great parking spaces throughout the day, so you can enjoy the town whenever you arrive.

Also, there are lots of outdoor activates available: you can walk around and explore amazing wildlife, and there is surf and paddleboard rental available at reasonable prices making this location one of the most affordable California beach towns to visit.

Boats in the canal in Oxnard CA

From the harbor you can easily access the Channel Islands National Park, one of the most famous national parks of the state. These protected five islands are home to unique plants and animals as well as archeological marvels that found nowhere else.

San Clemente

San Clemente is often referred to as the Spanish Village by the Sea. It is one of those quiet California beach towns that can only be described as truly California-esque. It is filled with mansions, missions, and everything in between. President Nixon even had a home here that was referred to as the Western White House.

San Clemente California beach town

There are several beach areas that you can access in the San Clemente area. Many of them -such as Trestles and T-Street- are popular with surfers because of the great waves. Others visit here to enjoy the pier and whale watch.

Whatever your reason for visiting San Clemente, make sure you go into town and enjoy the cultural center; it is housed in one of the most amazing structures on the West Coast.

SeaSpiration Tip: when in the area, explore some hidden San Diego beaches too if you wish to relax without crowds!

Encinitas

Encinitas is a more lively place, but still can be included among those quiet California beach towns that are worth to visit if you wish to spend a nice day by the sea. It’s famous for Swamis Beach that became known from the Beach Boys ‘Surfin’ song.

Beach in Encinitas

The overall appeal of Encinitas is that it has kept its 1960s surf town persona, and going here makes you feel that you moved back in time, even though so much of the area is modernized. It has something for everyone, from historical monuments to restaurants, farmer markets and wineries.

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Hidden California beach towns
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California Beach Cities

California Beach Cities Include Biggest Cities in State. From the mountains to the sea in California, the Pacific Ocean seems to be the edge of the world where the population of 32 million plus people simply stops. We are land of beach dwellers and beach lovers. The majority of California's population lives within 50 miles of the beach and five of the top 10 most populated cities are beach ...

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California Beach Cities Include Biggest Cities in State

From the mountains to the sea in California, the Pacific Ocean seems to be the edge of the world where the population of 32 million plus people simply stops. We are land of beach dwellers and beach lovers. The majority of California's population lives within 50 miles of the beach and five of the top 10 most populated cities are beach cities. As a tourists draw, beaches outrank Disneyland theme parks, as well.

Biggest beach cities include:

Los Angeles - Los Angeles is California's biggest beach city and also its biggest city overall, scouting over 3 million residents. Beaches such as San Pedro's Cabrillo Beach, Dockweiler, Venice and Marina del Rey. Los Angeles County itself, has many popular beach cities such as Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, Malibu, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance, El Segundo and Long Beach.

San Diego - Ranking 2nd biggest city in California for population, San Diego is known for its beaches that span miles and provide smiles. Mission Bay includes a massive, man built series of beaches, waterways and attractions and is one of the best known beach destinations in San Diego, but there are also several popular ocean-facing beaches. They include Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach and La Jolla. San Diego has a popular Dog Beach at Ocean Beach.

San Francisco - The state's 4th most populated city includes strikingly different beaches from its southern California counterparts. The beaches in San Francisco are generally smaller, colder, and yet equally popular as far as crowds go.

Long Beach - Once California's 5th most populated city till overtaken by Fresno, Long Beach beaches are mostly located along the Long Beach peninsula, Belmont Shore, Alamitos Beach and downtown Long Beach near the convention and hotel area next to a busy marina and tourist center. Long Beach has Rosey's Dog Beach at Granada Beach.

Does size matter?

Biggest cities would presumably have the biggest beaches, right? Not necessarily so. Sometimes a city finds its population concentrated among its hills that descend to the sea and thriving harbors such as San Francisco. Top tourist beaches can be in cities where populations are not as large. Though no precise numbers have been divulged, top visitor beaches in the California parks systems can be found in Huntington Beach, for instance, with a population of only around 20o,o00.

San Diego Beach Cities:

Imperial Beach, Coronado, San Diego, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside

Orange County Beach Cities:

San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Surfside, Seal Beach

Los Angeles Beach Cities:

Long Beach, Los Angeles (San Pedro), Rancho Palos Verdes, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, El Segundo, Santa Monica and Malibu

Ventura County Beach Cities:

Port Hueneme, Oxnard and Ventura

Santa Barbara County Beach Cities:

Summerland, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Lompoc, Guadalupe, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach

San Luis Obispo County Beach Cities:

San Luis Obispo (Avila Beach), Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon


MONTEREY COUNTY
Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive

SAN DIEGO COUNTY


Ocean Beach
Oceanside Beach Bonfires in Oceanside, California
Oceanside Beach Camping, Oceanside, CA
Pacific Beach California City of San Diego
Swami's Surfing in San Diego, California

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY


San Simeon, CA beaches - Picture of two elephant seals at
San Simeon Elephant Seal Rookery Near Beaches at Piedras Blancas

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
Guadalupe Beach Central Coast Things to Do
Guadalupe Bridge on California Central Coast
Guadalupe Path to the Guadalupe Bridge and Beach

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY

Greyhound Rock near Davenport
Scott Creek Beach

Northern California Oceanfront places are equally incredible and range from Santa Cruz to Eureka, Crescent City and the north.

21 Best Beaches in California (2022) Top Beach Spots!

Newport Beach, CA 92603 (949) 644-3309. Stretching for 10 miles along Orange County’s coast, this coastal city is well-known for its consistent waves and first-rate beaches. Why We Recommend This Beach. Newport is home to some of the best beaches in California.

You’ll find this hidden gem and its eye-catching purple sands in Big Sur.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Searching for Instagrammable California beaches? Do yourself a favor, and put this beach at the top of your list of the best things to do in California. Filled with awe-inspiring views, this beach has extensive shorelines covered by stunning rock formations and towering bluffs.

And, did we mention that it’s home to the photogenic Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock?

Expert Tip

Visit Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock at sunset, and be enthralled by its magical views. Also, don’t forget to pack a jacket since the beach can get pretty windy.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Big Sur River Inn

Related: Best Beaches in Big Sur

4. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach
Coronado, CA 92118

Stretching for 1.5 miles, this wide beach near San Diego sparkles and dazzles with its golden sands.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Coronado is one of the most popular and best beaches in California for families. With its calm waters and gentle surf, it’s the safest beach for kids in the area. Plus, the beach has legendary sunset vistas and sparkling sands.

Expert Tip

Make your beach trip even more memorable by staying at the historic Hotel del Coronado. Set right along the beautiful shore, this resort blends golden-era splendor with idyllic charm.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton

Related: Places to Eat: Coronado, CA

Related: Best Beaches in San Diego

Related: Best Beaches in Southern California

5. Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park

8471 N Coast HwyLaguna Beach, CA 92651

(949) 494-3539

Open since 1979, this 3,936-acre state park offers 3 miles of superb beaches.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Crystal Cove State Park offers a fantastic nature escape with its numerous beaches and tide pools. What’s more, the park has more than 17 miles of nature trails that are perfect for hiking.

Expert Tip

Stop by Pelican Point and Moro Beach, to experience the park’s finest beaches.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas

6. Carmel Beach

carmel beach

Ocean Ave & San Antonio AveCarmel, CA 93923

(831) 624-2522

Resting on the state’s Central Coast, this 1-mile-long hideaway is a terrific place to play and relax.

Why We Recommend This Beach

With its turquoise waters and white sand shoreline, this strip is one of the prettiest beaches in California. After taking in the shore’s beauty, you can make your way to Carmel town, and check out its boutiques and local eateries.

Expert Tip

Carmel is a lovely and scenic place to visit at night. So, stay until evening, and catch its exquisite sunset.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: The Getaway

Related: Best Places to Visit in California

7. Natural Bridges State Beach

natural bridges state beach

Natural Bridges State BeachSanta Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 423-4609

Set in Santa Cruz, this 65-acre state park will unleash your inner shutterbug with its irresistible natural beauty.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach is an absolute must see in California. With its awe-inspiring geological formations and intimate ambiance, this beach will give you a pleasant experience. Plus, it features a preserve that provides a sanctuary of monarch butterflies.

Expert Tip

Don’t miss the opportunity to see its notable and picture-perfect arch rock. Visit it during sunset when it becomes even more scenic.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Casablanca Inn on The Beach

8. La Jolla

la jolla

La Jolla
San Diego, CA 92037

Located in San Diego, this seaside, hilly neighborhood occupies 7 miles along the Pacific Ocean coastline.

Why We Recommend This Beach

The most enticing neighborhood in San Diego offers an enviable coastline and ample opportunities for adventure. La Jolla Shores, the area’s primary beach, is also the best beach for swimming in California, with its warm, spotless and calm waters.

Expert Tip

Spice up your beach escape by hitting the trails at the Torrey Pines Gliderport or Torrey Pines State Park.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Pantai Inn

Related: Best Beaches in La Jolla

9. Point Reyes National Seashore

point reyes national seashore

Point Reyes , CA 94956
(415) 464-5137

Founded in 1962, this park preserve encompasses 71,028 acres on the Point Reyes Peninsula.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Point Reyes is a prime spot for outdoor adventures, with its secluded landscapes, diverse wildlife and picturesque trails. Of course, it offers superb beaches with incredible views of bluffs and cliffs, like Drakes Beach and Great Beach.

Expert Tip

Swimming isn’t recommended here since it has constant rip currents and freezing waters. Still, the park will entertain you in so many ways. For instance, you can admire its natural grandeur, join a ranger-led program and hike its postcard-worthy trails.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Olema House at Point Reyes

10. Hermosa Beach

hermosa beach

Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
(310) 318-0204

Home to over 90 acres of public beaches, this seafront Los Angeles County city is a Californian treasure.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Hermosa is sure to satisfy beach goers of all kinds. Whether you’re in the mood for surfing, lounging or sightseeing, you’ll find your beach bliss in this city. Additionally, these beaches teem with amenities, such as showers, restrooms and volleyball courts.

Expert Tip

Visit the city’s beach boardwalk, the Strand, and the Hermosa Beach Pier, which is 1,140 feet long. Besides its stellar sunset views, these spots are also lively and full of facilities.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: The Beach House at Hermosa

11. East Beach

east beach

533-587 E Cabrillo Blvd
Santa Barbara, CA 93103

With free parking and immaculate sands, East Beach is by far Santa Barbara’s best ocean strand.

Why We Recommend This Beach

East Beach is the undisputed star of Santa Barbara’s glamorous shorelines. With its gentle waters and spacious shore, the beach is a prime spot for families with younger children. Moreover, it offers a slew of activities, including beach volleyball.

Expert Tip

After a day of non-stop tanning and swimming, chill at the nearby waterfront park. Then, head to Stearns Wharf, and relish the admirable vistas of the beaches as well as the mountains flanking it.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Santa Barbara Inn

Related: Best Family Vacations in California

12. Manhattan Beach

manhattan beach

Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 802-5000

Sitting 20 miles away from Los Angeles, this South Bay community is a mecca for shopping, sun and surf.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Manhattan is an easy-going alternative for those who want to escape the crowds in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Not to mention, it has sands as soft as the beaches in Hawaii. And, best of all, it has plenty of water sports, including paddle boarding, kayaking and surfing.

Expert Tip

Take a break from the salty and sunny fun, and make your way to the city’s charming downtown. Once there, enjoy a leisurely stroll around the area, and grab a bite to eat at Fishing With Dynamite or Nick’s Manhattan Beach.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: The Belamar Hotel Manhattan Beach, Tapestry by Hilton

13. Santa Monica Beach

santa monica beach

Ocean Ave at Colorado AveSanta Monica, CA 90401

(310) 458-8300

While it’s just 3 miles long, this beloved state beach overflows with activities for everyone.

Why We Recommend This Beach

No list of the top beaches in California is complete without this world renowned strip. For years, this sunny Californian stretch has been drawing visitors with its legendary sunsets, vibrant beach and iconic pier.

Expert Tip

Soak up the lively feel of the beach by cycling the area’s bike path. You may also surf, sunbathe or play some beach volleyball. Afterward, cap off your day on a high note by admiring the glorious sunset from the pier’s roller coaster.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Casa Del Mar

Related: Best Beaches Near Santa Monica

14. Pismo Beach

pismo beach

Pismo Beach, CA 93448

Located halfway between LA and San Francisco, this waterfront city impresses visitors with its tantalizing natural landscapes.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Pismo Beach is the ultimate antidote to your frenzied lifestyle. Though there’s not much to do here, it will rejuvenate your spirit with its serene feel and outstanding landscapes. From jagged seaside cliffs to sand dunes, this city will leave you in awe with its natural wonders.

Expert Tip

Pitch a tent on a scenic campground, and take advantage of the region’s prime weather. Additionally, camping is an excellent way to skip the exorbitant hotel costs.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Inn at the Pier

Related: Best Beaches in Pismo Beach

15. Catalina Island

catalina island

Santa Catalina Island, CA 90704

Part of California’s Channel Islands, this hideaway is situated about 21 miles off SoCal’s coast.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Accessible only by private aircraft or high-speed ferry, this island is perfect for solitude and seclusion. With remarkable sunsets, white sand beaches and swaying palms, this island will give you an island getaway for the ages.

Expert Tip

Add an element of adventure to your trip by going on a paddle boarding or kayaking adventure at Descanso Beach. You may also stop by the Catalina Island Conservancy for an exhilarating jeep tour.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Aurora Hotel

Related: Best Beaches in Catalina Island

16. Monterey

monterey

Monterey, CA 93940 Monterey

Founded originally in 1770, this central coast city sits at Monterey Bay’s southern end.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Monterey isn’t exactly abundant in swimmable holes and shorelines. But, guess what? It has awesome coastal scenery that makes jaws drop. A can’t-miss here is Fort Ord Dunes State Park, which offers 4 miles of serene beaches and stunning, towering dunes.

Expert Tip

Go on a picturesque road trip along the 17-mile Drive or Ocean View Boulevard. These routes pass by small beaches that will snatch your breath away with its heavenly beauty. Our favorite here is the Lovers Point Park and Beach.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa

Related: Restaurants: Monterey, California

Related: Best Beaches in Monterey

17. Huntington Beach

huntington beach

Huntington Beach, CA
(714) 536-1454

Sandwiched between the Pacific and Highway One, “Surf City” is often voted as one of America’s beach beaches.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Huntington Beach provides an epic SoCal seaside experience, with its sandy shores, classic boardwalk and million-dollar views. For active travelers, the beach offers ample opportunities for surfing, swimming and beach sports.

Expert Tip

Start your day on the right foot by enjoying a hearty and delicious breakfast at Sugar Shack Cafe. Located in downtown, this family-operated joint will appease your taste buds with its French toast and breakfast burritos.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa

18. Half Moon Bay

half moon bay

Half Moon Bay , CA 94019

Situated 25 miles away from San Francisco, this coastal city features a series of outstanding beaches.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Half Moon Bay has big and splendid beaches that will fascinate travelers of all stripes. And, in Half Moon Bay, you can spend weeks hitting exceptional hideaways, such as Francis Beach, Dunes Beach, Tunitas Creek, Martins and Cowell Ranch.

Expert Tip

Want to enjoy scores of breathtaking panoramas of the area? Do yourself a favor, and go on a hiking escapade along the California Coastal Trail.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Half Moon Bay Lodge

Related: Best Beaches in Northern California

Related: Best Beaches in San Francisco

19. El Matador State Beach

el matador state beach

32350 Pacific Coast HwyMalibu, CA 90265

(818) 880-0363

Filled with dramatic rocks, birds and sea caves, this state beach is the best kept secret of Malibu.

Why We Recommend This Beach

With its rugged coastal landscapes and low-key vibe, this state beach feels like a world away from Malibu’s luxury hotels. As you visit this beach, you’ll be swept away by its picturesque ocean caves, numerous tide pools and secluded charm.

Expert Tip

El Matador is located along the Pacific Coast Highway, and is part of the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. And, if you drive a bit further from the beach, you’ll find 2 more pocket beaches and beautiful shorelines.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club

Related: Best Family Hotels in California

20. Santa Cruz

santa cruz

Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Sitting in west-central California, this sunny seaside city boasts 29 miles of majestic beaches.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Santa Cruz beckons sun seekers and photographers with its laid-back and striking beaches. For a pleasurable escape, experience the city like a local by taking things slow and hitting top beaches, like Main beach and Pleasant Point.

Expert Tip

You may pay a few bucks to get an up close look of marine animals at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. But, you can spot some wildlife, like sea lions and birds, without spending a dime at Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Dream Inn Santa Cruz

Related: Best Beaches in Santa Cruz

21. Newport Beach

newport beach

Newport Beach, CA 92603
(949) 644-3309

Stretching for 10 miles along Orange County’s coast, this coastal city is well-known for its consistent waves and first-rate beaches.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Newport is home to some of the best beaches in California. In fact, it draws millions of visitors every year, thanks to its beloved seaside spots, like Newport Municipal beach and Corona del Mar State Beach. If you’re an experienced surfer, you’ll also love the Wedge in Newport Beach.

Expert Tip

To save money on accommodations, avoid waterfront lodging and stay inland. Sure, the oceanfront views from a seaside hotel are totally breathtaking, but it will cost a ton of money.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Balboa Bay Resort

Related: Best Beaches in Newport Beach

Map of Beaches in California

List of image sources

21 Best California Beaches for 2022

best beaches in california
12 Best Beach Towns in California - A Local's Guide

16-11-2021 · Mendocino is One of The Best Northern California Beach Towns. Scenic Highway 128 winds you through towering redwoods, past lakes, wineries and restaurants until you eventually reach the remote, rocky coastline for which Mendocino is known. Honestly, getting to Mendocino, through Anderson Valley is half the fun.Pennyroyal Farm is a must visit. See their cheesemaking …

16-11-2021

What’s better than a radiant sunny day with the wind in your hair as you drive along the California coast? Traveling from one beach town to the next is the ultimate summer dream. Some of the prettiest coastal towns in California, are names you’ve heard like Malibu and Santa Barbara. Others may be less familiar, but one thing is for sure, visiting all the California beach towns on this list, will make the best trip ever.

Why should you listen to me? I’m a California native. You’re getting the real deal here – not the tourist advice to go to Santa Monica Pier. I want you to love California as much as I do. This group of 11 handpicked, amazing coastal towns in California is where you can meet the friendly locals and see what it would be like to live and vacation in the Golden State.

If you’re planning a trip to California, you’ll find the Best Scenic Drives in Los Angeles and the 15 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting LA really helpful. Glamping in the Big Sur Redwoods and 13 Prettiest Southern California Beaches are also great for making the most of your time by the coast.

Prettiest California Coastal Towns

Best Time to Visit California Coastal Towns

California’s predictably agreeable weather is enveloped by fog in part of May and most of June near the coast. June gloom, is the chilly Pacific Ocean’s stubborn reaction to the onset of warm summer days. As soon as the ocean soaks up part of the heat, the cloud cover disappears and all is well in July and August. Northern California typically has more fog by the coast. The warmest, sunniest and driest months to visit are August – October. Blissful beach days often last well into December, especially in Southern California.

The Top 12 Beach Towns in California

Heading from the north to the south, the coastal landscape will transition gradually from a rugged, windswept look to welcoming, wide, white sand beaches. These areas have coastal towns that feel like the perfect match for their location.

Prettiest California Coastal Towns Mendocino

Mendocino is One of The Best Northern California Beach Towns

Scenic Highway 128 winds you through towering redwoods, past lakes, wineries and restaurants until you eventually reach the remote, rocky coastline for which Mendocino is known. Honestly, getting to Mendocino, through Anderson Valley is half the fun. Pennyroyal Farm is a must visit. See their cheesemaking process and sample the goods with a glass of their delightful wine. Another highlight is Roederer Estate with award winning bubbly that competes with the finest Champagne.

Visit one or a few of the picturesque state parks in the area. Russian Gulch State Park has trails to a stunning waterfall and an impressive sinkhole created by an ocean tunnel. Hendy Woods State Park and Mendocino Headlands State Park are also worth a visit. Garden enthusiasts will love the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens at Fort Bragg that peak with blooms toward the end of summer. Kiddos will get a thrill out of taking the Skunk Train through the redwoods.

There’s so much to do in this area. Don’t forget the pretty beaches like Glass Beach or Jug Handle Beach or shopping in adorable Mendocino town. Get lunch at the Good Life Cafe & Bakery. Hotel: The Harbor House Inn (9.7 and their restaurant has a Michelin star) or Glamping: Mendocino Grove (9.1)

California Coastal Towns Sausilito

Sausalito Has An Awesome View of San Francisco Bay

Any trip to San Francisco should include a walk or dive over the Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side, you’ll find prettiest California coastal town of Sausalito. Right after you cross the bridge, on the Marin County side of the bay, you’ll find multiple places to get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Towards the ocean are fantastic Golden Gate Bridge views in the Marin Headlands. Towards Sausalito, there are terrific San Francisco city views.

Bustling downtown Sausalito is a fun place to shop and have lunch or dinner. Copita’s patio dining is perfect for people watching while you indulge on yummy tacos and margaritas. For a fun activity, you can rent bikes and ride to other places in Marin. From a quick cruise down the Sausalito boardwalk to a bigger ride to Muir Woods redwood forest. Hotel: Waters Edge (9.4)

Prettiest California Coastal Towns Capitola

Capitola is One of the Warmest Beaches in Northern California

A lively little town, 10 minutes south of Santa Cruz, with restaurants, boutiques, colorful houses and beaches is off the radar for most people. It would be such a shame to miss Capitola because it was eclipsed by the bigger towns surrounding it. Capitola Beach, positioned at the center of town is a great place to spend the day. New Brighton State Beach, popular with campers, has long stretches of undisturbed beach where you can walk and play.

Nearby you’ll find Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It’s a great place to hike or mountain bike ride in the redwoods. Stay here for a beach weekend or just stop by on a drive down the California coast. It’s well positioned between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Hotel: Dream Inn Santa Cruz (8.8) or Historic Capitola Beach Cottage

Prettiest California Towns Carmel

Carmel-by-the-Sea is the Artsy Northern California Beach Town

Carmel is a much-loved beach town in Northern California. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, this is the spot for you. Stroll though the cobblestone streets of Carmel’s village perusing little boutiques, wine tasting shops, art galleries and restaurants. Let a lazy day overtake you by sitting at a cafe with a great book or breathing in the salty beach air at Carmel Beach, found at the end of Ocean Avenue.

Spend a leisurely half day driving the stunning coastline of 17 Mile Drive and stopping for lunch. This scenic route in and around Carmel showcases sweeping views of the Pacific ocean and jagged coastline. Carmel Mission Basilica, founded in 1770 is an opportunity to step into California’s historic past. Many a wedding is held at this beautifully restored mission, where you can attend a mass, view the museum’s collection and tour Saint Junipero Serra’s living quarters. Hotel: Candle Light Inn (9.2) to be in the center of town or Carmel Valley Ranch (9.0)

Prettiest California Coastal Towns Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara May Be The Best California Beach Town to Live In

Santa Barbara is definitely one of prettiest California coastal towns. Start your visit in the middle of town on State Street and Paseo Nuevo, the outdoor mall. You’ll find great clothing stores, restaurants, bars, galleries and so much more. Filled with Spanish style colonial buildings, you will want to set aside a minimum of 2-3 hours to walk around and enjoy this laid back, picturesque town.

Don’t miss the Santa Barbara County Courthouse right in town. They have a 360 degree view from the top of the clock tower and it’s probably the prettiest courthouse you’ll ever see. Many couples take wedding photos in front of this historic building and others enjoy the beautiful garden for picnics. You can also take a free tour or the courthouse and garden.

To take in more of the beach, go to Stearn’s Wharf for a stroll along the coast. It’s specially pretty at sunset. Bring inflatable kayaks or surfboards and enjoy the Pacific Ocean. If you are a newbie to the world of surfing or SUP, there are a lot of other beginners here so go have a blast. Then enjoy a seafood lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants. Hotel: Hotel Californian (8.9) or The Ritz-Carlton Bacara (8.3)

Summerland California Coastal Town

Summerland is the Littlest Coastal Town in California

Summerland is the cutest little town you’ll ever see. It’s bustling downtown area is 3 blocks filled with cute shops and boutiques. But don’t let Summerland’s small size fool you – the shops here are top notch. Explore antique stores, home decor shops, clothing stores and more – even if you aren’t looking for anything in particular chances are you will find something that catches your eye!

For home decor, don’t miss these swoon worthy stores – Porch, The Well Summerland, Botanik and Garde. For a delicious meal, try the Summerland Beach Cafe. Field and Fort, is the best of both worlds with a delicious restaurant and a shop. They will also pack a picnic lunch that you can take to Lookout Park and walk down to Summerland Beach.

Summerland’s glitzy neighboring town of Montecito is a must visit. Go for drinks and appetizers at the Rosewood Miramar Hotel’s Beach Bar. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset and you can walk down the stairs to the beach. Butterfly Beach is another dreamy spot to lay out a towel and enjoy the sun. Hotel: Inn on Summer Hill (8.9)

Carpenteria California Beach Town

Carpenteria is One of the Cutest Towns in California

Carpenteria is a small city in Santa Barbara County, home to the state’s largest salt marsh and plenty of shops and restaurants. With an easy-going beach town vibe, people fall in love with Carpenteria. Whether you want to relax by the beach, explore nature preserves or grab a drink with friends, Carpinteria will be a perfect getaway from your busy life. 

One of the biggest draws to this town is Carpenteria State Beach when you can have fun in the sun and maybe see dolphins swim by! On your way to the beach, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park, a 230-acre estuary, is home to coastal wildlife and plants. There are trails that run throughout the park so it’s perfect for hiking, strolling or even biking.

Another beautiful spot with ocean views is the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. It’s great for a short easy hike. There’s also an amazing Seal Sanctuary and Tar Pits Park nearby that kids will love.

In town, there are lots of cute boutiques and several coffee shops and restaurants to keep you busy for the entire afternoon. Definitely try Padaro Beach Grill, Teddy’s By The Sea, Sushi Teri, Rincon Brewery, and Siam Elephant Thai Restaurant. Hotel: Inn on Summer Hill (8.9), Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn (8.0) or Carpenteria Beach House

Prettiest California Coastal Towns Malibu

Malibu is Home to Some of the Top California Beaches

Malibu, the most notorious beach town in California, can be found on our favorite Los Angeles scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway. Known for its gorgeous coastline, trendy stores, cafes, restaurants and famous residents, Malibu is a great place to spend the day.

Start with breakfast at Malibu Farm at the end of the Malibu Pier. It has flawless views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. While they serve food all day, the totally yummy, organic eatery it’s much less crowded and fun at breakfast. Practically next door, take a tour of Adamson House, a historic estate and garden set on an incredible piece of beachfront property.

Surfrider beach, one of the most popular surf spots is right in front. Surfing in Malibu should definitely be on your California bucket list. You can rent a surfboard, a stand up paddle board (SUP) or just body surf. There is an area with the perfect beach experience for you whether it’s surfing, sun bathing or building sand castles.

Some of the best shopping and restaurants in Malibu are found right in the center at the Malibu Country Mart. If you want to get the local experience, have lunch at John’s Garden, a Malibu staple for more than 30 years. Grab a spot at the picnic tables and take in the relaxed atmosphere. You should also check out The Real Coconut, a new restaurant to Malibu that has it’s original location in Tulum. Nobu Malibu is famous for their sushi. Peruse all the cool California boutiques after your yummy meal. Hotel: Malibu Beach Inn (9.1) or The Surfrider Malibu (9.2)

Things to do in Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is the Quintessential California Surf Town

If you are looking for a fun, super chill, Southern California beach day, look no further than Manhattan Beach. It’s one of the prettiest and friendliest coastal towns in California. Ride your bike or take a walk down the Strand where residents and visitors fill the beaches with fun activities like volleyball, surfing, swimming and more.

Manhattan Beach Boulevard is filled with trendy shops and delectable restaurants. Here are 7 Fun Things to do in Manhattan Beach for a perfect day trip itinerary. After shopping, walk straight down Manhattan Beach Boulevard to the pier. There’s a cute little, free aquarium at the end of the pier if you have kids. Skip the crazy tourist filled beaches of Santa Monica and Venice, and opt for a day in Manhattan Beach instead. Hotel: The Belamar (8.3)

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is the Artsy Southern California Beach Town

Laguna Beach is one of the best California coastal towns. Located in Orange Country, just outside of Los Angeles, it’s a great place for a weekend getaway. The highlight here is the Pacific ocean and some of the prettiest beaches in California. 1,000 steps beach and Victoria Beach are must-sees! You’ll also find great tide pools if you love strolling around the beach and finding fun creatures. Surfing, kayaking, SUP, snorkeling and other ocean sports are favorites for locals and visitors alike.

For other fun outdoor pursuits, take advantage of the hiking in Alta Laguna Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Crystal Cove State Park where you can see unbelievable views from the 5 mile El Moro Canyon Loop Trail. There is also a shorter version that is 2.9 miles. Wait until you see the sunset from this vantage point!

Another huge draw to the area is the art scene. There is a monthly First Thursday’s Art Walk from 6-9pm that makes a fun night out followed by dinner. Laguna also hosts the wildly popular Pageant of the Masters and the Festival of Fine Arts Show. Not to be outdone by the others, the Sawdust Art Festival is a summer long outdoor marketplace that rotates exhibits from 100 artists. This town loves it’s art and art enthusiasts love Laguna. Hotel: Montage Laguna Beach (8.9) or Hotel Joaquin (8.9)

Prettiest California Coastal Towns La Jolla

La Jolla is One of the Best Beach Cities in California

La Jolla is a stunning, upscale beach town in San Diego. Once you step foot here, you’ll never want to leave! Being that La Jolla is situated right on the coast, you’d be missing out if you didn’t explore and relax on the warm, sunny beaches of Southern California. La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores are two of the best. Scripps beach is also fun with a great pier and wide sandy area. There are other incredible Southern California Beaches right nearby and you will be kicking yourself if you miss them.

La Jolla has a very unique coastline with multiple sea caves. Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave is a small store with an entrance to an underground staircase and a tunnel until you reach the water. Another option is to take a 2 Hour Kayak Tour of 7 Sea Caves. It’s a great way to get out on the water and explore this distinctive part of the California coast.

After fun on the beach or by the pool, take a stroll down Prospect Avenue for boutique shopping, art shops, clothing stores, cafes and restaurants. There’s a whole downtown area that can keep you busy for a few hours of window shopping. There is so much to see. Hotel: La Valencia Hotel (8.3)

California is so diverse and there are so many amazing towns to explore. No matter what you do on your California trip, these 11 prettiest California coastal towns won’t steer you wrong. If you have any additional questions, feel free to comment below. I’m confident you’ll love these West Coast towns just as much as we do!

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Here, the best beach towns in Southern California. RELATED: The 12 Most Charming Small Towns in California. Editor’s note: Please remember to mask up and follow social distancing protocols while traveling and be sure to check up on the town’s health and safety guidelines before you go. Photo by Cecilia Rosell, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara 1. Butterfly Beach, Montecito. This strip of ...

15 Best Northern California Coastal Towns to Visit!

09-06-2021 · 4) Monterey. Millionaire yachts, yummy seafood restaurants, whales and the mother of all aquariums – welcome to Monterey! Monterey is one of the best Northern California beach towns to visit. To reach Monterey, you drive about 95 miles north up the coast from San Simeon. Theoretically, that should take about 2.5 hours.

09-06-2021

Who’s ready for a road trip?

Not the boring kind along endless highways. We’re talking about a road trip to the most amazing Northern California coastal towns.

Unlike the clear blue waters of the Pacific Ocean – which these coastal towns hug – the borderline between Southern California and Northern California is pretty muddy.

However, the one thing about the Northern California coast that everyone can agree on is the natural beauty. It’s unparalleled and prime for a summer road trip (a spring or fall road trip too).

You'll see plenty of gorgeous views like this when driving up the Northern California coast.
You’ll see plenty of gorgeous views like this when driving up the Northern California coast

Everyone knows Los Angeles. And we all love San Francisco. How could you not?

But when you want to explore a bit more off-the-beaten-path, you need to check out these 15 best beach towns in Northern California.

Best Northern California coastal towns

Adorable Northern California Coastal Towns

Our tour begins south and winds its way north.

California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway (also called Highway 1) actually begins just north of San Diego and winds all the way up the coast, a little beyond Mendocino. There, it merges with Highway 101 before crossing over into Oregon.

We start our road trip in Northern California in Morro Bay (3 hours north of Los Angeles) and end near the Oregon border, in a village you’ve probably never heard of.

There are great Northern California beach towns to check out on this coastal road trip

1) Morro Bay

Go kayaking in Morro Bay and chances are you'll see lots of sea lions!
Go kayaking in Morro Bay and chances are you’ll see lots of sea lions!

Morro Bay is a charming little coastal town of about 11,000. The bay is a protected harbor and marine sanctuary, so its wildlife spotting opportunities are endless. 

Depending on when you visit, you can go on a whale watching expedition to spot humpbacks, gray whales, blue whales, orcas and, of course, dolphins.

If that’s not enough, saunter along the historic Embarcadero, and you’ll probably see otters and sea lions playing in the waves. If you want to get up close and personal to them, rent a kayak and before you know it, you’ll be watching them frolic around you.

For casual waterfront dining on the Embarcadero, try the clam chowder, fish tacos or sea scallops at Tognazzini’s Dockside. Or enjoy the heated patio at Galley Seafood Grill and Bar, with a picture-perfect view of the bay (go for the blackened halibut special if on the menu).

Also head over to the Morro Bay State Park for bird spotting in the brackish water marshes. Then, test your flying skills by windsurfing in the Morro Strand State Beach, or check out the Museum of Natural History.

Morro Bay is the perfect place to start your tour of beach towns in Northern California.

2) Cayucos

Big on surfing, Cayucos is a mellow little beach town in Northern California.
Big on surfing, Cayucos is a mellow little beach town in Northern California

Just 9 minutes north of Morro Bay is Cayucos, a tiny town of about 2,600 people.

Now, it may be small, but this quaint coastal town is big on personality – and one of the cutest Northern California beach towns. It’s like stepping back in time.

One of the best things to do in Cayucos is stroll along the 950-foot wooden pier, lined by fisherman vying for the daily catch.

Surf’s up!

When the surf's up in Cayucos, surfers in wetsuits make their way to the water to ride the waves.
When the surf’s up in Cayucos, surfers in wetsuits make their way to the water to ride the waves

As a quintessential beach town, Cayucos is also an excellent place to get your surf on. Or, at the very least, take a lesson or two.

Try the Good Clean Fun surf shop; lessons include a wetsuit, which you’ll definitely need!

Antiques and murals:

Cayucos is Americana at its finest.

So it’s a great town for antique shopping. Twice a year, usually around May and October, there are antique fairs. Plan your trip accordingly if you’re a collector.

One unique thing about Cayucos is the collection of large murals peppering walls throughout the town. The town is only five square miles, so it’s ideal for a self-guided Cayucos mural tour.

The Cayucos murals display everything from Wild West scenes to waterscapes.
The Cayucos murals display everything from Wild West scenes to waterscapes

Cayucos cookies:

Don’t leave Cayucos without buying some cookies from the Brown Butter Cookie Company.

They built their reputation on their original brown butter sea salt cookies. But truthfully, all are delish, whether you pick the chocolate shortbread, lemon or cinnamon – and they make great road trip snacks!

3) San Simeon

Next up on your tour of seaside towns in Northern California is San Simeon. It’s only 30 minutes north of Cayucos, but worlds apart.

Hearst Castle:

Hearst Castle is a must-see place to visit on a Northern California road trip.
Opulent, gaudy, over-the-top. Whatever! Hearst Castle is a must-see place to visit on your Northern California road trip

Where Cayucos is small-town Americana, San Simeon is home to the iconic Hearst Castle, a symbol of fame and fortune.

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst took three decades to create the castle, and when he left in 1947, it still wasn’t complete. With 123 acres of gardens and 165 rooms, it’s easy to spend a good part of a day there.

Egyptian sculptures adorn the courtyards. Bedrooms have Art Deco ceilings. Original 16th century tapestries hang on the walls, and the indoor pool is decorated with hand-cut Murano tiles from Italy.

Hearst Castle may be one of the most over-the-top things to see on the Pacific Coast Highway. But it’s well worth a visit. Just reserve your tickets in advance.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery:

Elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, California
What are all those blobs on the beach? Oh, they’re elephant seals!

There’s more to do too on this Pacific Coast stop.

You also have elephant seals to giggle at in the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, about 7 miles north of San Simeon.

These super awkward blubber-lumps hang around at Point Piedras Blancas Beach, sunning themselves. They’re called elephant seals because their noses look like a stubby elephant’s trunk.

Visit between January to March, and they’ll have their baby blubber-lumps with them too.

Elephant seals are curious-looking creatures.
Elephant seals are curious-looking creatures

The colony has grown to about 25,000 elephant seals along an 8-mile-long stretch of coastline.

And, here’s a cool factoid: It’s the only elephant seal rookery in the world that’s free and easily accessible to the public.

Do note that these aren’t tame mammals. Adult males can grow as big as 16 feet and weigh a whopping 5,000 pounds – not a creature you want to mess with.

Don’t try to feed them or snap a selfie with one. Not only can you get in legal trouble, but they also have massive incisors that can crush bones in seconds.

Instead, stay on the boardwalk and snap your IG pics from a distance.

4) Monterey

Home to millionaire yachts, yummy seafood restaurants, whales and the mother of all aquariums, Monterey is one of the best seaside towns in Northern California.
Millionaire yachts, yummy seafood restaurants, whales and the mother of all aquariums – welcome to Monterey!

Monterey is one of the best Northern California beach towns to visit.

To reach Monterey, you drive about 95 miles north up the coast from San Simeon.

Theoretically, that should take about 2.5 hours. But we promise you, it will take a lot longer.

Big Sur Highway:

The Big Sur is one of the most stunning stretches of coastline in Northern California.
Talk about stunning! This is the Big Sur coast

The extraordinary landscape and ocean views along the Pacific Coast Highway, especially near Big Sur, are breathtaking. You can’t help but stop for pictures.

The Bixby Creek Bridge, for example, is one of the most photographed bridges in California.

One of the most iconic attractions on the Pacific Coast Highway is Bixby Creek Bridge
One of the most iconic attractions on the Pacific Coast Highway is Bixby Creek Bridge

The Big Sur Coast Highway is ranked one of the prettiest highways in the world for a reason.

Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Ethereal-looking jellies show off their beauty at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Ethereal-looking jellies show off their beauty at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

When you do reach Monterey, head straight to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s the aquarium to end all aquariums.

Not only is it a wildlife refuge returning rescued marine life to the ocean, its conservation efforts are front and center.

See sharks, rays, sea otters, local bay pipefishes (which look like green eelgrass), an amazing variety of jellies and more!

Cannery Row:

Discover artists' galleries, boutique shops and 25  restaurants along Cannery Row in Monterey.
Discover artists’ galleries, boutique shops and more than 25 restaurants along Cannery Row

Besides the aquarium, Monterey is known for Cannery Row, the street made famous by John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel of the same name.

Today, it’s worthy of a stroll for all the restaurants, hotels and shops housed in former sardine cannery buildings.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf:

Statue of the
Statue of the “The Fisherman” by Jesse Corsaut at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Then continue your stroll to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Built in 1846, it’s now also home to several seafood eateries and stores.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t miss Carousel Candies.

They’ve been making salt water taffy for more than 47 years. Or indulge your inner child and buy a handmade caramel apple or bag of gummies to munch on while strolling.

A seagull doing yoga

Whale watching:

Want to go whale watching on your Northern California coast road trip? Correct answer: Yes!

Monterey Bay is probably the premier spot in the U.S. to see whales. It’s also one of the only places in the world where you can see whales year-round.

Oh, what a sight! Humpback whales in Monterey Bay
Oh, what a sight! Humpback whales in Monterey Bay

Close to shore, the Monterey Canyon is a deep submarine canyon that attracts lots of marine life like dolphins, porpoises and, of course, whales.

You see mainly migrating humpback whales from spring to fall. Gray whales are spotted from December to mid-May. Orcas (killer whales) can be seen mid-April to mid-May and then again August to October. And the best time to see blue whales is July and August.

Here’s a top-rated whale watching tour (operated by Discovery Whale Watch) that leaves from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Whale sightings are guaranteed.

When planning your road trip, you might want to stop overnight in Monterey. There’s lots to do in Monterey, and this seaside town has some excellent places to stay.

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

The top-rated Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is perched overlooking the surf in the heart of Monterey, steps away from Cannery Row. Watch sea otters play in the water with the binoculars provided, and fall asleep to the sound of waves.

Seven Gables Inn

Overlooking Monterey Bay, the historic Seven Gables Inn is a romantic bed-and-breakfast, where all 25 rooms have views of the ocean. Interiors feature antiques and beautiful stained-glass windows. (No children under 12 may stay.)

5) Santa Cruz

Ride a vintage wooden roller coaster and more in Santa Cruz, California
Ride a vintage wooden roller coaster and more in Santa Cruz

Some 40 minutes north of Monterey is the quirky Northern California coastal town of Santa Cruz. It’s got an old-school beach town vibe, blended with a happening brewery scene populated by the university crowd.

The town is snuggled between the giant redwood forests that tower over everything in the area and the beach.

One of the best things to do in Santa Cruz is hang out on the boardwalk. Not only are there shops, there are roller coasters, arcades, restaurants, mini-golf, laser tag and a bowling alley. So, it’s kind of a big deal.

But if having kidlike fun isn’t your thing, take in the sunset at the Natural Bridges State Park, rent a kayak, lounge on the beach or go hiking in the redwood forests at the Nisene Marks State Park.

There’s a lot of nature to be had, so enjoy it.

6) Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is known for its epic surfing.
This delightful little beach town boasts epic beaches – and epic surfing waves

Drive north for an hour, and you’ll hit Half Moon Bay. It’s a must-see stop on your tour of Northern California coastal towns!

If you’re a surfer, you’re in luck. The waves at Mavericks Beach can reach up to 60 feet and are legendary.

The town used to hold a big-wave international surfing competition, but it’s been canceled in the last few years. The waves weren’t massive enough for the surfers.

That doesn’t mean newbies should try their luck on this beach. Monster waves have returned like crazy since the start of 2021. The waves are strong enough to knock you silly if you don’t know what you’re doing.

To keep it a little tamer, head to the JV Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and go tide pooling. But be sure to do it at low tide.

If you’re a landlubber, choose from one of the nine state parks in the area to get your hike on.

Or walk or jog the easy 3.5-mile partly-paved and partly-natural Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail for unparalleled ocean views. If you go in spring, you’ll find a sea of yellow wildflowers in bloom.

Half Moon Bay is all that – plus the town itself is adorable with loads of seafood restaurants right on the water. Don’t miss Sam’s Chowder House, known for their finger-licking-good lobster rolls.

There are several special hotels in Half Moon Bay, making it one of the best Pacific Coast Highway stops to hang around for a couple of nights or more.

Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

For a splurge, look no further than the palatial Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.

Perched on a bluff overlooking the rugged coastline, it offers a luxurious spa and two manicured golf courses.

Ground floor rooms have cozy outdoor fire pits for sitting outside at night under the stars, roasting s’mores (Graham cracker “sandwiches” filled with melted marshmallows and chocolate).

Beach House Half Moon Bay

Then there’s the comfortable Beach House Half Moon Bay.

This beachfront escape has suites with fireplaces, kitchenettes and separate living and bedroom areas. There’s an outdoor pool too.

Nantucket Whale Inn

Or retreat to the Nantucket Whale Inn, a romantic bed-and-breakfast, with 7 individually decorated guest quarters and a daily complimentary wine-and-cheese hour (in addition to a hot breakfast).

7) Pacifica

One of the cutest Northern California coastal towns, Pacifica has beaches, hiking trails and a famous Taco Bell!
It’s got beaches, hiking trails and a famous Taco Bell – yes, this is Pacifica!

About 20 minutes north of Half Moon Bay is a tiny hidden gem of a town called Pacifica (one of the cutest beach towns near San Francisco).

Pacifica is a charming and underrated surf town – with the tremendous honor of having the most beautiful Taco Bell in the world. That’s right… in the world!

It’s right on the beach. So, if washing down your chalupa with a mountain dew margarita isn’t enough, you get to watch the surfers as you do it.

But after you fill up on tacos, take a hike through wetlands and up the infamous Bootlegger’s Steps in Mori Point. On second thought, maybe it’s better to hike first, then fill up later.

What to do in Pacifica aside from eating at the Taco Bell? Hike to Mori Point.
What to do in Pacifica aside from eating at the Taco Bell? Hike to Mori Point

Joking aside, you don’t have to eat at the Taco Bell.

Pacifica has other restaurants too, like Breakers (for breakfast, brunch or lunch) and Nick’s Rockaway, a local institution. (But don’t miss at least seeing the Taco Bell – coz it really is beautiful in a boho Cali kind of way.)

As for hiking, there are actually quite a few hikes in the area, none of them too challenging. Most are just a few miles of rolling hills, oceanside bluffs and colorful wildflowers – not bad for a day trip in San Fran’s backyard.

8) Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach, California
Stingson’s long white sand beach is great for swimming (sort of, if you don’t mind cold water)

Some 24 miles north of San Francisco is the booming metropolis of Stinson Beach – all 630 people of it! What it lacks in size, though, it makes up for in nature.

It’s one of the only swimming beaches in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now, the water might be a tad cold (certainly not like the warm beaches in Kauai, Hawaii!).

But the beach is wide and flat with the softest sand. It stretches for 3.5 miles, so if you’re looking for a long romantic stroll on the beach, you’ve found it.

If you’re a bird watcher, head to Bolinas Lagoon or go surfing on Bolinas Beach.

Otherwise, take a hike in the Point Reyes National Seashore, just a few minutes north of town.

Another option is this exclusive 5-hour, food-and-farm tour of the local farms, bakeries, organic cheeseries and other artisan food operations around Tomales Bay. The tour, which includes lunch, starts at Point Reyes Station.

Hey, beach babes! Check out our post on the most beautiful beaches in the world!

9) Bodega Bay

On your way to Bodega Bay, just outside the town of Inverness, make a pitstop at the Cypress Tree Tunnel (in the Point Reyes National Seashore).

Monterey cypress branches have grown over the road here, creating a tunnel effect. It’s a pretty popular spot for photographers, so try to get there early before the crowds if you want an Insta-perfect pic.  

Planted in 1930, giant cypress trees have grown to form a long tree tunnel in Point Reyes.
Planted in 1930, these giant cypress trees have grown to form a long tree tunnel in Point Reyes

And then, back on Highway 1, pop into The Marshall Store.

It’s the place to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway if you’re craving oysters.

Down them barbecued, Rockefeller style or raw and on ice. Some people even drive miles out of their way to sit outside by the water, often in the fog, to get their Marshall’s oyster hit.

Perfectly shucked oysters at The Marshall Store
Perfectly shucked oysters at The Marshall Store

From The Marshall Store, you’re now only about 30 minutes away from the town of Bodega Bay. 

Bodega Bay personifies a sleepy fishing village with only about 100 full-time residents.

Maybe the tiny population has something to do with The Birds. Not the lovely chirpy kind. We’re talking about the Alfred Hitchcock cult classic movie from 1963.

It was filmed in Bodega Bay, and the small white church and schoolhouse featured in the film are still there as a tribute. 

Descendants of the same birds in the Hitchcock horror movie fly around the same church in Bodega Bay - but you're not likely to get attacked.
Descendants of the birds in the Hitchcock horror flick fly around the same church in Bodega Bay featured in the movie – but you’re not likely to get attacked

The protected waters of the bay make for good bodyboarding, surfing, kayaking and sailing. Also, the cliffs along the coastline are good spots for whale watching.

And since you’re in Sonoma County, you might as well do some Sonoma wine tasting too.

10) Gualala

For a small town, Gualala has an impressive arts and culture scene
For a small town, Gualala has an impressive arts and culture scene

The next stop is Gualala, a small town with an artsy vibe.

There must be something in the air (or maybe the water?) because Gualala has been attracting artists of all sorts for decades. Painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, photographers, you name it, it’s an absolute art mecca.

The city hosts five-yearly art festivals – try to time your trip around one of them.

  • April/May – Whale and Jazz Festival
  • May – Fine Arts Festival
  • August – Art in the Redwoods
  • September – Studio Discovery Tour
  • November – Holiday Festival of Trees

Find out what art, music and theater events are going on by checking the non-profit Gualala Arts’ website.

However, it’s not all about the arts in Gualala.

The town is named after the river that flows through it and into the Pacific. So, if you’re there in the summer, rent a kayak and head upriver.

And about 30 minutes south of town is the Pygmy Forest in the Salt Point State Park.

The trees are mini – pines, redwoods and cypress. You’ll finally be a giant amongst the trees!

Despite some of the trees being more than a century old, the reasons for their stunted growth are the inhospitable soil and hardpan layer that prevents drainage.

11) Mendocino

Mendocino is one heck of a charming Northern California town.
Can there be a more charming California town than Mendocino? Oh wait, we’ve sussed out 15 pretty and charming Northern California coastal towns!

Mendocino, one of the most popular coastal towns in Northern California, is a small village of about 1,000 people that oozes charm.

It’s a little over an hour north of Gualala and not to be missed – especially, if you’re a lover of wine and nature.

Mendocino wineries:

Some of the best Californian wines come from this area. It’s your civic duty to try them all! Ok, maybe not all, but for sure some.

Highway 128 is called the Wine Road, and that’s one of the best places to start.

Winery ideas?

  • Roederer Estate – Go for the bubbles at Roederer Estate, owned by the French champagne maker, Louis Roederer (about a 40-minute drive from Mendocino on Highway 128).
  • Navarro Vineyards – This winery is known for their Alsace varietal wines and beautiful grounds.
  • Pennyroyal Farm and Winery – If you don’t mind driving an hour along Highway 128 from Mendocino, Pennyroyal Farm and Winery offers farm tours and cheese tastings, along with wine tastings (and their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines are excellent).

Other things to do in Mendocino:

The next day when your liver needs a rest, make your way to the water. There are natural sea caves that dot the coastline and are perfect for exploring by kayak.

Or head to the Russian Gulch State Park for a day-long hike that takes you to a 36-foot-tall waterfall.

If you’re a lighthouse lover, you’ll dig learning about the shipwrecks off the coast and local maritime history at the Point Arena Lighthouse museum, and you can see how lighthouse keepers and their families lived at the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

The Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse is one of two restored lighthouses you can visit in Mendocino.
The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is one of two restored lighthouses you can visit in Mendocino

And of course, you can’t forget all the stunning beaches just waiting to be explored!

There are some notable fine dining spots in the Mendocino area too.

The Little River Inn is known for its fresh seafood, and the Harbor House Inn features a Michelin one-starred restaurant, also seafood-focused (it’s a 25-minute drive away from Mendocino town).

As Mendocino makes for one of the best stops on Highway 1, we recommend staying for a while, and there are charming places to bed down for a couple of nights (or more).

Sea Rock Inn

The Sea Rock Inn is a true gem, with ocean view suites and cozy-rustic cottages featuring gas fireplaces, robes and European toiletries. Adirondack chairs on the sloping lawn offer postcard views while you listen to the crashing surf.

It’s walking distance to the town.

Brewery Gulch Inn

Another top choice is the Brewery Gulch Inn, built from 100-year-old redwood logs.

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the upscale bed-and-breakfast has 11 homey rooms with gas fireplaces and leather armchairs.

Breakfast features farm-fresh ingredients, and their complimentary food-and-wine hour (with items like herb-crusted lamb lollipops and mussel bisque) is renowned.

12) Fort Bragg

The colorful sea glass found on Glass Beach in Fort Bragg was once just broken glass trash.
The colorful sea glass found on Glass Beach in Fort Bragg was once just broken glass trash

Fort Bragg is found 15 minutes north of Mendocino. Founded in 1857, the town is known for its garbage dump turned beach.

Glass Beach:

Glass Beach is one of the most unique places to visit in Northern California.

The name comes from… you guessed it – all the polished sea glass that covers the beach. Initially, the site was a garbage dump, and over the years, all the pounding waves turned the broken glass trash into treasure. 

Unfortunately, it seems that people have been collecting the colorful glass and not leaving much for the next traveler. So, please do the right thing and leave the sea glass where it’s meant to be – on the shore.

And only go to Glass Beach at low tide, or you’ll miss all the good stuff!

Mendocino Botanical Garden:

Another not-to-be-missed site is the 47-acre Mendocino Botanical Garden.

Not only is it a fab spot for birders, but the rhododendron and carnivorous plant areas are also spectacular.

Do you go ga-ga over gardens? Then check out our epic list of the most beautiful gardens in the world!

13) Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove, another beautiful Northern California beach town, is quiet, a bit isolated and really off-the-beaten-path. It’s 2.5 hours north of Fort Bragg.

The drive alone is full of eye candy, and there are a few fabulous stops along the way.

Stop at the Richardson Grove State Park for a short but stunning walking loop in an old-growth redwood forest.

Crowds are few along the rugged Lost Coast near Shelter Cove, California.
Crowds are few along the rugged Lost Coast near Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove is the gateway to the Lost Coast – California’s most natural and undeveloped area, with tons of hiking trails and black sand beaches. Head there at low tide and check out the tide pools.

14) Eureka

An hour into the drive between Shelter Cove and Eureka is the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Avenue of the Giants:

Along with the Big Sur, the famous Avenue of the Giants is one of the most scenic stretches of highway in Northern California.
Along with the Big Sur, the famous Avenue of the Giants is one of the most scenic stretches of highway in Northern California

Veer off Highway 101 and drive down the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants. (It basically runs alongside Highway 101.)

The road winds through dense old-growth redwood trees that are centuries old and have never been logged. They’re tall as skyscrapers and some are almost as wide.

There’s even one tree you can drive your car through.

Eureka, you’re here!

In another hour, you’ll be in Eureka. Which you definitely need to say with excitement, every.damn.time. Is it even possible to say Eureka without getting excited and giggly? We don’t think so.

And you’re not supposed to. The town got its name from excited miners when they struck gold.

Today, Eureka (population 26,000) is known for the more than 100 Victorian buildings sprinkled throughout the old town.

The
The “Pink Lady” is a Queen Ann style home across the street from the Carson Mansion (it was a wedding gift from William Carson to his son)

The most unique home to see is the three-story Carson Mansion, considered one of the grandest Victorian homes in America.

It was built in 1884 in the Queen Anne Victorian architectural style by a lumber baron, William Carson – and it looks unlike anything else. Asymmetrical. Eclectic. A riot of turrets, cupolas, pillars and porches.

You can’t tour inside the mansion (as it’s privately owned), but feel free to gawk and take photos from the sidewalk.

15) Trinidad

No, not the Caribbean island. In California, Trinidad is a tiny picturesque hamlet with a population of about 370. It’s about 1.5 hours south of the Oregon border.

Because Trinidad is not on most people’s list of best California coastal towns, it’s a great place to get away from it all and immerse yourself in nature.

Admire the stars, go beachcombing at Moonstone Beach, hike the Trinidad Headland Trail and head to the Trinidad State Beach at low tide.

If you’re a birder, the town and its stunning rugged coastline area, Trinidad Rocks, has one of California’s most diverse colonies of seabirds.

And about 20 minutes north is Redwood National Park, where you can get your last taste of the giant beauties before leaving California. 

California’s Redwoods are some some the tallest trees in the world

Trinidad is a short distance from some of the best hiking in the redwoods. Here’s where to stay:

Trinidad Bay Bed-and-Breakfast

Trinidad Bay Bed-and-Breakfast has 4 rooms with king-size beds and spectacular views of Trinidad Bay. The hosts are friendly and helpful. Guests rave about the 3-course breakfasts (especially the pumpkin spice waffles).

The Lost Whale Inn

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the ocean, The Lost Whale Inn is a lovely bed-and-breakfast with 8 rooms. The gardens are gorgeous and the breakfasts gourmet.

The end of your trip exploring the best small Northern California coastal towns

Now, you could drive from Trinidad another 62 miles up to Crescent City, which is the northernmost place in California. But once you’ve got your fill of the redwood forests, it’s not necessary.

And for this road trip, we think Trinidad is the perfect place to end your tour of quaint towns in Northern California. Because, well, it really is one of the quaintest towns around!

Not to mention that it’s also quiet and calm – a true respite before your West Coast holiday comes to an end.

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Best coastal towns in Northern California

Photo credits: 15 to 17 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 7 Visit Cayucos | 9 Friends of the Elephant Seal Organization | 25 The Marshall Store | 27 Gualala Arts

The Most Beautiful Coastal Towns in California

This beautiful coastal town is known for its fascinating fauna and amazing landscape, marked by pine trees and untamed beaches. Moonstone Beach is probably the best one in Cambria, its shores filled with shiny gemstones that people collect to make jewelry. The fairytale-like Hearst Castle sitting on a verdant hill is among the must-sees; around ...

San Clemente is a classic California coastal town with great surfing

San Clemente is a classic California coastal town with great surfing | © MCCAIG / Getty Images

With an impressive 840mi (1,352km) of shoreline, California has one of the longest and most diverse coasts in the US. What makes the Western seaboard even better are the marvelous beach towns that populate the shores. Plenty of these coastal beauties are worth a visit, but we’ve rounded up our favorites, to put high on your travel list.

California is synonymous with grandiose waves, endless ocean views and abundant greenery. Big cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are obviously not to be missed, but some of the smaller coastal towns are equally enchanting. Browse through our selection of the most beautiful, along with suggestions of things to do while there.

Boasting 3.5mi (5.6km) of shoreline, Santa Monica is LA County’s laid-back seaside gem. From taking long walks or bike rides along Santa Monica State Beach to joining in on the fun at Santa Monica Pier – check out Pacific Park, an amusement park complete with Ferris wheel, aquarium and cotton-candy stands – this town feels like summer no matter when you choose to visit. Test your stamina on the workout equipment of the Original Muscle Beach, shop till you drop on Third Street Promenade and take in the stunning ocean vistas from Palisades Park. Don’t miss the farmer’s market; it’s where all the restaurants’ fresh produce comes from.

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Biking along Santa Monica beach is a quintessential LA activity | © Stella Levi / Alamy Stock Photo

If Santa Monica had a bohemian sister, it would be Venice Beach. Its crowded beachfront Boardwalk is filled with T-shirt stands, tarot card readers and quirky street entertainers who put on all kinds of strange performances – don’t be alarmed if you witness people walking on glass or juggling chainsaws, it’s just another day in Venice. The town has its own popular Muscle Beach, ideal for bulky, fitness types, while on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, you will find the best boutiques and galleries in the area. Be sure to stroll around the dreamy canals in the Venice Canal Historic District, modeled after Italy’s Venice.

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The Venice Beach Boardwalk is an eclectic mix of T-shirt stands, tarot card readers and quirky street entertainers | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

This compact Central California town – only one square mile (2.6sqkm) in size – is surprisingly packed with restaurants, art galleries and boutiques, while serving as the ultimate retreat for artists who walk down its secret passageways seeking inspiration. Carmel’s charm lies equal parts in its wild beaches and in its “fairytale cottages”. Created by Hugh Comstock in the 1920s and 1930s, the cottages heavily echo the whimsical houses found in storybooks – steeply pitched roofs and all. Comstock’s first cottage, Hansel, looks as if it popped out of the popular tale and, luckily, it comes witch-free. For a lush oasis, visit the Mission Trail Nature Reserve.

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Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts fairytale-type cottages created by Hugh Comstock in the 1920s and 1930s | © David Kilpatrick / Alamy Stock Photo

Especially favored by the rich and famous, Santa Barbara – or, the American Riviera, as it is sometimes called – is as elegant and upscale as it is charming. Expect to find red-tiled rooftops, bright bougainvillea and sandy stretches, which give way to designer boutiques, wine-tasting rooms, an arts district and a plush harbor. Explore the immense Los Padres National Forest, home to roaming condors, coyotes and black bears, before hitting the high-end stores and eateries on State Street. The summer festival “Old Spanish Days” celebrates the town’s Spanish roots; it was maritime explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno who arrived here in 1602 and gave Santa Barbara its name.

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The Spanish influences can be seen while walking down State Street in Santa Barbara | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

With a little over than 30 beaches to choose from, Laguna Beach seems like the perfect place to make the most of the Southern California coastline. Some beaches have mystical coves, like Crescent Bay, while others require a little more effort to get to, such as Thousand Steps – don’t worry, you’ll only have to brave 222 stairs to access it. Then there are expansive parks, like the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park or the colorful Heisler Park, brimming with hiking and biking trails, which will immerse you deeper into nature. Art enthusiasts will love the Laguna Art Museum, one of California’s oldest, as well as the vibrant murals painted all around town.

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Laguna Beach is a picture-perfect stretch of the California coastline | © KKStock / Alamy Stock Photo

Stretching across more than 30mi (48km) – 20 of which are gorgeous beaches – Malibu is where A-list celebrities and top athletes spend their summer. Catch that dream wave at Surfrider Beach or head to Zuma Beach for some people-watching and mingling with the crowds. Nothing really beats the tangerine Malibu sunsets, except maybe for the secret waterfalls hidden deep within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Follow the many hiking trails and you might stumble into one. Wine tasting is also a must, as is a visit to the sophisticated Getty Villa, displaying ancient Greek and Roman art.

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El Matador State Beach is one of Malibu’s popular beaches | © incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo

This beautiful coastal town is known for its fascinating fauna and amazing landscape, marked by pine trees and untamed beaches. Moonstone Beach is probably the best one in Cambria, its shores filled with shiny gemstones that people collect to make jewelry. The fairytale-like Hearst Castle sitting on a verdant hill is among the must-sees; around it, you might even see zebras roaming freely. At the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, you’ll also come across myriads of elephant seals, making for a truly unique sight. Head to downtown Cambria to scour the numerous antique shops for precious finds.

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Moonstone Beach is one of the best in Cambria | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Thanks to its Spanish Colonial-style buildings, San Clemente is often called the Spanish Village by the Sea. The Orange County town offers a plethora of parks, restaurants and shopping outlets guaranteeing a fun stay. With legendary year-round swells, the beaches here are supreme surfing spots. There’s a range of skate and surfboard stores to choose from, along with a surfing school, and the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center that recounts the history of the sport. If riding the waves is not your thing, take a stroll along San Clemente Pier – the Pacific Ocean views are unreal – or pop by Avenida Del Mar for some retail therapy.

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The San Clemente Pier is worth a stroll for the Pacific Ocean views | © Steve Cukrov / Alamy Stock Photo

Another surf town – or actually the Surf City, since this is where the sport was originally introduced in the US from the then Hawaiian kingdom – Santa Cruz is the embodiment of mellow beach vibes. Engage in thrilling games at the Boardwalk’s amusement park, browse through offbeat pieces in art galleries and dine al fresco. This part of the town has an ‘80s feel to it, complete with arcade games, a carousel and corn dogs. Then there’s the boho chic spirit of Santa Cruz, which comes alive through vintage shops and restaurants serving organic food. Carve out some time to visit the nearby village of Capitola – the Capitola Venetian Hotel houses are too photogenic even for Instagram.

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Santa Cruz exudes a true California beach vibe | © Charles de Candolle / Alamy Stock Photo

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The 12 Best Cities To Live In California In 2021

Newport Beach. Newport Beach has long been recognized as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. In 2020, it was named among the top 10 cities to live in America, while in 2021, it was ranked as the best beach town in California. Living where others vacation is truly a dream come true.

Best Cities California 2021

There is a reason more people live in California than in any other state. From Silicon Valley to SoCal, wine country to the Hollywood Hills, bustling cities to beach towns, California has something for everyone. But with seemingly endless options, each with its own unique qualities and charms, those looking to move to California, or relocate within the area, might wonder which cities are truly the best of the best.

To determine the answer to this question, this article considered a variety of factors, including amenities and activities, natural beauty and green space, crime rates, schools, and career opportunities. The result is a seminal list of the 12 best cities to live in California right now.

So let’s get started!

The Best Cities to Live in California in 2021

Top 10 Neighborhoods With The Best Irvine Homes For Sale 5Fb5066B609D1

Irvine

Quite simply, Irvine is one of the most highly rated, largest cities in the United States. In just the past year alone, the Orange County city of nearly 275,000 residents has been named both the safest city and the best place to start a business in the state of California, while ranking in the top 10 nationwide among healthiest cities, cities with the best public schools, and best cities to raise a family.

Crucial in a modern age, Irvine has also been named one of the greenest cities in America on numerous occasions, thanks to its longstanding commitment to the environment which was a part of the city’s original planning. Many of the newest neighborhoods still have Mello-Roos taxes, but don’t let that deter you from purchasing in this amazing community. To help you narrow down your search for Irvine real estate, check out our list of top 10 neighobrhoods.

Further, Irvine is a place of higher thought, home to some of the best universities, great high schools, and top medical facilities in the country, and, as Orange County’s business hub, some of the top white-collar jobs in Southern California.

Unsurprisingly, Irvine is quickly becoming a top choice for many professionals, entrepreneurs, and families.

Anaheim Hills Orange County California First Team Real Estate

Anaheim

Anaheim may be known as the birthplace of Disneyland, but there is so much more to it than that. Yes, the city boasts world-class attractions – from the aforementioned theme park to the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, to the Angels baseball team, and beyond. But this only begins to scratch the surface of what makes Anaheim one of the best cities to live in California.

Compared to its Southern California peers, Anaheim’s homes are larger, and its neighborhoods are more walkable. The city has many parks, trails, and green spaces, providing outdoor adventure opportunities which do not exist in more tightly packed areas across the region. It is big city Southern California living without the same level of bustle.

But perhaps the standout quality of Anaheim is that alongside its high standard of living, it provides easy access to all that Southern California has to offer. The city is a 30-minute drive from Los Angeles in one direction, and a 30-minute drive from some of the best beaches in the country in the other. Students can access numerous colleges and universities in the area, including USC and UCLA, while professionals can quickly commute to cities across SoCal on the Metrolink.

For the best of the best in Anaheim, check out Anaheim Hills.

Palo Alto Best Cities California

Palo Alto

Located 35 miles south of San Francisco and 14 miles north of San Jose, Palo Alto is considered to be the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley,” and to this day the city remains the historic region’s spiritual home. It is the location of the headquarters of tech companies like Tesla, Hewlett-Packard, and Skype, while Facebook, Apple, and Google all have an important corporate presence in the city.

Unsurprisingly for a city in which forward-thinking is such a pivotal part of its fabric, Palo Alto’s public schools rank as some of the best in the country. Stanford University located in the area as well is one of the most prestigious institutions of learning, ranking as the third best university in the world in 2021, behind only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, and the University of Oxford in London.

All told, Palo Alto has quickly become one of the most exclusive cities in the United States, one of the country’s most luxurious and expensive, and one of its most intellectually important.

Newport Beach Orange County California First Team Real Estate

Newport Beach

Newport Beach has long been recognized as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. In 2020, it was named among the top 10 cities to live in America, while in 2021, it was ranked as the best beach town in California.

Living where others vacation is truly a dream come true.

So, what makes Newport Beach so great?

For tourists, it is renowned destinations like Balboa Peninsula and the historic Newport Pier, but for locals, it goes much deeper than that. For them, what makes Newport Beach one of the best cities to live are its top-rated schools, crime rates well below California and national averages, and diversity of amazing restaurants and entertainment options, all set in one of the most idyllic beachfront environments in the world. That’s why we’ve ranked it as one of the best places to live in Orange County too. If the high cost of living has you thinking twice, consider checking out Costa Mesa as well.

Did you know: Newport Beach has a vibrant economy based on tech, tourism, and finance. In a city of just over 85,000, there are 76,000 payroll workers and more than 12,000 local businesses.

Santa Monica Beach Los Angeles County First Team Real Estate

Santa Monica

Santa Monica has been ranked as the best suburb to live in California in 2021 by Niche. Further, on their list of the best places to live in America, two Santa Monica neighborhoods finished in the top three – City Center and Ocean Park.

Why Santa Monica? The first thing is its hip and artsy aesthetic; it is filled with independent coffee shops, boutique stores, and art galleries, including the ones housed at historic Bergamot Station. In fact, the city has the second-largest collection of art galleries per square foot in the country after only New York City. Then there is Santa Monica Beach and the eminently popular Santa Monica Pier.

But it is not just pleasure that makes Santa Monica one of the best cities to live in, but business. Santa Monica and its nearby neighbors Venice and Alsace have collectively earned the nickname “Silicon Beach,” SoCal’s response to Silicon Valley. Companies like YouTube, Hulu, and Tinder have all set up shop there, while heavy hitters like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo operate satellite offices in the area.

No wonder Santa Monica has been called the perfect blend of laid-back beach town and modern cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Did you know: Santa Monica Pier marks the end of the famous Route 66, which stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles.

San Clemente Luxury Homes In California

San Clemente

San Clemente real estate is best known for its unique Spanish-style architecture with red-tiled roofs and white walls, which, along with its incredible ocean views, give the city a Mediterranean feel. With its charming homes and plethora of local family-owned businesses, it is the perfect place to live for those looking for those classic small beach town vibes.

It is also perfect for those who love outdoor adventure. Hiking and bike trials snake across the town’s coastline, while just off its shores lies the Trestles break famous with surfers around the world.

Better still, San Clemente sits at the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Diego, meaning residents of this paradise can easily commute to either major center.

The best slice of paradise? Top neighborhood Southwest San Clemente.

Yorba Linda Orange County California First Team Real Estate

Yorba Linda

Known as the “Land of Gracious Living,” Yorba Linda is famous for its strong sense of community, and its mix of modern urban amenities with small-town charm.

To start, it is one of the safest towns in Southern California, with great schools and ample green space.  But further, Yorba Linda provides opportunities for residents to spread out and enjoy their hobbies. The city boasts an unbelievable 100 miles of equestrian, biking, and walking trails. Unsurprisingly, equestrian properties are very popular among residents, as are the city’s luxury homes on spacious lots with sweeping views of Orange County.

Just a day trip away from the growing wine scene in Temecula and the trendy streets of Palm Springs, Yorba Linda’s location on the eastern edge of Orange County offers plenty of perks.

Did you know: Yorba Linda is the birthplace of Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. Today, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library is one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Santa Rosa Best Cities California

Santa Rosa

Eat, drink, and be merry. This is not the official slogan of Santa Rosa, but surely it could be.

The city of nearly 180,000 sits at the southwestern gateway to the Sonoma and Napa Valleys of California’s famed Wine Country, providing residents with some of the most unique dining experiences anywhere in the country. It’s not just the over 800 wineries in close proximity. Santa Rosa has also been named the microbrew capital of the US (Sorry Portland!). And with sustainable agriculture in all directions, Santa Rosa’s local food scene is on another level.

In addition, the area’s amenities are incredible, from plentiful hiking trails, to top-quality restaurants, to a museum dedicated to the author of the Peanuts comic strip, and even a full-blown jungle safari park, complete with cheetahs, monkeys, and rhinos.

It is no wonder that Santa Rosa ranks among the top 10 happiest cities in America, and the top 25 healthiest.

Lake Mission Viejo With View Of Homes On The Water

Mission Viejo

Mission Viejo is one of the largest single-project master-planned communities in the United States, and certainly one of its best. Having been laid out so meticulously from the very start, the 11,000-acre community of nearly 100,000 people features homes and roads strategically placed throughout the area’s rolling hills, and approximately two parks per square mile.

Though Mission Viejo is not a coastal city, a large lake at its center gives residents access to lakeside properties and a range of water activities.

Better still, homes for sale in Mission Viejo present something for everyone, from charming townhouses and condos to multi-million-dollar estates. Families, in particular, are drawn to the city’s older neighborhoods, where homes possess spacious backyards. Combined with the city’s exceptionally low crime rate, this makes Mission Viejo not only one of the best cities to live in California but one of the best places to raise a family.

If you have any questions about Mission Viejo real estate, reach out to the experts in our First Team Mission Viejo office.

Santa Barbara Best Cities California

Santa Barbara

In 2020, Santa Barbara was named one of the top 20 best cities to live in the United States. It earned this place largely on the strength of two factors – its weather, and its incredible education opportunities.

To start, Santa Barbara is ranked as the best place to live for weather, and with good reason; the city’s position in the southern foothills of the San Ynez Mountains provides weather that can’t be found anywhere else in the state. This mountain range is unique in that it is the only one from Alaska to Cape Horn which runs east to west, rather than north to south. This means that Santa Barbara is provided with year-round southern exposure, and weather which has spawned the city’s nickname – the American Riviera.

Second, Santa Barbara is home to some of the most prestigious higher education opportunities in the country, including the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has been ranked among the nation’s top 50 universities, the Santa Barbara College of Law, and the award-winning Santa Barbara City College.

Santa Cruz Best Cities California

Santa Cruz

If there is one thing Santa Cruz is known for, it is its world-class surfing. In 2017, National Geographic named the city as one of the 20 best surf towns in the world, and, in fact, Santa Cruz is said to be the birthplace of mainland surfing in the United States.

But give the city a closer look, and you will realize that Santa Cruz is so much more than its surf culture. It is a town of sun-soaked beaches and towering redwood forests where residents enjoy more outdoor activities than most, including sailing and paddleboarding, as well as hiking through the area’s numerous parks and trails. Moreover, Santa Cruz is an eclectic countercultural hub with infectious energy, home to a myriad of entertainment and dining options, as well as the prestigious University of California, Santa Cruz.

In short, even without its historic surfing, Santa Cruz is surely one of the best cities in California. Not to mention it’s proximity to Yosemite National Park, located roughly four miles inland.

Did you know: According to local legend, a group of Hawaiian princes visited the city in 1885 and showed locals how to surf the waves using boards fashioned from redwood trees. This history is remembered and taught to this day at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

Fremont Best Cities California

Fremont

Disneyland may have a rival for “happiest place on earth.” In 2021, Fremont was named the happiest city in America, and while there is no word as to whether Disneyland itself was in the running, certainly, the Silicon Valley city has become one of the most popular places to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why are Fremont’s residents so happy, and its real estate so desirable?

Perhaps the main reason is a booming tech manufacturing economy. Fremont is where Apple made its first Mac computers, and where Tesla has its main automobile factory. Unsurprisingly, a city stocked with good jobs at the country’s most significant companies has been ranked the second least stressed city in America.

Further, Fremont’s well-maintained parks, excellent school system, and ample entertainment venues mean it has been ranked the #2 best city to raise a family in America.

Move over Disneyland Resort.

Ready to take the next step?

If you are looking to move to California, or relocate within the state, we can help. Contact us today to get started on your journey to the best cities in California.

The Best Northern California Beach Towns

Known as the quieter of the coastal towns in Northern California, Gualala is named after a river that flows through the town before eventually plunging into the Pacific. The natives of the land, Pomos, called the area q-ahwala-li , which roughly translates to the ‘coming down water place’, which is the best description you’ll ever hear— this town is all about exploring the …

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18 Best Beaches in California to Visit in May 2022

23-04-2022 · The state is blessed with an 840-miles-long coastline and offers everything from developed beaches, such as Coronado Beach, Santa Cruz or LA beaches, to natural beaches, like the ones in Big Sur or around Point Reyes National Seashore. Activities you can engage in include swimming, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, and many many more.

23-04-2022

If we should name one thing California is known for, it would certainly be its world’s class beaches. The state is blessed with an 840-miles-long coastline and offers everything from developed beaches, such as Coronado Beach, Santa Cruz or LA beaches, to natural beaches, like the ones in Big Sur or around Point Reyes National Seashore.

Activities you can engage in include swimming, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, and many many more. California is also a great spot for a family vacation and, of course, camping.

Suggested: Best places in California to Visit in May 2022

In total, there are more than 420 public beaches to choose from. But which one to go to? Don’t worry, we have hand-picked the ten best of them so you could spend less time searching and more time having fun. So, here they are:

Capitola Beach, Capitola

Capitola Beach is one of the top beaches on the West Coast. It is secluded and tucked away from the busy life, yet near Santa Cruz.

The beach is extremely artsy and located in the middle of Capitola Village and is fun for everyone. You are sure to see kite flying, surfing, swimming, and volleyball on the beach.

What sets Capitola Beach apart from others is that it is enclosed on both ends by cliffs. Not only can you enjoy the beautiful water and sunshine, but you can also go shopping at Capitola Village. There are plenty of amazing shops around.

Moreover, you can eat at world-class restaurants and watch the sunset at Capitola Beach.

Santa Barbara Beach, Santa Barbara

This beach isn’t only known as one of California’s best beaches. Santa Barbara was also named “America’s Best Beach Town” by Coastal Living Magazine for its literary tradition, adventure, and natural beauty. The city’s great beaches have drawn thousands of visitors to the area annually for over 100 years. That’s why the city and county of Santa Barbara are popular vacation destinations.

Santa Barbara is one of the best cities in California when it comes to surfing. The conditions are consistently perfect. The waves are ideal for all skill levels, with plenty of spots to choose from. In addition to surfing, there are also plenty of things to do only a short drive away from the city. You can visit the Santa Barbara Water Garden and Butterfly Grove. Many wineries are also located around the city.

Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a beach town in Santa Monica, California, on the Pacific Ocean. It has been a popular vacation destination for over a century and continues to attract both local and foreign tourists to the area.

There are dozens of attractions throughout the city that make it an attractive place to visit, including some of the best beaches in California. The beaches of Santa Monica are all ranked on their list of Top Ten Beaches in America and deserve their ranking for the comfort, beauty, and fun available while visiting this city.

The best places to experience nature are at the water’s edge and some excellent beaches. This is especially true in the case of Santa Monica, where large dunes, small coves, and rocky cliffs are all a part of the scenery.

Much of the beachside can be walked or explored by bicycle, providing a leisurely ride along the coast with some amazing views to go along with it.

The beach has also been voted one of California’s most beautiful stretches of shoreline. The city also prides itself on being one of America’s top surfing destinations. That makes it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in learning how to surf or just listening to good music while browsing local surfwear shops.

Torrance Beach, Torrance

Torrance is a highly populated city in Los Angeles County, California. It sits on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near the southern tip of the greater Los Angeles urban sprawl. It was incorporated in 1927 and provides a wonderful coastal escape to those looking for a beautiful natural setting with plenty of comforts nearby.

Some of the best beaches in California are located within this city, making it an attractive place to spend some time. The community comprises different residential communities spread out along the peninsula’s coast to provide various vacation options for visitors and locals alike.

One of the most popular attractions in the area is Torrance Beach. The beach itself offers everything you need for a fun day at the beach, including showers, restrooms, a playground, and lifeguards to watch over everyone who visits.

The beach also has plenty of parking which can be an important aspect of your vacation if there is traffic during your holiday or if you are coming from farther away to visit.

Torrance Beach is also close to popular neighborhoods, including Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach.

Malibu Beach, Malibu

Malibu Beach is a beach town located in Los Angeles County, California, on the shores of Malibu Lagoon. Locals also call it Surfrider Beach, named after the non-profit organization “The Surfrider Foundation.”

This foundation has been responsible for saving over 9,000 waves along the Malibu coastline since 1984. Malibu’s beaches offer some of the best in the entire state of California.

Malibu is a destination that attracts millions of visitors each year because of its proximity to many other famous locations and the local beaches in this area. The town is located approximately 30 miles west of Los Angeles and only five miles north of Ventura. Therefore, it is an easy drive from many other major cities in Southern California.

The beach area is also a surfer’s paradise, and many Hollywood celebrities regularly vacation here.

San Clemente Island

San Clemente Island is a small island in the Channel Islands National Park located in the northwestern part of Southern California, approximately five miles offshore from the coast of Orange County.

Once a part of Rancho Las Bonitas, this island belonged to William A. Wilson. It was named after Saint Clemens by explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala. He traveled through the area in 1775 while looking for a route to China. The first European settlers on San Clemente Island arrived in 1818. That’s when Spanish soldier José Castro came ashore and established an outpost called La Punta.

Some of the best beaches in California are located within this city, making it an attractive place to spend some time. The community comprises various residential communities spread out along the peninsula’s coast to provide various vacation options for visitors and locals alike.

With the many beautiful beaches, landmarks, and unique shops, you can see why San Clemente is called the “Switzerland of America.”

Main Beach, Santa Cruz

Take a fun adventure at Main Beach in Santa Cruz. There is a popular amusement park and boardwalk at Main Beach which is why it is also known as Boardwalk Beach.

Main Beach is one of the best surfing beaches with thrill ride waves. If you are looking for a sunny beach in Central California, this beach should be at the top of your list.

Tourist attractions are located all around the beach. The waters at Main Beach are significantly warmer than other beaches, making it a go-to spot for sunbathers and surfers.

Bring your family for a fun-filled day at the beach and amusement park. There are both thrills seeking roller coasters and rides for the little ones. It comes as no surprise that this is a favorite summertime beach for families.

Coronado Beach – San Diego

Coronado Beach is a picture-perfect beach. It is also known as Central Beach. If you are looking for a postcard-worthy beach scene, this is it.

The beach begins at Hotel del Coronado and spans north to Sunset Park. The sand at Coronado Beach sparkles because it contains the mineral mica. Spend a day at the beach and relax or bike along the shores. This beautiful and serene beach is also perfect to have a romantic date or spend time with your family.

On the backdrop of the southern end of the beach, you can view extravagant homes. If you are a dog lover, you will enjoy North Beach, which is nearby. The northern end of the beach is also great for working out.

Coronado Beach offers free parking, restrooms, and shower facilities. Depending on the weather conditions, there may be lifeguards staffed throughout the beach.

Various fun activities like paddleboarding, surfing, swimming, and boogie boarding can be done at Coronado Beach. No wonder it was named one of the best beaches in the U.S. multiple times.

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach is a coastal city in Orange County, California, noted for its beach culture and “blessed” status during the annual surfing event called the Huntington Beach International Surfing Competition.

The entire city of Huntington Beach lies approximately thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles and about a mile west of Santa Ana. The area is also home to many surfing hotspots such as Sunset Beach and Surfers Point, all located close.

The area is a popular surfing location for professional surfers and amateur enthusiasts alike. It has a small but highly regarded gay community, as well.

The Huntington Beach Pier is one of the sites in the local area that attract tourists. The pier features shops and restaurants and a steel cable suspension bridge extending over the water to serve as an observation deck.

Huntington Beach is also home to the world-famous Huntington State Beach and Huntington State Park. Those are just two of many attractions in this well-known beach town.

The fact that it’s been awarded a Blue Wave Award for five consecutive years complements its beauty. In addition to a Blue Wave Award, it has also received the Surfer Poll Award for the Best Overall Beach in California. With all that it has going for it, Huntington Beach unquestionably boasts beautiful beaches and various activities to keep its guests busy and entertained.

Santa Barbara is a city located in Santa Barbara County, California. This city is known as the American Riviera due to its beautiful beaches. It also borders the Pacific Ocean. The city of Santa Barbara has a total population of 90,410. It also ranks as one of the safest cities in the country.

La Jolla Shores, La Jolla

If you are in San Diego, be sure to visit La Jolla Shores Beach. It is a mile-long beach filled with beauty and a crescent-shaped shoreline.

This lovely beach has sea cliffs and rocky reefs. The coastal landscape of this beach provides outstanding views. Both surfers and families love this beach.

Kayaking and scuba diving are both activities that are commonly seen on La Jolla Shores. Not only is the water beautiful, but on the northern end of the beach, there are sea cliffs and a nature walk.

Although the beach is small, it is a popular swimming destination because of its tame waters.

Stinson Beach, Marin County

Are you looking for a hidden gem? Stinson Beach is approximately 20 miles northwest of San Francisco near Mt. Tamalpais State Park, about 35 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The white sands make the beach a hidden North California secret. If you want to relax and watch the soothing waters or partake in a game of volleyball, this beach is the place to be.

Surfing, hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing are all great to do at Stinson Beach. Take a break from the fast-moving city life and enjoy the joys of white sand and beautiful water at Stinson Beach.

Carmel Beach, Carmel by-the-Sea

Carmel Beach is located on Ocean Avenue. The beach is centered on California’s Central Coast. No matter what time you go to Carmel Beach, you will have fun!

The scenery is majestic and there are activities for all members of your family. Be sure to check out the scenic pathway to witness the true beauty Carmel Beach has to offer.

Carmel Beach is one of the cleanest and most well-kept beaches in California and the panoramic views are picture-worthy.

Navarro River State Beach, Mendocino

Navarro Beach is located at the end of the Navarro River in Mendocino County. It is also a part of the Navarro River Redwoods State Park.

This location is amazing for kayaking and canoeing. The famous Arch of the Navarro is located on the north end of the beach. The park is an added plus to visiting the Navarro River State Beach, which boasts driftwood-covered sand.

Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur

Sand Dollar Beach is located approximately 7 miles south of Limekiln State Park. It is the largest unbroken stretch of sand located in Big Sur. It is crescent-shaped and filled with pale sand.

Sand Dollar Beach has a rocky coastline. The scenery includes tall sea cliffs and the bright blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Although the coastline is beautiful, it is pretty hard to access.

The beach area also contains great parking, picnic tables, vault toilets, and a trail. The picnic area is located on the southern Big Sur coast.

Sand Dollar Beach is named one of the best places to surf in Big Surf. It is also a popular destination for fishing. Sand Dollar Beach is full of things to do and you will definitely not get bored there.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Are you looking for a great shoreline? Look no further. The Point Reyes National Seashore is 80 miles of shoreline with beautiful beaches.

In this area, there are over 3- beaches. When visiting Great Beach, plan for an all-day adventure.

Although it is close to Sonoma County and the San Francisco Bay area, you must take many rural roads to access it. But once you arrive, you can witness the breathtaking waters and scenery of Point Reyes National Seashore.

A fun fact is that the Point Reyes National Seashore was created to protect natural ecosystems and the wilderness.

Manhattan Beach, LA

Manhattan Beach is a harbor city located in Los Angeles County, California. It is just across the street from the more well-known Venice Beach, California. It is famous for its great beaches and scenic views.

The area consists of a few great beaches, one of which is Manhattan Bay Beach. This beach was voted one of the Top Ten Beaches in America. The Top Ten list was compiled by the “Surfer’s Point Guide” magazine based on numerous surveys by surfers and others during the high season each year.

This beach has also been voted as one of California’s Best Beaches by SandCastle Magazine. The magazine states that the beaches of Manhattan Beach are “clean, beautiful, and perfect for a fun and relaxing day in the sun.”

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is a city located in Orange County, California. It sits at the southernmost tip of Orange County, across from Seal Beach, just south of Los Angeles.

This coastal city has approximately 100 miles of oceanfront beaches and bluffs, all within a few minutes’ drive from town. The sand in this area is white or yellowish-white in color. There are also numerous rocks along the bluffs and coastline that you can access either by hiking or kayaking.

Some of the best beaches in California are all located within this city, which makes it an attractive place to spend some time. The community comprises various residential communities spread out along the peninsula’s coast and provides various vacation options for visitors and locals alike.

Newport Beach has also been voted one of California’s Best Beaches by SandCastle Magazine.

Trinidad State Beach, Humboldt County

Last, but certainly not least there is the Trinidad State Beach in Humboldt County. You can find this beach about 20 miles north of Eureka. There are astonishing offshore rocks, and the tide pools are noteworthy.

The beach stretches from Trinidad Head which is next to the stunning town of Trinidad. The location of the beach makes it easily accessible to visitors. Parking is no hassle, and you can enjoy a day trip with your favorite people.

Due to the cold water and sometimes dangerous waters, this beach is more for relaxing or walking. Take a long stroll on the beach and breathe in the nice scenery.

If you travel up the coast, there are the protected waters of College Cove. At College Cove, you can swim when the waters are calm. Great caution should be taken due to high tides.

20 Best Beach Towns in California to Visit Story

21-12-2021 · California's coastline has made it a world-famous vacation destination, and this list of the 20 best beach towns in California will get you packing your bags! 20 Best Beach Towns in …

21-12-2021

By Andrew Sayles

Introduction

California's coastline has made it a world-famous vacation destination, and this list of the 20...

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Beach town 1

La Jolla

About fifteen minutes from Downtown San Diego, the upscale beach town of La Jolla inhabits...

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Beach town 2

Encinitas

Encinitas is one of the original surf towns in California and has attracted beach bums...

© SherryVSmith via Depositphotos

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Beach town 3

Carlsbad

About halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, you'll find the town of Carlsbad. It's...

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Beach town 4

Laguna Beach

Moving further from San Diego towards Los Angeles and into Orange County, the next of...

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Beach town 5

Avalon

For time away from the mainland, catch a one-hour ferry from Dana Point or Long...

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Beach town 6

Venice Beach

Venice Beach and its world-famous boardwalk are cultural staples of the Los Angeles area. It...

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Beach town 7

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is the last of the Los Angeles, CA beach towns to see on...

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Beach town 8

Malibu

Nestled between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, you'll find the picturesque town...

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Beach town 9

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara's history stretches back to the founding of the Mission Santa Barbara in 1786...

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Beach town 10

Pismo Beach

In Pismo Beach, you can take a docent-led hike through the Pismo Preserve, go golfing...

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Beach town 11

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is among the smaller of the CA coastal cities on this list and...

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Beach town 12

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is perhaps most famous as the town that Clint Eastwood once "Mayored," in real...

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Beach town 13

Monterey

Crossing into Northern California and cooler climates, Monterey beachgoers are less likely to go for...

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Beach town 14

Capitola

The colorful Capitola is the next of the California coastal towns you'll want to see...

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Beach town 15

Santa Cruz

At the far northern end of Monterey Bay, you'll find the quirky Santa Cruz. Along...

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Beach town 16

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is further up the Pacific Coast Highway and into San Mateo County...

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Beach town 17

Sausalito

Protected from the sprawl of San Francisco by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sausalito...

© Wirestock via Depositphotos

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Beach town 18

Bodega Bay

Getting further into Northern California, there are now some truly remote towns on the coast...

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Beach town 19

Fort Bragg

The moody coast of Fort Bragg is great for nature lovers. Beachcombers will love the...

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Beach town 20

Crescent City

Finally, the northernmost of the California coastal cities on this list is Crescent City, near...

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Conclusion

Conclusion

There are far more beach towns to see in California, but this sampler should have...

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Tap or swipe up to see more guides packed with photos and tips.

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The 17 Best Beaches in California

"West Coast, best coast" didn’t become a popular California souvenir T-shirt slogan for nothing. From the moody driftwood-filled, rocky coves of Northern California to the sunny swathes of sand to the south where surfers, snorkelers, and beach volleyballers happily play, the diverse array of beaches that dot its 840 miles of beautiful coastline—the third-longest of all …

"West Coast, best coast" didn’t become a popular California souvenir T-shirt slogan for nothing. From the moody driftwood-filled, rocky coves of Northern California to the sunny swathes of sand to the south where surfers, snorkelers, and beach volleyballers happily play, the diverse array of beaches that dot its 840 miles of beautiful coastline—the third-longest of all the states—certainly play a huge part in that boast. 

Some are great for hanging 10, while others are perfect for family fun in the sun. Some promise animal sightings; others wildflowers or waterfalls. Many are crowded year-round, while a few allow for mostly solitary strolls along the sand. This guide to the 17 best beaches the Golden State has to offer should help visitors narrow down where they should put their toes in the sand.

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Address
Coronado Beach, Coronado, CA 92118, USA

Found on the island across from San Diego’s downtown, this beach regularly appears on “best of” lists. Perhaps because it literally glistens thanks to the mineral mica specks woven into it. There’s also the added sparkle that comes from a backdrop of opulent mansions and one of California’s finest resorts, the Hotel Del Coronado, which hosts al fresco fitness classes. A paved promenade is perfect for sunset strolling. West-facing waves are gentle enough for novices to try boogie boarding. To get there, drive across the 200-foot-tall bridge or take the ferry or a water taxi. 

Pro Tip: There’s free parking on Ocean Boulevard and at Ferry Landing Marketplace.

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Thomas Dunworth/EyeEm/Getty Images

Address
Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA, USA

Choppy waves, undertow, and strong rip currents mean swimming is off the table at the mile-long beach found within the Presidio of San Francisco national park. But one glimpse of that iconic red Golden Gate Bridge from this unique vantage point, and you likely won’t care. The panorama also includes Lands End and the Marin Headlands. People come to jog, hike, fly kites, and throw Frisbees. A picnic area with grills and tables is nestled in a cypress grove. Vestiges of the Presidio's military past, like the battery, are tourable.

Pro Tip: The northernmost end of the beach is popular with sun worshippers sans suits.

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Courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

Address
Goat Rock Beach, Jenner, CA 95450, USA

This rugged bit of scenic shoreline near the mouth of the Russian River a few miles north of Jenner is tucked inside Sonoma Coast State Park. There’s an easily accessible beach, picnic tables, restrooms, and plenty of seabirds putting on a show. But the real draw here is the colony of harbor seals that call it home. Seal-watching is particularly good from March through August, aka pupping season. Babies are even more adorable than their adult counterparts. Mamas can be extra protective, which in the animal kingdom equals extra aggressive, so stay at least 50 yards from them.

Pro Tip: With a good pair of binoculars, a high perch, and patience, you might spot whales during annual migrations.

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Sputnik Aloysius/Getty Images

Address
Pfeiffer Beach, California 93920, USA

There is no shortage of breathtaking sights along the state’s most iconic road, the Pacific Coast Highway, especially in the vicinity of Big Sur. One must-stop is this day use-only cove known for the arch in Keyhole Rock, sunset viewing (light comes through the arch!), tidepools, and purple-ish sand. Despite requiring a short hike to get to the sand, it's one of Central California’s most popular beaches, especially on rare full-sun days, so go early and stake your claim. While in town, be sure to hike the Overlook Trail at nearby Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There’s no beach access here, but there’s a remarkable 80-foot waterfall that cascades off granite cliffs into the ocean.  

Pro Tip: The road can be hard to see as you cruise down Highway 1, so keep an eye out for the post office and ranger station as the turnoff is between them.

Continue to 5 of 17 below.

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Address
Refugio Beach, California 93117, USA

Waves lap the stony beach of this peaceful crescent 22 miles west of Santa Barbara. Butting up to the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Chumash who once resided here called it Kasil or “pretty place.” The former rancho is memorable for the row of palm trees that line it, planted long ago by a set of brothers who ran it as a “tropical” tourist paradise. Although the 66-site campground is far more rustic than that resort, it’s close to the water, hiking trails, and a bike path that crosses the craggy cliffs that look out at the Channel Islands on a clear day.

Pro Tip: The difference between low and high tide is drastic here. The sand all but disappears so be very aware of time when you go walking on the coast.

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Luciano Lejtman/Getty Images

Address
Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA, USA

The Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation estimates some 28,000 people from around the world flock here daily. The people-watching alone is worth the overpriced parking lots. But there’s so much more to its unique appeal than that. There’s an oceanfront skate park, sports courts of various types, including handball and basketball, a bike/running path, a gym on the sand (Muscle Beach) made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger, playgrounds, restaurants, bars with sunny patios, dispensaries, tattoo shops, street performers, palm trees, fishing pier, and a vast beach.

Pro Tip: Prepare for the gritty urbanity that will attack all your senses, from the near-constant smell of weed to the dueling sound systems. Graffiti, near-naked bodies, pickpockets, and people sleeping on the streets are common. As the Venice Boardwalk is the second most visited destination in SoCal after Disneyland, it’s always crowded, and you’ll likely get bumped. This is not us saying, “Don’t go.” This is us saying, “Stay frosty.”

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Patricia Marroquin/Getty Images

Address
Point Dume State Beach, 6800 Westward Beach Rd, Malibu, CA 90265, USA

Phone 1 310-457-8143

The first time you visit, you’re likely to experience a bit of déjà vu as its dramatic headlands, rocky coves, blufftop preserve, and curved patch of khaki sand regularly plays the part of quintessential California beach on TV and in movies. It has been seen in dozens of projects, including "I Dream Of Jeannie," "Iron Man," "The Big Lebowski," "The Princess Diaries," "Modern Family," and "Planet Of The Apes." The screen time is easily earned by its good looks, but it’s also a functional beach with good swimming, surfing, and scuba diving. Wildlife including sea lions, legless lizards, rabbits, crabs, and birds frequents the point as well.

Pro Tip: From December to mid-April, Dume is another great spot to watch for migrating gray whales. A gradually ascending trail in the nature preserve portion leads to the summit of an ancient coastal sand dune and a viewing platform from which you can see the entire width of Santa Monica Bay.

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Address
Moonstone Beach, California 90704, USA

The central coast hamlet of Cambria oozes charm, and this beach with its pervasive colorful ground cover, twisty escarpments, moody fog, and playful marine life only adds to the vacation vibes. Mere steps from numerous lodging options, the perfect day here always involves a mug of to-go coffee and a ramble along the mile-long plank boardwalk to feel the breeze in your hair and the mist on your skin. If you have more time, explore the tidepools or take a frigid swim. You just might have to share a wave with an otter.

Pro Tip: More scenic and solitary strolls set to the soundtrack of crashing waves can be had atop the adjacent bluffs at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Continue to 9 of 17 below.

09 of 17

Courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

Address
201 Doran Beach Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA

Phone 1 707-875-3540

It’s a 2-mile stretch of sandy shore and generally gentle waters on Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, offering optimal conditions for flying kites, playing in the sand, and long romantic walks or picnics. Fishermen take advantage of the rock jetty on the west end while kite surfers, kayakers, and paddleboarders seek out the newly renovated boat launch. There’s a campground for longer stays with accessible sites and even a few all-terrain wheelchairs to borrow. Birders should walk through the grassy dunes to connect with the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail. 

Pro Tip: Junior Rangers events such as knot-tying classes and cultural talks about the land’s pre-park days keep kids further occupied. They might even learn something. 

10 of 17

Address
Trinidad State Beach, California 95570, USA

This Humboldt County gem 19 miles north of Eureka is the textbook example of a Northern California beach. The forest practically meets the water. The sand is the color of an old pair of Dockers. The serpentine coast is decorated with tall rocks—some of which are even topped by trees—eroded into sculptures and strewn with driftwood that visitors often assemble into temporary structures. There are far fewer people to fight for blanket space and even fewer that brave the frigid water for a swim. Mornings are misty; wildlife thrives; kayaking is recommended; and seemingly everyone has a dog. It is stunning, romantic, secluded, and inspires contemplation and long walks. 

Pro Tip: The ideal time to visit is in the spring when the high bluffs are painted with wildflowers and during low tide on a sunny day as it creates a glassy reflection of the sky and clouds.

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Address
Carmel Beach, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

Carmel-By-The-Sea is a posh and picturesque seaside hamlet full of art galleries, wine tasting rooms, and cozy hotels. It follows that they’d also have a grade-A beach with white sand, cypress trees, views of Pebble Beach and Point Lobos, decent surfing, and a gravel path atop a bluff for jogs. It allows dogs off-leash (rare), and it’s sheer joy to watch them living their best lives in the shallows. It’s a nice (albeit steep) walk from any corner in town as the entire village is only one square mile. 

Pro tip: If you intend to spend a lot of time submerged in the water, secure a wetsuit. The water consistently hovers around 50 degrees. 

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Address
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, USA

This Mendocino Coast treasure at the north end of Fort Bragg is a hopeful example of nature’s resiliency. Between 1906 and 1967, residents dumped waste into the water at three sites. After it was outlawed in the late ‘60s, clean-up programs were instituted. Another round of them occurred in the late ‘90s. But it was the natural motion of the ocean over decades that turned trash into treasure as the pounding waves beat soda bottles, windows, and other glass debris into submission and spit out shiny, smooth sea glass in a variety of colors to join the pebbles. The ultimate find is the rare ruby-colored glass made out of early car taillights. But partake in eyes-only enjoyment as scavenging and collection over the years have severely depleted the site. Removal is illegal anyway.

Pro Tip: Now part of MacKerricher State Park, two of the three original dumping grounds are easily accessible. The southern beach has more glass than the northern part as it is slightly more difficult to get to. The third beach has a majority of the glass as it is only accessible by sea kayak.

Continue to 13 of 17 below.

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Blake Bronstad/Visit Santa Barbara and Go Goleta

Located just down the street from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the airport, this is an all-day kind of hangout for large groups. Bike there using the paved trail system. Grill up good times on barbecues. Let the kids loose on the playground. Picnic in the grass. Soak up the sun in the soft sand. Play horseshoes or spy on the numerous snowy egrets. There’s a boat launch available on holidays and weekends, watercraft rentals and lessons, and a fishing pier. You can walk for what seems like miles in both directions and will likely encounter blooming blankets of ice plants or lounging seals.

Pro Tip: The county’s parks department has a beach wheelchair it loans out free of charge at this location. Reserving prior to your visit is highly recommended.

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LagunaticPhoto/Getty Images

With 3.2 miles of beach spread across seven distinct coves, 2,400 acres of undeveloped backcountry, 18 miles of trails, and a preserved underwater area offshore, this park between Corona Del Mar and Laguna Beach is one of Orange County’s largest remaining wild green (and blue) spaces. Park staff hold hikes, tidepool walks, and geology talks year-round. The paved trail on the blufftop, the only trail that allows leashed dogs, is perfect for biking and jogging. The Moro Campground is also up on the cliff and thus provides killer views of the Pacific.

Pro Tip: CCSP also features a federally listed seaside historic district made up of 46 vintage cottages built in the 1930s and ‘40s. One was restored as a café, which offers three meals a day, and 21 others are available for overnight stays. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance through ReserveCalifornia.com.

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Only one of the three namesake mudstone arches is still standing, but it packs enough visual punch to nab this pocket beach in Santa Cruz a spot on the list. Low tide makes for perfect social posts as you can walk under the bridge. Tidepool fans and birders should make haste because it's a stop on the Pacific Flyway and multiple habitats like freshwater wetlands and salt marsh coexist in a small footprint. Another draw is the eucalyptus grove in the canyon above the beach, as it's a winter home for migrating Monarchs.

Pro Tip: Docents give butterfly tours on weekends during fall and winter. There's also a Migration Festival in February.

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Once called Tin Can Beach, this Huntington Beach-adjacent hot spot is popular for surfing, volleyball, and bodyboarding. Located just south of the Orange County community of Sunset Beach, the surf breaks in shallow-ish water and forms an advantageous curled crest. Visitors with current California licenses can try their hand (literally!) at another unique activity here during the summer on full or new moon nights—nabbing California grunions, which only spawn on sandy SoCal beaches, with only their bare paws. If you prefer more traditional methods, wade out and fish the surf white caps for corbina, shovelnose guitarfish, and sand sharks. There’s also a visitor center with exhibits on the local ecosystems and a campground with 50 sites and RV hookups. 

Pro Tip: Just across the road from the beach, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a 1,300-acre protected coastal estuary where more than 200 avian species have been identified, making it a rewarding stop for birders and photographers. Three groups offer free docent-led tours around the marshes, mudflats, and seabird nesting islands.

Continue to 17 of 17 below.

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Ian McDonnell/Getty Images

The coastal enclave of Encinitas has several pitstops perfect for a day at the beach, including D Street and Stone Steps, followed by lots of great places to refuel or shop along the main drag through town. But Moonlight, so named because residents used to meet for midnight picnic in the early 1900s, meets the most needs with its large sandy area, playground, bonfires after dark, beach volleyball courts, free large parking lot, and a bathroom/rentals/snack bar complex, Encinitas is surfer central. Still, families can exhale knowing there is a designated swimmers-only zone here.

Pro Tip: Boarders are better off setting up shop less than a mile away at Swami’s, a surf break at the southernmost end of the town below the golden spires of the Self-realization Center. Its park provides a great vantage point and shade for those who prefer to stay dry and watch. Careful how far north you walk as many folks strip down to sunbathe at Boneyards Beach.

20 Best Places to Live in California Near the Beach

04-11-2020 · If you are considering a move to a beach location in California, here are the 20 best places to live in California by the beach. 20. Benicia. According to Benicia Magazine, Benicia is surrounded by natural beauty and has a small-town feel. It is an area of historical significance, and it is considered a Green City.

04-11-2020

Newport Beach

Choosing a place to live is a personal decision, as each person prioritizes the various factors to consider differently. The lifestyle an area offers is often one of the essential criteria for those who want a better standard of living. Some people dream of living by the beach and spending as much of their free time there as possible. California has some of the best beach towns in the United States, and the state boasts 840 miles of stunning coastline. With so many locations to choose from along the coast of California, people then consider the other factors to help them choose the best location to meet their needs. These may include school rankings, safety, community diversity, employment opportunities, and ways to spend their leisure time. If you are considering a move to a beach location in California, here are the 20 best places to live in California by the beach.

Benicia

20. Benicia

According to Benicia Magazine, Benicia is surrounded by natural beauty and has a small-town feel. It is an area of historical significance, and it is considered a Green City. Families enjoy living in Benicia as there are many things for them to enjoy, and the public schools are highly-rated. Other features of this Vallejo suburb in Solano County are commutability, low crime rates, employment opportunities, and a diverse community. This suburb is home to a little more than 28,000 people.

Goleta

19. Goleta

Located just along the coast from the town of Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara County, Goleta is home to approximately 31,000 residents. It is a town that has something to offer everyone, from children to retired people. Families like this location because it has many activities and attractions for families to enjoy, and it also has excellent public schools. Other factors that make this a fantastic location to consider are the direct access to the beach, the nightlife, community diversity, and the health and fitness facilities in the area. It has great transport links to local cities and the surrounding area, and the weather is amazing year-round. As with many of the most desirable locations, the cost of living is above the national average.

San Buenaventura

18. San Buenaventura

Although San Buenaventura is the official name of this beach town, it is commonly referred to as Ventura. Mini Storage says that it is one of the best places for surfing in California, and it is also one of the most affordable locations along the California coastline. It also has excellent music and food scenes, so there are some great places to go out in the evenings to enjoy food, drink, and live music. Those who enjoy nature will also enjoy living in Ventura, especially watching the gray whales in the ocean.

Manhattan Beach

17. Manhattan Beach

The Crazy Tourist lists Manhattan Beach not only as one of the best places to live by the beach but also one of the best places to live in California overall. Manhattan Beach is only a small town with approximately 35,000 residents. The high cost of living is possibly a deterrent for some people, but there are many factors that make this a fantastic place to live. It has highly-rated, there are plenty of activities and attractions to keep the resident entertained, and it is considered a safe place to live.

San Mateo

16. San Mateo

San Mateo is considered a prime location in the Bay Area. It is home to a thriving tech industry, and that means there are multiple job opportunities within this sector. There is an excellent food scene in this area, as it boasts some of the best restaurants in California. It also has a family-friendly and environmentally-friendly culture. It is a lively place to live due to the vibrant nightlife and the many outdoor activities to enjoy. Therefore, it is well-suited for those who enjoy a busy lifestyle. San Mateo is a suburb of San Francisco in San Mateo County, and it has a population of just over 105,000.

Redondo Beach

15. Redondo Beach

There is an excellent neighborhood community feel in Redondo Beach, which is something that the local residents enjoy. The housing options’ diversity is also appealing, as there are homes in multiple styles to suit various budgets. Residents have access to many shops, parks, and restaurants, along with a wide range of leisure activities to enjoy. Furthermore, there are top-class schools and many job opportunities. Redondo Beach is a Los Angeles suburb that is home to fewer than 68 thousand people.

Alameda

14. Alameda

An island suburb of Oakland, Alameda is a great choice for anyone who wants to live near the beach in California. It is a popular location amongst families due to the high standard of education in the area and the wide range of activities for families. Other positive aspects of life in Alameda include community diversity, high job availability, strong transport links to the surrounding area, and a lively nightlife. There is both a bridge and a ferry connecting this island suburb to the mainland.

Santa Cruz

13. Santa Cruz

The highly-rated educational establishments, the natural beauty of the area, and the excellent healthcare facilities are just a few of the reasons that Santa Cruz is one of the best beach locations in California. This town in Santa Cruz County is home to approximately 64,000 people, and it is widely considered one of the best places to live in California. Although this is an expensive location in which to live, there are activities for everyone, community diversity, and strong transport links.

Santa Barbara

12. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara County is home to 435,000 people, while the city of Santa Barbara has just 90 thousand residents. The area is known as the American Riviera as the scenery is picturesque and includes beautiful beaches and a stunning harbor against a backdrop of a mountain range. The only downsides to living in this area are the high cost of living and steep property prices. It is an area that appeals to young people due to the lively nightlife, varied social scene, and multiple outdoor activities.

Seal Beach

11. Seal Beach

A suburb of Los Angeles in Orange County, Seal Beach is home to just over 24,000 residents. According to Niche, there are many positive features to this suburb that make it an appealing place to live for all demographics. Just some of these include low crime rates, great schools, multiple activities for everyone to enjoy, job opportunities in multiple sectors, and good transport links. It also has a diverse community and vibrant nightlife. Seal Beach is known for its rich culture, gorgeous beaches, picturesque parks, and amazing restaurants. A further reason this is such a popular place to live is because of its proximity to larger cities, so it is a good option for commuters.

Morro Bay

10. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a beach location in California that will appeal to retired people due to the quiet nature of the area. However, it also appeals to families due to family activities and excellent schools. There is a relatively small community in Morro Bay, as it is home to under 11,000 residents. Food and drink are important elements of the lifestyle in this town, as there are many local vineyards, restaurants, and bars. You will find this picturesque town in San Luis Obispo County.

San Clemente

9. San Clemente

If one of the reasons you want to live in a coastal location is to enjoy the surf, then one of the top spots in California is San Clemente. The beach town is also known for its pier, its outstanding seafood restaurants, and its Spanish architecture. San Clemente is a suburb of Irvine that has 65,000 residents. Some of the most appealing features of San Clemente are the excellent schools, the low crime rates, and the wide range of activities for people of all ages.

Hermosa Beach

8. Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach is a suburb of Los Angeles that appeals to a diverse range of people. The outstanding schools and family-oriented activities make it a fantastic place for families, while the health-conscious community and outdoor activities appeal to those interested in fitness. It is an area that offers the perfect beach lifestyle, and it also has a high-energy entertainment scene. Foodies love the area as there is a great food scene with many excellent restaurants.

Laguna Beach

7. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is a stunning location that has seven miles of rugged coastline with magnificent cliffs and pretty coves. It is one of the top locations in California for those who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, as there are 20,000 acres of protected natural land, which is ideal for hiking and cycling. The town also has a nice shopping district and excellent restaurants, says Pure Wow.

Coronado

6. Coronado

Located in San Diego County across the San Diego Bay from San Diego, Coronado is home to almost 24,000 residents. It is a more affordable place to live than San Diego, as the median household income is more than 1,000. However, property prices are high in this resort city. Therefore, it is a good option for people who work in San Diego but cannot afford the property prices and the high cost of living.

Mill Valley

5. Mill Valley

Mill Valley ranks highly on the list of the best places to live in California near the beach due as it is considered one of the most liveable locations in the state. According to moving.com, this small city is home to just under 14 thousand people, and it is one of the safest places to live in California. It has some of the best schools in the state, boasts a stable housing market, and is surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Its proximity to San Francisco has made Mill Valley a popular location with San Francisco commuters.

Santa Monica

4. Santa Monica

The close proximity of Santa Monica to Los Angeles makes this Southern Californian town one of the best beach communities for commuters. It is a location that consistently makes it into lists of the best places to live in the United States due to its diverse community, walkable streets, and the wide range of amenities and leisure activities. Santa Monica has a population of just under 90,000. The one negative point of this location is the high property prices, as the median cost of a property in Santa Monica is million.

Encinitas

3. Encinitas

Encinitas is in San Diego, and it is one of the most popular places to live in California near the beach for families. The two main reasons for this are that the schools are highly-rated, and there are multiple family-oriented activities to enjoy. Encinitas has a lovely downtown area, and there are activities and attractions for everyone to enjoy. Other reasons to consider Encinitas are the diverse community, the job opportunities, and the vibrant nightlife. Like many locations in California, the cost of living in Encinitas is high.

Carlsbad

2. Carlsbad

Carlsbad is close to San Diego and Oceanside, and it has a population of around 110,000. One reason that Carlsbad is such a great place to live is the diversity of the activities you can enjoy in this coastal town. It is a location that will suit people who enjoy a busy lifestyle, as it has a great nightlife and multiple activities and attractions to suit people of all tastes and ages. There are excellent restaurants, antique shops, golf courses, museums, wine bars, family attractions, and watersports. Although life in Carlsbad is expensive compared to the national average, the cost of living and property prices are significantly lower than the state average.

Newport Beach

1. Newport Beach

According to Patch, the best place to live in California by the beach is Newport Beach. It is a town that consistently makes it onto lists of the best places to live in California, as those who live in this seaside community enjoy a fantastic lifestyle. However, living in this location comes at a price as property prices and the general cost of living are high.

18 Best Small Beach Towns in California (for a Weekend ...

13-03-2022 · From the rugged coasts of the north to the surf towns of the south, you will find 18 Best Small Beach Towns in California (for a Weekend Escape!) Are you on the search for the prettiest small beach towns in California?

13-03-2022

Are you looking for some of the cutest small beach towns in California? This guide has you covered!

From the rugged coasts of the north to the surf towns of the south, you will find plenty of amazing California small beach towns regardless of where youʻll be traveling from!

Best small beach towns in California_641805232
Best small beach towns in California_641805232

Did we miss your favorite small beach town in CA? Let us know in the comments. Thanks!

Best Small Beach Towns in California

Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg is a small coastal town in California that has plenty of picturesque ocean views and attractions.

The town is home to gorgeous beaches and state parks, including Pudding Creek Beach, Glass Beach, Seaside Beach, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and MacKerricher State Park.

Hiking is also popular in the area, particularly along the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail.

Fort Bragg, CA
Fort Bragg, CA

The 8-foot wide coastal trail is paved and accessible for everyone. If outdoor activities aren’t your thing, Fort Bragg is also known for its museums and art galleries, including the Sea Glass Museum, which used to be home but now offers colored sea glass displays, the Guest House Museum, built entirely of local redwood and now the headquarters of the town’s historical society, and the more fun Triangle Tattoo & Museum, which features exhibits and artifacts on tattoo history.

Finally, try the favors of the town at North Coast Brewing Company, Cowlicks Handmade Ice Cream, and Headlands Coffeehouse.

Capitola 

Capitola is a famous tourist destination is the oldest beach resort on the West Coast. The local must-visits are Capitola City Beach, situated along Monterey Bay, and New Brighton State Beach.

Both offer plenty of outdoor activities like surfing, sunbathing, bird-watching, fishing, hiking, and camping.

If you’re a novice surfer, visit Capitola Beach Company, offering surf and stand-up paddleboarding lessons. Capitola’s list of sites and attractions is endless.

Capitola, CA
Capitola, CA

For wine connoisseurs, you should absolutely not miss a visit to the Armida Winery, Cork and Fork, or Capitola Wine Bar and Merchants.

Another must-see is Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, which offers a tasting room and unique old-world-style ales.

There is also no shortage of delicious restaurants in Capitola, with some favorites among visitors including Caruso’s Tuscan Cuisine and Margaritaville.

History buffs can learn more about the town at the Capitola Historical Museum, which features all kinds of rotating exhibits.

Finally, if you want to go on a nice shopping trip, stop by Capitola Mall or Brown’s Ranch Marketplace for a variety of local and well-known shops. 

Avalon

Located on Santa Catalina Island, Avalon always attracts visitors with its rich history and natural treasures. In addition, Avalon is the perfect spot to participate in a wide variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, ziplining, and swimming.

This seaside destination is especially popular due to its charm and gorgeous views.

Crescent Avenue is the main stop in Avalon. Also known as Front Street, where you will be able to check out the town’s beaches, restaurants, and shops, as well as architectural gems like the Serpentine Wall.

Avalon, CA
Avalon, CA

You can also take an ocean tour with the Catalina Island Company. The tours all launch from the Green Pier. Descanso Beach Club is another popular spot among tourists.

It’s the only beachside bar and restaurant in Catalina and one of the only places where you can have a drink in your hand and your toes in the sand!

For an educational tour, check out the Catalina Island Museum full of historic exhibitions and collections. The museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. 

Arcata

Arcata is situated on Humboldt Bay and boasts historic architecture, natural wonders, and great eateries. The Plaza is located in the heart of the town, featuring restaurants, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues.

You can also stop by here to check out the farmers’ market between April and November.

Another favorite among locals and tourists is the Minor Theater, which is one of the oldest movie-only theaters in the country.

Arcata, CA
Arcata

In addition, the people of Arcata are known for their love of nature. Be sure to check out the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Aside from the exhibitions here, the park is popular for hiking and biking as it boasts over 5 miles of trails.

Thousands of people also travel here every year for birdwatching because the sanctuary is home to over 300 species.

Don’t forget to enjoy the local flavors at the Alchemy Distillery, Wrangletown Cider Company, and Los Bagels.

As a bonus, you can enjoy a game at Humboldt Crabs Baseball or enjoy playing golf at Baywood Golf and Country Club.

Laguna Beach

This small coastal town is one of California’s most famous– and for good reason. Laguna Beach boasts plenty of beautiful beaches, coves, and eclectic art galleries.

Your first stop here should be Main Beach, which features tide pools and a boardwalk. As you walk along the boardwalk, you will be able to reach Heisler Park.

You can also check out Crystal Cove State Park, which has a designated underwater park. Surfers can catch the waves at Aliso Beach Park.

Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

Outside of the beach, you can check out the town’s stunning nature, as it is home to over 20,000 acres of wilderness. Here, outdoor lovers can experience mountain biking and hiking trails.

Visitors can also go on whale watching tours or enjoy one of the many art festivals taking place all year round.

You can enjoy annual festivals, including the Sawdust Art Festival and Festival of Whales.

In addition, the Laguna Beach Trolley offers free transportation along the South Coast Highway.

Oxnard

Oxnard is a bustling ocean town with excellent beaches, well-preserved historic buildings, great dining, and lots of shopping places.

First, check out Channel Islands Harbor, which is a favorite spot among tourists and locals with opportunities for sportfishing, parasailing, and whale-watching.

You can also visit Mandalay Beach if you want to get in touch with nature, as the beach does not offer any facilities and you can explore the local flora and fauna.

Oxnard
Oxnard

Oxnard State Beach and Park, with blooming wildflowers, dunes, picnic tables, barbecues, and paved pathways, is another one of the gems of Oxnard.

Along the Pacific Coast, you can relax in Oxnard Beach Park, which has plenty of picnic tables, grassy lawns, and views of the Channel Islands National Park.

Art lovers can also take a visit to the Carnegie Art Museum, which displays contemporary California art.

Cayucos

Cayucos is the perfect place to escape your busy lifestyle. Located along the Estero Bay in central California, Cayucos is a great place to get away from the heat of California’s metropolitan areas.

Start your trip from downtown and visit Ocean Avenue, where you’ll find antique shops, great restaurants, and hotels.

Cayucos, CA - HannaTor - Shutterstock.com
Cayucos, CA – HannaTor – Shutterstock.com

For historical sights, check out the Cayucos Tavern and Card Room. For antiques, gardens, and home goods, attend Remember When and Remember When – Too.

Take a walk along Cayucos Pier to capture the magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. Wine connoisseurs will especially enjoy Cayucos due to its multiple wineries and wine tasting options.

La Jolla 

The affluent coastal town of La Jolla boasts abundant opportunities for outdoor activities and recreation.

One of the most popular spots in La Jolla is the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which is known for its hiking trails along with pine trees and sandstone canyons.

You can also try out the two golf courses at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, which offers stunning views of the sea.

La Jolla, CA
La Jolla, CA

Also be sure to visit the Shell Beach tide pools, which crabs and anemones call home. Shopaholics can also enjoy the boutiques and restaurants in La Jolla Village.

Art lovers should make it a point to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art, which features American and European art, sculptures, photography, paintings, and more. 

Shelter Cove   

The tranquil seaside town of Shelter Cove will take you back in time. It has a lot of things to offer for outdoor enthusiasts. Being located on the Lost Coast, Shelter Cove is isolated from the rest of California.

The town boasts fabulous parks with bike paths, pedestrian walkways, wining and dining, and so much more. Be sure to take a hike along the Lost Coast.

You can also go fishing or check out the tide pools at Black Sands Beach.

Shelter Cove
Shelter Cove

The town also has plenty of local resorts and campgrounds for those who want to spend the night out in nature. If you enjoy golfing, you can test your skills at the Shelter Cove Golf Course.

Finally, you can check out one of the town’s gems, the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. 

Davenport

Located along Highway 1, the tiny town of Davenport will unexpectedly surprise you. Once a bustling whaling village, today is a perfect place to have a peaceful, slow weekend.

The main attraction of the town is Davenport Beach with Shark Fin Cove and the famous swing. Take a walk along the beach and enjoy the breathtaking scenes.

Davenport
Davenport

Also, don’t forget to take your camera with you for some amazing photos! Bonny Doon Beach is also a must-see with cliffs, rock shelves, and large sand areas.

If you’ve already enjoyed the beaches, check out Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room or take a wine tour of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Looking for a place to stay? Look no further than the Davenport Roadhouse Inn, which not only offers affordable accommodations, but also a lovely restaurant, bar, and cafe, all packed with delicious and fresh options.

Encinitas

Encinitas is known as one of the best surf towns in the world. It also has the nickname “Flower Capital of the World” due to its immense gardens. Even cooler- Encinitas grows poinsettias, the Christmas flower, more than anywhere else in the world!

To see more of Encinitas’ flowers, be sure to visit the San Diego Botanic Garden, which has 4,000 types of plants from all over the world.

Along with surfing opportunities, visitors can enjoy various attractions, restaurants, and shops.

Encinitas
Encinitas

The most popular beach is Moonlight Beach, boasting tennis courts, kids’ playgrounds, and a snack bar. For dining, be sure to check out the Pacific Coast Grill, which offers fresh seafood, views of the ocean, and amazing margaritas.

You can also try authentic Italian cuisine at Vigilucci’s Trattoria Italiana. If you want to go back in time, check out the popular coffee shop Pannikin Coffee and Tea.

Don’t take your computer with you because the shop doesn’t have Wi-Fi! Finally, if you want to get your surf up, check out Swami’s Beach.

Avila Beach

One of the most relaxing spots in California, Avila Beach should certainly be on your list of the top places to visit.

Ocean activities, delicious food, great hikes, wildlife watching, and scenic trails are just a few of the town’s attractions.

Avila Beach
Avila Beach

The right place to kick off your adventure is right on Avila Beach. Children will love Avila Beach Park and the park swings. You can also take a walk along the beach pier.

Another popular way to explore the town is cycling, as Avila Beach boasts some of the best cycling paths along the coast. You can rent a bike and check out the Bob Jones Trail. To grab a bite to eat, check out the Woodstone Marketplace or Secret Garden.

In the summer months, visit the Avila Beach Farmers Market for fresh produce. 

Cambria

Cambria is a seaside village on California’s Central Coast, known for its rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, and Monterey pines.

Cambria draws tourists from all over the country to enjoy local attractions and gorgeous nature. Cambria is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in California, Moonstone Beach.

Elephant seal colony in Cambria
Elephant seal colony in Cambria

It gets its name from the shiny gemstones that line the beach. Be sure to take a stroll along this peaceful beach, explore the tidal pools, and watch the sea life.

You can also explore the beach right on the back of a giant Clydesdale horse if you’re brave! Another must-see is the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which boasts hiking trails and a local avocado-ranch.

Finally, don’t forget to check out Hearst Castle, an amazing work of architecture built by William Randolph Hearst. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Meet Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small seaside town with Victorian buildings, hidden passageways, scenic beaches, art galleries, and restaurants. Start your trip at Carmel Beach and Ocean Avenue, an excellent beach with myriads of activities.

Be sure to check out the whimsical fairytale cottages on Ocean Avenue, which the small town is especially known for.

Don’t forget to dip your toes in the beautiful white sand of Carmel Beach! Enjoy the Seventeen Mile Drive that stretches through Pebble Beach Resort and Pacific Grove and boasts fantastic scenes.

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea

Many photographers, hikers, and birdwatchers also love checking out the Point Lobos State Reserve. It’s considered to be the crown jewel of California’s state parks and boasts visitors from all over the world.

Finally, be sure to embark on the walkable wine tasting experience, where you can check out over 20 wine tasting rooms.

San Clemente

You’ll find San Clemente halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego with gorgeous beaches, ocean and mountain vistas, and world-class surfing opportunities.

Referred to as “The Spanish Village by the Sea,” San Clemente is especially known for its stunning coastlines and sunny weather.

Check out any of its beaches for activities like swimming, bodyboarding, surfing, fishing, whale watching, and diving. You can also visit the heart of the town, Del Mar Street, offering brand stores, boutiques, art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and wine bars.

San Clemente
San Clemente

To enjoy the coastal views, walk or bike the San Clemente Coastal Trail. The Outlets at San Clemente are another great spot to stop by if you want to try shopping in Orange County.

If you’re more into history and culture, stop by the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, a beautiful property meant to be a Spanish village by the sea. You can check out events here such as workshops, lectures, and festivals, too.

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay is the very place where Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film The Birds was shot.

This small fishing town boasts a rich history with gorgeous nature and delicious food. The best place to start your trip is Doran Beach, where you can participate in activities such as fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

You can also check out Bodega Head, a rocky peninsula, to see the migrating whales and seals.

Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay

The thriving center of the town is the Bodega Harbor, where you can feel the marine atmosphere and taste local seafood. Situated beside Bodega Harbor, Bodega Dunes is a popular campground for you to spend the night under the stars.

If you have kids, they will love stopping at Candy & Kite’s. Here, you can find a wide selection of kites to fly, as well as some delicious salt water taffy and novelty candy.

Carpinteria

This peaceful California beach town is ideal for those looking for small-town vibes. The town is known for its stunning beaches, which are often considered to be even better than those in Santa Barbara.

Some beaches to visit include Carpinteria State Beach, Padaro Beach, and Carpinteria City Beach.

Carpinteria
Carpinteria

If you want to get your surf on, go to Rincon Beach. Linden Avenue is the main tourist attraction here. It is a classic Californian street with palm trees, great shops, eateries, and bicycle lanes.

Carpinteria is also known for its casual eateries and dining options.

The Spot is a favorite among local tourists for its delicious burgers and milkshakes. If you would like some amazing Mexican food, check out Reynaldo’s European & Mexican Bakery.

In addition, be sure to take a guided tour and see the famous alpacas. 

Morro Bay

Situated on scenic Highway One, the small California coastal town of Morro Bay has a unique atmosphere and character.

Marked by the ancient volcanic plug known as Morro Rock, Morro Bay is a gorgeous spot to enjoy the outdoors and some delicious food, too.

This coastal town has beaches stretching from north to south, as well as plenty of hiking trails for those who enjoy a relaxing hike.

In addition, be sure to check out Embarcadero, which is a street located on the waterfront marked with many types of shops and restaurants. The restaurants located here are picture-perfect due to their fresh food and waterfront views.

Be sure to check out Dutchman’s Seafood House, a family-owned restaurant with its own dock where fresh seafood is caught for the meals.

Morro Bay
Morro Bay

It’s also recommended that you try the amazing creme brulee French toast at Frankie & Lola’s. You can also try the freshly brewed beer at Three Stacks and a Rock Brewing Company.

If you want to spend more time in the town outdoors, take your time and explore Morro State Park with a lagoon and saltwater marsh.

Here, you can also try out fishing, hiking, or birdwatching. Finally, you can go on a guided tour of the small town at Sub Sea Tours and Kayaks. 

Did we miss any of your favorite small beach towns in California? Let us know in the comments. Thanks!

More California Travel Guides

Pin this CA Small Beach Towns Guide

Are you on the search for the prettiest small beach towns in California? This guide uncovers our top picks - from the north to the south! | Small towns in California | Coastal towns in California | Beach towns in California | Small beach towns in CA | Things to do in California | Places to visit in California | Small towns in Southern California | Small towns in Northern California | Central Coast towns | Visit California

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9 Charming Small Towns In California For Beach Lovers

22-12-2020 · Along the 823 miles of California beaches, you’ll find dozens of small, quaint hideaways with friendly people, beautiful views, cozy lodging, and the chance to live like a local instead of a tourist.…

22-12-2020

Along the 823 miles of California beaches, you’ll find dozens of small, quaint hideaways with friendly people, beautiful views, cozy lodging, and the chance to live like a local instead of a tourist. Here are nine such charming small towns for your consideration.

Beach views in Encinitas, California.

Marcel Fuentes / Shutterstock

1. Encinitas, California

Let’s start in southern California and work our way north. Encinitas is first and foremost a surf town, having been named one of the 20 best by National Geographic in 2017. The charm here is that the town remains a throwback to what is known as Highway 101 beach culture, which made it a mecca for surfers and hippies in the late 1950s and ’60s. Also known as the Flower Capital of the World, Encinitas is the world’s leader in growing the popular Christmastime flower, the poinsettia.

Here, the shops and restaurants are still local as opposed to being dominated by national chains. The beach scene is wide open, with four public beaches to choose from. You can relax and watch the surfers or learn to surf yourself.

Beach views in San Clemente, California.

Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

2. San Clemente, California

About 45 miles north of Encinitas and halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles along Interstate 5 is our second charming beach town. With a variety of things to do, ranging from fun on the beach to shopping downtown, San Clemente is a throwback beach town with a laid back attitude.

T-Street and Trestles beaches are famous surfing venues, while nearby San Onofre State Beach is popular for sunbathers, swimmers, campers, hikers, and kayakers. A little way north, you find Capistrano Beach Park and Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, and another short drive north is world-famous Laguna Beach.

Beach views in Capitola, California.

Lux Blue / Shutterstock

3. Capitola, California

Santa Cruz’s town website says a visit to Capitola, and wandering the village and its bayfront promenade, “is a quintessential part of a Santa Cruz experience.” The sandy beaches here are at the north end of Monterey Bay and frame picture postcard-like view of homes built into the sand, called the Venetian Hotel. These multi-colored and charming homes are for rent and are just a short walk from local art galleries, boutiques, shops, and restaurants.

The beach itself is anchored with a colorfully decorated beach wall, where beachgoers are invited to hang out. Many an evening a bandstand is filled with live music, or a movie screen with shows beginning at sundown.

Beach views in Avalon, California.

BLAZE Pro / Shutterstock

4. Avalon, California

The only charming beach town on our list that is not on the California mainland, Avalon majestically wraps itself around Avalon Bay, which is on the southeast side of Catalina Island. And while this small town has a big reputation among the Hollywood set, it has successfully kept its “charm and allure.”

Crescent Avenue is where you will find many of the beaches of Avalon, along with countless locally owned restaurants and shops, such as Lloyd’s of Avalon, a throwback candy store where you’ll find homemade saltwater taffy, peanut brittle, and fudge!

Additionally, don’t miss out on finding the Serpentine Wall. Described as a “white-washed divider between Crescent Avenue and the beach,” it’s a great place to sit and relax and watch the waves.

Beach views in Carpinteria, California.

David M. Schrader / Shutterstock

5. Carpinteria, California

Known for having the world’s safest beach, Carpinteria is west of Los Angeles, and about 10 miles east of Santa Barbara. There are basically three beaches to choose from. The one that runs along the town is actually two, Carpinteria City Beach and Carpinteria State Beach. For better surfing, head southeast to Rincon Beach.

The town is highlighted by Linden Avenue, which is where you’ll find a host of small beach shops, lots of antique shops, cafes, and restaurants.

But, one of the coolest things to do in this little town is visit a rare and unique beach, of which only five exist on earth. According to Atlas Obscura, at this beach a thick sludge can be found oozing from the earth, dribbling down the bluffs before eventually hardening into asphalt. Welcome to Tar Pit Park, where this earthly oddity has been going strong for millions of years.

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6. Arcata, California

Known affectionately as “Hippie Haven,” Arcata, originally settled as a logging town in the late 1800s, grew to become a commune community, where today the “hippie vibe” is alive and well along with a strong sense of environmental awareness.

And, this little charmer is home to Mad River Beach County Park, where the unique confluence of river and ocean create a truly unique experience. With great ocean access coupled with a protected river mouth, this beach is popular for kayaking, canoeing, and boating.

Within Arcata, you’ll find Jacoby’s Storehouse. Built in 1857, it was the first solid brick building in town, and the only one to survive a town fire in 1872. Today it is home to several quaint shops and restaurants.

Beach views in Oxnard, California.

You Touch Pix of EuToch / Shutterstock

7. Oxnard, California

This little town calls itself “California cool, panorama perfect, culturally authentic and vibrant beyond measure.” Well, enough said.

Oxnard is nestled midway between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and uses its location to create a unique blend of big city entertainment with small town flavor. Big stars come to Oxnard to perform in small clubs, providing the town with vibrance without threatening its charm.

White sand beaches anchor a gorgeous harbor that is your closest access to Channel Islands National Park, one of the most unique national parks. Five islands off the coast of California are preserved and protected. For more than a thousand years, it has been home to unique animals, plants, and archeological marvels found nowhere else on Earth.

Aerial view of Cayucos, California.

Joseph Karibian / Shutterstock

8. Cayucos, California

Driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway is thrilling on its own. At the halfway point is where you’ll find Cayucos, and the beautiful Estero Bay. This resort town feels worlds away from the cities, almost like a small Midwestern town, with Old West flare, except on a beach.

Here you’ll find antique and beach shops, plenty of local cafes and bars, and American flags mounted down Main Street. Small town Americana for sure, but also the anchor to one of the most impressive displays of capitalism and American wealth, Hearst Castle.

Just north of Cayucos on the PCH is San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle. The castle, built by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, was an early 20th-century mecca for the elite. There are several touring options, and Hearst Castle makes a great day-trip from Cayucos.

The swing on the beach in Davenport, California.

yhelfman / Shutterstock

9. Davenport, California

The locals in Davenport won’t be offended if you accidentally blink while cruising California’s Highway 1, and miss their sleepy little town. Here, they call it the Slowcoast, and for good reason, life here in this charming little beach town goes at its own speed.

There are three area beaches, all popular with photographers for their natural beauty. Along Davenport Beach, one of our picks for the 10 best sea glass beaches in the world, the hills and rock formations above are filled with wildflowers in spring. Davenport Cove Beach and Boony Doon Beach are also slow-moving, and you can find peace and relaxation in the sand.

It’s not Napa, but Davenport has become a bit of a wine town on its own. Make time to plan an afternoon or evening visiting a few of the local wineries or restaurants that serve some of the state’s best wine.

12 Chill & Charming Northern California Coastal Towns ...

08-02-2021 · Read More: Get the full downlow on all CA parks with this complete California State Parks list. 6. Gualala. This quiet Northern California coastal town is named for the river that flows through town and into the Pacific. The native Pomos used to call the area “q-ahwala-li”, which roughly translates to “coming down water place”, which the river does indeed do at Robinson’s Gulch right in town. Gualala …

08-02-2021

NorCal has hundreds of miles of gob smacking, jaw dropping coastline with beaches, craggy cliffs, river estuaries and redwood forests. Bounded by the coastal mountains and buffeted by the Pacific, are some bonny and charming Northern California coastal towns. These towns offer perfect weekend getaways if you are seeking coastal cool and beachy vibes.

Northern California coastal towns: Stinson Beach overlook
The wide sand beach at Stinson Beach.

How did these Northern California Coastal Towns Make the Cut?

We are recommending these 12 Northern California beach towns because they represent a diversity of the region’s geographic terrain and natural beauty. Some of these coastal cities are easy to get to, which pays of the “quick” part of a quick weekend getaway. But others are more remote, which offers a payoff for those of you who really want to get a way from it all. We are also throwing in a few not-so-obvious choices, just to keep you guessing. All told, we’ve curated a cool dozen Northern California coastal cities and beach towns that you should put on your bucket list.

There is no hard line separating Northern and Southern California, but for the purposes of this list, the border sits south of Big Sur. These towns are listed roughly north to south.

Lighthouse in Trinidad California
The Lighthouse in the town of Trinidad.

Map of Northern California Coastal Towns

Here’s a handy map to that you can see where the towns are and how to navigate to them.

Crescent City Batter Point
Battery Point in Crescent City

(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)

1. Crescent City

Crescent City was founded as a shipping city– or rather, as a shipwreck city, because the rugged coastline did in quite a number of ships between 1865 and the 1940’s. Crescent City is now better known as a gateway to one of the best redwood parks in California. You should definitely visit this coastal city for the Jedediah Smith State and National Park. But leave time for some of Crescent City’s other charms as well, which include sand dunes, lighthouses and fishing.

If you don’t want to camp or RV, you can actually rent a rustic cabin right in Jedediah Smith park. Reserve it on the California Parks website. If you like glamping and want some amenities, check out these cabins and glamping tents that are near the park.

3 Fun Things to do in Crescent City

  • Visit Jedediah State & National Park. You can keep it simple with the Templeman Grove scenic loop trail or go all with on the 6 mile Boy Scout Trail.
  • Go fishing for salmon, cutthroat or rainbow trout on the Smith River.
  • Visit the Battery Point Lighthouse.
Northern California coastal towns: Trinidad beach at dusk
Trnidad Beach. Photo courtesy of Visit Redwoods tourism.

2. Trinidad

Trinidad is an official gateway to the California Coastal National Monument. The Gateways include other towns on this list like: Fort Bragg, the Monterey Peninsula/ Pacific Grove, the Lost Coast/Shelter Cove and Pidgeon Point near Half Moon Bay. All of the Gateways are towns committed to following the principles of geotourism, sustainability, providing visitor information and services while also caring for the well-being of the local residents.

The town of Trinidad is tiny, so if you want shops, restaurants and spas, look elsewhere on this list of Northern California coastal towns. This town is a quiet, uncrowded getaway for people who are all about the ocean. Its main attraction is the rugged coastline and the nearby Trinidad Rocks have one of the most diverse sea bird colonies in California.

Because Trinidad is not as popular as Mendocino or Pacific Grove (both noted below), it’s also more of a value destination. This oceanfront cliff house is only 8/night!

3 Fun Things to do in Trinidad

  • Hike the Trinidad Headland Trail.
  • Visit Trinidad State Beach, although best done at low tide.
  • Learn more about the area’s history at the Trinidad Museum.
Northern California beach towns: Shelter Cove black sand beach
Shelter Cove’s Black Sand Beach.

3. Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove is by far, the most out of the way coastal town in Northern California. You can’t drive directly north from Fort Bragg, nor can you drive directly south from Crescent City. To get there, you have to backtrack from Highway 101, then go along a winding 25 mile road.

But don’t let that dissuade you, because there’s a lot of eye candy in Shelter Cove. It’s the gateway to the Lost Coast with relaxing tide pools, peaceful bike trails, and a surreal black sand beach. Even if you aren’t hiking the rugged 4 day 25 miles Lost Coast trail, you can still use Shelter Cove as a base of operations for coastal exploration.

Start by booking into the Castle Inn, which is perched right on the cliffside overlooking the ocean.

3 Fun Things to do in Shelter Cove

  • On the way up to Shelter Cove, make a stop at the Richardson Grove State Park for their short scenic loop trail featuring old growth redwoods.
  • Strike out onto the Lost Coast Trail, starting at Black Sand Beach. Which can be done as an out-and-back day trip.
  • Do some star gazing. The town is quiet and there are no street lights. So strike out a little outside of town and gaze at the heavens.
Fort Bragg California glass beach
Fort Bragg’s glass beach.

4. Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg was founded in 1857 as a military garrison. It was named after army officer Braxton Bragg, who at the time had served the U.S. in the Mexican–American War. Ten years later, the garrison was abandoned and the town began to transition to a timber economy. Fort Bragg is known for its nice mild climate. It’s also more developed than places like Gualala or Shelter Cove. So this is a good coastal getaway if you like more restaurant and lodging choices.

If you want some romance, the North Cliff hotel has ocean view bathtubs with a fireplace!

3 Fun Things to do in Fort Bragg

  • Visit the 47 acre Mendocino botanical garden. It’s part of the regional parks system and is known for their rhododendrons, heathers and camillias. It’s also a good spot for bird watching.
  • Take Skunk Train into the redwoods. This scenic 7 mile journey goes up Pudding Creek. You can also do their seasonal electric powered “rail bike” experience.
  • Grab a local brew at North Coast Brewing Company.
Mendocino coastal view. chair and cliff overlooking ocean
Mendocino town overlook.

5. Mendocino

Mendocino is the only town on the California Coast that is designated as a historical landmark. It was established in the 1850’s and has a similar vibe to Victorian Maine. Mendocino has a lovely mix of redwood forest and killer ocean views and it’s perfect for a romantic coastal getaway. The town is close to the Anderson Valley wine region, which boasts of 30 wineries. Mendocino offers a lux experience with 7 day spas and many independent massage therapists.

There are also some pretty romantic stays in Mendocino, like the Sweetwater Inn which has rooftop views and a day spa. Or your could go for some cozy romance with this wooded cabin with modern archictural touches.

3 Fun Things to do in Mendocino

  • On your way there, stop off at Navarro Vineyards, Pennyroyal Farm, Philo Ridge Vineyard or one of the many other great Anderson Valley vineyards.
  • Visit the nearby Point Cabrillo Light Station Historic Park, which has a headlands trail in addition to the lighthouse.
  • Visit the fern forest in Van Damme State Park.

Read More: Get the full downlow on all CA parks with this complete California State Parks list.

6. Gualala

This quiet Northern California coastal town is named for the river that flows through town and into the Pacific. The native Pomos used to call the area “q-ahwala-li”, which roughly translates to “coming down water place”, which the river does indeed do at Robinson’s Gulch right in town. Gualala is a good location for exploring the coastline of Northern Sonoma County and Southern Mendocino County.

The town itself is pretty tiny and it has an artsy vibe with a few galleries and art centers. But the star of the show is really the beautiful coastline. Make Gualala your base of operations and then do short day trips up and down the coast to explore. You can snag a cool stay like this ocean view home (with hot tub!)

3 Fun Things to do in Gualala

  • On the way up there, stop at Salt Point State Park (using our state park guide) where you have your choice of hiking the bluffs, a pygmie forest or in the rhododendrons. Or do all three!
  • Head north to Point Arenas lighthouse and do the 5.7 mile Point Arenas trail along the bluff.
  • Go kayaking up the Gualala river (best done in the summer).
Bodega Bay post office. red historic building
Bodega Bay’s cute post office.

7. Bodega Bay

For thousands of years the Miwok and Pomo Indians lived and harvested from the sea in what is now Bodega Bay. But the white settlement really ramped up in the early 1800’s when Russian fur traders came looking for otter and sea lion pelts, and lumber barrons looking for hardwoods. Bogeda Bay has now settled down to a sleepy fishing village of ~100 full time residents.

The town offers a nice wine weekend getaway with plenty to do for nature lovers. The quiet anchorage of the bay makes it a good spot for surfing and body boarding. The high cliffs along the Sonoma Coastline are perfect for whale watching and there is plenty of wine tasting in the region. For lodging, Check out the Seamist house with a hot tub that overlooks the ocean views or this lux house that’s right on the harbor with tons of windows.

3 Fun Things to do in Bodega Bay

  • Take the slow road into town along the Bogeda Highway and hit up the vineyards near Occidental.
  • Take an even slower road up Highway 1 toward Jenner, stopping to stroll Shell Beach or Wright Beach.
  • Go tide pooling at Schoolhouse Beach.
Bolinas beach in California. beach and rocks
Bolinas Beach.

8. Bolinas

Bolinas also makes our list of hippie towns in California for its lefty leaning liberal culture topped off with with a layer of chill surfer vibe. The people living in Bolinas like it quiet thankyouverymuch. As proof of that, they have removed the road signs telling you how to get there. Public service announcement: the mobile coverage in Bolinas is also iffy, so cache your map before you go, of you’ll never find it.

Bolinas has a nice, quiet beach and a tiny but cute little downtown. It’s just a 20 minute drive north of Stinson beach, so you can easily stay in one town and explore the other in the same weekend. If you are staying the night, check out this super cute wood cabin for rent in Bolinas.

3 Fun Things to do in Bolinas

  • Go surfing at Bolinas Beach.
  • Take a chair and a chill pill on Bolinas Beach.
  • Take a day hike on the nearby Polamarin trail, which is the very southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore.
Stinson Beach beach house bouys
Bouys festooning a beach house in Stinson Beach.

9. Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach is a thriving metropolis of 630-something full time residents. It sits perched at the western edge of Marin County and is accessible by the jaw dropping Highway one drive. All of the Marin Headlands, including Stinson Beach are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Stinson is the GGNRA’s only swimming beach. The beach is wide, flat and 3.5 miles long, so it’s perfect for a good long walk. The northern end of the beach is dog-friendly.

If you are visiting Stinson beach as a day trip from San Francisco, get there early as parking is limited. Or better yet, spend the night at this amazing oceanside cottage with private parking and killer views.

3 Fun Things to do in Stinson Beach

  • Stroll Stinson Beach.
  • Take the short .6 mile trail down to Micky’s Beach.
  • Go bird watching on the Bolinas Lagoon.
Golden Gate Bridge view from Baker Beach
Baker Beach in SF.

10. San Francisco

Surprise! In addition to being California’s second largest city, San Francisco is also its largest Northern California beach town. People actually google “does San Francisco have beaches”, which clearly indicates that SF’s coastline is off the radar. SF is at the tip of a peninsula and is surrounded on three sides by water and there are quite a few lovely beaches worth exploring. Even if you live in SF, you can make a fun staycation out of visiting the local beaches.

If you are traveling to SF from elsewhere, check out all of our other articles on the city, which include suggestions for where to stay, fun things to do and cool bookstores.

3 Beaches Worth Visiting in SF

  • Baker Beach: It’s a nice, flat sand beach with fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can simply chill on the beach, you can use the clothing optional north end of the beach or you can hike the Batteries to Bluffs trail above the beach.
  • Fort Funston: This is one of the bay area’s few dog-friendly beaches. There are some nice walks on the bluff above the beach and the water level itself is also nice. Time your visit for low tide, though.
  • Ocean Beach: This 3.5 mile stretch of SF’s western border is perfect for strolling during clear weather.
Half Moon Bay California downtown shops
Half Moon Bay’s cute downtown shops.

11. Half Moon Bay

Just a short hop south of San Francisco is Half Moon Bay. The location makes it a perfect day trip or weekend getaway from San Francisco. This area is a nature-lover’s dream. There are nine state parks located in coastal San Mateo County and you can take your pick, based upon your preference for hiking, surfing, beachcombing or wildlife viewing. Half Moon Bay’s downtown offers up lots of dining options and cute shops.

And there are some really cool Half Moon Bay Airbnbs that you can rent, like an Airstream trailer, penthouse with sunset views and a funky artsy beach house.

3 Fun Things to do in Half Moon Bay

Get our full mega guide for planning a Half Moon Bay weekend getaway.

Natural Bridges Surfer Santa Cruz
Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz.

12. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the classic Northern California coastal town. In some respects, it has an old-school beach town vibe, with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and historic Mission. And in other respects, it’s very contemporary with a thriving brewery scene and youthful energy driven by the local University crowd. There is also a strong ecological ethic in Santa Cruz and the people living and visiting there truly appreciate the natural beauty of the area.

If you are going for an overnighter, gather ideas from this weekend getaway guide and also take a peek at some of the amazing tree houses for rent in Santa Cruz.

3 Fun Things to do in Santa Cruz

  • Ride the Big Dipper Roller Coaster on the Boardwalk.
  • Watch sunset at Natural Bridges State Park.
  • Take a hike in the redwoods at Nisene Marks State Park.
Lighthouse in Pacific Grove California. white historic building
The lighthouse in Pac Grove.

12. Pacific Grove

Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel are strung along the southern end of California’s northern coastline. The region is a bit more upscale than other towns mentioned here. We are recommending Pacific Grove over Monterey and Carmel because it has a much quieter vibe. Both Monterey and Carmel have lots of fun things to do, but they are busy towns. So if you want a quieter pace and a bit of romance, base yourself out of Pacific Grove.

The town has a quaint Victorian downtown with shopping and restaurants. Golfing, whale watching tours and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are all nearby. If you are looking for a romantic getaway, consider staying at the Centrella B&B, which is a Victorian confection only blocks from the beach and Lover’s Point Park.

3 Fun Things to do in Pacific Grove

  • Take the 4 mile Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail for views of the pounding coastline (and maybe even some whales!)
  • Go wine tasting up the Carmel Valley.
  • Watch the sun set at Asilomar State Beach.

These coastal towns in Northern California offer something for everyone. From the upscale experience in Pacific Grove, to the quiet contemplation in Shelter Cove or Trinidad, these towns deliver the perfect weekend getaway if you need some peace, quiet, redwood forests and a whole lotta ocean. Enjoy!

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12 Cheapest Beach Towns in California for 2021

15-06-2021 · Crescent City tops our list of the cheapest beach towns in California. It is one of the most affordable cities in California, period, and just happens to be situated right on the beach. Crescent City is located way up north in California, just 25 minutes away from Oregon.

15-06-2021

We evaluated all the data to find the cheapest beach towns in California for 2022 so you can surf and soak in the sun all year round. While the Golden State is not known to be cheap, we were able to find the most affordable places to live in California near the beach that were mostly at or below the state’s average cost of living.

We used data from AreaVibes and BestPlaces.net to determine each town’s affordability. We chose the cost of living index and the median home price as the guidelines for determining the most affordable beach towns in California.

With that being said, these values and indexes are all relative since California is notorious for being a costly place to live. Keep in mind that we are defining the idea of “cheap” and “affordable” compared to the rest of the state. These levels are generally much higher than the rest of the US. Remember, the median home value in California is almost 0,000 while the average cost of living is 41% higher than the rest of the nation.

Still, we managed to find a handful of places across the state that offer a reasonable value while being near the beach. We also made note of the overall desirability, which includes aspects like crime levels, things to do, and location, so read each summary carefully to figure out which of these places are right for you.

Alright, let’s see the top 12 cheapest beach towns in California for 2022.

Please note that some links below are affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you make a purchase through our links, but at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support!

12 Cheapest Beach Towns in California – 2022 Update

12. Ventura

cheapest-beach-towns-in-california-ventura-california

Population: 109,067
Cost of Living Index: 5% Higher than California Average
Median Home Price: 8,700
Location: Check on Google Maps

Ventura is a relaxed, yet dynamic beach town that is just 1 hour up the coast from Los Angeles. It exudes quintessential beach town vibes and offers miles of coastlines and tons of parks across the city. There is also a historic downtown that features numerous restaurants and an overall laid-back atmosphere.

It’s not the cheapest beach town ever, but it is actually a bargain compared to the glamorous beach towns in Los Angeles and the rest of SoCal that are nearby. It basically offers the same chilled out lifestyle, but with less fanfare (and much lower costs).

11. San Pedro

Population: 73,264
Cost of Living Index: 3% Higher than California Average
Median Home Price: 4,044
Location: Check on Google Maps

San Pedro is a neighborhood in the south part of Los Angeles that sits right on the beach. Since it is in LA, the median home prices are still quite high, but the rest of the costs are actually close to the state average. It is one of Los Angeles’ busiest port towns, yet still feels like a small beach town.

Its crime rates are 24% lower than the rest of the LA area, while housing prices are actually 10% lower than the surrounding neighborhoods, making it one of the most affordable places to live in California near the beach in Los Angeles.

10. Grover Beach

Population: 13,484
Cost of Living Index: 1% Higher than California Average
Median Home Price: 3,200
Location: Check on Google Maps

Here is a small beach community that is located in San Luis Obispo County, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Highway 1 passes right through this family-friendly town that is famous for its sand dunes and the limitless number of outdoor activities that are possible directly on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Grover Beach is also quite safe, with a crime rate that is 25% lower than the national average. Considering the amenities it offers and its prime location between 2 major cities, Grover Beach is a good value and a strong option for the cheapest beachfront property in California.

9. Long Beach

Population: 469,793
Cost of Living Index: 0% Lower than California Average
Median Home Price: 3,600
Location: Check on Google Maps

Here is another neighborhood directly within Los Angeles. Long Beach is the largest place on this list and is located in South LA, right next to San Pedro and just 20 minutes away from its much pricier neighbors of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. It’s not exactly a sleepy, coastal village, so be prepared to live a faster pace of life here.

Long Beach may not have had a stellar reputation in the past, but it has been rapidly improving, with many new high-rise buildings and residential townhouses that have been built recently. Crime rates are just 5% higher than the California average, but just like any city, there are some good and some not so good neighborhoods, so take time to research it further.

Still, Long Beach offers a great value considering its location and its access to legendary SoCal beaches that are just minutes away.

8. Oceanside

most-affordable-places-to-live-in-california-near-the-beach-oceanside

Population: 174,811
Cost of Living Index: 1% Lower than California Average
Median Home Price: 9,000
Location: Check on Google Maps

Oceanside is the 3rd largest city in San Diego County, just 35 minutes north of San Diego. It is also right next to Camp Pendleton, a U.S. military base.

There is the famous, scenic pier that reaches far into the ocean and a beautiful stretch of beachfront that is lined with palm trees. Just a few blocks from the water are lively streets filled with restaurants, shops, and cafes.

Oceanside is relatively affordable for a city in this area, and the fact that it is right on the beach makes it one of the most affordable beach towns in California in the San Diego area.

7. Oxnard

most-affordable-beach-towns-in-california-oxnard

Population: 204,572
Cost of Living Index: 3% Lower than California Average
Median Home Price: 3,100
Location: Check on Google Maps

Oxnard is a seaside community about 1 hour northwest of Los Angeles. It’s a neighbor to Ventura, which was #12 on this list.

Like Ventura, Oxnard offers miles of sandy and rocky beaches, but its population is double its size and it is generally more affordable. In fact, home prices here are about 0,000 less than Ventura on average.

Oxnard represents a great value, especially considering everything it has to offer. Residents can enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities on the beach or around the famous Channel Islands Harbor. There is also a historic downtown that is packed with charming little restaurants and boutiques. It even has its own airport and two automotive museums.

Crime is also 6% lower than the rest of the nation, making it an ideal place for families who want a laid-back environment but still want to be close to Los Angeles.

6. Imperial Beach

Population: 27,180
Cost of Living Index: 3% Lower than California Average
Median Home Price: 9,600
Location: Check on Google Maps

Imperial Beach is a residential community in San Diego that is just 15 minutes from downtown San Diego. It is also only 10 minutes away from the Mexican border.

Residents can take long strolls along the beach as well as enjoy the southernmost pier in California. There are also many restaurants and shops along the busy Seacoast Drive that is just one block away from the water.

Additionally, you can spend time at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which is an excellent place for hikers and bikers to enjoy nature.

The homes in Imperial Beach aren’t super cheap, coming in at over 0,000, but the rest of the living costs are reasonable, at a rate of 3% less than the state average. That’s not bad considering the fact that you get direct access to the beach and are in close proximity to San Diego.

5. Oceano

Population: 8,262
Cost of Living Index: 9% Lower than California Average
Median Home Price: 6,300
Location: Check on Google Maps

Oceano is a small little town that is right next to Grover Beach, which was #10 on this list of the cheapest beach towns in California. Oceano is about 7% cheaper than Grover Beach, while its median home price is almost ,000 lower. What are the possible reasons for this?

Generally, Oceano has fewer amenities than Grover Beach. It offers fewer restaurants and stores compared to Grover Beach, which features the area’s Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Vons, and Aldi. So, you would need to drive a bit further to get to these places.

But, you would get the same easy access to the sandy beaches along Pismo State Beach. Oceano offers a strong balance of value and the beach life in California for those looking to save some cash, making it one the most affordable places to live in California near the beach.

4. Arcata

Population: 17,775
Cost of Living Index: 10% Lower than California Average
Median Home Price: 5,400
Location: Check on Google Maps

Arcata is located in Northern California in Humboldt County, about 5 hours north of San Francisco. This cheap beach town sits right on Arcata Bay and is just 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean’s shoreline at Humboldt Beach.

The town offers a relaxed lifestyle with a strong, tight knit community among the vast forests surrounding it. In fact, the Redwoods National and State Parks are just 30 minutes from Arcata.

Within the city, there are a handful of locally-owned restaurants and shops primarily clustered near Arcata Plaza, which is the core of the quaint downtown area. Arcata even has its own university within the city. Humboldt State University helps provide the town with a youthful energy that makes it a fun, yet affordable place to live in California near the beach.

3. Eureka

30 BEST BEACHES in CALIFORNIA

The 30 Best Beaches in California. 1. Malibu Beaches: El Matador, Paradise Cove, Leo Carillo, Surfrider. We’re cheating a little, including all our favorite Malibu beaches under one umbrella entry, even though they spread for some 16 miles west from Malibu Pier.

SD › Best Beaches
Updated: January 6, 2022

See Also

• Big Sur – Where to Stay
• California Wine Country – Where to Stay
• Los Angeles – Where to Stay
• Monterey – Where to Stay
• Palm Springs – Where to Stay
• San Diego – Where to Stay
• San Francisco – Where to Stay
• Santa Barbara – Where to Stay
• Santa Cruz – Where to Stay

Beach in California

El Matador Beach in Malibu – 20 miles west of Los Angeles and a 10-minute drive from the wonderful Malibu Beach Inn.

• With around 840 miles of Pacific coastline, California boasts some of the best beaches in the world, swathes of gold and white sand famed for their sunsets, marine life and sunny skies – as well as a vibrant surf and beach culture. We’ve narrowed down our list of favorites beaches to 30, ranging from the lively city beaches of San Diego and Los Angeles to the wilderness strands protected by National Parks. Most of our choices fall south of San Francisco – though the coast of Northern California is gorgeous, the water is usually far too rough and cold for swimming

• When to Visit Californian beaches: Californian beaches are at their best from late May to early October when there’s great weather and the seawater is a little warmer for swimming – in Southern California at least. North of San Francisco swimming in the Pacific is for the hardy only with the exception of Hearts Desire Beach in Point Reyes.

• The best “off-the-beaten path” beaches in California are Panther Beach, McClures Beach, Sand Dollar Beach, and San Gregorio State Beach. The best city beaches are in Carmel, Santa Monica, and Coronado.

• The best California beach for families is Salt Creek Beach (and nearby Baby Beach, in Dana Point – about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego).

• The best California beaches for partying are the Santa Cruz, Venice, and San Diego beaches.

• The best beaches for surfing are Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, Huntington Beach, Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, Asilomar State Beach, Newport Beach, and San Onofre State Beach (Trestles Beach).

The best beach hotels in California: Malibu Beach Inn (Malibu) • Shutters on the Beach (Santa Monica) • Casa del Mar (Santa Monica) • Hotel Erwin (Venice Beach) • Montage (Laguna Beach) • Pacific Terrace Hotel (Pacific Beach) • Tower 23 (Pacific Beach) • Hotel del Coronado (Coronada) • Kimpton Shorebreak (Huntington Beach)

Beach resort in California.

The Hotel del Coronado on one of San Diego’s best beaches.

We’re cheating a little, including all our favorite Malibu beaches under one umbrella entry, even though they spread for some 16 miles west from Malibu Pier. Some of the best beaches in the US are here, though they can get crowded in the summer. El Matador State Beach is a series of coves (cliff-foot strips known as “pocket beaches”), below crumbly amber cliffs pockmarked with caves. Paradise Cove is another gorgeous spot backed by sandstone cliffs and with the added bonus of a waterfront café and hip beach scene. Next to Malibu Pier itself, Surfrider Beach is a legendary surf spot, as is Leo Carrillo State Park.

2. Panther Beach

Some nine miles northwest from Santa Cruz on Hwy-1, this is one of our all-time favorite beaches. It’s a relatively small cove, crammed with gorgeous golden sands and hemmed in by white cliffs. On the south side a rock arch leads to even more pristine Hole-In-The-Wall Beach. Though it’s incredibly picturesque, it’s a bit rough for swimming (and the water’s usually too cold).

3. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Big Sur features some wonderfully wild beaches, but this is the best, framed by giant cliffs and massive rocks in the surf. The white-sand stretch (with lilac hues) is dominated by two giant humps of rock, one of which has a keyhole sea arch (in mid-winter the sun sets behind it). It’s another place where swimming isn’t great, though – chilly and rough – and it can get very busy in the summer months.

4. San Gregorio State Beach

Some 40 miles south of San Francisco, this is another one of our favorites, a long, wide strand of smooth sand backed by beautiful cliffs. There’s also a creek and lagoon that attracts thousands of seabirds. It’s possible to stroll for two miles south from here to Pomponio State Beach – it’s often deserted. Like Panther and Pfeiffer, it’s not a good place to swim, though – the rip currents are strong and the water is usually pretty cold.

5. Crystal Cove State Beach

One of our favorite SoCal beaches, this gorgeous strand in Orange County, tucked away beneath a line of sandy cliffs, is just 2.5 miles northwest of downtown Laguna Beach. At low tide its perfect for beach strolls and tide-pool exploring. Eat at Crystal Cove Shake Shack back up the cliff on Hwy-1. Sunsets here are mesmerizing, and in summer, swimming is usually possible.

6. McClures Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

One of our few choices north of San Francisco, this wild and remote beach is worth the effort; a short walk downhill after a long drive to the northwestern shore of Tomales Point. It’s a sensational, often deserted strip of golden sand hemmed in by sandy cliffs – there’s a real “end of the world” vibe. There’s a lot more to discover nearby – Point Reyes National Seashore boasts around 80 miles of shoreline. Other favorites includes Drakes Beach (backed by white sandstone cliffs) and Kehoe Beach, with giant dunes and a blend of dramatic sandstone and granite cliffs. On the protected Tomales Bay is Hearts Desire Beach – not as picturesque but the shallow calm water make it the best beach near San Francisco for kids and families.

7. Santa Monica & Venice Beach (Los Angeles)

We had to include the state’s most iconic beaches – and our top city beaches – home to famous piers, Muscle Beach, a jam-packed boardwalk, and a host of wacky characters – as well as a swathe of beautiful sand. Strolling the two-mile boardwalk between Santa Monica and Venice is a right of passage for any visitor to the Golden State, taking in the skaters, surfers, street performers, and lively beach bar scene. Santa Monica is more upmarket, with the celebrated Pier and cliffs of Palisades Park anchoring the seafront. To the south, alternative Venice is a little rougher around the edges but always fascinating. The main strip ends at 1,300-foot long Venice Pier and locally celebrated Hinano Café. Several of the best hotels in Los Angeles are nearby or within a short drive.

Best beach hotel in Los Angeles.

Casa del Mar is the best hotel on Santa Monica Beach in Los Angeles.

Exclusive Carmel-by-the-Sea features this blissfully undeveloped swathe of white sand with plenty of space – and spectacular sunsets. Small beach fires are permitted at the southern end. Though Carmel is best known for its chic boutique hotels, galleries and restaurants, its beach is one of our favorites, with sugary, clean sands – it’s also a fun place to swim (though currents can be strong). Just to the south, equally enticing Carmel River State Beach fronts an idyllic mile-long bay that also features a bird sanctuary at its southern end. Though it often looks a lot calmer, riptides are strong here and it’s not a good idea to swim.

9. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

Part of MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg, Glass Beach gets its name from the heaps of multicolored sea glass that once piled up on the shore here. Three separate coves here were used as a local trash dump right up to 1967, discarded bottles and ceramics gradually breaking down to form colorful circles and lumps. Though it’s illegal to remove the glass, many visitors have done so, meaning that there’s not as much glass to see today on the main “Glass Beach” (there’s more on the other two, slightly less accessible sites) – it remains incredibly pretty, however, and a fascinating place to visit.

10. Coronado Beach

Just across the bay from Downtown San Diego (linked by ferry and the Coronado Bridge), Coronado boasts one of the best beaches in the US, with sparkling sand (thanks to specks of mica, the sand literally glitters in the sun), a revitalized main drag (Orange Avenue), and a selection of superb beach hotels, including the celebrated Hotel del Coronado, an elegant Victorian resort opened in 1888 (made famous by Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot”).

11. Santa Cruz Beaches

Santa Cruz is a quintessential California beach town, with miles of sandy beaches and excellent surfing. The main city beach is a wide and sandy strip either side of the aging wooden pier, Santa Cruz Wharf. There are volleyball courts on the beach, while the water is safe and (usually) warm enough for swimming in the summer. The best surf breaks can be found at Steamer Lane, just to the south. Further west lies the incredibly scenic Natural Bridges State Beach; here waves have cut holes through coastal cliffs to form arches, though three of the four “bridges” have collapsed, with just large stacks protruding from the ocean today.

12. Salt Creek Beach

Another Orange County, favorite, some six miles south from Laguna Beach on Hwy-1. Salt Creek Beach Park is justly popular with families, who come to enjoy the swimming, body surfing, sunbathing, and tide pools (lifeguards are on duty here in the summer, and there are restrooms and a snack shop). Thanks to a small reef offshore, the beach gets some of the best left swells in all SoCal – it’s also popular with surfers. Just to the south lies narrow but equally attractive Dana Strand Beach, while in Dana Point itself, just over a mile away, Baby Beach is a wonderfully sheltered cove perfect for youngsters.

13. Hermosa Beach

One of our favorite LA beaches (though neighboring Manhattan Beach is almost as fun), with fewer tourists than Santa Monica/Venice, and a cool eating and drinking scene. It retains a slightly laid-back 1960s surfer vibe, despite being a relatively wealthy community today, with a pleasant boardwalk, Hermosa Beach Pier, and a well-maintained swathe of sand. Jazz club Lighthouse Café (www.thelighthousecafe.net) just behind the pier, as well as several surfer bars and dives, make this a fun spot after dark.

14. Del Mar & Solana Beaches

The adjacent communities of Del Mar and Solana Beach, 20 miles north of San Diego, feature long, sandy beaches and warm weather year-round. Del Mar’s Main Beach runs from Powerhouse Park to 29th Street, where there’s a popular Dog Beach (dogs allowed off the leash), while north of the San Dieguito River Solana Beach features 1.7 miles of beachfront comprising four parks; Fletcher Cove (aka “Pillbox), Tide Beach Park, Seascape Surf, and Del Mar Shores, popular for surfing, surf-fishing, swimming, and body-boarding.

15. West & East Beach, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is one of California’s oldest, most attractive (and affluent cities), famed for its wine, boutiques, museums, old Spanish Mission, and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Yet its two main beaches provide much of the allure. West Beach is a beautiful, wide stretch of sand, with ocean view restaurants and a great bike and walking path, sandwiched between the marina and Stearns Wharf. East Beach offers more space but also loads of activities, from volleyball to windsurfing – it’s also just steps away from the wineries of the Funk Zone.

16. Cambria – Moonstone Beach

Located to the south of Big Sur, Cambria is a popular seaside resort, with a large choice of accommodation facing Moonstone Beach, its premier attraction. This beautiful brown-sand beach is known for its pristine coves and tide pools – it’s not hard to find an empty section, even in summer, and seals often lounge on the shore.

17. Black Sands Beach, Marin Headlands

This mile-long black sand beach, north of San Francisco (just across the Golden Gate Bridge), is my favorite in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, though there are several contenders (Rodeo Beach and Muir Beach). Expect fabulous views, soft and smooth sands, and a short but steep climb up and down the cliffs to get there. Note that the beach can narrow considerably at high tide.

Hotel near Huntington Beach Pier.

The view of the pier from the wonderful Kimpton Shorebreak in Huntington Beach.

It’s hard not to love “Surf City USA”, a small town crammed with hip cafes and bars facing a long, sandy beach – surf, swim, sunbathe, fish or just enjoy the incredible sunsets. It’s also known for its volleyball courts and fire-rings for beach bonfires. An 8.5-mile paved beachside trail connects the main beaches on this popular strip, starting Huntington State Beach south of town, and taking in 3.5-mile Huntington City Beach and its dedicated Dog Beach. To the north lies Bolsa Chica State Beach and Sunset Beach. The most famous surf spot is on the south side of Huntington Beach Pier (notably in winter), where the pilings create a sandbar and current rotation.

19. Pacific Beach and Mission Beach (San Diego)

San Diego’s most popular beach enclaves begin seven miles northwest of Downtown, with Pacific Beach our absolute favorite – it’s another top spot for gorgeous sunsets, beach life, boardwalk fun, surfing, and places to eat and drink. Plus there’s Crystal Pier Hotel, right on the pier. From here there are almost three miles of beach due south, as Pacific Beach blends into the narrow Mission Beach community, best known for Belmont Park, an old-fashioned amusement park. Most of San Diego’s best hotels are within a 20-minute drive of the beaches.

20. Pebble Beach, Crescent City

There are numerous wild and scenic beaches in the far north of California, but this is our favorite. At low tide, it’s a huge swathe of sand, with the ocean picturesquely studded with hundreds of islets and rocky outcrops (the biggest is known as Castle Rock). With misty mountains in the distance it makes for a fantastical, otherworldly scene, home to hundreds of seabirds, seals, and sea lions.

21. Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach

Of the many enticing strips of sand in Laguna Beach, this is one of the best, a beautifully maintained bay surrounded by cliffs lined with palm trees and expensive homes. The iconic staircase down is pretty steep (though there are not a thousand steps, just over 200). A little further north, otherwise similar Victoria Beach features the bizarre “Pirate Tower” at its northern end, a medieval-like turret built in 1926.

22. Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur

Sand Dollar Beach is the longest stretch of sand along the Big Sur coast – busy in summer due to the adjacent Plaskett Creek Campground, but often deserted at other times. It forms a long, wide bay, surrounded by mountains; as well as being very picturesque it’s not a bad place to swim (on a warm day), though it can also get choppy (then it’s popular with surfers).

23. Capitola Beach

Affluent Capitola is a charming seaside community to the east of Santa Cruz, its small center and beach split by the Soquel Creek. On the west side sits the old pier, Capitola Wharf, topped with the Wharf House Restaurant, while candy-colored “Venetian Village” cottages line the sand behind it – it makes for one of the prettiest beach backdrops in the state. On the east side stands the main commercial district, including a number of waterside restaurants along the Esplanade. Capitola is also a great place to learn to surf, with mostly gentle waves.

24. La Jolla Shores Beach

This is the mile-long main beach near to chic La Jolla, north of San Diego, great for surfing, bodyboarding and kayaking. La Jolla is San Diego’s most affluent seaside community, with a dramatic coastline of caves and cliffs, cute little beaches, high-quality dining, and boutique shopping. Just to the north of La Jolla Shores lies the wooded bluffs of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and famous clothing-optional Black’s Beach.

Best La Jolla Hotel near Beaches.

La Valencia Hotel is walking distance from several of La Jolla’s best beaches.

Ten miles south of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach is best-known for its miles of yachts and yacht clubs, as well as its famous and affluent inhabitants. Yet the narrow Balboa Peninsula boasts a gorgeous three-mile-long strand, with plenty of action around Newport Pier at the end of 20th Street, and Balboa Pier (home to Ruby’s Diner). It’s usually good for swimming, with plenty of surfing and volleyball on offer, as well as fabulous sunsets.

26. Avila Beach

North of Pismo Beach, the central Californian summer resort town of Avila Beach boasts a short but wide swathe of silky white sand either side of 1,685ft-long Avila Beach Pier. The town itself is small and low-key, and it’s common to spot grey and humpback whales offshore in the summer. In between here and Pismo Beach is Pirate’s Cove Beach, one of the state’s most secluded clothing-optional beaches.

27. Silver Strand State Beach

Eight miles south of San Diego, and not far from the Mexican border, this protected section of sandy isthmus is one of the most underrated beaches in the state. The park encompasses 2.5 miles of Pacific beach and a half-mile along San Diego Bay on the protected side of the isthmus. The water on the bay side is better for swimmers – usually much warmer and calmer. Restrooms and cold showers are available on both sides.

28. Half Moon Bay State Beach

Some 25 miles south from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a laid-back seaside community known for its beaches backed by mountains, and seafood restaurants. Half Moon Bay State Beach features four miles of wide, sandy strands, with plenty of space, even in summer. Rip currents and cold water make swimming unadvisable, however. Nearby is Mavericks Beach, the legendary surf break.

29. Pismo Beach

Another laid-back seaside town in the Central Coast, with a wide, sandy beach – it’s best known for its local clams and the huge Oceano Dunes just to the south. The 1200-foot Pismo Beach Pier offers fine views of surfers riding the waves, while the sandy city beach stretches north and south from here, blending into Pismo State Beach three miles south. Off-road vehicle enthusiasts ride buggies at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, California’s only drive-on beach.

30. San Onofre State Beach

Beach set beach below beautiful sandstone bluffs, just off I-5. It’s best known as a world-class surfing hotspot, with legendary Trestles in the northern section (accessible by a 1.5-mile trail under the Trestles Bridge). The four other main breaks are “The Point,” “Old Man’s,” and “Dogpatch” and Trails. Swimmers and sunbathers will also enjoy the beaches here, and whales, dolphins and sea lions often frolic offshore.

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10 Best Beaches in California (with Map)

The Golden State, as it is also known, California is blessed with an incredible coastline that is home to a host of beautiful beaches that are among the best in the United States. Very much a…

The Golden State, as it is also known, California is blessed with an incredible coastline that is home to a host of beautiful beaches that are among the best in the United States.

Very much a trendsetter when it comes to popular culture, many people imagine California to be a laidback place that is a paradise for surfers; its scenic beaches with their chilled out vibe certainly promote this image.

With world-famous cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego located in the state, as well as renowned attractions like Beverly Hills and the Golden Gate Bridge, California is an amazing place to visit, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Offering the most enticing mix of gorgeous scenery, vibrant cities, and friendly, welcoming people; California and its beautiful beaches are the places to be.

10. Paradise Cove[SEE MAP]

© Eugene Everett / Dreamstime

Nestled away amidst some dramatic looking craggy cliffs and tree-covered hills, the aptly named Paradise Cove is a lovely little spot to visit. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the state.

Due to its popularity, there is now a fee to enter the scenic beach; while this has kept some of the crowds at bay, it can still get a bit crowded on weekends.

With its sun-kissed golden sands, beautiful views out over the Pacific, and welcoming, chilled out atmosphere, Paradise Cove more than lives up to its name.

9. Manhattan Beach[SEE MAP]

© Luckyphotographer / Dreamstime

With a very upscale feel to it, Manhattan Beach is one of the most expensive places to live in Los Angeles County; that comes as no surprise, as its setting on the Pacific coast is absolutely stunning.

As well as the wonderful beach, visitors will find a plethora of beautiful houses on display, as well as lots of fancy restaurants, trendy boutiques, and some very stylish hotels. At weekends, it can get a bit crowded, as the rich and fabulous descend upon Manhattan Beach to enjoy all that it has to offer up.

In addition to all this, you’re only a half hour drive away from the center of Los Angeles. So if you want to combine your trip to the beach with a look at the Hollywood sign, a visit to Beverly Hills and a walk down Sunset Boulevard, this is the perfect location to do so.

8. Natural Bridges State Beach[SEE MAP]

© Luciavega / Dreamstime

One of the best beaches in the whole of the Golden State, Natural Bridges State Beach is so named because of its beautiful rock arch that is so impressive to gaze upon. There is a very untouched and wild look about the place.

Located in a lovely state park just outside of Santa Cruz, the beach has loads of wildlife on show. Many people come here to watch the spectacular monarch butterfly migration which takes place every year when thousands upon thousands of them flutter their way through the park.

Due to its proximity to Santa Cruz, there is loads to see and do in the local area. After taking in the delightful views and lounging on the beach for a while, visitors can choose to go hiking, surfing or even head off to explore the city itself.

Well worth a visit, the desolate and unspoiled appearance of Natural Bridges State Park will make you feel like you’re a million miles away from civilization, so is ideal for people looking to immerse themselves in nature.

7. La Jolla Shores Beach[SEE MAP]

© Sherryvsmith / Dreamstime

One of the best beaches in the state, La Jolla Shores Beach’s expansive golden sands are bordered by some spectacular sea cliffs, and its location on the outskirts of San Diego makes it a popular weekend getaway.

While it can get a little crowded, it is well worth checking out. There is loads to do here in addition to the beautiful scenery and sweeping coastal views.

Especially popular with swimmers and kayakers, the waters that border the beach are rich in marine life, so it is worth renting or bringing along some snorkeling gear when visiting La Jolla Shores Beach.

Lots of great restaurants, bars, and hotels can be found nearby, and many visitors to the beach combine their stay with a visit to San Diego so that they can enjoy all that the city has to offer.

6. Arroyo Burro Beach[SEE MAP]

© Giovanni Gagliardi / Dreamstime

Located in the county of Santa Barbara and hemmed in by rugged coastal bluffs, Arroyo Burro Beach is a beautiful yet desolate place to visit.

The large waves that pound the coast only add to its wild appearance. Many surfers come here to ride the swells, while locals come to walk their dogs.

The beach has lots of facilities on offer, so you’ll often come across people having a picnic, firing up a barbecue, or fishing in the shallows. For those with a sharp eye, whales can sometimes be spotted off the coast.

With some large parks lying just a stone’s throw away from its golden sands, Arroyo Burro Beach is perfect for people looking to immerse themselves in nature.

5. Mission Beach[SEE MAP]

© Sherryvsmith / Dreamstime

Lying between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay, the thin strip of land that separates the two is actually man-made and contains the fabulous Mission Beach, which has a number of different sides to it.

At one end lies Belmont Park. This amusement park has loads of hair-raising rides, as well as lots of shops and restaurants to boot. Away from what it offers up in terms of entertainment, the beach has a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, ranging from swimming and surfing to volleyball and watersports.

After a blissful day spent lounging on the beautiful beach, many people sample the lively nightlife at the numerous bars and clubs lining the beachfront or enjoy a sumptuous meal while watching the sunset over the Pacific.

Located in the westernmost part of San Diego, Mission Beach offers up the perfect package of gorgeous golden sands and vibrant city life.

4. Carmel Beach[SEE MAP]

© Gavril Margittai / Dreamstime

The dazzling white sands of Carmel Beach are lined with picturesque green hills, and strolling amid the spectacular scenery while taking in the ocean views is a lovely experience.

Certainly one of the most beautiful beaches in California, Carmel Beach is blessed with incredible sunsets and is much quieter and more relaxed than many other beaches in the state.

As it lies right next to Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are many restaurants, bars, and hotels for visitors to check out – although, in truth, most people come for the solitude and the spectacular scenery.


3. Huntington Beach[SEE MAP]

© Debra Tosca / Dreamstime

Nicknamed ‘Surf City,’ it should come as no surprise that Huntington Beach is renowned around the world for its fabulous surf spots. So of course, it just had to feature in a Beach Boys song at some point.

Beautiful to behold, the palm tree-lined beach stretches for over fifteen kilometers and the gigantic waves that crash dramatically just offshore mean that it is very much a mecca for surfers.

Away from the water, the city itself has loads going on. There are plenty of bars and nightclubs to go out in after a busy day spent sunbathing or strolling along the pier.



2. Santa Monica State Beach[SEE MAP]

© Mariagroth / Dreamstime

Stretching along most of Santa Monica’s coastline, this lively beach is great fun to head to. There is so much going on here, and its fantastic location means that you’re only a stone’s throw away from such renowned sights as Beverly Hills and Venice Beach.

The delightful Santa Monica Pier, for instance, has lots of amusement rides on offer that will keep the whole family entertained. Along the beachfront, there is a multitude of great restaurants, bars, and cafes for you to check out.

While simply kicking back and relaxing on the beach is divine, there are loads of beach activities to try your hand at, such as volleyball, surfing, and swimming, alongside relaxing yoga classes.

There is a very laidback atmosphere about the place, and Santa Monica itself is known for its alternative scene. Indeed, there are lots of great little art galleries scattered around town and many street performers putting on shows along the boardwalk.


1. Venice Beach[SEE MAP]

NickiMM / Flickr

With its lively yet laidback atmosphere that manages to be both fun and festive at the same time, Venice Beach’s boardwalk is a special place to visit. Here, you really will come across people from all walks of life.

Whether it’s streets performers putting on a crazy and exciting show, artists sketching caricatures of people, or bodybuilders working out along the beachfront, Venice Beach welcomes everyone and is renowned for its alternative culture.

Home to a number of artists, activists, and eccentrics, the beach itself is gorgeous and is a favorite haunt amongst Los Angeles residents. Tourists come here to enjoy its lively Ocean Front Walk and the sweet little canals that lie just behind the beachfront.

Although the area has become slightly gentrified in recent years, it still retains many of the delightful little shops, atmospheric cafes, and hip coffee bars that help make it Venice Beach.




californiabeaches.com

08-12-2016 · See details . Davenport Beach. Davenport Beach, a.k.a. San Vicente Beach, is the southern beach of two beaches right in the little town of Davenport, California. This beach is easily accessible and the other one […] See details . Davenport Cove & Shark Fin Beach. This is a sandy beach in a small but deep cove south of the town of Davenport.

08-12-2016

You’d be hard-pressed to find a traveler who hasn’t heard of our spotlight coastal communities like Malibu and Laguna Beach. But nestled along the California coastline sit dozens of off-the-grid beach towns, many of which are true hidden gems. If you haven’t heard of these spots, perhaps it’s time to venture out and explore them.

Capitola

Capitola, the oldest seaside town in California, is about a 90 minute drive (south) from San Francisco. Its rows of colorful Venetian inspired beach bungalows give it the kind of old world charm you’ll rarely find here, and its lowkey but wonderful shops, restaurants and hotels make it a must-see. We highly recommend enjoying some sustainable seafood with a view at Margaritaville or sipping a latte from Mr. Toots Coffeehouse.

Cayucos

Cayucos Pier at state beach bryce14 (5)

You’ll find Cayucos on the coast of San Luis Obispo County along California State Route 1 between Cambria and Morro Bay. The picturesque town has escaped the over development seen in its nearby cities, and it’s the perfect place if you’re looking for a small town vibe. Since 1906, local cowboys have been hanging out at the Old Cayucos Tavern, and the Cayucos Pier is a great place for an evening stroll.

Carpinteria

If you like stunning scenery, friendly people, and the “world’s safest beach,” head 15 minutes south of Santa Barbara to Carpinteria. The relaxed atmosphere and beautiful scenery will win you over. Carpinteria State Beach offers a mile of peaceful shoreline to explore.

Davenport

IMG_7009 (Large)

Located in Santa Cruz County, Davenport is a quaint little town with a lot to offer. It was founded in 1868 and named after a sea captain, and it still maintains plenty of its original charms. The Bonnie Doon Vineyard has a great tasting room, and the Swanton Berry Farm is a great place to stop for a snack and some jam tasting. Plus, you can relax on Davenport Landing Beach.

Oxnard

Laid back and unpretentious, Oxnard is located in Ventura County. From whale watching in winter to outdoor adventures in the summertime, there’s never a bad time to visit. Though it’s just minutes from northern Malibu, Oxnard is a great place to go if you’re on a budget. Enjoy an old school breakfast at Mrs. Olson’s Coffee Hut, explore the beautiful Mandalay Beach, and hop on a boat to the perpetually uncrowded Channel Islands National Park.

Beaches on this list

  • Capitola City Beach is a sandy beach at the north end of Monterey Bay in Capitola, CA. It’s a popular urban beach that can be jam packed on sunny days […]

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  • Davenport Beach, a.k.a. San Vicente Beach, is the southern beach of two beaches right in the little town of Davenport, California. This beach is easily accessible and the other one […]

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  • This is a sandy beach in a small but deep cove south of the town of Davenport. Davenport Cove is locally known by several different names including Shark Fin Cove […]

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  • Davenport Landing Beach is a short drive from Highway 1 on Davenport Landing Road just north of Davenport, CA. Parking spots can be found along this loop road next to […]

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  • Cayucos State Beach is right on the waterfront in the town of Cayucos, California. The Cayucos Pier is a popular old wooden fishing pier that juts out from the beach […]

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  • Cayucos Beach is the city-owned beach south of the state beach in Cayucos, CA. Cayucos Beach lies in front of the many beachfront homes along Pacific Avenue south of the […]

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  • Carpinteria City Beach starts where Linden Avenue (the main drag in Carpinteria) ends at the ocean. It runs north for three city blocks to Ash Avenue where the beach in […]

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  • Carpinteria State Beach is an excellent white sand beach right in the city of Carpinteria. The state beach starts at Linden Avenue and continues south to Tar Pits Beach at […]

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  • The Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary is a harbor seal rookery next to the old oil pier just south of Carpinteria State Beach. As expected, the beach at the sanctuary is off-limits […]

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  • Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve is an open space park above the ocean waves south of Carpinteria, CA. The land in the preserve was purchased with donations to protect it from […]

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  • Oxnard Beach Park is on a wide sandy beach in Oxnard, California. The beach makes up the shoreline between Hollywood Beach to the south and Mandalay Beach to the north. […]

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  • Hollywood Beach in Oxnard is located on the south end of the peninsula that separates Channel Islands Harbor from the ocean. Hollywood Beach is wide and about a mile long. […]

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  • Mandalay State Beach is a protected area of beach, dunes, and wetlands between a power generation plant and the Oxnard Shores neighborhood of Oxnard, CA. This is a popular place […]

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8 Of The Best Beach Towns Southern California

31-07-2016 · Only 30 miles from the heart of San Diego, Solana Beach is a prime beach town destination with close to 2-miles of coastline for your favorite beach activities. After a day in the sun and the sand, head to town to explore the local shops and get a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. 5. Laguna Beach.

31-07-2016

Posted in Southern California Attractions July 31, 2016 by Angela

We all know that Southern California is home to many gorgeous beaches, but oftentimes the quaint towns associated with those beaches get overlooked. Here’s a look at the charming coastal communities that can be found along the coast of SoCal that deserve just as much attention. If your ideal day includes a relaxing main street stroll, window shopping and indulging in a tasty meal at a charming restaurant, then these beach towns will make you swoon.

During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.

1. Encinitas

This casual beachside community in San Diego county is a charming destination for anyone looking for a beach getaway. You'll find quaint local shops and tasty restaurants dotted along the main street only a few short blocks from the beach.
2. Carpinteria
This ideal coastal city is small enough to feel remote and secluded while still offering all the amenities needed to satisfy all your shopping and dining cravings. Spend the day swimming at the beach, then take a leisurely stroll through town for pure weekend bliss.
3. Manhattan Beach
With walkable neighborhood streets lined with the most gorgeous beach cottages you can imagine, Manhattan Beach is a destination perfect for strolling and daydreaming. If you're looking for a beach town with award-winning restaurants, you're in the right spot. Indulge in mouthwatering cuisine then head out for a walk on the beach and catch the sunset. This place is heavenly!
4. Solana Beach
Solana Beach may not be a secret anymore, but if you have a chance to visit you'll feel like you have stumbled on a hidden hideaway. Only 30 miles from the heart of San Diego, Solana Beach is a prime beach town destination with close to 2-miles of coastline for your favorite beach activities. After a day in the sun and the sand, head to town to explore the local shops and get a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants.
5. Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is the kind of place that feels like you could only dream up in your mind, but it actually exists. Conveniently located between Los Angeles and San Diego, it's a short drive for anyone looking for a rejuvenating getaway. If you love the beach, but also love art and nature, Laguna Beach is paradise. From art galleries to nature hikes and quaint eateries to beachside bars, Laguna Beach truly has it all.
6. La Jolla by the Sea
Wine festivals, farmers markets and outdoor cafés are just a few of the treasures you can find in La Jolla. For a real beach town treat, check out the Cave Store in La Jolla and take a land tour of one of the sea caves.
7. Avalon
Perhaps the most beloved coastal community in all of SoCal is Avalon in Catalina Island. This picturesque beach town is a quaint destination where you can soak up the sounds of the ocean while enjoying a peaceful afternoon exploring a bustling main street.
8. San Clemente
Known as the Spanish Village by the Sea, San Clemente is a sleepy hideaway where you will always be made to feel like a local. Feel free to leave the car at home when you visit and take the train which stops right in the heart of San Clemente.

Yes, there are many more beach towns to explore in SoCal, but these 8 coastal communities are a great place to start. Do you have a favorite beach town in Southern California where you love to get away from it all? If you want to explore more of Southern California’s coastal beauty, check out these beautiful boardwalks in SoCal –they are perfect for an afternoon stroll.

California's 10 best beaches - Lonely Planet

Arguably Malibu’s most stunning beach (known as the place swimsuit-model photo shoots take place). You can park on the bluffs and stroll down a trail to sandstone rock towers that rise from emerald coves. Sunbathers make the most of one of California's warm beaches by strolling through the tides, watching for dolphins as they breech the surface beyond the waves.

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Pfeiffer State Beach
There are incredible rock formations on Pfeiffer Beach © Jithesh Krishnanunny / Getty Images

Whether it’s your first visit to California, or your twentieth, chances are you will be visiting one of the state’s countless beautiful beaches.

There’s a perfect strand out there for everyone, but to help you get your visit started, here are ten of the best beaches in California for sea, surf, sand and sun.

This phenomenal crescent-shaped slice of sand is one of the most beautiful beaches in California, known for its huge double-rock formation, through which waves crash with life-affirming power. Dig down into the wet sand – it’s purple! That’s because manganese garnet washes down from the craggy hillsides above. It’s often windy, and the surf is too dangerous for swimming but it’s a beautiful spot for a walk.

A large white house on the edge of a beach, which curves into the distance.
Wander the sands of El Matador State Beach, one of Malibu's best © Steve Heap / Shutterstock

Arguably Malibu’s most stunning beach (known as the place swimsuit-model photo shoots take place). You can park on the bluffs and stroll down a trail to sandstone rock towers that rise from emerald coves. Sunbathers make the most of one of California's warm beaches by strolling through the tides, watching for dolphins as they breech the surface beyond the waves. It's been impacted by coastal erosion, but you can still find a sliver of dry sand tucked against the bluffs.

A series of rocky islets stretching out to sea.
The beaches of Sonoma Coast State Park are separated by rocky headlands © Phil Haber Photography / Getty Images

Stretching 19 miles, Sonoma Coast is actually a chain of sandy pockets separated by several beautiful rocky headlands. Some beaches are tiny, hidden in little coves, while others stretch far and wide. Most of the beaches are connected by vista-studded coastal hiking trails that wind along the bluffs. Bring binoculars and your camera – the views are stunning, with rock outcrops, mini islands, inlets and shifting tides. Exploring this area makes an excellent day-long adventure, but facilities are zero, so bring water and food, as well as a fully charged cell phone, in case of emergency. 

A team of five people stand ready to hit a beach volleyball back over a net
There's plenty to do around Santa Monica © Corey Jenkins / Getty Images

There are endless ways to enjoy this 3.5-mile stretch of sand, running from Venice Beach in the south to Will Rogers State Beach in the north. Sunbathing and swimming are obvious options, but you can also reserve time on a beach volleyball court or, for more cerebral pursuits, settle in at a first-come first-served chess table at International Chess Park.

A white lifeguard hut on stilts on an empty sandy beach, with the moon high in the sky above
Arrive early for the perfect spot on Huntington Beach, Los Angeles © Steve Whiston - Fallen Log Photography / Getty Images

One of SoCal’s best beaches, the sand surrounding the pier gets packed on summer weekends with surfers, volleyball players, swimmers and families. Bathrooms and showers are located north of the pier at the back of the snack-bar complex. If you want to build a bonfire or have a barbecue, stake out one of the 1000 cement fire rings early in the day, especially on holiday weekends, when you should plan to arrive when the beach opens.

Along the western shore of Alameda Island, this beach sees flocks of East Bay locals on a sunny day. The sandy beach stretches 2.5 miles along the San Francisco Bay, and windsurfers love riding the gusts from across the bay. There are picnic spots and grilling stations throughout the park.

The sun rises over a large red suspension bridge that stretches over a waterway
There are wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Picnic amid wind-sculpted pines, fish from craggy rocks or frolic nude at mile-long Baker Beach, with spectacular views of the Golden Gate. It's very crowded come weekends, especially on fog-free days, so be sure to arrive early. For nude sunbathing among straight women and gay men, head to the north. Families in clothing stick to the south, nearer parking. Mind the currents and the cold water.

The best place to hunt for starfish, anemones and other tide-pool critters is in and around this rock-strewn eco-preserve that's one of the cleanest beaches in California. It consists of two parts; Abalone Cove and Sacred Cove. Some sections of the beaches are closed due to falling rocks so check the latest information before travel. 

Two people play in the surf on a sandy beach
On the beach in Crystal Cove State Park you can forget you're in a built-up area © TraceRouda / Getty Images

A few miles of open beach and 2400 acres of undeveloped woodland at this state park let you forget you're in a crowded metropolitan area, at least once you get past the parking lots and stake out a place on the sand. It’s also an underwater park where you can scuba, go tide pooling, fishing, kayaking and surfing along the undeveloped shoreline. 

A shot of the ocean with a residential area on the edge of a cliff. The sun is low in the sky casting an orange light through the clouds.
Laguna Beach is a beach community and popular tourist destination © TraceRouda / Getty Images

It’s easy to love Laguna: secluded coves, romantic cliffs, azure waves and waterfront parks imbue the city with a Riviera-like feel. With 30 public beaches sprawling along 7 miles of coastline, Laguna Beach is perfect for do-it-yourself exploring. There’s always another stunning view or hidden cove just around the bend. Although many of the coves are blocked from street view by multi-million-dollar homes, a sharp eye will take you to stairways leading from the Pacific Coast Highway down to the beach. Just look for the "beach access" signs, and be prepared to pass through people’s backyards to reach the sand. 

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Most Affordable Beach Towns In California To Live & Vacation

18-01-2022 · With endless opportunities to enjoy nature and prices that remain affordable, Trinidad is a perfect base camp to explore the Pacific North Coast and a fine example of the most affordable places to live in California near the beach, and also to vacation.

18-01-2022

Do you crave a relaxed life by the ocean? Does the allure of California’s laid-back, coastal living beckon you? While a beachfront home in Malibu may be off the table, there are several swoon-worthy oceanfront places in The Golden State that come without the hefty price. Whether you’re looking to move or vacation, here are ten of the most affordable beach towns in California that are worth checking out!

Crescent City

A Pacific Ocean beach. Towering redwoods shrouded in the morning mist. A wild river. You can have all this and more in the beach town of Crescent City. A perfect blend of Pacific North Coast aesthetic and laid-back vibes, this town just 20 miles south of the Oregon border is one of the cheapest beach towns in Northern California you should visit if you’d like to explore historic attractions as well as enjoy nature.

Houses by the Ocean Crescent City - California

The crescent-shaped coastline is not only beautiful, but it offers a host of free/cheap activities too. Hosting some of the warmest beaches in California, surfing and swimming is pleasant here, but you can also go beachcombing and recharge in the salty air at Crescent Beach or enjoy a picnic on its soft sands. Parking is free.

The trails at the Jed Smith Redwoods State Park meander through a huge swath of stately, primeval redwoods. A hike through this tranquil escape comes without an admission fee!

Don’t forget to visit Battery Point Lighthouse, one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the state. Accessible only at low tide, the tour is just per person.

Battery Point Lighthouse - Crescent City

In Crescent City, not only can you have a budget-friendly beach vacation in California, but with median property values less than half the state average, you can also buy a cheap beachfront property to provide you with your own getaway!

Trinidad

A small beach town in California to live near the beach, Trinidad is perfect to get away from it all and savor the sights and sounds of nature. With mesmerizing sunsets and prominent sea stacks punctuating the shoreline, this pristine segment of the US West Coast hosts some of California’s most romantic beaches like the Trinidad State Beach or Moonstone Beach.

Trinidad State Beach Northern California

Those who prefer action also won’t get bored here! You can discover the endless adventures at the beautiful Sue-meg State Park stretched over an ocean promontory. Hike or bike its scenic trails, go agate-hunting, explore tidepools, or watch sea lions and migrating whales.

You can even get a peek into the indigenous heritage at the reconstructed Yurok village within the park. Day use fee is a reasonable . A visit to the Trinidad Museum is a must. In addition to five exhibit halls that tell the history of the area, there’s also a garden with native plants. A great activity for the whole family, there’s no admission fee.

Pier extending out into the Ocean - Trinidad CA

With endless opportunities to enjoy nature and prices that remain affordable, Trinidad is a perfect base camp to explore the Pacific North Coast and a fine example of the most affordable places to live in California near the beach, and also to vacation.

Eureka

Nature and culture meld in this uncrowded California beach town perched on the edge of Humboldt Bay. With median property values just over 0,000 and an overall cost of living lower than the national average, Eureka is one of the cheapest beach towns in California to vacation and a perfect place to retire.

You can step back in time with a tour of Eureka’s historic Old Town district, a colorful jumble of refurbished Victorian homes; it is a must-see for history buffs and architecture lovers. A brochure with a map and description of each of the buildings is available free of charge so you can visit all the attractions around!

Flock of sea birds at the beach Eureka CA

The Samoa Dunes Recreation Area offers a plethora of activities for families such as fishing, surfing, beachcombing, and birdwatching, all absolutely free! Another excellent program is exploring the Sequoia Park Zoo with your kids. One ticket not only gives you access to the oldest zoo in the state but also Sequoia Park where you can immerse yourself in the majesty of old-growth redwoods. A veritable bonus is a jaw-dropping view from the Redwood Sky Walk 100 feet above the forest floor in the tree canopy!

Fort Bragg

The seaboard of Northern California is home to many stunning beaches, but there’s one that’s more dazzling than the rest, and it’s in Fort Bragg! An under-the-radar California beach town that is budget-friendly, this place on the Mendocino Coast has evolved into a top coastal destination to vacation and live.

The famous Fort Bragg Glass Beach

The area’s famous shoreline, the unique Glass Beach is littered with a rainbow of smooth sea glass and makes for an exciting day trip. The nearby Laguna Point is another popular destination in the park to explore tide pools, and spot basking seals and foraging shorebirds. There’s also a scenic trail to go hiking and biking. And you don’t have to spend a dime!

Another huge draw is the world-famous Skunk Train that trundles through redwood groves into the heart of the Noyo River canyon. Adult tickets range anywhere from to ; children are cheaper. The views on the ride are more than worth the price! Ramble through the 47-acre cornucopia of diverse flora at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, all for just . Winner!

Gualala

Imbued with the timeless vibe of a quintessential beach town, this piece of paradise remains hidden from the crowds that explains why Gualala is one of the cheapest beach towns in California. Located at the convergence of the Pacific Coast and the Gualala River, it is perfect not only for those seeking tranquility but also for outdoor adventure. Drift along the Gualala River in a kayak or a canoe or stop at the quiet beach along its shoreline to observe the diverse wildlife in the area.

Gualala river enters Pacific Ocean

Stand taller than a redwood tree at the pygmy forest in Salt Point State Park! It’s baffling but true! One of the world’s coastal wonders, the trees in this forest are stunted due to natural environmental conditions. With over 20 miles of hiking trails and an underwater park, there’s plenty more to do here. And all this is for a reasonable .

If not for the outdoors, discover a favorite local artist at the Gualala Arts Center. Or meditate in the Sea Ranch Chapel as you admire its architectural whimsy. Whether you’re looking to visit or create your own paradise, Gualala should be on your list.

Vallejo

Those who are looking for the most affordable beach towns in California in the Bay Area should consider visiting Vallejo, located just 32 miles outside of San Francisco. This waterfront town serves up a slice of serenity far removed from the urban bustle of San Francisco but let that not fool you into thinking there’s not much to do here.

U.S. Navy Vessel Mare Island Vallejo

You have the unique opportunity of checking out naval artifacts from the last 200 years at Alden Park. You can even have a picnic right next to a 28-foot ballistic missile from the Cold War-era! Entrance is free.

At Mare Island, you can explore bird-filled wetlands, famous dry docks, and historic buildings like the oldest naval chapel in the country. Did we mention it won’t cost you anything? A trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom fits the bill if you’re looking for more action. With high octane thrill rides to slower-paced options, this amusement park has something for everyone in the family. To save, buy tickets online.

Marina Vallejo California

Not only great for a vacation with a tiny budget, but with a cost of living much lower than other parts of the Bay Area, Vallejo is definitely worth considering buying a second home far away from the hustle and bustle of life!

Grover Beach

If you’re looking for shoreline zen at a modest cost, Grover Beach is a great option. One of the affordable places to live along the Central Coast of California, this small community-oriented town is nestled between Oceano and Pismo Beach.

Grover Beach California

Adventure seekers can get their adrenaline fix riding dune buggies or motoring ATVs over undulating sand dunes at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. You can also enjoy a slew of other activities like hiking, horseback riding, swimming, and surfing. Day passes are just per vehicle.

Woman riding horse through water and sand dunes at Grover Beach

If you prefer something quieter, go for a leisurely stroll down the Beach Boardwalk. A scenic trail that loops through the dunes, it leads you to the Monarch Butterfly Grove. A protected overwintering site for jewel-toned beauties, a mesmerizing spectacle awaits nature lovers here during the winter months. And it’s free!

Located right on the ocean and a portal to one of the nicest beaches in California, yet an overall cost of living 10% lower than the state average, Grover Beach is definitely a town to check out on your next trip.

Ventura

Just up the coast, northwest of Los Angeles lies the more affordable Ventura, which is famous not only for its endless summers and laid-back, unpretentious vibes, but its copious offerings of budget-friendly activities also make it a coveted beach town to vacation and live.

With the soft and spacious San Buenaventura State Beach in town –which is one of the most kid-friendly beaches in Southern California – Ventura is especially recommended for families.

Ventura Coastline - California

The iconic Ventura Pier two blocks away offers extraordinary angling opportunities and doesn’t even require a fishing license, while Surfer’s Point Beach is perfect for water sports enthusiasts to enjoy free world-class surfing. And this barely scratches the surface of the list of things you can do in Ventura!

The Ventura Botanical Gardens provides a stunning wander through five world Mediterranean climate zones for just . Fridays are free. Breathtaking ocean vistas and sunsets atop the garden are complimentary. Also, believe it or not, parking is mostly free in the vibrant downtown! So, you can spend hours exploring the many historic sites, antique shops, cute boutiques, and local eateries.

Oxnard

This quiet seaside community located north of Malibu offers beachfront living without the price tag. Among the most affordable beach towns in California, Riverpark and Marina West are popular neighborhoods in Oxnard where you can find homes at competitive prices.

Channel Islands Harbor Oxnard

But don’t you think life is boring in this hidden paradise, there is plenty to do and explore here! You can visit the beach-lined parks or enjoy a picnic at the expansive Channel Islands Harbor. If you want to go sailing, fishing, surfing or paddle boarding, rentals are available at reasonable prices.

The pristine Mandalay State Beach with its fragile dunes and wildlife is just the place if the allure of undisrupted nature appeals to you. Parking is free and you can bring your four-legged friends too. There’s also a historic downtown chock full of boutiques and restaurants.

Dogs playing at the beach in Oxnard

A visit to Maritime Museum at the harbor is a must. A treasure trove of maritime art, ship models, and artifacts, the third Thursday of every month is free! Car enthusiasts are sure to be blown away by the vintage car collection at Murphy Auto Museum. Admission is only , and kids under 13 are free.

With its wide swaths of sand, palm tree-lined neighborhoods, and perfect year-round weather, Oceanside is definitely one of the best beach towns in California to live in. What’s more, you don’t have to break the bank to have a blast here! With an overall cost of living 6% lower than the state average and affordable real estate options, this beach town located between Los Angeles and San Diego is a great place to escape city life!

Oceanside pier at sunset - CA

You can take a leisurely stroll on the 1942-long scenic pier or simply sprawl on the surrounding beach area and soak up the sun. Moreover, Oceanside also boasts a myriad community events and festivals that ere mostly free to attend!

Sea Lion Island is a sight you won’t want to miss in Oceanside Harbor. On any given day, you can spot a bunch of sea lions lounging on the docks, and it’s absolutely free to watch! The meandering trails in Guajome Park are free to hike and bike as is fishing in the two ponds bustling with wildlife. There’s even a playground for kids to make this charming destination even more family friendly.

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10 Best Family Beaches in California for 2022 (Kid Friendly)

Coast Blvd San Diego, CA 92037 (619) 221-8899. La Jolla Cove, a popular beach in California, is known as a haven for seals and sea lions. Visitors particularly love the soft sand and cerulean waters.

Families adore Coronado Beach, covering 1.5 miles of beautiful shorelines, because of the soft sand, facilities, and spacious areas that are rarely crowded.

Why We Recommend This Beach

I highly recommend Coronado Beach for its beautiful pristine waters and great facilities. This beach features picnic tables, a bonfire, restrooms, and tide pools.

Your teenagers will love going surfing, paddle boarding, and boogie boarding. Whereas your younger children will have a great time making sandcastles by the shore.

Coronado Beach is also the safest beach in California for swimming. Towards the shore, the waves are very gentle, the waters are usually calm and clear that you can easily see what you’re stepping on. It also features numerous lifeguard stations, making the area safer.

This beach is also ideally located nearby Hotel del Coronado, one of the best family resorts in California.

Expert Tip

Coronado Island is a gorgeous place so aside from going to the beach, you and your family should allot time to explore the island.

Watch live theater at Lambs Players Theater, or play golf at one of the best golf courses in the country, Coronado Golf Course, ranked number 5 by Golf Digest for Best Value. You may also enjoy the bustling nightlife or simply have a fun day shopping.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Hotel del Coronado

Related: Restaurants in Coronado

2. La Jolla Cove — San Diego

La Jolla Cove — San Diego

Coast BlvdSan Diego, CA 92037

(619) 221-8899

La Jolla Cove, a popular beach in California, is known as a haven for seals and sea lions. Visitors particularly love the soft sand and cerulean waters.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Have one of the best family beach vacations in California as you do fun things together in La Jolla Cove. Bond with your family by having a picnic, flying kites, watching the sea lions and seals, and swimming in the ocean.

For a more adventurous trip, you may also try snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and checking out the sea caves.

Expert Tip

Parking can be quite difficult to find so if you want to get the best spots, come at the earliest time possible.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Pantai Inn

Related: Best Beaches in San Diego

Related: Best Beaches in California

3. Balboa Beach — Newport Beach

Balboa Beach — Newport Beach

E Balboa Blvd and Palm StNewport Beach, CA 92661

(855) 5639-7678

California beaches are known for being sun-kissed with many fun water activities. Balboa Beach is no exception to this as it features numerous activities that people of all ages will love.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Balboa Beach is a mile-long beach that is nearby attractions your loved ones will appreciate. Fun things to do in California with kids include going to the beach and going to amusement parks.

This kid-friendly beach destination is right next to Balboa Fun Zone, California’s oldest amusement park, where you and your youngsters can ride the waterfront Ferris wheel, enjoy playing arcade games, tour the nautical museum or rent bikes.

The beach itself is perfect for surfing, parasailing, and fishing. Its amenities include lifeguard stations, fire pits, a fishing pier, restrooms, and picnic tables.

Expert Tip

To experience the most scenic views and to go whale watching, rent a yacht or duff boat. Duffy boats are easy to drive and gently coast the waters, making them ideal for families with kids.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Balboa Bay Resort

Related: Best Beaches in Newport Beach

4. South Carlsbad State Beach — Carlsbad

South Carlsbad State Beach — Carlsbad

7106 Carlsbad BlvdCarlsbad, CA 92011

(800) 444-7275

This peaceful and quiet beach is far away from city noise and has fewer tourists and vendors.

Why We Recommend This Beach

South Carlsbad State Beach is perfect for families who want to enjoy quiet time together. Your children can build sandcastles on a wide and uncrowded beach, as you lay down with a book in hand or maybe listen to music as you watch the gentle waves.

This coastline also features a lifeguard station to make sure that all beachgoers are safe.

Expert Tip

South Carlsbad State Beach is a wonderful place for camping. Rent a tent, or bring your own, and enjoy the campgrounds to the fullest. You and your loved ones may even enjoy a warm and cozy bonfire at night and wake up early to watch the sunrise.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach

5. Zuma Beach — Malibu

Zuma Beach — Malibu

Pacific Coast Highway and Busch DrMalibu, CA 90265

(424) 526-7777

A Californian favorite, this coastline is a family-friendly beach and perfect for a chill and relaxing time as you lay on the soft sand and enjoy the fresh breeze.

Why We Recommend This Beach

If you’re in search of a peaceful seaside getaway with your family, consider Zuma Beach. One of the top toddler-friendly beaches in the state, it features a soft sandy beach, a kids play area, snack bars, picnic tables, restrooms, and numerous lifeguard stations that cover the area well.

Having enjoyable family vacations in California also include exploring the areas you visit. Zuma Beach is nearby Trancas Canyon Park, a spot great for picnics on the soft grass and has fun playgrounds for your children, and Zuma Canyon Trailhead, perfect for hiking.

Expert Tip

Be wary of rip currents that may appear from time to time, but don’t worry too much as there are many lifeguards on the lookout and ready for anything.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club

Related: Best Beaches in Malibu

6. Carmel City Beach — Monterey

Carmel City Beach — Monterey

Ocean Ave and Scenic RdCarmel, CA 93923

(831) 620-2020

With its beautiful white sand, blue waters, and green bushes, Carmel City Beach is a great place to take your children and even your pets.

Why We Recommend This Beach

I highly recommend this beach as it is the perfect vacation to be at peace with nature. This coastline provides a peaceful escape with its relaxing and calm ambiance and fresh sea breeze.

Carmel City Beach has breathtaking trails perfect for jogging. There are also designated spots on the coastline for beach fires, perfect for snuggling, and restrooms by the parking area.

Point Lobos, located on the south of this beautiful beach, and Pebble Beach, located north, are perfect spots for surfing.

Expert Tip

Make your vacation in Monterey more memorable by visiting fun and unique attractions such as Monterey Bay Aquarium, Discovery Whale Watching, the Monterey Mirror Maze, and so much more. All of which are very close to Carmel City Beach.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: The Getaway

Related: Restaurants: Carmel

Related: Restaurants: Monterey, California

Related: Best Beaches in Monterey

7. Santa Monica State Beach — Santa Monica

Santa Monica State Beach — Santa Monica

200 Santa Monica PierSanta Monica, CA 90401

(315) 458-8300

There are two areas to Santa Monica State Beach: the north beach and the south beach. The north beach is a picturesque wide sandy beach. Whereas grassy parks compliment the south beach.

Why We Recommend This Beach

I highly recommend this beach if you’re looking for one of the best beaches in California for kids. The beaches feature a kids’ play area, picnic tables, bikes for rent, a paved biking area, sports courts, and a lifeguard.

You can also enjoy fun activities such as surfing, fishing, beach volleyball, swimming, and sunbathing.

Expert Tip

Enjoy your Californian weekend family getaways to the fullest by visiting fun attractions such as the amazing oceanfront Santa Monica Pier. It features amusement park rides, an arcade, street performers, an aquarium, numerous restaurants and café, and so much more.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Santa Monica Proper Hotel, a Member of Design Hotels

Related: Best California Beach Resorts for Families

Related: Best Beaches Near Santa Monica

8. Corona del Mar State Beach — Newport Beach

Corona Del Mar State Beach — Newport Beach

Ocean Blvd and Jasmine AveNewport Beach, CA 92625

(949) 718-1859

This beautiful beach is so picturesque and beautiful that it was featured in the movie, Gilligan’s Island.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Corona del Mar State Beach is one of the nicest family-friendly beaches in California. It features a wide sandy beach, volleyball courts, restrooms, showers, barbeque facilities, picnic tables, and fire pits.

It also has a child-friendly coastline as the beach is mainly flat, is not scattered with rocks and pebbles, is very clean, has a gently sloping shore, and has a lifeguard who’s always on the lookout.

Expert Tip

This beach is also popular for surfers, scuba divers, and snorkelers. However, if you’re planning to stay in the waters for a long time, I suggest wearing a wetsuit as it can get quite cold.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Resort at Pelican Hill

9. Crissy Field East Beach — San Francisco

Crissy Field East Beach — San Francisco

1199 E BeachSan Francisco, CA 94129

(415) 561-4323

This scenic beach offers magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and Marin Headlands.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Crissy Field East Beach is one of the most scenic and family-friendly beaches in California. When visiting you’ll notice that it’s a favorite spot for joggers and mother’s taking their babies on a stroll.

This windy beach is also perfect for fun picnics, flying kites, and activities in the water such as kiteboarding and windsurfing. It also features a grass park, bike paths, historic buildings, restrooms, and a fishing pier.

Expert Tip

The Warming Hut Café, a historic storage building turned into a homey café, is extremely close by and is the ideal place for refreshments after a day at the beach.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: St. Regis San Francisco

Related: Best Beaches in San Francisco

10. Arroyo Burro Beach — Santa Barbara

Arroyo Burro Beach — Santa Barbara

2981 Cliff DriveSanta Barbara, CA 93109

(805) 687-3714

Arroyo Burro Beach, locally known as Hendry’s Beach, is California’s hidden gem that locals are making an effort to protect, maintain, and keep clean.

Why We Recommend This Beach

I strongly recommend this coastline for families as it is the perfect place for safe swimming and beginner surfers. Take time to sunbathe as your kids play on the soft sand or in the calm waters.

Arroyo Burro Beach is also a great place to go for a relaxing swim, beachcombing, bodyboarding, fishing, and strolling by the beach.

It is also right by Douglas Family Reserve which is a great place to go hiking, biking, and glimpse scenic views of the city and ocean.

Expert Tip

This beach features an onsite eatery, the Boathouse restaurant. Not only will you get to eat fresh and delicious food, but you will also do so as you sit by an amazing ocean view. This restaurant features various specialties for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Recommended Hotel Nearby: Simpson House Inn

Related: Best Beaches in Santa Barbara

California Family Beaches Map

List of image sources

10 Best Beaches in California for Families for 2022

Best Family Beaches In California
12 Quiet, Uncrowded Beach Destinations in California

04-06-2021 · The population of Elk, California hovers just above 200, making it an ideal destination for a secluded beach getaway. Perched on a bluff overlooking Greenwood State Beach, Elk Cove Inn & Spa is a quiet place to be lulled by the waves. A private path from the inn’s gazebo leads down to the driftwood-strewn sand.

04-06-2021
Muir Beach

California offers numerous breathtaking beaches stretching across an expansive 840 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. However, not all of California’s beaches were created equal. In fact, perhaps the most enjoyable beaches are the ones that are the least visited. Here are 12 destinations to enjoy a trip to an under-the-radar seashore or sheltered cove.

View of Big River Beach from Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages
View of Big River Beach from Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages

Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages

As the only oceanfront B&B in Mendocino Village, the historic Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages offers secluded views of the sea with a private garden path down to the driftwood-strewn Big River Beach. The inn itself consists of a charming main house and a collection of quaint cottages which are nestled on a bluff overlooking the ever-changing river mouth and the large expanse of sand.

View at the Back Bay Inn
View of Morro Bay from the Back Bay Inn

Back Bay Inn

This relaxed waterfront inn is hidden on the backwaters of Morro Bay. The calm waters offer a laid-back place perfect for paddle boarding or kayaking while admiring the abundance of local wildlife. Here, visitors can spot dozens of bird species, and might even get to spy a group of playful otters. The secluded beaches of Montana del Oro State Park are also just minutes away.

Carmel Beach
Carmel Beach

The Colonial Terrace

Hidden away in an upscale residential neighborhood several blocks south of downtown Carmel, the historic Colonial Terrace is a delightful escape just 72 steps away from the white sands of Carmel Beach. The stretch of cypress-lined beach across from the inn is far less crowded than the beaches’ main entrance near the village. The inn provides beach umbrellas, beach chairs, beach blankets, and sand castle building toys for enjoying a lazy day on the white sand.

The gazebo at Elk Cove Inn & Spa overlooking Greenwood State Beach
The gazebo at Elk Cove Inn & Spa overlooking Greenwood State Beach

Elk Cove Inn & Spa

The population of Elk, California hovers just above 200, making it an ideal destination for a secluded beach getaway. Perched on a bluff overlooking Greenwood State Beach, Elk Cove Inn & Spa is a quiet place to be lulled by the waves. A private path from the inn’s gazebo leads down to the driftwood-strewn sand. Here, guests will find rock outcroppings and powerful seas mixing in a perfect harmony of peaceful solitude.

Manresa State Beach
Manresa State Beach, photo by Garrick Ramirez, courtesy of Visit Santa Cruz County

Flora Vista Inn

This quaint inn is located on a rural stretch of road 13 miles south of Santa Cruz. Visitors can walk from the inn along uncrowded roads toward Manresa Uplands State Beach or follow the railroad tracks to Manresa State Beach. Both beaches are connected by one long, uninterrupted expanse of sand and are a quick trek (less than three-quarters of a mile) from the inn. It’s the ideal destination for a reflective and meditative stroll.

Howard Creek Ranch
Howard Creek Ranch

Howard Creek Ranch

Remote and rugged, Howard Creek Ranch is a 60-acre oceanfront farm on the Mendocino coast bordered by miles of beach and wilderness. Far north on Highway 1, the historic farm sits in splendid isolation, with direct access to the sandy beaches and tide pools at Westport Union Landing State Beach. The beach is wide and sandy near the mouth of the creek but features beautiful rock outcroppings stretching in both directions. 

Inn of the Lost Coast
Inn of the Lost Coast

Inn of the Lost Coast

On Northern California’s fabled Lost Coast, the town of Shelter Cove (population 580) is a remote outpost of civilization. With its long list of creature comforts, the oceanfront Inn of the Lost Coast serves as an outstanding base camp for exploring this isolated, rugged coastline. The inn is just a short walk to Black Sands Beach, which is the southern trailhead for the 20-mile Lost Coast Trail.

Fish Rock Beach
Fish Rock Beach

Mar Vista Farm Cottages

Just across Highway 1 from the Pacific Ocean, Mar Vista Farm Cottages is a working small farm along the southern “secret coast” of Mendocino County. 10 bright and airy vintage cottages are scattered around the property, and most offer ocean views. The property features a private pathway down to the secluded sands of Fish Rock Beach. Guests can follow the 125 steps down to the beach for picnicking, tide pooling, and relaxing on the sand.

Sunny Cove Beach at Ocean Echo Inn & Beach Cottages
Sunny Cove Beach at Ocean Echo Inn & Beach Cottages

Ocean Echo Inn & Beach Cottages

This serene seaside retreat is tucked away at the end of a quiet residential street, just 100 steps from the sands of Santa Cruz’s little-known Sunny Cove Beach. Even though the beach feels intimate and isolated, it’s well within walking distance to neighborhood coffee shops, markets, and restaurants. Visitors will feel as if they’ve discovered a secret oasis with easy access to the creature comforts of an urban destination.

Cayucos State Beach and Pier
Cayucos State Beach and Pier

On the Beach Bed & Breakfast

Nestled along the Pacific Coast Highway in San Luis Obispo County, the sleepy seaside village of Cayucos is home to On the Beach Bed & Breakfast, which proudly lives up to its name. The inn overlooks the sands of Cayucos State Beach and the historic pier. Upstairs, visitors will find a rooftop sundeck with lounge seating as well as a hot tub. It’s the perfect spot for watching the sunset.

Muir Beach
Muir Beach

The Pelican Inn

Just north of San Francisco in Marin County, this 16th-Century, English-inspired, Tudor-style country inn is just a short walk down the road from the secluded, sandy cove at Muir Beach. A network of trails through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area also connects the inn with Pirate’s Cove and Tennessee Valley. Marin County’s moody coastal weather only adds to the romanticism and coziness felt at The Pelican Inn.

Access to Seal Cove Beach
Access to Seal Cove Beach

Seal Cove Inn

South of San Francisco near Half Moon Bay, Seal Cove Inn borders a marine reserve featuring secluded beaches, tide pools, and windswept ocean bluffs. A trail from the inn leads directly to the J.V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, where visitors can catch sight of seal pups frolicking on the shore between June and March. The hotel is also just 500 feet from the beach staircase for the secluded Seal Cove Beach.

Molly O’Brien is a freelance travel writer currently residing in Los Angeles, California. She enjoys travel, hiking, outdoor adventure, and hospitality properties that can tell a great story.

22 Top-Rated Beaches in California

Some of the state's most perfect beaches are found in the city of Malibu in Southern California. It's about 10 miles north of Santa Monica and has a few different beach environments. Zuma Beach is an expansive, wide shoreline that extends for nearly two miles and covers over 100 acres. This popular beach has lifeguard stands every few hundred ...

Written by Lisa Alexander
Updated Mar 30, 2022

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California offers an incredible array and variety of beaches, more than many countries. Beachgoers can choose from wide, well-developed beaches like Santa Monica or Santa Cruz, lined with places to eat and amusements, and unspoiled natural beaches like College Cove in Trinidad, closer to Oregon than it is to San Francisco.

Blessed with stunning scenery along the rugged Pacific coastline, California's beaches are places to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation. Sea kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, wakeboarding, surfing, and bodyboarding are all popular water sports, while volleyball, basketball, running, hiking, and, of course, sunbathing are favorite beach activities.

There are so many things to do and gorgeous places to visit along the Golden State's sandy shores. Plan your seaside adventures with our list of the best beaches in California.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

Some of the state's most perfect beaches are found in the city of Malibu in Southern California. It's about 10 miles north of Santa Monica and has a few different beach environments.

Zuma Beach is an expansive, wide shoreline that extends for nearly two miles and covers over 100 acres. This popular beach has lifeguard stands every few hundred yards (lifeguards are on duty year-round during daylight hours), along with multiple areas of facilities and snack bars. There are also parking lots, beach volleyball nets, public restrooms, and showers.

A beautiful sheltered spot, Paradise Cove in Malibu has been used as a film set for many Hollywood movies. This small sandy beach is nestled in a cove, which means the waves are calm, so it's great for children and families. The beach is also known for its vibrant social scene, but the expensive day-use parking fees tend to keep the crowds away.

The oceanfront Paradise Cove Beach Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as refreshments on a pleasant outdoor terrace overlooking the waves. The café also rents out lounge chairs (they can be reserved online in advance).

The upscale Malibu Beach Inn gives travelers a chance to spend the night on the exclusive "Billionaire's Beach" stretch of coastline. This four-star hotel offers luxurious guest rooms and breathtaking Pacific views, as well as a full-service spa and an oceanfront restaurant that specializes in seasonal cuisine prepared from local ingredients. The hotel is about a 20-minute drive away from Zuma Beach.

Just north of downtown San Diego, right after Mission Beach, the wide, sandy shoreline of Pacific Beach extends for about five miles. There is some surf (enough for surf schools to operate on the beach), but mostly the waves are gentle enough for everyone to enjoy the water.

Typical of Southern California beaches, the weather is balmy, and the water is warm enough for swimming. The ocean conditions are also conducive to surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing. The beach and beachfront boardwalk, called Ocean Front Walk, are both used for all kinds of sports and outdoor activities.

One of San Diego's best beaches, Pacific Beach has lifeguards (on duty year-round daily from 9am until dusk), public restrooms, and showers, and the oceanfront property is dotted with casual restaurants, taco shops, and cafés. There is limited parking in paid lots. If the lots are full, visitors must find street parking.

The beachfront boardwalk is lined with shops and places to eat, including some great sit-down restaurants. Steps away from Pacific Beach, Oscar's Mexican Seafood offers superb Baha fish tacos and other authentic specialty tacos, as well as grilled fish and ceviche.

The Surfer Beach Hotel stands on the sandy shores of Pacific Beach, with many rooms facing the ocean. There's a very popular breakfast and burger spot called Woody's right in front of the hotel.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in San Diego: Best Areas & Hotels

Santa Barbara is the quintessential Southern California beach town, complete with balmy weather, swaying palm trees, expansive stretches of sandy shoreline, and traditional Spanish Colonial-style architecture. The coastline is known as "The American Riviera" because of its beauty and glamour. The city itself is packed with tourist attractions like gardens, museums, and historic landmarks.

One of the best beaches in Santa Barbara, East Beach gracefully sweeps along the Pacific coastline in a picture-perfect setting, tucked behind the Santa Ynez Mountains and fringed by rows of tall palm trees. Visitors can take leisurely walks to enjoy the scenery and cool ocean breezes.

This family-friendly beach has public restrooms, a playground, beach volleyball courts, and lifeguards on duty. Visitors can rent kayaks, lounge chairs, cabanas, and sun umbrellas at the beach. Other amenities include cafés and restaurants overlooking the beach, as well as other restaurants and shops on the Stearns Wharf pier.

Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts in Santa Barbara, CA

For a classic summertime beach experience, Main Beach in Santa Cruz is as good as it gets in Northern California. The beach is appreciated for its wide shoreline of soft, golden sand and reasonably gentle surf.

Main Beach is fronted by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which tops the list of tourist attractions in Santa Cruz. This classic mile-long wooden boardwalk is lined with shops, carnival games, and an amusement park (California's oldest surviving one).

Aside from sunbathing, Main Beach is a great place for outdoor recreation: bodyboarding, surfing, and beach volleyball. There is also the chance to see dolphins, otters, sea lions, and whales swimming just offshore.

Main Beach has excellent facilities, including public restrooms and lifeguards on duty during the summertime. The boardwalk and the amusement park (and many tourism businesses) have limited operation from November through February.

The Comfort Inn Santa Cruz isn't a new property, but it's reasonably priced and the rooms have been renovated. This hotel is only a few minutes' walk to the beach and boardwalk.

Other highly rated hotels near Main Beach include the three-star Dream Inn overlooking Cowell Beach across from Main Beach; and the Sea & Sand Inn, a three-star hotel with outlooks onto Monterey Bay. Just steps away from Main Beach, the Beach Street Inn and Suites has ocean-view rooms and a heated outdoor swimming pool that's open year-round.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santa Cruz: Best Areas & Hotels

A dreamy Southern California beach destination, La Jolla Shores is a well-protected mile-long beach with gentle waves, making it perfect for kids and families.

La Jolla Shores has public restrooms, outdoor showers, and a picnic area. To ensure beach safety, lifeguards are on duty year-round during daylight hours.

The beach is right next to the 6,000-acre La Jolla Underwater Park, a top location in California for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Another draw of this area is the picture-perfect seaside town of La Jolla. Ideal for romantic getaways, La Jolla is an upscale community (think Beverly Hills by the sea) about 15 miles north of San Diego. The small downtown area is filled with enticing boutiques and trendy gourmet restaurants.

For those who would like to spend the night here, the four-star Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa provides plenty of pampering for the price. This luxurious resort property features traditional Spanish architecture and is set on nine acres of landscaped gardens. The hotel has two restaurants, a full-service spa, and an outdoor saltwater swimming pool. Other amenities include yoga classes, a fitness center, and poolside cabanas.

Tucked away behind dense redwood forests, Stinson Beach is a crown jewel of the San Francisco Bay Area coastline, as well as one of the best beaches in Northern California. It's only 20 miles north of San Francisco, although the winding drive through Marin County's rolling hills takes longer than the mileage suggests.

The beach of Stinson Beach (also the town name) is a protected part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This area has wonderful hiking trails, including the spectacularly scenic Dipsea Trail that traverses the coastal hillsides, valleys, and redwood forests. The seven-mile hike begins in Stinson Beach and winds up in the charming town of Mill Valley.

Stinson Beach has been a resort destination since the 19th century and is still one of the best weekend getaway spots in the Bay Area. Thanks to the somewhat inaccessible location, the community of Stinson Beach has retained a small-town bohemian vibe, with locally owned shops, homey restaurants, and cozy cafés.

An expansive stretch of powder-soft white sand, Stinson Beach delights visitors with its bucolic setting. There is little development and plenty of room for sunbathing or playing. Because the beach is sheltered in a cove, the waves are gentle compared to other California beaches. When the conditions are right, it is safe to swim here.

Visitors can count on excellent facilities at Stinson Beach: public restrooms, an outdoor shower, a snack bar, and picnic areas with barbecues. From Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, lifeguards survey the beach.

The charming seaside village of Carmel delights visitors with its fairy-tale ambience. With its cute boutiques, hidden lanes, and storybook cottages, the town seems to be inspired by an English country village, an aesthetic that suits the foggy and misty local weather.

A sublime sandy beach is the centerpiece of Carmel by-the-Sea and the raison d'etre for this upscale resort destination. The wide expanse of sparkling white sand, the deep blue sea, and the windblown Monterey cypress trees give this beach a distinctive appearance that's unique to the Northern California coastline.

Set in a sheltered cove, Carmel Beach is one of the best places to visit in California for a romantic walk. There is a scenic path that winds along the ocean bluff above the beach. It's also pleasant to stroll along the shoreline.

Visitors should keep in mind that swimming is not recommended at Carmel Beach. Besides the fact that the water is cold (around 50 degrees), the ocean conditions can be dangerous due to rogue waves and rip currents. Lifeguards do not survey this beach.

The beach has public restrooms and a small parking lot on Ocean Avenue that is free of charge.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Carmel: Best Areas & Hotels

Travelers can soak up the lifestyle of the rich and famous at Butterfly Beach. This pristine stretch of sandy beach is located in Southern California, in the posh seaside community of Montecito, where many celebrities have homes. The beautiful city of Santa Barbara is just five kilometers away.

Butterfly Beach offers a picturesque setting to enjoy while sunbathing and relaxing. Other things to do include swimming, surfing, and kayaking. This west-facing beach is known for its gorgeous sunsets.

Butterfly Beach does not have any public facilities.

Popular among surfers and sand volleyball players, Pismo Beach exudes fun-loving vacation vibes during the summertime. The downtown caters to the crowds of visitors with its many hotels, casual restaurants, cafés, and surf shops.

Pismo State Beach comprises a three-mile stretch of coastline in Central California, with multiple beach areas, including a section of sand dunes. This expansive stretch of sandy beach provides welcome space for relaxation and recreational activities. From sunbathing and sailing to bird-watching and building sandcastles, there's something for everyone.

Among the top tourist attractions of Pismo Beach is its long pier, which is used for ocean fishing. Picnic tables on the pier provide views of the sea and the beach. Other facilities include a boardwalk, public restrooms, and campgrounds. Lifeguards are on duty during the high season.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Pismo Beach, CA

With rolling hills as a backdrop and a palm-fringed waterfront plaza, Avila Beach looks like the image on a postcard. The pleasant downtown area includes a small boardwalk/pedestrian street that is lined with restaurant terraces and outdoor cafés.

Avila Beach is nestled in a sheltered cove on the Central California coast. Hillsides block the wind, creating a microclimate of sunshine and mild ocean breezes. The weather is balmier here than at Pismo Beach just seven miles away. Seals, otters, and dolphins frolic in the protected environment of Avila Beach.

The wide sandy shoreline at Avila Beach is prized for its spaciousness. Sunbathers have plenty of room to stretch out. The relatively gentle waves are ideal for beginning surfers. Other things to do include fishing, paddleboarding, bodyboarding, kayaking, and sailing.

Well designed for visitors, Avila Beach is equipped with well-maintained public restrooms, a playground, and a picnic area. Steps away from the beach is the Central Coast Aquarium.

A haven of tranquility is found two miles from the beach at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, nestled in a valley of oak groves. This three-star resort has natural mineral hot springs and offers pampering spa services.

The charm of Capitola Beach is its idyllic waterfront village. This lovely Northern California town features colorful houses and a lush Mediterranean landscape, reminiscent of fishing harbors on the Italian or French Riviera. The downtown area is just steps away from the beach. Visitors enjoy the easy access to cafés, restaurants, and shops.

Capitola Beach is one of the smaller beaches on this list, but the pleasant environment makes up for what it lacks in size. Framing the beach, Esplanade Park provides benches for visitors to admire the vibrant seaside scene.

The sandy shoreline is great for sunbathing, beach volleyball, and building sandcastles, while the sheltered waters are ideal for beginning surfers. The waves are gentle, since the beach is tucked away in a sheltered cove.

Facilities at Capitola Beach include public restrooms and outdoor showers. During the high season, lifeguards survey the beach.

There is also a fishing pier in the bay. Fishing bait, gear, and boats, as well as paddleboards and kayaks can be rented from shops at the wharf.

Coronado Central Beach is on an island in San Diego Bay, and it's one beach that is truly eye-catching. The soft, fine white sand has a high mica content, which makes it more reflective than sand at other beaches.

Like most Southern California beaches, this long stretch of sandy shoreline has mild waters that are suitable for swimming, boogie boarding, and surfing. The beach has public restrooms and showers. During the high season, lifeguards are on duty.

The spectacular setting of Coronado Central Beach makes it a fantastic place to spend a few days. Visitors can stay at the Hotel del Coronado, a legendary Victorian-era resort hotel that was pictured in scenes of the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like It Hot. This luxurious beachfront hotel features a spa, beach service, and several dining options.

Santa Monica is the ultimate Southern California beach city, complete with a pier, boardwalks, and trendy restaurants and shops just steps away from the shore. Full of tourist attractions, Santa Monica is the place to soak up the sunny SoCal lifestyle.

The city of Santa Monica has 3.5 miles of beautiful sandy shoreline fronted by a bike path and paved boardwalk. The boardwalk and bike path continues from San Monica to Venice Beach next door. The water is cold, but the waves are usually calm.

Right on the beach, the historic Santa Monica Pier is topped with an amusement park featuring an aquarium, an old-fashioned carousel, and roller-coaster rides.

Santa Monica State Beach includes many lifeguard towers to ensure visitors' safety. Facilities include multiple areas of restrooms and showers. There are also a few snack stands and cafés along the beach boardwalk.

Originally an apartment building, the four-star Huntley Santa Monica Beach is a luxury boutique hotel located a few blocks from the beach. The rooms are large, and the design is modern and elegant. Guest rooms on the higher floors and suites overlook the ocean. The Penthouse Restaurant offers fine dining with epic views of the Pacific coastline.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Santa Monica, CA

Laguna Beach is in Southern California's Orange County, about an hour south of Los Angeles. The main beach area is aptly named Main Beach Park, and it has a few miles of wide, gently sloping beach on either side. To the north are beachfront homes and hotels.

The main beach area has plenty of sports facilities, including volleyball courts; basketball courts; and of course, a long, winding beachfront bike path. The sand is a light tan color, and parts of the beach are bordered by rocky sections designed to break up the energy of the waves at high tide.

For luxury accommodations near the beach, try The Ranch at Laguna Beach. Nestled in a sunny canyon on an 87-acre property, the hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, nine-hole golf course, farm-to-table-restaurant, two cafés, a gift shop, and a full-service spa with a sauna.

A posh coastal community with many cultural attractions, Laguna Beach is also worth visiting for its arts scene, shopping, and parks. The downtown area has many locally owned boutiques and galleries. Every year from early July through early September, the Festival of Arts presents art exhibits and outdoor music concerts.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Laguna Beach, CA

The first thing visitors notice when arriving in Mendocino is the invigorating fresh air. Mendocino County has only been developed on a small scale, despite being a popular weekend getaway destination in Northern California, just three hours' drive north of San Francisco.

A paradise for those who appreciate wild, unspoiled scenery, Mendocino County has 10 state parks, as well as several nature preserves. Built up along ocean bluffs, the village of Mendocino has the charm of a New England seaside town. The village's Victorian architecture and 19th-century saltbox cottages have earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

To arrive at the southern end of Mendocino County, travelers take a scenic winding drive through rolling hills and redwood forests on Highway 128. At the end of this route behind a dense grove of redwood trees is the meeting point of the Navarro River and the Pacific Ocean. Here in this pristine environment is Navarro Beach within the Navarro River Redwoods State Park.

This rugged, windswept beach is an ideal place to walk along the seashore, fly a kite, or build a beach bonfire. The beach is strewn with driftwood, a reminder that the environment and its strong tides are at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Navarro River Redwoods State Park is popular among outdoor sports enthusiasts. The river offers opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. The park has picnic areas and camping sites.

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Mendocino, CA

One of Southern California's first beach resorts, Huntington Beach is now an internationally renowned destination, with a focus on surfing and beach life. Huntington Beach is known as "Surf City U.S.A." and has fabulous surfers' beaches. Besides the beach scene, Huntington Beach has a lively downtown, leafy parks, and other interesting tourist attractions.

Just over the border from Los Angeles County in Orange County, Huntington Beach has ten miles of wide, well-maintained sandy beaches. There's a pier that's good for walking, fishing, and sightseeing, and a thriving restaurant scene near the beach with a range of dining options.

Right across the street from the beach, the four-star Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort offers stylish accommodations and a relaxed surfer vibe. The hotel provides amenities such as beach towels, lounge chairs, and umbrellas. Other highlights are the fitness center and the laid-back "surf shack"-style restaurant, which offers California coastal cuisine and views of the pier.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Huntington Beach

The 90-mile stretch of coastline in Central California known as Big Sur awes visitors with its breathtaking landscapes and ocean views. This dramatic coastline is framed by the densely forested Santa Lucia Mountains that soar high above the Pacific.

The mountains slope into coastal bluffs along Highway One, which makes for an incredibly scenic (and challenging) drive, rewarded by vistas of the dazzling azure-blue waters. In some places, sheer cliffs plunge from dizzying heights into the crashing waves.

Sand Dollar Beach is found in this magnificent landscape, entered by a short hike along an ocean bluff and staircase down to the sandy shore. It's quite a ways from the road (Highway One), and a small cove shelters the beach, which creates a secluded feel.

Surfers flock to this beach, but it is also popular with anyone who wants to relax and appreciate the natural splendor. Other things to do include saltwater fishing and picnicking.

The beach is the property of Los Padres National Forest. There are facilities located above the beach: public restrooms, a paid parking lot, and picnic tables. The beach itself is undeveloped.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Big Sur, CA

Nature seems to smile on this picturesque spot in the far north of California, in Humboldt County about an hour-drive south of Oregon. Trinidad State Beach includes a small secluded beach in a tiny bay (College Cove), surrounded by verdant hillsides and a long oceanfront stretch backed by a grove of spruce trees. Both parts of the beach have a sandy shoreline.

Although most beaches in this part of Northern California are windy and wild, the beach at College Cove benefits from a sheltered environment, which ensures gentle waves and mild weather. This section of Trinidad State Beach features a lush Mediterranean landscape that resembles the seaside bluffs and coves of the Italian Riviera.

Trinidad State Beach is far enough away from the highway that there is no traffic noise, only the relaxing sounds of nature. Dolphins, sea otters, seagulls, and other shorebirds thrive in this delightfully serene setting.

Outdoor sports enthusiasts love Trinidad Beach. There are opportunities for kayaking, fishing, hiking, and camping. Amenities include a hiking trail, parking, public restrooms, a picnic area with tables and barbecue pits, fishing pier, and a bayside restaurant.

Trinidad State Beach is found in the quaint coastal community of Trinidad, which is built on the hillside and bluffs overlooking the bay. The town is quite small but does have a decent selection of restaurants and hotels. A top hotel is the Trinidad Bay Bed & Breakfast Hotel, which has stunning views of the bay and ocean.

Mendocino Coast is a rugged shoreline surrounded by farmlands and forests. Rocky headlands, sheltered coves, and ocean bluffs define this spectacular Northern California landscape. Jug Handle State Natural Reserve is a wonderful example of typical Mendocino Coast scenery.

A hidden gem within the nature reserve, Jug Handle Beach is located halfway between the towns of Fort Bragg and Mendocino. This secluded spot wows with awe-inspiring ocean views and a spectacular sandy beach with gentle crystal-clear turquoise waters.

A short hiking trail leads through a grove of pine trees, down a staircase to a stretch of white-sand beach in a sheltered cove. The environment here is completely natural, complete with seaweed and driftwood strewn across the beach. Although it's not wide, the shoreline extends back to Highway One where a graceful arched bridge crosses the Jug Handle Creek.

Above the beach is an ocean bluff covered with coastal prairie. The half-mile Headlands Loop trail leads through the tufted grass, blackberry bushes, and other low-growing shrubs out to the edge of the bluff. At this lookout point, the coastal views are astonishing.

Past the beach is a 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase hiking trail that traverses a redwood forest and a pygmy forest. This trail is renowned for its unique landscape of wave-cut terraces that have been formed over hundreds of thousands of years.

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve also includes public restrooms, and a picnic area with several tables located beneath a grove of shady pine trees.

Oxnard is a picturesque seaside town with a "fun in the sun" SoCal vibe. Visitors love the area's gorgeous coastline: five miles of pristine sandy beaches and a lovely harbor. The lively Southern California town is located 65 miles north of Los Angeles (a 90-minute drive).

At the northern end of Oxnard, the Mandalay State Beach delights nature lovers with its pristine stretch of coastline. This undeveloped beach (which has no facilities) and its coastal sand dunes are the property of California State Parks. At certain times of year, portions of the beach are closed to protect the nests of western snowy plover birds, a threatened species.

A big draw for visitors is the proximity to the town of Oxnard, a quaint community that is brimming with restaurants, cafés, and ice-cream shops. It's also a fun place to browse boutiques, such as locally owned shops that sell fashionable jewelry or artisan craft items.

For those seeking upscale accommodations, the three-star Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Resort is a good choice. This beachfront resort hotel boasts ocean views and easy access to Mandalay Beach. The property features a large outdoor swimming pool, spa, tennis courts, and a casual California-style restaurant. Some rooms have terraces overlooking the beach.

Also known as Point Reyes Beach, Great Beach is part of the vast Point Reyes National Seashore, and it's only an hour from San Francisco. Great Beach lives up to its name, with 11 miles of unspoiled sandy beach. There are no houses, no restaurants, nothing but beach. The wild scenery is typical of the undeveloped stretches of coastline in Northern California.

This sprawling stretch of shoreline is suitable for coastal walks but not for water sports or swimming. The waves are large, with dangerous rip currents and sneaker waves. It is advised to stay away from the water's edge.

For those seeking accommodations in the area, Olema House is an excellent choice. This cozy rustic-chic lodge set on four acres of gardens adjacent to the Point Reyes National Seashore. The three-star property has 22 guest rooms and a restaurant that serves seasonal cuisine prepared from locally sourced ingredients. There are also two cottages, one of which is ideal for families.

Closer to Oregon than it is to San Francisco, Centerville Beach County Park is a secluded stretch of windswept coastline surrounded by dairy farms. Centerville Beach has a desolate feel because of its wild, undeveloped landscape and out-of-the-way location in Humboldt County, a remote area of Northern California.

Centerville Beach is nine miles long and surrounded by high cliffs. Except for a parking area, there are no facilities at the beach. Instead of lawn chairs and umbrellas, visitors will see driftwood strewn across the shore.

This beach is very animal-friendly, with both dogs and horses allowed. Besides horseback riding, other things to do include picnics, beach bonfires, beachcombing, bird-watching, and whale watching.

At this exposed, unsheltered section of the Pacific coastline, the ocean is cold, the waves are enormous, and the current is strong. There are no lifeguards, and it is not advisable to enter the water. Most visitors enjoy simply taking walks along the beach and breathing in the invigorating ocean air.

About five miles (a 15-minute drive) from the beach is Ferndale, one of the most charming small towns in California. This quaint Victorian-era village has an inviting Main Street lined with historic buildings and is renowned for its restaurants and hotels. The four-star Gingerbread Mansion Inn is a lavish bed-and-breakfast hotel that occupies an exquisitely renovated Victorian house, right in the heart of Ferndale's historic downtown area.

27 Best California Beaches

24-11-2021 · 27. La Jolla Cove, San Diego. One of the best beaches in southern California, La Jolla Cove is a spectacular place to experience incredible marine life, scuba diving, swimming, and other natural attractions. (Credit: Danita Delimont/Shutterstock) La Jolla Cove is a small, scenic cove located near San Diego.

24-11-2021

If you’re looking for a fantastic seaside trip with incredible weather, California beaches are some of the best in the world! Stretching nearly 900 miles along the Pacific Ocean, California boasts lively beach towns, secluded coastlines, and just about everything in between.

27 Best California Beaches

Are you looking to swim, surf, stroll, or relax on the sand while taking in incredible views? Our guide to the 27 best beaches in California has it all!

1. Santa Monica State Beach, Los Angeles County

Santa Monica is one of the most famous beaches in California and offers excellent surfing and swimming opportunities.
Santa Monica is one of the most famous beaches in California and offers excellent surfing and swimming opportunities. (Credit: Natalia Macheda/Shutterstock)

Santa Monica State Beach is a top swimming beach in California, offering three and a half miles of beautiful sand. The surrounding area of Los Angeles County is home to an abundance of restaurants, hotels, bars, and live entertainment.

This beach town was initially developed by John P. Jones in 1875. He was a U.S. senator who built a home overlooking the ocean, then moved from Nevada to Santa Monica. His house was later renovated to become a hotel. Tourism has grown in Santa Monica ever since!

Today, Santa Monica is a popular destination for cycling, surfing, and sports. The city’s temperature averages around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and the 70s during the cooler months – ideal for a beach vacation!

Santa Monica Beach is considered one of the best surfing beaches in California, with equipment rental shops and lessons available. The water is also great for swimming although it’s a little chilly sometimes.

The Santa Monica Pier, a large double-jointed pier, is a popular spot with so much to do. There’s a small amusement park, concession stands, and places to fish. Don’t forget to bring your camera for the incredible ocean views, too!

2. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

Glass Beach is known for its stunning, colorful jewel-like glass and stones washed ashore.
Glass Beach is known for its stunning, colorful jewel-like glass and stones washed ashore. (Credit: Pi-Lens/Shutterstock)

Glass Beach is located in the serene town of Fort Bragg. The beach is located within MacKerricher State Park, a unique favorite southern California beach. There’s endless nature to explore in the area!

The Glass Beach area was initially used to discard local garbage and debris. More recently, the beach has been developed into a treasure for guests to explore. While the beach is protected and collecting glass beads and gems isn’t allowed, feel free to capture the gorgeous colors with your camera.

Due to dense rocks in the water, Glass Beach isn’t an ideal place to take a swim. Visitors enjoy beachcombing, checking out tide pools, and taking in the views. To explore more, head over to Mackerricher State Park where you can find beaches, a freshwater lake, dunes, hiking trails, and more.

If you’re looking to spend the night, there are several famous local hotels including The Ocean View Lodge and Beach House Inn. The state park also offers camping.

3. Coronado Beach, San Diego

One of the most beautiful southern California beaches, Coronado Beach is famous for the 1958 film “Hotel del Coronado,” starring Marilyn Monroe. 
One of the most beautiful southern California beaches, Coronado Beach is famous for the 1958 film “Hotel del Coronado,” starring Marilyn Monroe. (Credit: Gloria V Moeller/Shutterstock)

If you’re looking for a great dog-friendly beach with beautiful white sand in San Diego, Coronado Beach is the perfect spot! You may have seen this beach in the 1958 film “Hotel del Coronado” with Marilyn Monroe. It offers views of a nearby sunken ship near the shore during low tide and plenty of activities at the beach and nearby.

All kinds of beach lovers appreciate visiting Coronado, including families. The flat, wide sandy beach is perfect for skimboarding and strolling. There are also great opportunities for swimming and surfing.

Other amenities around the beach include ample parking, pet-friendly spaces, and a wide selection of restaurants and beach bars. There’s also a boardwalk to explore, too!

There are several great hotels nearby including the iconic Hotel del Coronado and the gorgeous Gloriette Bay Inn.

4. Paradise Cove, Malibu

Paradise Cove is one of the best secluded Malibu beaches, featuring a beautiful coastline and scenic sandstone cliffs. 
Paradise Cove is one of the best secluded Malibu beaches, featuring a beautiful coastline and scenic sandstone cliffs. (Credit: celtichris/Shutterstock)

Paradise Cove was initially home to the Chumash Indian tribe and has since become a hidden gem beach destination. You may have seen this beach on Baywatch or X-Men. Today, it is a hot spot for celebrities and beachgoers seeking tranquility.

Enjoy relaxing, swimming, and surfing at Paradise Cove. This secluded beach is located in front of a private beach cafe where you can enjoy good food and delicious cocktails by the ocean.

In the area, you can also find luxury hotels, fantastic scenery, and great restaurants. If you’re looking for accommodation near the beach, check out the unique Hotel Mauritius. Hampton Inn and Suites Agoura Hills are also great options!

5. Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles County

Hermosa Beach is the perfect place to swim, build a sandcastle, relax the white sand, or have a picnic.
Hermosa Beach is the perfect place to swim, build a sandcastle, relax the white sand, or have a picnic. (Credit: graham__86/Shutterstock)

Hermosa Beach is a 2-mile long beach with over 90 acres of public beach area. Its major attraction is the Hermosa Beach Pier which was built over one hundred years ago and stretches just over 1,300 feet long.

Hermosa is one of the best beaches in California for surfing and swimming. You can also enjoy playing tennis and beach volleyball. Head over to the pier for views of both Santa Monica Bay and Los Angeles. You can also fish off the pier and find many restaurants to grab a bite to eat.

The beach was initially a part of a Spanish land grant in 1874 and has since grown into a popular tourist spot. There are plenty of accommodations in the area. For places to stay near the ocean, check out Grandview Inn and the Hotel Hermosa.

6. Imperial Beach, San Diego County

Catch a glimpse of Mexico at the beautiful, diverse Imperial Beach in southern California.
Catch a glimpse of Mexico at the beautiful, diverse Imperial Beach in southern California. (Credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock)

Imperial Beach is located in a small, diverse beach town in San Diego County. It sits next to the Mexican border and stretches to the Tijuana River. You can even see Mexico from the beach pier!

Imperial Beach is an awesome place to spend the day. It’s said to be one of the most beautiful places in the San Diego area. The beach features fire pits, picnic tables, restrooms, and barbecue grills. It’s also a popular spot for birdwatching, horseback riding, and hiking.

Around the area, you can find shops, restaurants, and parks. There are also several hotels if you’re looking to stay the night.

7. Mission Beach, San Diego

Mission Beach is one of the best beaches in California for exciting activities.
Mission Beach is one of the best beaches in California for exciting activities. (Credit: Travel Stock/Shutterstock)

Mission Beach is one of the most popular and best beaches in San Diego. There’s something for everyone on and near the beach making for the ideal vacation spot!

Enjoy beach volleyball, strolling, and sunbathing on the wide stretch of sand at Mission Beach. Visitors also enjoy watersports including surfing, kiteboarding, and boogie boarding. Lifeguards are also on duty. The beach area grows a bit wider towards the south, where you’ll find boats and shipwrecks.

This beach is located near Belmont Park and close to West Mission Bay Drive and Mission Boulevard. It’s the ideal place to enjoy cycling, hiking, inline skating, and horseback riding. The beach area grows a bit wider towards the south, where you’ll find boats and shipwrecks.

The oldest fixture on the beach is the Beach House Grill, which was initially built in 1925. There are several amenities including restrooms and areas for fishing. Public parking lots are found around the beach area.

8. Newport Beach

Newport Beach is a vibrant coastal town famous for the best beaches for surfing and swimming. 
Newport Beach is a vibrant coastal town famous for the best beaches for surfing and swimming. (Credit: Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock)

Newport Beach is a coastal city and one of the best beaches in California for many reasons! Visitors and locals love the large, boat-filled harbor and variety of activities.

The area includes 8 beaches which are all a part of Newport Beach city. Head to the main beach area around Newport Beach Pier for a memorable day by the ocean. Enjoy whale watching, boating, fishing, and surfing. It’s also a great place to swim.

If you’re looking to spend the night, check out two popular hotels – Bay Shores Peninsula Hotel and Lido House.

9. Stinson Beach, Marin County

Stinson Beach is a fun spot located in northern California on the Pacific coast, just a quick drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. 
Stinson Beach is a fun spot located in northern California on the Pacific coast, just a quick drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. (Credit: Tupungato/Shutterstock)

Stinson Beach is a top summer destination for beachgoers. The area was initially bought and developed in 1866 by Nathan H. Stinson, where dairy farming was common in the surrounding hills. Stinson Beach is now considered one of the best hidden beaches in California with a lot to offer.

The flat, white sand at Stinson Beach is ideal for walking and sunbathing. Visitors enjoy kayaking, gliding, swimming, and surfing. There are also a couple of volleyball courts to hit, too!

Away from the beach, there are other activities to enjoy. Go hiking, birdwatching, or have a picnic. The Bolinas Lagoon Preserve and the Point Reyes Lighthouse are also popular spots to explore and provide great views of the surrounding area. For other popular attractions, head over to nearby San Francisco.

10. Pismo State Beach, Oceano

Pismo State Beach is located within a park that offers a variety of activities and amenities.
Pismo State Beach is located within a park that offers a variety of activities and amenities. (Credit: Merlino82/Shutterstock)

Located on the Pacific coast, Pismo State Beach is about 17 miles long and boasts incredible weather all year long. This state beach was settled over 9,000 years ago by the Chumash Indians, who named the beach Pismu, which means tar.  It’s now the perfect place for solitude and is said to be one of the best beaches in California for nature enthusiasts.

Pismo Beach features excellent swimming, fishing, and birdwatching. If you’re looking for a unique beach experience, you can also camp out for the night. There are several conveniences like public restrooms, fire pits, and picnic tables.

Looking for adventure? Pismo Beach is a popular spot for off-road driving and hiking!

11. Hendry’s Beach, Santa Barbara County

This famous beach is near Santa Barbara is a lively area with something for everyone.
This famous beach is near Santa Barbara is a lively area with something for everyone. (Credit: Lilian Hernandez/Shutterstock)

Hendry’s Beach or Arroyo Burro Beach Park is located in the beautiful Western Santa Barbara area. It’s just 10 minutes from the lively downtown area. It’s one of the best beach towns in California for a vacation due to the variety of activities.

At the beach, enjoy bodyboarding, sunbathing, and beachcombing. You can also get active on the volleyball courts or explore a nature trail. If you want to bring your pet, there’s an off-leash area on the East side of the park. While spending the day at the beach, you can find conveniences like local restaurants, restrooms, showers, and a dog wash.

Around the beach area, you can find live entertainment and local bars. Elings Park is also a nearby spot that features paragliding and scenic cliffs close to the coastline. 

12. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, Monterey County

Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur is known for its purple sand and rugged beauty.
Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur is known for its purple sand and rugged beauty. (Credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock)

Pfeiffer Beach is located in the Los Padres National Forest close to the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Not only is the entire area incredibly stunning, but the beach is amazing. The beach is known for its purple sand, picturesque views, and large rock formations.

Swimming isn’t recommended at Pfeiffer Beach due to potentially dangerous currents. But, most visitors prefer taking photos, enjoying the views, and building purple sandcastles. You can also bring your leashed pet with you. Don’t forget to check out Keyhole Arch, too!

While Pfeiffer Beach is day-use only, make sure to stay for an amazing sunset. Nearby you can find lots of parks for camping and other activities.

13. Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County

Point Reyes National Seashore is a slice of peaceful paradise.
Point Reyes National Seashore is a slice of peaceful paradise. (Credit: Yaya Ernst/Shutterstock)

Are you looking for a quiet beach ideal for walking and relaxing? Point Reyes National Seashore, also known as The Great Beach, isn’t a booming spot filled with activities. But, it is one of the most serene spots by the Pacific Ocean.

Take a break from the city and rest at The Great Beach. You can even bring your pet along, too! Be sure to look out for views of migrating gray whales at the 1870 Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Nearby, you can find spots to fish, camp, and hike. It’s also a very short drive to San Francisco.

14. Drake’s Beach, Marin County

Also located within Point Reyes National Seashore, Drake's Beach is a great place to swim and relax.
Also located within Point Reyes National Seashore, Drake’s Beach is a great place to swim and relax. (Credit: Fernando Margolles/Shutterstock)

While the water temperatures are chilly, hovering around 50 degrees, many people enjoy Drake’s Beach for water sports. It’s a great public beach with gorgeous views of the sandstone cliffs and lots of attractions in the area.

This beach park is located at the serene Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s an ideal place for families, offering picnic tables, pristine water safe for swimming, a visitor center, and a bookstore. Many visitors enjoy beachcombing at Drake’s Beach, but keep in mind that it’s a protected beach so shells and rocks must stay on the sands.

While you’re at Drake’s Beach, keep an eye out for seagulls, seals, and sea lions! The sandstone cliffs are also a neat attraction at Drake’s Beach.

15. Centerville Beach County Park, Humboldt County

This nine-mile stretch of coastline is located in Ferndale County, with breathtaking views, trails for ATVs and off-road vehicles. 
This nine-mile stretch of coastline is located in Ferndale County, with breathtaking views, trails for ATVs and off-road vehicles. (Credit: BlossomCreativeCo/Shutterstock)

Centerville Beach County Park is home to a 9-mile long sandy beach. The park features a historical landmark to commemorate the 38 people who lost their lives on the SS Northerner ship in 1860. There is also endless nature to enjoy at the park.

The beach features opportunities for sunbathing, surf fishing, swimming, and strolling the sands. You can also go horseback riding! Keep an eye out for large pieces of driftwood and sandstone cliffs. If you want to bring your dog alone, there’s an off-leash area to play in or you can walk your pup leashed. on the beach

16. Bodega Dunes, Sonoma County

Bodega Dunes is a famous beach and campsite in Sonoma County. 
Bodega Dunes is a famous beach and campsite in Sonoma County. (Credit: Jamie Hipchen/Shutterstock)

Bodega Dunes is located within Sonoma Coast State Park and is one of the best California beaches for a vacation. The beach is vast and feels remote while the park offers tons of activities and amenities.

At the beach, enjoy swimming and watching wildlife. There are also large driftwood structures to check out.

The park is the only state park located near the Russian River. You can find long sandy beaches beneath rugged headlands and a craggy coastline with natural arches. If you want to stay for a while and explore, there’s also camping at the park. There’s also a well-known resort that features a golf course, Bodega Bay Lodge.

17. Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel Beach is situated in a small, cultural beach town.
Carmel Beach is situated in a small, cultural beach town. (Credit: Jingjits Photography/Shutterstock)

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach town that was established over a hundred years ago and is located in Monterey County. The area features a rich history that includes Spanish, Indigenous, and Mexican heritage. Its culture and beautiful beach are what make it the special place that it is!

Carmel Beach is the ideal spot for surfing, walking, and picnics. It features pristine white sand, fantastic scenery, and great water adventure opportunities. Keep in mind that there are no lifeguards on duty. You can also find parking, hiking trails, restrooms, and a dog-friendly park.

A couple of popular accommodations in the area include the Carmel Garden Inn and the Normandy Inn. Travelers and locals enjoy exploring restaurants, shops, and art galleries.

18. Del Monte Beach, Monterey

Tucked away from the hustle, Del Monte Beach is the perfect place to relax.
Tucked away from the hustle, Del Monte Beach is the perfect place to relax. (Credit: David A Litman/Shutterstock)

Delmonte Beach is tucked away from the hustle for a secluded feel. It’s a stretch of sand that features boardwalk pathways through sand dunes. It’s home to wildlife and offers a relaxing beach experience.

On the beach, you can enjoy sunbathing, surfing, swimming, and picnics. There are several amenities including restrooms, picnic tables, and benches. To change things up, head to other nearby scenic beaches like Houghton M. Roberts Beach and Window on the Bay Beach.

Leashed dogs are permitted on Delmonte Beach with a leash and there’s free parking.

19. Long Beach City Beach, Long Beach

Long Beach is considered one of the most enjoyable cities in California to explore on foot. 
Long Beach is considered one of the most enjoyable cities in California to explore on foot. (Credit: LeStudio/Shutterstock)

Long Beach City Beach, called Junipero Beach by locals, is considered the main beach in the area. It’s a popular spot that’s surrounded by shops, restaurants, and attractions.

The city was initially named Wilmore City in the 1880s, but since it grew significantly, the population voted to change it to Long Beach. It’s a lucrative place to live and the beaches attract tourists year-round.

The beach is popular for cycling, walking, skating, kiteboarding, and swimming. There’s a lifeguard on duty, as well as restrooms, showers, and a grass park.

20. Emma Wood State Beach, Ventura County

Emma Wood State Beach offers a variety of activities on and off the beach.
Emma Wood State Beach offers a variety of activities on and off the beach. (Credit: Chris Lawry/Shutterstock)

Emma Wood State Beach is nestled on the west side of the Santa Barbara Channel. The park offers ample areas to explore including an amazing beach!

The beach is a great place to swim, surf, and fish. The Ventura River attracts a variety of wildlife including great blue herons and songbirds. The park is a popular place for camping, hiking, and day use. Visitors enjoy exploring historic railroad tracks and structures built in 1942 that commemorate the attack on Ellwood Oil in Santa Barbara.

Looking for RV beach parking in California? Self-contained vehicle camp spots are available right near the beach at Emma Wood North Beach.

21. Davenport Pier Beach

A unique treasure, Davenport Pier Beach is a photographer's dream beach destination.
A unique treasure, Davenport Pier Beach is a photographer’s dream beach destination. (Credit: Mary Lane/Shutterstock)

You’ll find Davenport Pier Beach located just north of Santa Cruz and a short drive from the Pacific Coast Highway in the small town of Davenport. You’ll enjoy the spectacular scenery from the road as you venture towards the beach, which is accessed by a sea cliff.

It’s the ideal place to bring your camera and snap photos of graffiti art, an old, abandoned pier, and a jaw-dropping panorama of the entire area. It’s no surprise that Davenport is one of the best beaches in California for photographers.

Although this beach area is quiet and feels quite secluded, there’s a lot to do in nearby Santa Cruz. It’s also only an hour to San Jose.

22. Half Moon Bay Beach, Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is a spectacular beach community and city that you’ll want to consider for your next California beach vacation. 
Half Moon Bay is a spectacular beach community and city that you’ll want to consider for your next California beach vacation. (Credit: Oxana Militsina/Shutterstock)

Half Moon Bay Beach is located in a small city on the northern California coast. Originally called Spanishtown in 1874, the city changed its name based on the crescent shape of the beach’s harbor. It’s now known as one of the most scenic California towns.

Half Moon Bay Beach is a popular destination for tourists. It’s a prime place to enjoy a wide range of water sports and visit local attractions. The town offers many other beaches that provide plenty of activities, including surfing, swimming, boating, and fishing.

It’s a great place for a beach getaway and you can find a variety of beachside accommodations including luxury spots like Seal Cove Inn and Nantucket Whale Inn.

23. Carlsbad State Beach, San Diego County

The picturesque Carlsbad State Beach is known for its lovely, paved trails and natural beauty.
The picturesque Carlsbad State Beach is known for its lovely, paved trails and natural beauty. (Credit: Eleni Mavrandoni/Shutterstock)

Carlsbad State Beach is located on the San Diego coast and is the perfect spot for every kind of beachgoer. The town of Carlsbad is a great place to visit, especially if you’re a foodie or a golfer.

Carlsbad State Beach features dolphin sightings, photography opportunities, and access to a nearby campground. It’s a popular place for surfing, fishing, swimming, and enjoying a picnic. The wide sandy beach is also great for relaxing or playing beach volleyball.

The Camp Store that’s located by the beach is a nice touch for grabbing beach and camping necessities. The area also hosts events, educational programs, and exhibits.

24. Venice Beach, Los Angeles

Venice Beach is one of the best beaches in California for a buzzing seaside adventure.
Venice Beach is one of the best beaches in California for a buzzing seaside adventure. (Credit: Andy Shiels/Shutterstock)

Many of us have heard of Venice Beach and for good reason! The area is buzzing with things to do. From shopping and dining to live events and entertainment, there’s never a dull moment in Venice Beach.

The beach is located at the Ocean Front Walk and Windward Avenue in Los Angeles. It’s the perfect spot for people-watching, exercise, and surfing. Additionally, it offers a wide range of sports, including basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball, and skateboarding. 

There’s plenty to do at the beachfront area, too. Have a bite to eat, go shopping, and water live performers. Children enjoy the playground and the grassy park is a great spot to hang out. Get active at the Muscle Beach outdoor gym or hang out at the skate park. You can find plenty of restrooms in the area, too.

Explore all that Venice Beach has to offer with plenty of accommodations in the area.

25. Huntington City Beach, Huntington Beach

A great Los Angeles beach, Huntington Beach features some of California's best coastline waves for surfing. 
A great Los Angeles beach, Huntington Beach features some of California’s best coastline waves for surfing. (Credit: GaroManjikian/Shutterstock)

Just south of Los Angeles is Huntington Beach home to several of the best beaches in California including Huntington City Beach. This beach is also called “Surf City.” It features the International Surfing Museum and receives many professional surfers and sports enthusiasts during the summer.

Not only is the beach a haven for surfers, but there’s also an iconic 1,850-foot long beach pier. Take in the ocean views, grab a bite to eat, enjoy some ice cream, and watch the surfers. You can also play beach volleyball and have bonfires on the sand.

The area also offers an off-leash dog park and a surf-themed hotel and resort, The Kimpton Shorebreak Resort is the most popular accommodation in the area.

26. Rancho Palos Verdes Beach, Los Angeles County

Enjoy secluded coastlines at Rancho Palos Verdes Beach.
Enjoy secluded coastlines at Rancho Palos Verdes Beach. (Credit: Andy Konieczny/Shutterstock)

Rancho Palos Verdes Beach features views of Catalina Island, rocky beach areas, and winding paths. It’s located in an affluent residential area, near San Diego.

Visitors flock to this spot for peace and quiet. It’s a great place to do some hiking, sunbathing, and swimming. You can also find several tide pools along the beach. For a special adventure, take a boat over to the nearby Santa Catalina Island.

Other attractions to check out in the area include the Point Vicente Lighthouse and the Trump National Golf Course. If you’re looking to spend the night by the beach, check out one of the best hotels in the area, the Terranea Resort.

27. La Jolla Cove, San Diego

One of the best beaches in southern California, La Jolla Cove is a spectacular place to experience incredible marine life, scuba diving, swimming, and other natural attractions. 
One of the best beaches in southern California, La Jolla Cove is a spectacular place to experience incredible marine life, scuba diving, swimming, and other natural attractions. (Credit: Danita Delimont/Shutterstock)

La Jolla Cove is a small, scenic cove located near San Diego. The beach is part of a protected underwater park with an ecological reserve featuring an abundance of wildlife. There are also tons of beach activities to enjoy.

Enjoy swimming and views of cliffs and sea animals at La Jolla Cove. Visitors enjoy seeing sea bass, baitfish, opaleye, barracuda, and more. If you’re looking to get adventurous, shops along the beach rent out gear for snorkeling, paddleboards, surfboards, and more. Near the northern part of the beach, you can also discover great hiking trails and caves.

La Jolla is a beautiful vacation spot for families, romantic getaways, or a trip with friends. If you’re not familiar with the area and want to learn more, you can book a tour to explore La Jolla via bike or kayak. Near the beach, you can also find many cafes, restaurants, shops, and hotels.

FAQ

Want to know more before your California beach trip? Let’s check out some common questions!

What is the nicest beach in California?

If we consider beaches that look like they came from a movie (and that actually did!), Coronado Beach is the nicest beach in California. It’s a wide sandy beach surrounded by beautiful homes and natural beauty. With that said, many beaches in California are incredible including all of the ones we’ve included on this list.

Are there any white beaches in California?

Definitely! Carmel Beach features a unique sugary white sand that’s been named the prettiest white sand beach many times. Coronado Beach also features beautiful white sand.

Are California Beaches swimmable?

Many California beaches are swimmable. With that said, some waters have cool temperatures so you may not want to swim. Others aren’t safe due to dangerous currents. Here are some of the best swimmable beaches in California that also have lifeguards on duty (usually during peak season):

  • Santa Monica State Beach
  • Coronado Beach
  • Paradise Cove
  • Hermosa Beach
  • Mission Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • Stinson Beach
  • Pismo State Beach
  • Hendry’s Beach
  • Long Beach City Beach
  • Emma Wood State Beach
  • Half Moon Bay Beach
  • Carlsbad State Beach
  • Venice Beach
  • Huntington City Beach
  • La Jolla Cove

In Conclusion

California beaches are seriously some of the best! Hang out on white-sand beaches, play beach sports, and enjoy water activities. California is a top spot for exploring nature in incredible weather.

Whether you’re looking to relax or get adventurous, California’s coast has it all! It’s a paradise for solo travelers, families, surfers, and everyone in between.

We hope our guide to the best California beaches has you excited to plan your next seaside adventure!

californiabeaches.com

Of course we must mention the quintessential Southern California beach town. Nestled in between LA and San Diego, Laguna Beach is so beautiful that it looks surreal. Of course, it’s also of the most popular beach destinations in Orange County, so plan accordingly. The city’s main beach is perpetually crowded, so when you need some surf and ...

10+ Best Beaches in California (with Photos)

The famous beach town of Malibu is known for being the home of many celebrities, idyllic stretches of sand, outstanding eateries and more. But just north of the city limits along Highway One you’ll find one of Southern California’s rare beaches at Leo Carillo State Park.

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur McWay-falls-in-Julia-Pfeiffer-Beach-Big-Sur-California.jpg?resize=784,588
McWay falls in Julia Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California

One of the top attractions in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is not only surrounded by a breathtaking coastline of soaring mountains, lush pine forests and cascading falls, but it boasts unusual violet and deep-purple-hued sands. The color comes from manganese garnet in the hills, which have been eroded and washed down to the beach from the creek to the Pacific. The largest concentration of purple sands can be found on the northern part of the shore – and, you’re more likely to see greater amounts of purple after a winter storm, which helps to speed the erosion of the manganese garnet. With the cerulean-colored waves crashing against the purple-tinted sands, the contrast is absolutely mesmerizing.

Black Sands Beach, The Lost Coast Black-Sands.jpg?resize=784,588
Black Sands Beach, Lost Coast

Black Sands Beach, part of the 80-mile-long Lost Coast in Humboldt County, is a result of hundreds of years of erosion from nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. Like much of this breathtakingly wild and remote region, it’s a tranquil, secluded beach, ideal for doing nothing at all, as well as for exploring, beachcombing, and even nude sunbathing, with nudists typically congregating near the southern end of this mystical 3.5-mile stretch of sand. To get there, you’ll need to take the scenic hour-long drive on the twisting back roads from Highway 101 toward Shelter Grove.

Pescadero State Beach, Pescadero Pescadero-State-Beach.jpg?resize=784,588
Pescadero State Beach

This beach is located between Santa Cruz and San Francisco at the edge of the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. Its hidden sandy coves, marine life-filled tide pools and wide open mile-long shoreline make it one of the best in the state. Getting there is a spectacular journey in itself – no matter which direction you travel on Highway One you’ll take in a series of jaw-dropping views, stopping occasionally at the pullouts to look for spouts from passing whales. Once there, enjoy one of the prettiest beach walks in California and outstanding bird watching at the marsh by taking the North Pond Trail.

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg Fort-Bragg.jpg?resize=784,588
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

Located at the north edge of Fort Bragg in MacKerricher State Park is Glass Beach, a colorful beach that many California residents have never even heard of, though the word has been getting out in recent years. It’s made up of hundreds of thousands of small, smooth, colored pieces of “sea glass.” The site was once the home of the city dump, where from the late 1800s through the 1960s, people tossed their trash. Over the years since, the pounding waves cleaned up the beach, breaking down everything but glass and pottery, resulting in those intriguing tiny pieces that cover it today.

Greyhound Rock, Davenport Greyhound-Beach.jpg?resize=784,588
Greyhound Rock Beach

Greyhound Rock Beach, just north of Santa Cruz near Davenport, offers the chance to enjoy some tranquility away from the crowds where people are packed in like sardines. The fact that you can’t see it from the highway is likely why more people don’t congregate here. That and it also requires a steep, but short, walk down a cliff. While it’s easy to navigate for most, it does seem to prevent the beach from getting too crowded. Even during the hectic summer months, there are few others around, with the exception of the occasional elephant seal lying on the sand. Greyhound Rock, which juts out into the Pacific, can be climbed easily and offers an amazing vantage point for watching the dolphins that frequently pass by.

Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea Carmel-Beach.jpg?resize=784,588
Carmel Beach, CA

Nestled at the foot of Ocean Avenue on the south side of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel Beach is an over-mile-long expanse of golden sands that offers everything most California visitors are looking for in a beach without the big crowds. One of the best white-sand beaches in the U.S., its fine powdery sands are framed by gentle sand dunes and majestic cypress trees. If you want to take a dip in the Pacific, you’ll need to have a hearty constitution, or a wet suit, as the water is pretty chilly, but most just enjoy reveling in the impressive scenery and the laid-back atmosphere.

Coronado Beach, San Diego bigstock-Beach-in-San-Diego-18702008-1.jpg?resize=784,588
Coronado Beach

One of the best family-friendly beach vacation destinations, Coronado Beach is the crown jewel of the “Enchanted Isle,” San Diego’s Coronado Island. The mile-and-a-half-long beach literally glistens in the bright California sunshine thanks to its high concentration of mica, a silver, pearly, mineral. Not only does it offer scenic natural beauty, but there are also plenty of things to do, other than lying on the sand. Its gentle waves are ideal for boogie boarding and as it hosts a number of watchful lifeguards, it’s a great place for families to enjoy playing in the water too. If you’re looking for something a little more active, you can learn to surf from the instructors at the highly-rated Coronado Surfing Academy, and just before dark every evening, you can join the crowds to witness an especially glorious sunset.

Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Beach Crystal-Cove.jpg?resize=784,588
Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach

Located in one of Southern California’s prettiest beach towns at the north end on the border with Newport Beach, Crystal Cove State Park is considered this area’s crown jewel. There are three-and-a-half-miles of pristine, uninterrupted coastline, and the water is so incredibly clear with varying shades of brilliant blue, that you might think you’ve somehow landed in Hawaii. Visitors can enjoy hiking the many trails through the park on the bluff or walking for long distances on the sand. In town, the artist colony of Laguna Beach hosts countless art galleries, an art museum and multiple art festivals throughout the year. There are also a number of rooftop lounges and eateries that are ideal for catching a colorful sunset.

Huntington Beach bigstock-Sunset-Over-Huntington-Beach-P-25294055-1.jpg?resize=784,588
Huntington Beach Pier

Huntington Beach, tucked between Highway One and the Pacific just southeast of Los Angeles, is often ranked among the best beaches in the country, in fact, Coastal Living once named it the best beach in the United States. “Surf City,” as its known, provides the ultimate SoCal beach experience, with outstanding waves for surfing and miles and miles of sand. It enjoys the area’s amazing beach weather, warm summer water temperatures and it stays open until 10 p.m., which means there lots of time for cookouts after the sun goes down, as well as plenty of fire rings cooking up those dogs and making s’mores.

Main Beach, Santa Cruz bigstock-Beach-Boardwalk-5680727-2.jpg?resize=784,588
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz is the quintessential California beach town, and while Main Beach located along the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, is usually not the place to enjoy peace and quiet, you will find plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, along with live entertainment, numerous shops, great people watching and fantastic scenery. Rent a standup paddleboard, kayak, surfboard or other watercraft and paddle out among the sea lions and otters, or play at the Boardwalk, enjoying a heart-pounding ride on the Giant Dipper, one of the oldest roller coasters in the nation, or an old fashioned spin on the 1911 Carousel. The pier is the place to go for top-notch dining and sea lion viewing, and, on Friday nights during the summer, free live concerts are held right on the sand.

Leo Carillo State Park Beach, Malibu bigstock-Oceanside-beach-and-rocks-62307281-1.jpg?resize=784,588
Leo Carrillo State Park beach

The famous beach town of Malibu is known for being the home of many celebrities, idyllic stretches of sand, outstanding eateries and more. But just north of the city limits along Highway One you’ll find one of Southern California’s rare beaches at Leo Carillo State Park. It features one-and-a-half miles of craggy coastline as well as overnight campgrounds. This is the rocky non-conformist, compared to the area’s better known soft sand beaches, where visitors climb over rocks to explore sea caves and search through tide pools or hit the seven miles of hiking trails. When you’re ready for people watching, drive about 15 miles south to Malibu proper and hit Surfrider beach where you’ll find plenty.

9 Insanely Cheap Beach Towns in California

09-03-2022 · 9. Arcata. In Humboldt country sits Arcata beach, meaning “where there is a lagoon”. With a population of around 17775, the beach offers the most pleasing view and an easy lifestyle for all the inhabitants. It is an affordable coastal living in California and is famous for its “hippie vibe”.

09-03-2022

Everyone dreams to settle down in California, and five years back I was one of them. You will be surprised to know that I didn’t move to California all of a sudden. I made a strategic plan to move to California. Right now I stay in Ventura, which is one of the cheapest beach towns in California

California is big, with exquisite coastline, rich history, charm, and home of diverse culture. The lifestyle, antique shopping stores, and the young vibe make California unique compared to others. California’s proximity to the pristine water, beaches, and sandy shore of the Pacific Ocean is incredibly glamorous but expensive. But undeniably, affordable coastal living in California is possible only if you research and plan it properly. 

Cheapest Beach Towns In California

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay any extra penny, but I’ll get a small commission that encourages me to deliver more helpful content for you.

Regardless of where you decide to go in California, you have to mentally prepare yourself that you need a big credit card limit or a good job to enjoy the high life. As I am completing 5 years of living in California with my sister, Jenny, I thought I would write a blog to share what are the cheapest beach towns in California that are completely within your budget.

Cheapest Beach Towns In California

California beach towns are unmistakably beautiful and the locals are very friendly and will make you feel homely and welcomed. These safe California beach towns have a general atmosphere that is very romantic, the sunset is incredibly soothing, warm, and inviting.

Most of my readers often ask a question. “Why is California so expensive?” Definitely there are valid reasons for its high cost of living. But if you are flexible and research well, you can find some cheapest California beach towns that won’t break your bank. Here’s my local perspective and a guide to the 10 most affordable places to live in California near the beach that will make your dream come true. 

1. Ventura

Beaches remain always very close to my heart and I am sure you all have a special kind of fondness for it. Ventura sits near Carpinteria and Oxnard that is just a few minutes drive from northern Malibu; you can consider staying in Oxnard too. The Venture cannot be considered as the cheapest beach town in California but it is relatively affordable compared to other towns in California. 

The home town, Ventura has a lot to offer and you will be surprised with its natural view and warmness. Ventura is near the working harbor and is the best spot for the adventurous soul. You can go fishing anytime you want and spot gray whales on the shoreline. To enjoy the surfing I would suggest you visit Surfer’s Point Beach. 

More than 200 hospitals and numerous schools are available for your health alliance and better education opportunities. There are a lot of job opportunities available and the presence of very fancy restaurants like Mrs. Olson’s Coffee Hut and many more. You can also visit Ventura Botanical Garden to witness the art of the universe and its beautiful ocean vistas. 

Cost of Living in Ventura

The average cost of living in Ventura is around 83 and a single person’s monthly cost will be around

,007.36 without paying the rent. My friend rented a big 2 bedroom apartment and she pays 90. Hope now you understand why I say you need a good job to reside in California. 

Ventura Sightseeing: 

Ventura Harbor Village, Channels Islands National Park, Ventura Pier, Mission San Buenaventura, Mandalay Beach, and San Buenaventura State Beach. 

Affordable Beach Towns In California_Ventura
Ventura

2. San Pedro

Looking for affordable coastal living in California? Sun Pedro is one of the small beach towns in the south of Los Angeles. Some of you can argue with me saying that San Pedro has a bad name in terms of safety because it is under the control of Los Angeles rent people. But, let me tell you that 21st century San Pedro is much attractive and cheapest beach town in California. 

The government has taken the initiative to improve the infrastructure of this town making it one of the best places for investors to invest and change the city’s fame. The place is considered one of the busiest towns in Los Angeles as this is already home for many young professionals. This place has mixed vibe restaurants, many waterfront communities and fancy eateries. 

READ NEXT:  Living in California vs Florida: Pros and Cons in 2022

As the place is situated in Los Angeles hence the price rate is all commodities a little bit higher from California. Good medical facilities and educational institutions are available for the inhabitants. I would probably think of settling here someday, it is the cheapest city to live in Northern California, and enjoy Los Angeles culture. 

Cost of Living in San Pedro

The average cost of living in San Pedro Town is around 39. Some basic expenses like electricity bills, water, heating for 85 square meters Apartment is around 7.60 on a monthly basis. San Pedro is being dominated by the fishing industry so get ready to spend your money on tasting various types of fish dishes. 

San Pedro Sightseeing: 

Port of Los AngelesKorean Bell of Friendship, MacArthur Military Museum, Point Fermin Park, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Sunken City, and Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Cheap Beach Towns in California_Point Fermin Park
Point Fermin Park

3. Eureka

Do you want to spend your days in the lush greenery towering by redwoods in the old mansion of Victorian architecture? Then the Eureka beach near Arcata Bay is the best option for you to reside. This is the cheapest beachfront property in northern California with a remote ocean landscape that you can imagine! 

The landscape of Eureka is amazing and you will be surprised to see the colorful street art that makes the city so vibrant and attractive. And, marijuana and cannabis industries are flourishing in Eureka and it is an affordable California coastal town to retire. The artsy city has a lot to offer; you can go hiking to the Fern Canyon trail, kayaking, or just enjoy the sun on the beach.

You will enjoy the entire small-town feel and can purchase all the necessary commodities at a cheap price. The medical facilities and educational institutions are also affordable at a minimum price. The crime rate is also marginalized and you can enjoy a beachside atmosphere in warm weather throughout the whole year.

Cost of Living in Eureka:

The average cost of living in Eureka is 02, and for a single person, the cost is around 1,017.93$ (monthly) without the rent. 

Eureka sightseeing: 

Redwood Highway, Carson Mansion, Sequoia Park Garden, Sequoia Park Zoo, and Humboldt Bay. 

Sequoia Park Garden
Sequoia Park Garden

4. Grover Beach

Grover Beach is an affordable coastal town in California and the entire natural ambiance will entertain you. The warm weather and amazing view of the beach will mesmerize your eyes and make you click hundreds of pictures and post regularly on Instagram. Grover Beach sits between Oceano and Pismo Beach. It is a small beach community with a population of around 13,484. 

Along the central coast of California, Grover Beach town is the perfect place to settle down as all outdoor activities like surfing, horse riding, swimming, and hiking are available. You will never get bored of this beautiful town. The walk down the beach boardwalk is so scenic, the dunes, and Monarch Butterfly Grove everything is spectacular. This is an affordable coastal living in California.

Even the crime rate is also average in comparison with us or other native areas. The crime rate is below 25% and it is the lowest percentage. Additionally, if you are looking for an area near the coastal area of the Pacific Ocean then it is the cheapest place to live on the California coast. 

Cost of Living in Grover Beach

Expenses on Groceries, Health Care Premiums, and taxes can not be escaped, no matter what you have to pay these bills. For an 85 square meters apartment you need to spend basic electricity garbage, water costs on around 202.36 $ monthly basis. 

Nearby Sightseeing: 

Monarch Grove Winery, The Locked Inn, Rons, and Pismo State Beach Golf Course. 

5. Long Beach 

Long Beach is one of the largest beaches in downtown Los Angeles. It is just 20 minutes away from San Pedro beach and one of my favorite beaches of all time. This place has an active LGBTQ community which I am proud of and has a diverse culture with great views. There are many expensive places to live in but properties near the beach are affordable and budget-friendly. Therefore, these are some of the cheapest beach towns in California.

READ NEXT:  10 Best Hikes in Southern California

If you are looking for a faster pace of life then this sleepy, coastal village area is the perfect choice for you. Long Beach is home to famous restaurants, beautiful beaches, and businesses. Not only that but it is one of the most affordable beach towns too. All the medical facilities, schools, colleges, and job places are available in the town.

Probably it is one of the inexpensive beach cities in California where you can enjoy with your friends a few days. If you are a youngster and want to enjoy your night you can also head towards Brent Bolthouse. You will love this place!

Cost of Living in Long Beach

Long Beach with a population of around 462,257 the cost of living is an average of 14. The cost of living for a single person will be around 919.18$ on a monthly basis without paying rent. 

Long Beach Sightseeing:

Downtown Waterfront, Aquarium of the Pacific, the Queen Mary, Naples, and Catalina Island.

Read Also: 10 Best Places To Live in Southern California

Downtown Long Beach
Downtown Long Beach

6. Oceanside

Oceanside is the cheapest beach town to live in Southern California, come to the beach to have pleasant moments with your friends. I would agree with you that Oceanside had a bad reputation in the past but now it is a hub for food lovers, and adventure surfers. I would recommend you to visit Michelin Star, their cooking style is spectacular. The phenomenal beach welcomes SuperGirl Surf Pro and is home to the California Surf Museum. 

All the alliances from schooling to medical facilities are easy to have. The price of the essential commodities is much cheaper than in the neighboring country. It is a perfect beach with a natural ambiance and eye-attractive sightseeing. All the streets are mostly occupied with cafes, restaurants, and shops. Thus, Ocean Beach becomes one of the most affordable beach towns in San Diego country. Oceanside is one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California surrounded by turquoise water and sand.

Ocean Beach is the third-largest city and just 30 minutes away from North San Diego. It is a relatively affordable town and you might enjoy the surroundings equally. You can visit the Oceanside Harbor, take a wine harbor cruise or visit the historic pier to witness the beautiful sunset. The palm tree-lined place is the dream of many and myriad community events and festivals are so fun that I recommend you to consider this place for residing. 

Cost of Living in Oceanside

Costs of food, energy, housing, and healthcare are considered as the basic and universal components of living and expenses on these things are a must. The average cost of living in Oceanside is 08, for basic utilities 3.05 (monthly), and for a one-bedroom apartment near the center will be around

,893.89. 

Ocean Beach sightseeing: 

Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside Pier, Harbor Beach, California Surf Museum, Charlie’s dessert bar, and Oceanside Sunset Market. 

Read Next: 11 Best Beach Towns to Visit in Texas

Oceanside Neighborhood
Oceanside Neighborhood

7. Imperial Beach

Imperial Beach is 15 minutes away from San Diego and 10 minutes away from the Mexican border. This affordable coastal living in California sits above the Tijuana Estuary. To maintain the fun and enjoy the hustle and bustle of San Diego I would highly recommend you to settle down here. Imperial Beach is surrounded and the beach atmosphere is highly entertaining. 

It is a residential community and the entire natural ambiance comes with affordable and cheap prices. The beach is beautiful and has small gentle waves and you can bring your kids to enjoy it at an affordable price. On the north side, surfing is allowed and if you are a hiker then you don’t want to miss the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge spot. 

The houses in Imperial Beach are not a little expensive but you will find a place to reside that is reasonable and budget-friendly. The crime rate is also lower making it one of the most desirable living places 

Imperial city is a beautiful city with an average cost of living of around 82. 

Imperial Beach sightseeing: 

Imperial Beach Pier, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, Bayshore Bikeway, Veterans Park, and Kristy Murphy’s Siren Surf Adventures.

READ NEXT:  15 Best Free Things to do in San Diego That You’ll Love
Imperial Beach Pier
Imperial Beach Pier

8. Oceano

Next to Grover Beach and Pismo Beach sits Oceano beach which is yet another affordable coastal living in California. Moreover, it is the safest beach town in California to visit with your friends or alone. Therefore, if you are searching for an affordable place to live in California then Oceano is a great choice. Many visitors come here and it is famous for having beautiful Dunes. 

According to Grover beach, all the things are available on Oceano beach approx 7% lesser in price. Oceano Beach is one of the most affordable places to live in California near the beach. I want you to know that Oceano is a mix of the old and new culture, it offers fewer amenities but still has many good places to hang out with friends and families. You can visit Quintessa Coffee Roasters, my personal favorite.  

All the necessary things like medical facilities, job opportunities, school, and colleges are present at a cheap price to explore. Oceano has a dramatic coastline and is the only beach in California that allows driving. This is indeed beautiful and a cheap beach town in California.

The housing and transportation cost in Oceano is a little higher than the national average. 

Oceano sightseeing: 

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville, Pismo State Beach, Pismo State Beach, and Pacific Dunes Ranch Riding Stables.

9. Arcata

In Humboldt country sits Arcata beach, meaning “where there is a lagoon”. With a population of around 17775, the beach offers the most pleasing view and an easy lifestyle for all the inhabitants. It is an affordable coastal living in California and is famous for its “hippie vibe”. You will also be happy to know that Arcata residents have a strong sense of environmental awareness among them.

You will be mesmerized to witness the dramatic confluence of a river and ocean that makes Arcata one of the beautiful places in California. You can head towards the Redwoods National and State Park and then visit the local restaurants and plazas. Everything here is budget-friendly, affordable and you will never regret moving to California. 

Everything is available in Arcata at an affordable price whether it is medical facilities, schools, colleges, and other necessities. Humboldt State University is famous among youths in California; Arcata is a small beach town in California to check-in as it welcomes people and different cultures. . The crime rate in the town is much lower than in other cities or towns in California or Los Angeles. 

Cost of Living in Arcata:

Compared to the national average the energy cost and food cost is 28.3% and 10.7% higher respectively. 

Arcata sightseeing:

Arcata Community Forest, Arcata Plaza Farmers’ Market, Arcata Marsh, and Wildlife Sanctuary, Clam Beach County Park, and Humboldt Crabs Baseball. 

Arcata
Arcata

Final Words

These 9 places are the cheapest beach towns in California that have pristine beaches and splendor coastline. If you want to turn your dream into reality despite your economic status then finding a home in these places is fantastic and charming. There are both advantages and disadvantages to living in California but for unlimited fun and filling your life with the thrilling experience of surfing, and the sun within your budget these above places are perfect. 

Read Next:

FAQ – Cheapest Beach Towns in California

A: Oxnard or Ventura is the cheapest place to buy a home in Southern California near the beach. 

A: Daytona Beach, Ocean Springs, and Fort Pierce are the top U.S. beach towns to buy a home.

A: Carpinteria is one of the best and safest places beach towns in California to live in. 

A: Northern California is preferably better than South California in terms of affordability and cheap accommodation. 

travel.usnews.com

Known for its iconic clock tower that has stood on the beach since 1968, San Clemente is a relaxed village with the atmosphere and charm of a mid-century California seaside town. At the main City ...

11 Best Family Beach Vacations in California

Use these top picks to plan your family beach vacation in California. Choose based on beach activities, nearby towns, or location within the Golden State.

You'll find plenty of beaches in the Golden State that can be the backdrop for your family's perfect trip. You can spend days taking in the coastal beauty at the seashore, or go to a city and enjoy the urban beach scene. Other options include getting your adrenaline up at one of the country's few remaining oceanside amusement parks or visiting an iconic California beach town. You can even go camping on the beach. These top picks are listed in order from north to south.

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Colleen Proppe/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For the nature-loving family, a California beach vacation doesn't get any better. At Point Reyes, you can explore miles of seashore, see a waterfall that runs right into the ocean, explore the effects of an earthquake on nature, and watch Roosevelt Elk grazing at sunset. And the scenic lighthouse has enough steps for even the most active kids to use up their excess energy.

You can visit Point Reyes any time of year, but it may be too cold and windy to spend much time on the beach there in the winter. 

The only lodging inside the National Seashore is a hostel, but you can use a guide to find out where else you can stay nearby—and what else there is to do in the area.

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Danita Delimont/Getty Images

At Half Moon Bay, you won't run out of beaches to explore on your vacation. In fact, three of them are part of the Half Moon Bay Beach State Park—Frances, Venice, and Dunes. You can also check out the tidepools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve or watch elephant seals at Ano Nuevo. Both of these are also along the San Mateo coast.

The town of Half Moon Bay offers lots of places to stay and eat, and there's a golf course with an ocean view so beautiful that you might get distracted and lose track of your ball. 

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Hana Davies/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Santa Cruz has lots of beaches to play on and oceanside campgrounds that are perfect for bonfires and s'mores. This area has beaches for almost any activity you would want to take part in.

In downtown at the classic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, adventurous kids will like the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1924,  while little ones might prefer sticking to the classic carousel with its hand-carved horses.

Older kids might also enjoy renting equipment for surfing, boogie boarding, or skimboarding in one of the two places in California that claim to be the original Surf City. 

If you get bored with sun and sand, you can find more things to do with the family in Santa Cruz, including the utterly touristy but fun Mystery Spot.

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The Monterey Peninsula has enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest members of your family. Here's a Monterey and Carmel beach guide to find the one that's just right for you.

Monterey also offers are plenty of opportunities to view and learn about wildlife. You can take a break from the beach to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and divers can also rent gear and explore the undersea world for themselves. Or stay on top of the waves in a kayak. Monterey Bay is also one of the best places in California to go whale-watching. 

For youngsters who enjoy shopping, Carmel is the perfect place to go—and the town is also famous for being dog-friendly in case you brought the family pet along. Plus, the town offers plenty of other things for the whole family to participate in.

Tiny Pacific Grove sits between Monterey and Carmel and is often overlooked by visitors, but it has some gorgeous beaches and a cute little downtown area to explore.

Continue to 5 of 11 below.

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Pismo Beach is among California residents' favorite places to go for a family getaway. Located on a dramatic stretch of coastline with sand dunes and cliffs backing up sandy beaches, it's the perfect spot to experience the classic California beach lifestyle.

In town, you can walk out onto the pier to watch the ocean and get a bowl of award-winning clam chowder. 

Oceano Dunes near Pismo Beach is also the only place in the state where you can camp right on the beach and zip around the nearby dunes in an ATV. There's also a scenic lighthouse nearby if you want to check that out. 

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Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images

The words upscale and gorgeous are often used to describe Santa Barbara, but don't let that fool you into thinking the place is too pretentious for families to enjoy.

Santa Barbara is a walkable town with easy to access beaches and a paved oceanfront walk that's always buzzing with people enjoying a pedal-powered surrey ride. You can also get out of town to explore some of the area's other fun beach locales.

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Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images

For an urban California beach experience, head for Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach in the area Angelenos call the South Bay. You'll find miles of oceanfront paths to walk, bike, or skate on and lots of sandy beaches to enjoy.

The Redondo Pier has a small aquarium with free admission, and you'll find lots of places to eat and shop on the horseshoe-shaped Redondo Pier. Your family fishermen could go on a fishing trip, or even the bravest member of your group could enjoy a jet boat ride.

No matter where you are in the South Bay if you get tired—or hungry—or feel a sudden urge to go shopping — you're never more than a few steps away from all of that.

These towns have distinct personalities that you can get into if you check the ​South Bay beach town guide.​

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Richard Cummins/Getty Images

In Orange County, Newport Beach is well known for high-end shopping centers, but for families, the best part of Newport Beach is at the seashore.

Start your day on tiny Balboa Island or the Balboa Peninsula, then travel between them on the smallest ferry boat you may ever see. Some parents say that the ferry ride alone can keep the kids occupied for hours, just going back and forth. On the peninsula, you can also stop to enjoy the amusements at the Balboa Fun Zone.

On the island, get a hand-dipped Balboa Bar or a chocolate-coated frozen banana from one of the two sidewalk stands that both claim to be the "original." 

There's also plenty to do in the town of Newport to get away from the beach for a bit. 

Continue to 9 of 11 below.

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Barry Winiker/Getty Images

Laguna Beach is known for its art galleries and fine dining, but close to downtown, you'll also find a fun place to play in the sand and tidepools to explore. In town, the kids will also enjoy stopping to watch the Laguna Beach Greeter dancing and waving to passing visitors. 

When you're done with the beach, you can explore the town and surrounding area. 

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TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Beautiful La Jolla north of San Diego is a magnet for beach lovers, boasting some of the best sand in the state. Families will love to watch the sea lions and check the surf La Jolla Cove. And the broad, sloping beach at La Jolla Shores is perfect for wading. Those beaches are detailed in the guide to San Diego's best beaches, so you can find the right one for your family. 

Also in La Jolla, you can visit the Birch Aquarium to see some sea dragons or take a stroll along the cliffs above the La Jolla waterfront. 

10 Prettiest Beaches in California (2021)

17-02-2021 · 10 Prettiest Beaches in California. Check out the list below and have a look at the “10 Prettiest Beaches in California”. 1. Capitola Beach. Situated on the north end of Monterey Bay, Capitola Beach is noted as one of the most beautiful beaches in California. It is known for the lovely and colorful seaside vibe that increases its charm ...

17-02-2021

The diversity of nature and tourism in California is one huge fact, and there are never less of spots even if you categorize them. Being America’s third-largest State, nature has blessed California with abundance when it comes to beaches. Beaches are one of the most significant parts of the State’s appeal, and there are lesser states in the US that can compete with the essence of California Beaches. Its 800 miles long coastline says enough about how many options and variety of beaches one can find when exploring California.

The State of California has it all, stand-out beach beauties or the hidden and lesser interrupted gems; there’s never sort of options and choices. From the Northern end of California towards Southern end of California, beaches change dramatically yet beautifully once you start exploring on your way.

10 Prettiest Beaches in California

Check out the list below and have a look at the “10 Prettiest Beaches in California”.

Situated on the north end of Monterey Bay, Capitola Beach is noted as one of the most beautiful beaches in California. It is known for the lovely and colorful seaside vibe that increases its charm, especially during the sunrise and sunset. The small townhome style colorful building right beside the beach reflects all the bright shades right into the water, creating a picturesque view. It also has a large fishing pier near the west end and a popular surfing area near the east end of the beach. A naturally formed lagoon behind the Capitola beach often becomes home to several tiny birds, which draws the particular interest of tourists. Summers in Capitola beach host live music plays, twilight concerts, art shows, and movies. Behind the beach, some excellent fine dining options are worth a try.
Prettiest Beach in California-Capitola BeachImage Source

2. Pfeiffer Beach

The magnificent crescent-shaped Pfeiffer Beach is no doubt one of the best beaches in California. Even the road towards the beach is even the most scenic driveway in California. It is best known for purple-hued sand and rocky outcroppings and a natural archway from where when the sun rays travel, it creates an alluring tunnel of light that is all worth traveling here. Whereas the purple-colored sand (under the regular earthy sand) is created when the rainwater run-off from the surrounding cliffs and the manganese garnet forms a unique coloration. The Pfeiffer Beach is often windy, making it dangerous for surfing here; however, walking along the beach area is soothing and relaxing. For visitors who want to explore an Instagram-worthy beach, Pfeiffer Beach is ideal for themBest Beach in California-Pfeiffer BeachImage Source

3. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach is the most popular beach in San Diego. Best known for its wide stretched white & silvery sandy beaches, calm water, famous red-roofed buildings, and legendry sunsets, Coronado Beach is a family-friendly spot where you can either chill in the water or relax over the sand for an equally relaxing experience. It is a walkable beach and allows dogs as well. The beach lies just ten miles away from the north of the Mexican border. Thanks to the ideal water conditions, visitors here often learn surfing and brush their skills at the beaches’ Surfing Academy. Winters from December to February here bring the chance to watch whales from near as they can often get spotted closer to the beach.
Top Beach in California-Coronado BeachImage Source

Popular Beach in California-Laguna Beach

Photo Credit: Ken Lund Image Source

Not those regular California Beaches, Laguna Beach is a city with several beautiful beaches within the small coastal line in Orange County. Beaches at Laguna are naturally splashed with emerald green and blue tones, which during sunset dramatically turns into a fiery orange color creating a blissful sight. However, the beaches here are best known for are the tide pools and superb surfing conditions, which attract the most significant number of tourists every year. Being here, one can find over 30 coves, an ideal spot for luxurious coastal fun, and can indulge in various water activities, including surfing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, swimming, or beach sports like football, volleyball, and badminton. Even though the coastline of Laguna Beach is small, there’s something for visitors of all ages and interests.

5. Santa Cruz

Drive half an hour towards the South of San Francisco and reach the beautiful boardwalk of the Santa Cruz beach. It is a great sandy public beach with a vast, broad walk that offers a colorful oceanfront scene in the lap of a quieter atmosphere and a soothing environment all around. Besides the broad walk lies one of the popular seaside amusement parks in California that is defiantly worth a visit. Though the waves of the Pacific here are sometimes challenging, it is still one great spot for seasoned surfers who want to try their feet over the board here. When in Santa Cruz beach, do try the caramel apples sold by local vendors at the broad walk.
Amazing Beach in California-Santa CruzImage Source

6. McWay Cove Beach

The Aspiring view of McWay waterfall and the McWay Cove Beach will leave your heart and mind spellbound with amazement. Though it is relatively smaller, the McWay Cove Beach is still one of the most amazing beaches in California. The beach is surrounded by small and medium heightened cliffs, and thus, reaching there is a slightly tricky task. For reaching there, from highway one, follow the trail towards the waterfall and then walk through the tunnel that emerges right before the ocean and then walk until you see the fall. McWay fall drops directly into the beach, which seems like a shower spray. The water here is extremely beautiful, with the maximum tone of emerald green and a layer of a thick feathery white sheet at the corners. McWay waterfall and beach is definitely one masterpiece of nature that cannot be missed when in California.
Top-rated in California-McWay Cove BeachImage Source

7. Newport Beach

Must Visit Beach in California-Newport Beach

Photo Credit: Ken Lund Image Source

Newport Beach is highly famous amongst the visitors due to two specific reasons, great sunset views and one of the best surfing conditions. Here “The Wedge” is noted as one of the best-surfing sites in the world for both beginners and seasoned surfers. This westerly-facing beach in the State provides a clear and broad view of one of the best sunset experiences in California. The beach is a 5-mile long spread of silky sand that begins from Newport Pier and goes towards Balboa Pier. The historic pier and lifeguard stand here makes it look like a beach directly brought here from the past when the current demolished artwork used to be the beauty of this sight.

8. Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove

A unique picturesque beach with sand in various tones of black is the Black sands beach, shelter cove, California. It is similar to the one in Iceland and thus is known as one of the unique and memorable beaches in California. The coastline of Black Sands Beach stretches over 20 miles between shelter cove to the Mattole River Campground. It is an ideal spot of backpackers who often comes here to hike up the coast north to Lost Coast Trail or spend their nights and even weekend in the hike up the coast north to Lost Coast Trail. Being a west-facing beach, it provides a spectacular sunset view that looks more devine along with black sand, dark blue water, and dark orange sky. However, a part of the beach is restricted and blocked for human access due to the danger of high tide and the rip current. Swimming at the Black sands beach is also not a great idea as waves here come crashing at a very high-speed taking along anything that comes in contact. However, it is an ideal sight to adore the spectacular beach beauty of California from a safer distance and safer spots.
Attraction Beach in California-Black Sands Beach, Shelter CoveImage Source

9. Natural Bridges State Beach

The Natural Bridges State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in California and an ideal location for spotting shorebirds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing around. It is also known for the yearly migration of monarch butterflies from mid-October to late in January. During the butterfly season, the beach is full of visitors capturing views of almost a thousand butterflies spreading colors all around. However, what makes this beach famous all year round is the famous natural bridge from the beach towards the sea with naturally formed arches underneath. The arch creates a magnificent Instagram-worthy view and is defiantly a thousand dollars backdrop that one would crave for. Along the beachside, there are several tidepools that offer a variety of sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and a glimpse of various other ocean life. Around the beach lies coastal scrub and grasslands where during springs with the bloom of wildflowers, colors spread beautifully over the surface.
Nice Beach in California-Natural Bridges State BeachImage Source

10. Sand Dollar Beach

Sand Dollar Beach is a popular summer destination in California and is also well known for day picnics in the region. It is located near the southern Big Sur coast hallway between the Big Sur Station and Cambria. Unlike its name, the beach is not loaded with sand dollars; however, one can easily find jade stones, seashells, and other rounded sea rocks all across the coastline. The location is home to a dramatic rocky coastline that might be a challenge to access but looks alluring and one of a kind. The beach is just half-mile (or a little longer in the absence of tides), where one can dip in the blue water of the Pacific Ocean or hike around the orange rock of tall sea cliffs. Across the beach, there are several picnic tables, vault toilets, and trails where visitors can easily spend an entire day enjoying and playing around. The trails take one along the path and height from where one can overlook the refreshing and rejuvenating view of the Sand dollar beach.

Best Beach Towns In California for Vacation

21-12-2021 · Capitola. It is about 335 miles north. Capitola in Santa Cruz county on the coast of Monterey Bay. Capitola. The vibrant town of Capitola is known for being the oldest beach …

21-12-2021

Top 21 Best Beach Towns In California for Vacation stand out from the crowd.

The criteria for being mentioned in this Travel Guide are golden sand, gorgeous sunsets, and a population of less than one hundred thousand. Let’s start.

Also Read:

  • Best Road Trips In The US

Pismo Beach

Pismo beach located in San Luis Obispo county is popularly known as the climbing capital of the world.

Pismo beach
Pismo Beach

This beautiful town is also known for its alluring wineries, the perfect weather delicious seafood, and long white beaches.

Pacific Palisades

About 165 miles south of Pismo Beach, located in la county pacific palisades is known for its occlusion.

Pacific Palisades
Pacific Palisades

With its beautiful hiking trails and parkland long beaches and great architecture, located in the hills with nature all around.

It’s not surprising that a lot of celebrities choose this town for their homes.

Capitola

It is about 335 miles north. Capitola in Santa Cruz county on the coast of Monterey Bay.

Capitola
Capitola

The vibrant town of Capitola is known for being the oldest beach resort town on the entire west coast.

Capitola has beautiful piers rainbow-colored houses and lots of local restaurants and boutiques.

Monterey

Within less than 40 miles south of the capital. Monterey has some of the state’s oldest historic sites.

Monterey
Monterey

There is California’s first public library, the first newspaper, the first publicly funded school, the first public building, and so on.

Also, Monterey’s aquarium is world-famous and Monterey bay’s wildlife is incredible.

Encinitas

A series of towns in southern California Encinitas in San Diego County is more than 400 miles south of Monterey.

Encinitas
Encinitas

Encinitas’s laid-back charm, combined with its gorgeous coastline and historic architecture will make you fall in love.

Add the charming sidewalk cafes, specialty retail stores, and exceptional surfing conditions and you’ll want to stay forever.

Solana Beach

Just three and a half miles south and also in san Diego county beautiful Solana beach.

Solana Beach
Solana Beach

Solana Beach is known for its shopping with some unique stores, lovely boutiques, and art galleries.

Solana Beach also has sunshine almost daily and in winter it’s just a few degrees colder than in summer.

Dana Point

Dana point in orange county is called the dolphin and whale watching capital of the world.

Dana Point
Dana Point

Dana point is an awesome beach community.

With its beautiful beaches great restaurants sunset wine cruises and perfect surfing conditions, dana point is always worth visiting.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach in alley county.

Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach

The pearl of la south beach beachfront real estate is just impressive and the manhattan beach pier with its aquarium at the end is one of the most beautiful piers on Santa Monica bay.

Also, this is a reason why manhattan beach is one of the top beach towns in the state. the excellent restaurants the white beach and the year-round temperate weather.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is known for its many bars restaurants parks and beaches.

Santa Monica
Santa Monica

Although being a beach town Santa Monica is very busy.

Especially the famous Santa Monica pier and the 3rd street promenade is a hot spot for tourists.

So if you like the bus this town is perfect for you.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach in orange county is over 50 miles south of Santa Monica.

Newport Beach
Newport Beach

Especially the balboa peninsula with its gorgeous waterfront spots make Newport beach a perfect destination.

Its old-fashioned charm and laid-back atmosphere make you want to stay forever
and the beach on the peninsula is considered one of the best urban beaches in the entire us.

Venice

Just about 50 miles north back in l.a county, Venice with its busy boardwalk.

Venice
Venice

A walk through Venice reveals a collection of murals, long winding canals, and the colorful boardwalk with muscle beach and the skatepark.

Abbott Kinney boulevard offers no shortage of food, shopping, and things to do either.

Carpinteria

Another 80 miles north to Carpinteria. At the southern end of Santa Barbara County, carpenteria offers multiple beaches including carpenteria beach which is embraced as the world’s safest beach by the city, and the harbor seal preserves where baby seals are easy to spot.

Carpinteria
Carpinteria

Carpenteria while being a very small town also offers a considerable collection of restaurants and hiking trails.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a college town with a lot to offer. with what seems like an uncountable number of beaches, a boardwalk with an amusement park, and a hub of marine protections.

Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz

This is a wildlife lover’s town.

The monarch butterfly preserve and Monterey bay national marine sanctuary offer hours of exploration.

Carmel by the Sea

The charming town of Carmel by the sea in Monterey county.

Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea

This enchanting place is known for its white sandy beach, the romantic village atmosphere, and its historic Spanish mission.

Carmel streets are three-shaded, the houses look like storybook cottages and it has a rich artistic history.

San Clemente

The southernmost city of orange county.

San Clemente
San Clemente

San Clemente is a picturesque town with lots of history and culture its Spanish colonial-style architecture is gorgeous.

the mild climate year-round combined with its breathtaking mountain and ocean views will make you fall in love with this place.

La Jolla

The beautiful la Jolla Santiago’s jeweled by the sea.

La Jolla
La Jolla

Downtown la Jolla has lots of boutiques jewelry stores and fine restaurants but the main reason for this town’s popularity is its beach.

The hoya cove is well known for its white sand, the waves that are perfect for surfers, and its sea lions and seals.

Malibu

Malibu is about 140 miles north of La Jolla.

Malibu
Malibu

Being part of the 156 000 across Santa Monica mountains national recreation area malibu is perfect for hiking.

With its Mediterranean climate and the 21 miles of coastline with some of California’s best beaches, for example, el matador beach, malibu is always worth visiting.

Laguna Beach

About 80 miles south of malibu is the gorgeous laguna beach.

Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

Thanks to over 30 beaches and coves, laguna beach is the perfect place for upscale seaside fun.

Being known for its bohemian chic, beautiful beaches, and lots of art galleries. This town also offers a fantastic network of trails that are perfect for running hiking and biking.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is located between the center of s mountains and the pacific ocean, which makes it perfect for beach lovers, as well as people who like hiking.

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara

The scenic channel islands are just a short bouldered away and the Mediterranean climate is gorgeous.

Also, the architecture with its reptile roofs and stark white walls is exceptional and gives the city its Spanish vibe.

Coronado

Over 220 miles south almost to the Mexican border beautiful Coronado
and San Diego county.

Coronado
Coronado

With its stunning beaches, Coronado island offers plenty of activities in the sun.

It also boasts impressive views of the Coronado Bridge and the San Diego skyline.

The perfect Mediterranean climate, the stunning sunsets, and the bars and restaurants make this town a dream destination.

Catalina Islands

About 95 miles north to Newport Beach and another hour per boat Avalon on Catalina islands.

Catalina Islands
Catalina Islands

The special thing about Catalina island is its crystal clear water and one-of-a-kind white sand.

There are endless locally-owned shops and restaurants and experiencing the breathtaking views from the hermit gulch trail loop or visiting the botanical gardens.

Catalina Island with Avalon is definitely worth a day trip for you.

Thank you very much for reading, if you’ve found any part of this Guide useful then let me know in a comment below. Thank you for your time and have a great time.

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California is the most populous state in the country. See why so many people flock to The Golden State below. For more information on how we rank, read the Best Places to Live methodology.

Best Beach Towns in Northern California

18-07-2021 · Half Moon Bay. Half Moon Bay is yet another paradisiacal town on the northern California coast.. With over 8 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches, trails, and open spaces to discover. Main attractions include Miramar Beach, Half Moon Bay State Beach, Poplar Beach, and the 5-mile long Coastal Trail.. In town, you can visit Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen, Half Moon Bay …

18-07-2021

Are you a beach lover?  Well, get ready because I have some superb beach towns in Northern California to share with you.

Northern California is a place of unparalleled natural beauty. 

Residents and visitors get mesmerized due to the abundance of breathtaking mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, and vineyards.

Of course, there are many places to use as a base to explore the state’s natural assets.  And, for some reason, life moves at a delicious pace when you spend time in a beach town.

In this article, I invite you to get familiar with Northern California coastal towns. We will explore their location, amenities, and nearby attractions.

Please note: This article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link. Of course, this comes at no extra cost to you and helps me to keep offering solid information to readers.

Best Beach Towns in Northern California

We can spend a good amount of time discussing what is considered “Northern California.”  After our discussion, we will probably not agree on a definition.  That is ok.

In this article, I am mostly focusing on beach towns north of San Francisco.  There will be some recommendations in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo counties.

Carmel

Carmel is one of my favorite northern coastal California towns. I feel like driving and spending time there right now!

It is difficult not to love Carmel.  The town’s center looks straight out of a fable.  There are several structures built in the English Tudor, Tudor Storybook, Storybook Cottage, English Cotswold, and French Farmhouse styles.  Besides, there is plenty of interesting architecture on the coastal Scenic Road.

On top of that, the town has arcades, restaurants, bakeries, galleries, and shop sumptuously decorated.  It is recommended to walk or bike the Scenic Road while enjoying Carmel Beach, Carmel Point, and Carmel River State Beach.

Do not miss the gorgeous Carmel Mission.  You will find Junipero Serra’s mausoleum inside.

A lot of people pay to tour 17 Mile Drive.  The area is worth seeing but I would visit Point Lobos State Nature Reserve.  I feel like this is an essential visit to the area.  Try to spend half a day there.  If you are short on time, walk/hike the Bird Island Trail.  You will leave astonished!

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is fairly big (a bit over 64,000 residents) but it has a great small beach town vibe.  And, there are few places that can surpass the classic California beach culture that can be felt there.

First-time visitors should head to the Wharf, Boardwalk, Park, and beach.  It is fun to rent bikes and pedal along the beaches on the east side of town.  I like to explore Seabright, Twin Lakes, and Corcoran Beach all the way to Pleasure Point and even Capitola.

The scenic West Cliff Drive takes you to Lighthouse Field State Beach, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, Pyramid Beach, and Natural Bridges State Beach.

In Downtown, you can enjoy Lupulo Craft Beer House, Pacific Cookie Company, The Penny Ice Creamery, Taqueria Los Pericos, and The Walnut Avenue Cafe.

If you like to hike, check out the easy (mostly flat) trail at Wilder Ranch State Park.  The views, rock formation, coves, and beaches are impressive!

Read More: Things to Do in Capitola

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is yet another paradisiacal town on the northern California coast.  

With over 8 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches, trails, and open spaces to discover.  Main attractions include Miramar Beach, Half Moon Bay State Beach, Poplar Beach, and the 5-mile long Coastal Trail.

In town, you can visit Sacrilege Brewery Kitchen, Half Moon Bay Bakery, Dad’s Luncheonette, and Barterra Winery.  Adjacent to the town, you will find Pilar Point Harbor, Pilar Point, Ross Cove, and Mavericks Beach (with a well-known surf break) in the unincorporated community of Princeton.

Close to Half Moon Bay, you can visit the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, and Montara State Beach.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Stretching over 3 miles along the western edge of the San Francisco Peninsula, you will find Ocean Beach, a wide expanse of sand and dunes. 

This is not a beach town per se. However, it needs to be included in the article since this is one of the coolest places to visit in the City by the Bay.

The beach offers exciting opportunities for surfing, windsurfing, picnicking, sunbathing, jogging, kite flying, biking, and walking.  Amenities include restrooms, showers, a designed walking/biking path, fire pits, and parking. Swimming can be unsafe due to strong currents (visitors need to take caution).

Ocean Beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.  The beach is adjacent to the Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights Park, and Golden Gate Park.  The location is spot on! You can combine several attractions with some beach time.

On the northern part of the beach, you will find restaurants, cafes, and shops along Balboa Street. South of the Golden Gate Park, you will find great places to eat in the Sunset District.

Ocean Beach is unusually uncrowded, except for a few very warm days.  Dogs are allowed off-leash (except in a few areas).

Bodega Bay

If you are a foodie, Bodega Bay is the Northern California beach town for you.  

You can stuff yourself silly with crab, oysters, clam chowder, fresh fish, and shrimp at restaurants like Spud Point Crab Company, Fisherman’s Cove, and Ginocchio’s Kitchen.  The nearby town of Valley Ford has restaurants selling yummy food as well.  The Valley Ford Cheese and Creamery may blow your mind.

Apart from food, there is a lot to do in Bodega Bay.  The town is located along the shores of the Bodega Harbor, formed by the Bodega Head and Doran Spit.  The area surrounding the harbor is dotted with recreational facilities (part of the Sonoma Coast State Park or regional parks).

You can hike, sunbathe, camp, fish, and practice water sports at Doran Regional Park, Westside Regional Park, or the day-use areas of Sonoma Coast State Park (Campbell Cove, Salmon Creek, Bodega Dune).  There is a string of beaches north of Salmon Creek Beach.  You can easily beach hop or explore by hiking the coastal trail.

Jenner

Jenner sits on a high bluff near the mouth of the Russian River, where the river debouches into the Pacific Ocean. 

This small town in Northern California (population between 100 – 150) is known for amazing sunsets, dramatic bluffs, and stunning ocean vistas. The actual “center” is located along a short stretch of the Coast Highway (CA-1). In there, you will find some restaurants, plenty of cute places to stay, a gas station, and a business offering canoe/kayak rentals.

Jenner offers endless opportunities for exploration. North of town, you will find Jenner Beach, Jenner Headlands Preserve (administer by The Wildlands Conservancy), and Russian Gulch State Beach. I recommend getting soaked into history at the Fort Ross National Historic Landmark (a former Russian fur trading outpost) and wine-tasting at the 27,500 acres of the Fort Ross Vineyard (the views are incredible). 

Also, begging to be explored is the Salt Point State Park with stunning hiking trails and the Stillwater Cove Regional Park with redwood forests and open meadows. 

South of town you will find the Sonoma Coast State Park, a big park with plenty of amenities.  If you have limited time to explore the park, try to at least make it to Goat Rock Beach, one of the film locations of The Goonies.

Despite being a small town, Jenner is known for beautiful coastal seascapes and lots of opportunities for thrilling activities such as camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing, surfing, and kayaking.

Gualala

Gualala is a quiet coastal town named after the Gualala River. Gualala means “where the waters flow down.”

This small town is a great destination for anyone who wants to explore the coastline of northern Sonoma County and southern Mendocino County. 

The town is a creative hot spot.  You can enjoy the work of the locals at the Gualala Arts Center or Dolphin Gallery

You can also hike dunes and bluffs at the Gualala Point Regional Park, go kayaking on the Gualala River, camp at the Gualala River Redwood Park, or play golf at the Sea Ranch Golf Links.

While in Gualala, don’t forget to visit the Salt Point State Park, 6,000 acres of open grassland, forested hills, a pygmy forest, colorful wildflowers, and rocky coastline with over 20 miles of hiking trails. Other notable places to visit are the beautiful Point Arena Lighthouse and the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands.

For a unique sight, head to Bowling Ball Beach, a piece of the coast with spherical sandstone formations.  These are seen when the tide is low.

Mendocino

With an alluring coastline, redwood forests, upscale restaurants, and picturesque Victorian mansions, Mendocino is the perfect getaway destination. I have no doubt this is one of the most splendid coastal towns in Northern California. 

Mendocino is littered with attractions. Close to town, you can explore the trails at the Mendocino Headlands State Park, Van Damme State Park (the Fern Canyon Trail is gorgeous), and Russian Gulch State Park (with its famous bridge at the mouth of the Russian Gulch Creek). 

South of town, you will find the mouth of the Big River.  Several businesses rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes.

The Point Cabrillo Light Station and Museum is another must.  There are several easy trails in the surroundings ideal to take in the amazing views.  I also love Caspar Beach and the Caspar Headlands State Park.

Mendocino is in proximity to the Anderson Valley wine region, which has over 30 wineries waiting to be explored. And, as the name implies, the valley is home to the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the United States.

Note: There is a Fern Canyon Trail in Van Damme State Park and another trail with about the same name at Russian Gulch State Park.

Fort Bragg

Once a military garrison and named after an army officer (Braxton Brag), Fort Bragg is currently a destination for outdoor and beach enthusiasts. As one of the most well-known Northern California coastal cities, there are spectacular landscapes (located between the mouth of a river and a creek), sand dunes, coves, rugged beaches, and scenic views of the Pacific Ocean. 

Close to town, you can spend time at Pudding Creek Beach, Noyo Headlands Park, and Pomo Bluffs Park.  Liquid Fusion Kayaks offers rentals, tours, and lessons at the Noyo River.  There are great restaurants to indulge in seafood dishes such as Noyo Fish Company, Princess Seafood Market & Deli, and Sea Pal Cove.

A popular spot among lovebirds is the North Cliff Hotel with ocean view bathtubs

Glass Beach, one of the most unique places located in Northern California, has an abundance of sea glass of varied colors. The 47 acres of the Mendocino Botanical Garden is a must-visit if you love colorful flowers and enjoy bird watching. And finally, enjoy the scenic 7-mile ride on the historic Skunk Train.  The train travels along the Pudding Creek Estuary in the heart of a redwood grove.

Read More: Things to Do in Fort Bragg

Eureka

Located a 3 hours drive north of Mendocino, Eureka is a scenic coastal town known for its Old Town lined with magnificent Victorian houses.

You can get a glimpse of the 1800s with a self-guided tour of the Eureka Old Town Waterfront District and stops by the Carson Mansion and Morris Grave Museum of Art.  Food lovers will choose to visit the Lost Coast Brewery, Chalet House of Omelettes, Los Bagels, or Cafe Waterfront.  You can make reservations to visit the Dick Taylor Craft Chocolates factory.  Or,  cross to the Samoa Peninsula to eat at the Samoa Cookhouse, a local (even historic) joint offering huge portions (and a logging museum).

The Humboldt fog goat cheese is produced in the area.  Head to the North Coast Co-op, Eureka Natural Food, or local supermarket to stock on this delicatessen (and other delicious products).

The area surrounding Eureka is redwood country.  This is where you are going to find the tallest trees on Planet Earth. The Humboldt Redwoods State Park houses the Rockefeller Forest, the largest remaining contiguous old-growth forest of coast redwoods in the world.

You can also walk among redwoods at Headwaters Forest Reserve, Sequoia Park, and Arcata Community Forest.

Of course, there is the option to drive north to visit Redwood National Park (located 40 miles away from Eureka).

If all of this I have shared is not enough, you have the opportunity to practice water sports between Arcata Bay and Humboldt Bay.  The Humboldt Botanical Garden, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Sequoia Park Zoo are wonderful places to visit as well.

Trinidad

Trinidad is one of the best northern California beach towns.  And, I say this because it has an iconic pier, scenic ocean views, a lighthouse, and some of the best seafood restaurants in the area. It’s a tiny and uncrowded town, yet it doesn’t disappoint. 

Tour the Trinidad Museum to learn more about the history of the town, stroll along the Trinidad State Beach, fish from the pier or hike the rocky and forested Trinidad Head Loop Trail.

South of town, you will find Luffenholtz Beach, Houda Point, Moonstone Beach, Little River Beach, and Clam Beach. At low tide, it is possible to walk from Houda Point to Moonstone Beach.

Patrick’s Point State Park is one of the most gorgeous parks in California.  At the park, you can hike, camp, explore tidepools, watch whales passing on their yearly migration, picnic or visit a Sumeg Village. Enjoy all sorts of aquatic activities at the Big Lagoon County Park.

Trinidad is close to Eureka so, you can enjoy the attraction of that town and the Redwood Coast.

Crescent City

Crescent City is the northernmost coastal city in California.  I can say this since it is the only incorporated city in Del Norte County. It is located about 20 minutes from Oregon’s state line. 

While in Crescent City, make sure you visit the Battery Point Lighthouse, a California historical landmark.  You can walk around the harbor, Beach Front Park, and Point St. George Beach.  I recommend driving south to the Crescent Beach Overlook for amazing views of the coast.

This small town provides access to Redwoods National Park, which is home to the oldest and tallest redwoods in the world. Also, find time to explore Jedediah Smith State Park’s 10,000 acres of redwoods along the Smith River. This is a delightful destination for fishing, surfing, hiking, camping, wildlife sighting, and all sorts of fun boating activities. 

More Beach Towns in California

If you are looking for more information about other beach towns in California, I have extensive coverage of towns located in Central and Southern Califonia.  Take a look below:

Beach Town Gear

As I spend a lot of time on beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car.  Here is an idea of what I would take to the beach towns in Northern California.

  • Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must.  My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers. 
  • Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip.  I am partial to the Tevas brand.  >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
  • Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
  • Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
  • Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock.  I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
  • Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
  • Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck.  The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function.  >Buy this amazing hat here
  • Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun.  A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
  • Towels –  This is the accessory I always forget about.  WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast.  >Buy a Turkish towel here
  • Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
  • Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary.  Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light.  The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable.  >Buy this nice beach blanket here
  • Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand.  I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag.  >Take a look at my cooler here
  • Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle.  >Check out the insane options here
  • THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours.  >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
  • Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag.  >These dry bag is awesome
  • Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag.  Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets).  >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
  • Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone.  I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000.  It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
  • Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
  • Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips.  Having a power bank is a lifesaver.  The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here

Hope you have gotten tons of idea on the best beach towns in Northern California to visit.

What are your favorite beach towns in Northern California?

15 Most Beautiful Beaches In Southern California For 2021

06-08-2020 · Looking for the best beaches in Southern California? Check our top 15 beach vacations in Southern California for families, kids with plenty of water activities.

06-08-2020

Looking for the best beaches in Southern California? The Golden State of America is fortunate to have a dream coastline that has some of the best beaches in the world. Secluded sandy coves, Gorgeous sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, picturesque seascapes, and wave-tossed shores – Southern California is overflowing with first-class beaches.

We have asked frequent travelers to share their favorite beach vacations in Southern California. Their responses will truly delight you. We got a beautiful combination of family-friendly, secluded beaches coupled with various water activities, hiking, and beach camping to keep you busy.

best beaches of southern california

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15 most beautiful beaches in southern california

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#1 La Jolla: Best Beaches in Southern California

La Jolla is one of the top places to visit in San Diego. It is a perfect place to view wildlife, enjoy water sports, and experience luxury in California.

One of the legendary things to do in La Jolla is discovering sea caves by kayak. There are 7 sea caves in La Jolla, and you can only access them from the water.

These caves were formed from the sandstone over 70 million years ago. They were also used by pirates for the safekeeping of booty & treasure. Each of La Jolla’s caves has a unique name and an interesting story to go with.

It is possible to access the Sunny Jim cave by land. It’s been turned into a museum of sorts and will cost a small fee to enter.

La Jolla is also an amazing place to view wildlife. You can snorkel in the La Jolla underwater park for a chance to catch Orange garibaldi (California’s state fish) or leopard sharks. You may also snorkel with seals and sea lions. Occasionally, you’ll see a pod of dolphins!

La Jolla
La Jolla

The best place to view sea lions outside of the water is at Seal Rock or the Children’s Pool. Sea Lions and seals love La Jolla!

Besides snorkeling and kayaking, La Jolla beaches are popular for surfing and stand up paddleboarding. The waves aren’t too rough! So, it’s a great spot for beginners.

La Jolla Beaches span some of California’s most famous neighborhoods. You’ll find plenty of boutique shopping, fine dining, art galleries, and some of the best beachfront hotels in Southern California. Dine at the Marine Room for an unforgettable meal with panoramic views.

Recommended by: Valentina

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#2 Del Mar

Just 30 minutes north of San Diego lies the seaside town of Del Mar. This quaint town has some of the best beaches in Southern California, including Powerhouse Park and Beach.

This beach at Del Mar feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of other Southern California beaches. Powerhouse Beach is family-friendly, with long rolling waves and shallow water for quite a ways out. The North Beach in Del Mar is a popular dog beach in San Diego where your pup can run and play freely.

The city of Del Mar is just up a small hill from the beach, while several restaurants line the waterfront. For a nice dinner with a view, head to Poseidon Del Mar. If cheap but delicious Mexican food is more your style, Roberto’s Mexican Food is just a few minutes south of the beach.

best socal beaches | Del Mar City Beach
Del Mar City Beach

Powerhouse Beach is free to visit, as are the public restrooms and outdoor showers. Behind the beach, an expansive grass lawn is a great place for an afternoon picnic or a break from the sand. Parking is readily available and relatively inexpensive. (It’s still California, so expect to pay upwards of for a full day.)

Another great beach in Del Mar is Del Mar North Beach. This is mostly a popular dog beach in Southern California, if you are traveling with dogs, they can run free here. It’s a great place to stop and burn off energy if you are driving up the coast of Southern California.

Recommended by: Leigh Wilson

#3 Coronado

San Diego has a lot of fantastic beaches. It’s a big reason why it’s such an awesome place to be and often referred to as America’s Finest City. But if you’re looking for a consistently awesome experience with access to amenities and a family-friendly beach in Southern California, Coronado is where it’s at.

To get to Coronado, you can drive over the scenic bridge, take a ferry over from downtown San Diego, or drive all the way up the Silver Strand if you’re coming from the south. Yes, you can drive from San Diego to Coronado!

It’s not an island, but a peninsula, despite what you may have heard. Parking is available in lots all over Coronado, but if you’re patient, free street parking is always an option.

Hotel del Coronado
Hotel del Coronado

You have a few options for finding your perfect beach spot while on Coronado, and none of them come with fees to visit. North Beach is what you want if you have your dog with you, and Silver Strand State Beach is less populated and perfect for a picnic lunch, or if you’re interested in hunting for some unique seashells.

Coronado Central Beach is the main beach, though, and home to scenic views of the Hotel del Coronado, the inspiration for the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. 

Spend your day hanging out on those white sand beaches and enjoying the calm waters. When you’re done sunbathing and building sandcastles – you’ll likely see some professional-grade sandcastles while you’re hanging out on the beach in Coronado – spend some time at the historic Hotel del Coronado, or just the Hotel del if you’re local, and check out the gift shops. 

There are a number of bike rental shops on Coronado if you want to explore a bit more while getting some exercise. Pop by MooTime Creamery for an ice cream cone or a MooPie. Little Frenchie and The Henry are fantastic for a nice lunch or dinner. If you’re with the kids, pizza is always a crowd-pleaser. The Village Pizzeria is the best option in Coronado.

Recommended by: Agnes

#4 Two Harbors

Two Harbors Beach on Catalina Island provides the perfect island getaway just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California. Since many visitors to Catalina stick to the Avalon side of the island, Two Harbors feels more secluded and offers lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures.

You can explore the harbor underwater by snorkeling or scuba diving, or stay on the surface in a kayak or on a standup paddleboard. To go beyond the water, choose one of many hiking trails, which range from short jaunts with great views of the harbor to the Trans-Catalina Trail, which circumnavigates the entire island.

Over the course of a few days, you can backpack the Trans-Catalina Trail all the way from Two Harbors to Avalon (38.5 miles). On your hike, be on the lookout for bison, which were imported to Catalina for a film back in the 1920s and now roam the island.

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Two Harbors Beach on Catalina Island
Two Harbors Beach on Catalina Island

To get to Two Harbors, you can either take the ferry directly from San Pedro (about round trip) or take a shuttle across the island from Avalon. For accommodation options, you can splurge on a stay at Banning House Lodge.

Two Harbors is also considered as one of the best beaches to camp in Southern California. You can spend a more rustic night at the Two Harbors Campground. 

The Harbor Reef Restaurant serves hearty meat and seafood fare, from burgers to swordfish, and the signature “Buffalo Milk” cocktail (with vodka, crème de cacao, crème de banana, coffee liqueur, and milk) is a must-try before you head back to the mainland after your island beach adventure in Two Harbors.

Recommended by: Team

#5 Zuma Beach: Best Southern California Beach

For many, Southern California conjures images of bright sunny skies, beautiful beaches, and sun-tanned surfers bobbing in the Pacific Ocean. Zuma Beach in Malibu will give you exactly that – with close to 300 sunny days per year, the odds are good that you will have the picture-perfect experience.

Just along the Pacific Coast Highway, with cliffs separating much of the housing from the shore, Zuma Beach is a great outdoor escape from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. 

This stretch of beach is famous for surfing year-round, largely because of the powerful offshore winds funneled in through Zuma Canyon, creating great waves. 

Zuma Beach | beach vacations in socal
Zuma Beach

In the summer, the wide sandy beach can get crowded with sunbathers and volleyball players but is typically much quieter and cleaner than many beaches closer to LA. It’s a great kid-friendly beach in Southern California. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes view wild sea life like starfish and sea lions.  

Tips: Use caution if you are here to swim – the currents and rip tides are strong.

The beach is open from sunrise to sunset every day, and lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. Zuma Beach is roughly a one hour drive from downtown Los Angeles and is best reached by car. 

Parking along Pacific Coast Highway is surprisingly free of charge; the designated parking lot is paid. Climb up (carefully!) onto nearby hills and cliffs for the best views.

Recommended by: Monica from This Rare Earth

#6 1000 Steps Beach

Another most beautiful beach in Southern California is 1000 Steps Beach which is located in beautiful Laguna Beach, California at 9th Ave and Pacific Coast Highway. There you will see the beach entrance across from 9th Ave that will bring you to the steps the beach is named after.

In actuality, there are only about 200 steps, but the enormity of the steps feels as though there are 1,000! These steps lead you to the gorgeous beach below along with sweeping views of the vast Pacific Ocean.

It has been named among the cleanest beaches in Southern California. There are several pristine caves at the beach which can only be accessed at low tide and certain times of the year due to safety. During low tide, one of the caves will bring you to the hidden Totuava Beach which features incredible tide pools.

Tips: Use caution when entering these caves and be aware of the tide at all times! People who are looking for hidden beaches in southern California must visit this secret beach.

1000 Steps Beach
1000 Steps Beach

Sitting on top of the cliffs above you are million-dollar homes with spectacular views and their own private access to the beach below. The beach is free to access, and free parking is available on PCH, but beware of the heavy traffic!

A public restroom is located at the bottom of the stairs with a shower to rinse off at. There are no ramps to access the beach, so if you are coming with smaller children be prepared to tackle the steps! A lifeguard is usually on duty and the strong waves attract local surfers.

Nearby the secluded beach is several delicious restaurants including Papa’s Tacos and Neapolitan Pizzeria. Grab some food to go and enjoy a wonderful picnic on the beach! To keep your drinks cool, check out the 10 best beach coolers with big wheels.

Recommended by: Erin McLaughlin from The Gal On The Go

#7 Mission Beach

Mission Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego. You can do so much there, not just lay on the beach. If you like an active beach vacation in Southern California, this beach is your dream.

You can go surfing (or take lessons, if you are a beginner), rent a bike and ride along the boardwalk, or play ball at one of the many beach volleyball or basketball courts. Of course, you can also relax and get a tan in the sand or splash in the waves.

Along the boardwalk, you will find many restaurants and bars. Looking for free things to do in San Diego – nothing better than people watching on the beach with a cocktail in one hand and a fish taco in the other.

I like Beach House Grill for the atmosphere – nothing puts you in vacation mood like their spicy Margarita and feeling the warm sand between your toes. 

Mission Beach | best beach to visit in southern california
Mission Beach

If you are traveling with kids, or simply want to channel some childhood memories, you should stop by Belmont Park – a small amusement park with a historic rollercoaster, game booths, and fair food stalls. Ride the Giant Dipper overlooking the Pacific and make some fun memories. 

Mission Beach is located right in the city of San Diego, just to the north-west of Downtown. There is free parking, but it can get crowded, especially on summer weekends, so I suggest you get there early to find parking.

If you don’t have a car and are not staying nearby, I recommend taking a shared ride, as public transportation is not that great in San Diego. 

Recommended by: Maria

#8 Santa Monica

If you’re visiting Los Angeles, you have to visit Santa Monica, a popular beach town in Southern California. It’s a classic SoCal beach destination that lives up to the hype and can be cheaper than you might think.

It’s fun to walk the length of the Santa Monica pier where you can watch street performers, ride a vintage carousel, play in an arcade, or even take a ride on the Ferris wheel or roller coaster.

Once you take in the pier, you can lay out at the beaches that sprawl in both directions. Take your pick. To the south is Venice beach and if you drive 2 miles north, you’ll find my personal (local’s) favorite, Will Rogers State Beach, and even further north up Pacific Coast Highway are the Malibu beaches.

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You’ll often catch surfers or people flying kites. Santa Monica is one of the best beaches in Southern California for families and travelers who want the classic Los Angeles beach experience.

Santa Monica
Santa Monica

To get to Santa Monica State Beach and Pier, in a car from Los Angeles, take the 10-West to 4th avenue. Turn right on 4th and left on Colorado, then you’ll run right into it. Parking is .75 an hour and max.

You can also park downtown where usually the first 90 mins are free. If you take public transportation (which costs only

.75 one way), you take the blue Metro E line to Downtown Santa Monica and from there, it’s an 8 min (0.4 miles) walk.

For an inexpensive (but yummy) food option, I recommend Hot Dog on a Stick under the base of the pier on the Southside toward Venice beach. They have great corn dogs, fries, and lemonade with vegetarian options.

Recommended by: Alanna Koritzke

#9 Moonlight Beach, Encinitas

Moonlight Beach is one of the most underrated beaches in SanDiego. While it’s popular with San Diegans, you’ll rarely find tourists crowding its shoreline.

Moonlight Beach is perfect for families, and there’s no entrance fee to visit. Back from the sand is a grassy area with playground equipment. On the sand, spend the day challenging one another to beach games, building sandcastles, and playing volleyball. There are clean and well-equipped public restrooms with freshwater showers nearby.

The beach itself cedes to the ocean at a gentle slope, making it one of the safest beaches in Southern California to swim. During summertime and holiday weekends, lifeguards are typically on duty and you’ll find dedicated surf and swim sections throughout the beach. If you’re a keen surfer, walk a few steps south to D Street, it hosts one of the best waves around.

Kid friendly beaches in southern california | Moonlight Beach, Encinitas
Moonlight Beach, Encinitas

Stay until sunset to watch as the sky turns from blue to every shade of orange. There are plenty of picnic benches and bonfire pits to host an evening get together after a fun day in the sunshine.

Within walking distance, you can explore many of the main shops, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries in Encinitas found along South Coast Highway 101. Grabbing a slice of pizza at Leucadia’s Pizza is a must, and it’s worth picking one up before your day at the beach.

Reaching Moonlight Beach is easy. Drive along the Interstate towards Encinitas and turn west onto Encinitas Boulevard. Moonlight Beach is found at the end of the road, turning into B Street.

Tips: There is a paid parking area near the beach itself on C Street, but you can typically find free street parking at D Street or along 3rd Street.

Recommended by: Chantae from The Salt Sirens

#10 San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach is one of the nicest beaches in Southern California, and with good reason! This California state beach features miles of sandy shoreline, gorgeous sandstone cliffs, and stunning views all around. 

Located just an hour drive north of San Diego on I-5, and an hour and a half south of Los Angeles, San Onofre is easily accessible. The state beach is broken up into two main beach areas: the San Onofre Surf Beach and the San Onofre Bluffs.

While both are worth visiting, the San Onofre Bluffs, and the beach they lead down to, is special. The beach is gorgeous, and the blue Pacific stands in sharp contrast to the bluffs laced with streaks of red. If you walk south, you will find a clothing-optional beach there.

There’s a fee to access the Bluffs, but you’ll get day-use parking, picnic tables, showers, and restrooms. From the Bluffs, you can easily take one of the six trails down to the water. The trails are fairly steep but offer amazing views.

For an easier slope, take Trail 6 down to the water – the slope is gentler than the other trails, but you’ll still need sturdy hiking boots! The trails are steep for little ones, so plan accordingly if you’re visiting with kids. 

Best Beaches of Southern California | San Onofre Bluffs
Camping at San Onofre Bluffs

At the beach below you’ll find a red sandy color and a ton of rocks. This is a great spot for surfers, fishermen, and anyone else who enjoys beautiful ocean views. 

You can camp at the San Onofre Bluffs, one of the best campgrounds in Southern California for less than , and enjoy waking up to the ocean right from your tent – it’s incredible. San Onofre is a must-visit gorgeous, unspoiled part of Southern California. 

Recommended by: Ale Leon

#11 Victoria Beach

Victoria Beach is located in Laguna Beach, just halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. The city is widely known for its beautiful coastline and wonderful weather. The city has 30 beaches to choose from. However, Victoria Beach is definitely one of the top beaches in Southern California and has some unique features.

There’s a whimsical “Pirate Tower” that looks straight out of a fairytale, a circular manmade pool, tide pools, romantic sunset views, and more.

The Pirate Tower stands about 60-feet tall and is perched against the rocky sea cliff. A while back it served as a private staircase so the owners can access the beach. Now it’s locked but makes for one of the best photos spots in Laguna Beach.

Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach
Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach

To get to the Pirate Tower you’ll want to head north once you hit the sand. You’ll pass the circular pool on your way there. The beach can draw in crowds especially the weekend.

However, if you head south you’ll find that it’s a lot quieter and there is more room to spread out. To get to the base of the tower you’ll need to go at low tide. And depending on how low the tide is the circular pool can also be empty so timing is everything when visiting. 

Another great reason to visit during low tide is to check out the tide pools. If you happen to be there in the evening make sure to stay for sunset. As the sky changes colors it truly looks magical with the Pirate Tower in the background. 

Parking can be a challenge, you may need to park at a meter on PCH but other that the beach is free. And if you’re looking for cheap eats head to La Sirena Grill, an eco-conscious Mexican eatery. Enjoy your visit to Victoria Beach!

Recommended by: Jeanine Romo from Le Wild Explorer

#12 Huntington Beach

Along the beautiful coast of Southern California lies the pleasant seaside city of Huntington Beach. This charming beach town of California is 37 miles from Los Angeles and is a well-known beach spot for tourists and locals. 

From LA, the quickest route to get this beach city is via the I-405 S and takes one hour without traffic. Ultimately, what makes Huntington State Beach a fantastic place to visit is it’s simultaneously has a relaxed yet enthusiastic atmosphere. It’s an excellent option for creating a budget-friendly wellness-focused getaway and has a great nightlife for anyone wanting an unforgettable night at the beach.

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Moreover, Huntington Beach is a prime spot for surfers and has amazing fire pits that are excellent for roasting good old fashioned s’mores. The beach is extremely family-friendly, offering you soft sand for the sandcastle creators.

Along the beach, you’ll also find the Balboa Pier and the Huntington Beach Pier. Both piers are beautiful landmarks, ideal for fishing, and have tasty eateries to grab a bite to eat.

Hunting Beach Pier
Hunting Beach Pier

Directly across from the beach you’ll find an attractive downtown area with a lively environment. Located there, you’ll discover a delicious food scene packed with yummy restaurants, chic boutiques, and various other shopping stores.

Here you can also rent various sports equipment such as a bike, a tandem bike, or a surfboard. For museum lovers, consider visiting the International Surfing Museum of the Huntington Beach Art Center.

Lastly, there are several places that offer to park. If you’re planning on spending most time downtown, consider parking at the Main Street Parking Structure. It’s free for 30 minutes, then it is

.00 per hour.

If you’re planning on going to Huntington State Beach, the parking lot fee is either or depending on the season.  There is also street parking available for free.

Recommended by: Ciara From Wellness Travel Diaries

#13 Newport Beach

When exploring the Southern California beaches, visiting Newport Beach is a must! From beautiful beach houses and yachts to lots of small shops and cafes, Newport Beach offers the ultimate relaxing Orange County experience to visitors who just want to let go of all their worries for a day.

One of my personal favorite spots in Newport Beach is Balboa Island, a small island located between the Balboa Peninsula and the city center. It’s the perfect place to take a stroll or exercise alongside quaint houses and the blue sea to completely clear your head.

Afterward, you can treat yourself to Newport’s famous Frozen Banana – literally, a frozen banana covered in chocolate and other toppings – and spend some time at the sunny beaches.

If you’re in the mood for some shopping, head over to Fashion Island to shop your favorite clothing brands with a stunning view of the ocean. This combination of relaxation and shopping makes Newport Beach an ideal place to spend a beach vacation in Southern California for visitors of any age and gives everyone the opportunity to sample the high-end lifestyle for less.

Surfing at Newport Beach
Surfing at Newport Beach

While the most convenient way to get to Newport Beach is definitely by car, it’s not impossible to reach the city by public transportation. Take a train to Irvine Station and use the OCTA bus to get to Newport Beach, Balboa Island, or Corona Del Mar.

However, I’ll have to warn you that although it’s very cheap, the bus service in Orange County is extremely inconvenient due to a lack of stations, service, and confusing schedules. Therefore, if you don’t have a lot of time to spare and no car available, I strongly recommend calling a Lyft or Uber instead.

Recommended by: Arabela from The Spicy Travel Girl

#14 Torrey Pines State Beach

One of the most stunning beaches to visit in Southern California is Torrey Pines just north of San Diego proper and a beautiful beach with large cliffs that line the beach area.

More well known for the golf course and luxury hotel located in the area, the beach part of Torrey Pines is mostly a local spot for residents or San Diego natives to enjoy.

Torrey Pines is located within Torrey Pines State Reserve,  a coastal park with over 2000 acres of protected land. The long sandy beach and cliff areas can be reached from the parking area and entrance to the park.

If you are looking for the best beach hikes in Southern California, Torrey Pines State Reserve is the ideal place for you.

Torrey Pines State Beach
Torrey Pines State Beach

This is an active surfing area and it is fun to watch all the surfers in the long stretch of beach riding some of the best waves in the area. This large and least crowded beach of Southern California allows you plenty of space and privacy to find a nice spot away from any crowds on the beach.

My favorite part is just walking the long stretch of beach and enjoy the waves, views, and nature at its best. While you’re visiting the beach areas north of San Diego, also check out my post on the best things to do in La Jolla here which is very close to Torrey Pines and worth the drive to another beautiful coastal area in San Diego.

Recommended by: Noel Morata

#15 Malibu

Perhaps one of the best beaches in California, it doesn’t get much more fun than a day out in Malibu hanging out in the surf and sand. This incredible beach town of Southern California is famous for the celebrities who live out here and for its wide beaches.

Technically the city’s beaches are divided into almost twenty distinct beaches, but Malibu Lagoon State Beach, along with Zuma, is one of the most well-known beach destinations in SoCal. This is the point where Malibu Creek meets the sea, forming a lagoon that stands out from the rest of the town’s beaches.

It’s also a state-protected beach and part of the larger Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. This is a popular surfing beach, and it’s also great for sand sports like volleyball since the sand is soft and consistent.

best beaches in southern california | Malibu beach
Malibu Beach

To get here you will want a car. The parking charge is per car per day. If you have extra time in the area, you can visit the Adamson House, a 1920’s Spanish-style historic mansion built along the waterfront.

Alternatively, you can combine your day at the beach with a good hike through Malibu Creek State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains.

If you want to enjoy some wine tastings after your day in the sun, you can visit local wineries. Otherwise, head to the Broad Street Oyster Company or one of the other delicious fish and seafood restaurants on the water or just a few blocks back. Another great option is the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe if you’re looking for a good brunch.

Recommended by: Stephanie Craig from Oklahoma Wonders

This is the ultimate list of the best beaches in Southern California. Many beach-loving people are moving to this awesome state just to relax their retired life and enjoy the views of the beaches. I hope you won’t regret moving to California. You must read the pros and cons before moving to California.

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15 Best Beaches in Southern California

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