In the 1500s, when the Spanish explorers arrived in California, they were contemplated to believe that they’ve found Eden, which was so gloriously talked about in the Bible. If you love beaches, you’d love to agree too. The state has around 840 miles of coastline which is home to more than 400 beaches. No matter if you are searching for rocky beaches, sandy beaches, crowded beaches, secluded beaches, foggy beaches, or beaches for family, this most populated state in the US has a lot for every beach-lover.
With hundreds of options to choose from, selecting best beaches in California can be daunting. But somehow, we managed to narrow them down to 20 best. So, pack the beach essentials and prepare yourself to enjoy a fun-filled day at the most beautiful beaches in California.
20 Top Beaches in California
Best Beaches in Northern California
While it is the Southern California that is more famous for its beaches, the Northern California has several amazing gems too. There are many spectacular beach towns in Northern California, like Albion, Elk, Manchester, Little River, Westport, etc. which are filled with beaches. No matter if you are a surfer or a swimmer, a shopper or a birdwatcher, or just want to lie down and relax on a beach, these towns got you covered.
Let us have a look at some of the best beaches in Northern California-
Van Damme Beach State Park
Located in Little River Town, close to the Little River, Van Damme State Park is noted among beach-goers. Apart from the beach with sparkling water and white sand in a semi-protected area, this beach town also has many camping areas which can accommodate more than 70 tent campers and cars. Moreover, there is about 10-miles of trails which are frequented by mountain bikers and hikers.
There is also a paved road which follows the river and is used by cyclists. The parking area used during the day is located at the beach just close to Highway 1. There is also a golf course just across Highway 1, and lodging options are abundant too if you are looking to spend the weekend here.
For adventure junkies, there are also kayaking tours to the nearby sea caves which begin from the Van Damme beach. If you are at this beach, make sure that you also visit Little River Blowhole, a popular spot for tourists.
Located close to the very popular Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Baker Beach is one of the best northern California beaches. While swimming is not considered safe at this beach due to the powerful currents, the large beach is still very hot amongst travelers and locals due to the beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge that it offers.
If you are planning to visit this beach on a sunny weekend, make sure that you try to reach early as the parking lots, as well as the space along the entrance to the beach, fill up quickly.
Move north to the central parking area, and you would reach Battery Chamberlin, a military gun installation which was built in the year 1904. You should visit this popular tourist spot, especially if you are here with your kids. But while exploring the northern part of this beach, be careful as clothing is optional at the North Baker Beach.
Pebble Beach is located in Sea Ranch, and its name is derived from the dark pebbly sand on the beach. The beach is in a housing community and is protected by the Sonoma County. By paying a small fee, you can access Pebble Beach as well as other four beaches close to it.
When the tides are low at this beach, many tide pools expose, especially in the southern end of this beach. There is also a parking lot close to the Highway 1, just around the entrance road to Navigators Ranch. Toilets too can be found in the parking lot but not at the beach.
There is about a quarter-mile hiking trail between the beach and the parking lot. When you reach the intersection on this trail, just take a right over the footbridge, and you'll find the stairs to enter Pebble Beach. There are instructions and directions mentioned along with the trail. Follow them carefully to avoid venturing onto the wrong trail.
Bowling Ball Beach
Mendocino County makes up a colossal portion of the coastal area in Northern California. If you are looking to visit the most beautiful beach in California, the Bowling Ball Beach in Mendocino County is where you should be. When the tide is low, the large round rocks spread across the beach are easy to notice, and it is these round rocks from where the beach has derived its name.
The beach is excellent for tide pooling. However, the features are very rocky when the tide is very low. So, make sure that you check the tide charts before the trip. The Northern end of the beach is home to Ross Creek and Whiskey Shoals, a popular surfing area.
The beach also has a parking area along Highway 1, close to Schooner Gulch Road. From this parking area, there are northern and southern trailheads. While the northern trailhead takes you to the Bowling Ball Beach, the southern one reaches Schooner Gulch Beach. However, the northern trail is sometimes closed due to erosion.
If you are a nature-lover, you are sure to appreciate the beauty of Klamath Beach which is located close to the mouth of Klamath River in the Del Norte County. The beach is a large sand spit which is covered by driftwood, making it safe for swimming, fishing, and boating. A lot of campers also like to camp in and around the beach area.
To reach the beach, turn left on the Klamath Beach Road to the south of Klamath town. You’ll see gated road to the beach here. Once you pass this gate, you’ll find several wooden structures which are known as Yurok Ceremonial Grounds. While these structures are beautiful, it is better to stay careful as they are very delicate too. The entrance to the beach from here can sometimes be choked when the tides are high. You might be required to remove your shoes and just walk through the water to reach the beach.
While reaching the beach, you’ll also find Klamath River RV Park and Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground. However, the entrance road to the beach is pretty narrow and trailers and RV are not allowed beyond the camping site.
Best Beaches in Southern California
Southern California is well-known for sun, sandy beaches and loads of fun and adventure. There are several locations, like Orange County, Catalina Island, etc. that has several amazing beaches. Surfing is very popular in Southern California. Be it beach volleyball, tide pooling, scuba diving, swimming, or just sunbathing, the best beaches in Southern California have something for everyone. While Los Angeles and San Diego too are part of Southern California, due to a large number of beaches here, they have a separate mention in this Top Beaches in California post below.
Huntington City Beach
Do not confuse Huntington City Beach with Huntington State Beach. While Huntington City Beach is in the middle of a long sandy waterfront in Huntington Beach city, Huntington State Beach begins at the Beach Boulevard and ends at Santa Ana River Channel. The northern of the City Beach from 20th Street to the Seapoint Street is Huntington Dog Beach and the area beyond this is the Bolsa Chica State Beach.
The pier of the City Beach is in the middle of the long municipal beach. And it is close to this pier that most of the beach-goers spend their day. The surf and sand throughout this 3.5-mile beach are pretty great. So, if you are looking for a quieter spot at this beach, just walk away from the pier, and you'd find a lot of secluded spots. There are volleyball courts close to the pier and rentals are available to the south of the pier. Runners, bikers, and walkers can also enjoy the paved bike trail to the City Beach.
Food is never a problem at the City Beach as several restaurants are located close to the beach and even where the pier ends. Parking lots too are available on both the sides of the pier.
Cleo Street Beach
Cleo Street Beach is located just one block west of Highway 1 in Laguna Beach. Its stairway is at the exact spot where the Cleo Street turns left above the street beach. The stairs will lead you to a section filled with boulders which are gone when the tides are high. So, make sure that you check the tide table before the trip and you’ll get to walk along the sandy shore of the beach.
Travel North to Cleo Street Beach to reach Sleepy Hollow Beach followed by Laguna Main Beach. Apart from sunbathing and other beach activities, the beach is also known for scuba diving which takes places at Foss 125, a sunken barge. The beach is excellent for families, couples, and people who just want to spend a quiet day at the beach.
It is not very populated and is surrounded by restaurants and parking spots. Beach rentals too are available on the coat of the beach at highly affordable rates. If you are planning to spend the weekend here, try to book the rooms in advance as they can fill up very quickly during the weekend.
Victoria Beach is popular for its white sand and sparkling water. The beach is located to the west of Victoria Drive in the Laguna Beach area. Most of this beach is in the front of a private Laguna housing establishment, and there are several other mansions which are built at the beach level. While the public access to this beach is not very easy to find, it is next to 2713 Victoria Drive. The access is a long stairway which leads you to the northern part of the beach.
One can also hike on the rocks near the stairway to see Victorian La Tour Tower, built in the 1920s. There is also a circular pool located close to the stairway which gets filled by salt water and sand from waves. As winter surf eliminates most of the sand at this beach, the northern part is very rocky during winter.
Parking spots are scarce near the beach, but one can park along the highway and walk a little to the beach. If you are planning to visit Victoria Beach, try to get to the beach as early as possible to ensure that you get a spot close to the water.
Corona Del Mar State Beach
Corona Del Mar State Beach is located on the eastern side of the channel entrance of Newport Harbor in Newport Beach area. The beach is operated by Newport Beach City and has a parking fee. There is an extensive chunk of flat land at the beach which has room for multiple volleyball courts and hundreds of sunbathers. While it has a large parking lot, the beach is densely populated during summers, and it can be difficult to get a parking space.
There is also another entrance to this beach which is free. This entrance is at the eastern end of Ocean Boulevard Park. There is a narrow ramp from the park which leads to Corona Del Mar State Beach. As there are two rock jetties to the west of this beach, the water here is considered highly safe for swimming.
Scuba diving, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing and volleyball are some of the activities offered at this beach. There are also showers, picnic rooms, and restrooms at this beach. To the west of its parking lot, there is another popular beach known as the Pirates Cove Beach.
Descanso Beach is located close to Avalon town on the Catalina Island. You’ll be required to take a short ride on the ferry from a port in San Pedro, Dana Point, Long Beach or Los Angeles to reach Catalina Island. Descanso Beach is a private beach, and there is a small entry fee for entering the beach. Like several other beaches near Avalon, the beach has pebbles and has a restaurant and a bar for visitors.
The beach club here has a sandy terrace which can be used by visitors to sunbathe as lying on the pebbles on the beach is not very comfortable. The beach remains closed in the off-season (October to April). Snorkeling, supping, and kayaking rentals are available at the beach.
To reach here, you’d be required to walk about 800-meters from Crescent Beach and Green Pleasure Pier. Just walk to the north on this route and walk past the casino building to reach the beach. Catalina Express Ferry from Dana Point, Long Beach or Los Angeles is the quickest way to reach here.
Best Beaches in Los Angeles
Population in Los Angeles is about 10 million, and during summers, it feels like the majority of them are visiting the beautiful beaches here. While the Los Angeles City is pretty huge, the waterfront to the city is interrupted by many surrounding cities. Some of the most popular cities which LA surrounds are Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. All these cities have top beaches in Los Angeles on the Santa Monica Bay. Palos Verdes Peninsula is wrapped by LA and is home to several great beaches along the irregular shoreline.
Long Beach City Beach
Long Beach City Beach is Long Beach’s main beach. This long beach lies along the Ocean Boulevard from Belmont Pier up to Alamitos Beach to the western end. This beach is also called as ‘Junipero Beach’ by the locals as its parking lot is located at the Junipero Avenue. Above the beach, there is a Bluff Park with a walking path for pedestrians. This path goes all the way to Belmont Pier from Junipero Avenue.
The beach also has a wide paved path which leads to the parking lot and is popular among bicyclists. Swimming, kiteboarding, skating, biking, and sunbathing are the most common activities at this beach. The extensive breakwaters of Long Beach protect this beach from the ocean waves. While surfing is now not possible at this beach because of the breakwaters, it was known as the Mecca of surfing during the 1940s before the breakwaters were constructed.
While swimming is safe, the currents can be pretty high at times. So, make sure that you check with the lifeguard before you get in the water. Apart from the main parking at Junipero Avenue, parking can also be done along the Ocean Boulevard.
Manhattan County Beach
Manhattan County Beach is the main beach of Manhattan Beach City in Los Angeles. The sand beach is spread across 2-miles. It starts at 1st street in the south of this city and finishes at Rosecrans Avenue. The place where the Manhattan County Beach finishes is the beginning point of El Porto Beach. Manhattan Beach is one of the top beaches in Los Angeles and can be a complete madhouse during summers and on weekends. When the beach is not being a madhouse, it is also an excellent place to sunbathe.
Just like most other beaches in Los Angeles, volleyball is very popular at Manhattan Beach. There are more than a hundred nets available at the beach for visitors. There are also lifeguard stations spread across the beach. Behind this Manhattan Beach, there is a 22-miles bike train which connects Torrance and Santa Monica.
At the end of its pier, there is also an aquarium which is free and open every day. Go west to the Manhattan Beach Boulevard where there are several parking lots to reach here. There are several metered parking lots along the Manhattan Avenue which are spread to the north and south and is about a block away from the beach.
Abalone Cove Beach
Next in this list of best beaches in California is Abalone Cove Beach. The beach is located close to the Shoreline Park in Ranchos Palos Verdes City. The parks bluffs are protected in an ecological preserve known as Abalone Cove Reserve. The trail to Abalone Cove Beach begins at the parking lot of the Shoreline Park and is separated in two paths which separate the cove. It is highly recommended that you should also hike to the Portuguese Point to the eastern end of the cove as it offers a terrific view of Catalina Island and Sacred Cove.
There are two large caves at the base of this rocky point which can be visited when tides are low. The one in the form of a tunnel is the better one and the waves from Abalone Cove Beach crash right into it. The Sacred Cove offers an excellent view of these caves. At the center of this cove is Abalone Cove Beach. Swimming at this beach is pretty safe and during the summer months, there are lifeguards too at this beach.
Hiking, scuba diving, swimming and cave exploration are some of the most popular activities here. The parking lot of the beach has very strict parking hours and thus, it is better to know about the timings before the trip. Also, after visiting the beach, make sure that you also visit Wayfarers Chapel which is located across the road.
Hermosa City Beach
The entire coastline of Hermosa City in Los Angeles is occupied by Hermosa City Beach. The beach begins at the King Harbor Marina located on Redondo Beach up to 1st Street which is almost 2 miles from the marina. The beach is mostly centered on Hermosa Pier which has some volleyball courts. There is also a 22-miles bike trail behind the beach which connects the Beach to Torrance and Santa Monica.
Fishing too is very popular on the Hermosa Pier. The beach is also one of the beaches where surfing first originated in California. The mild waves of the beach make it excellent for surfing, and it is filled with surfers almost throughout the summers. Restroom, showers, and even playing area for kids are available at the beach.
The promenade lined with palm trees close to the pier has several restaurants and shops for the visitors. Parking too is available throughout the Hermosa Avenue as well as many side streets. There is also a large parking lot on the northern side of the Hermosa Pier.
Malibu Surfrider Beach
Malibu Surfrider Beach is a popular surfing spot and sandy beach between Malibu Lagoon and Malibu Pier. The beach is known for its long break from where the beach has derived its name. It is populated by surfers during the summer season and is also an excellent beach if you are looking to learn surfing.
The beach is also home to a fishing pier which has several benches and offers an excellent view of the beach. There is also a volleyball court close to the pier and lifeguards are always available during the peak hours. The beach has separate areas for surfers and swimmers. The parking lot of the beach also has two museums known as Malibu Lagoon Museum and Adamson House.
Even the lagoon close to the beach has trails which are very popular among bird-watchers. Try to find a park in the parking lot of Adamson House or close to PCH for quick access to the beach.
Best Beaches in San Diego
The coastline of San Diego begins at Mexico's border and runs in the northern direction towards Orange County. The county is home to more than 100 well-known beaches. San Diego city is large and has several coastal neighborhoods which are considered as cities. Some most popular ones are Sunset Cliffs, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and Mission Beach. Coronado city is just across the San Diego Bay, and the popular Imperial Beach is to the South of the city. Even the northern part of this city is filled with some coastal cities with some of the best San Diego beaches.
Located between Crystal Pier and Pacific Beach Drive is the Pacific Beach. The northern part of Pacific Beach’s pier is known the North Pacific Beach and the southern part is the Mission Beach. These three beaches together are known as ‘The Strand’ in the San Diego City. The front part of the Pacific Beach is a paved pathway which runs across the back of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and all the way to the end of the peninsula.
This path is very popular with bikers and is lined with restaurants and shops. Swimming, sunbathing, body boarding, and surfing is very popular at the beach. The Crystal Pier close to the beach is a popular fishing point and is populated by visitors as it offers a spectacular view of the Pacific Beach, surfers below and the city. There is also a Crystal Pier Hotel on the pier which has cottages that can be rented for spending a day or two at the beach.
As the beach is very popular, the parking lot close to it is almost full all the time. This makes street parking the only best option. However, make sure that you reach this beach early as you might be required to park very far away from the beach if the beach gets crowded.
Border Field State Park Beach
The Border Field State Park Beach is located at the southernmost end of California. It begins as Mexican border and ends at the mouth of Tijuana River. The Border Field State Park Beach along with the nearby National Estuarine Research Reserve of Tijuana River is managed by the state. Monument Mesa a very popular tourist spot is located to the southwest of this park beach and has BBQ grills, picnic areas, accessible trails, restrooms, and grass parks.
The beach is a very popular party spot in the Imperial Beach area, and it can be very crowded during weekends. Many-a-times, the park gates are not open for vehicles, but one can park their vehicle close to the gate and then walk to the park and beach. There are signs at the beach which say that the beach water is contaminated with sewage and thus, swimming is not recommended here.
The roads and entrances to the park are often closed due to flooding, especially during the winter months. Also, even if the entrance is not flooded, the gate to the state park opens during the weekend only. So, make sure that you check the status before the trip. If at all the beach is closed, there is also an excellent alternative just to the west of the mouth of Tijuana River in Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge.
Trestles Beach is located to the north of San Diego and San Onofre State Beach. However, it can only be accessed from Orange County’s San Clemente. The beach is named after the train trestle at the beach and has many surfing spots which the surfers call as Lowers, Middles, and Uppers. However, the surfing spots are filled with locals and even the path to the beach has spray-painted messages which say that the area is only for locals.
The creek at the beach stagnates under the train trestle and also flows through the sand towards the ocean at times. These wetland areas are known as Trestles Wetland Natural Preserve which is very popular among bird-watchers. Apart from surfing and bird-watching, the beach is also very popular for hiking and sunbathing.
The parking lot of the beach is close to the intersection of Cristianitos Road and El Camino Real. There is a dirt path which starts from the parking area and dips below I-5 towards the beach. The trail from parking lot to the beach is pretty long. There is also a campground near the parking area. The San Mateo area close to the Trestles Beach also has some hiking trails which are very popular among hikers.
Carlsbad City Beach
Carlsbad City Beach is a state property located in the Carlsbad State Park. The beach is located all along the Ocean Street, and there are multiple entrances to it. There are public accesses from Grand Avenue, Carlsbad Village Drive, Beech Avenue, Rus des Chateaux, and Christiansen Way. Swimming is not recommended at the beach, and it is more popular for sunbathing and beach walking.
If you are looking to board surf, there are rules against it during May and October. Surfboarders can try Tamarack Surd Beach, a popular surf beach which is located to the south of Carlsbad City Beach. Also, restrooms and lifeguards are not available at the beach. Move north of the beach to reach Buena Vista, a popular destination for bird-watchers.
Cross this lagoon to reach the entrance of St. Malo Beach which again, is great for beach walking. Parking can be done throughout the Ocean Street, and one can easily walk to the nearby access to the beach.
Also known as Children's Pool Beach, Casa Beach is smaller than most beaches mentioned in this best California beaches list. The beach has a curved wall which protects the visitors from the rough waves of La Jolla shore. This protective wall was built in the 1930s to make Casa Beach safe for families and kids.
The cove at the Casa Beach is filled with sand, and during the birthing season, seals make this cove their home. Seals are not known to be very friendly in nature and are not sanitary too. However, this beach is still populated with families as it offers an excellent view of the animals and the waves. Visitors are also allowed to enter the sand-filled coves. However, it is recommended that one should stay away from them during January and April as this is the birthing season for seals.
La Jolla Shores is another great family beach close to Casa Beach. Go south to this beach, and there is South Casa Beach which is open to public and is free from seals at times. Coast Boulevard has several parking lots that offer free parking.
These are 20 of the Best Beaches in California. If you are planning to visit California for your next summer vacation, carry lots of sunscreens, beach towels, blankets, and other essentials, and try to visit as many beaches as possible. Swim, surf, enjoy famous cuisines and shop for your heart’s content to get into the vibe of this spectacular state and enjoy it at its best.