Top 10 Southern California Beaches

Visit the best beaches in Southern California.

By: Jennifer Plum Auvil
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Drive down the Southern California coast, and visit the best beaches in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA

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iStock

Laguna is one of Orange County's most fashionable towns, as well as one of the most culturally rich, but the beach is a big draw, too. The water at Laguna is generally clean and calm, though occasionally the Pacific tends to be cool with strong tides. Clean, white and warm, Laguna's sands are perfect for strolling, volleyball matches or simply unwinding on a blanket.
Coronado
Coronado

Coronado

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iStock

For well over a century, Coronado's beaches have been its fortune, namely the seaside in front of the glamorous Hotel Del Coronado open since 1888. For non-hotel guests, the main beach, Coronado Central Beach, stretches 1.5 miles behind the great houses along Ocean Boulevard. Swimmers, bodysurfers, boogie boarders, sand sculptors, tide poolers and, from December through February, whale watchers all take to the sand and sea. North Beach attracts surfers in the morning, and at the extreme north is Dog Beach, where leashless canines can frolic in the surf.

The Del on Coronado Beach 03:08

Marianela takes a tour of Hotel del Coronado -- prime beachfront property.
El Matador Beach
El Matador State Beach

El Matador State Beach

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iStock

If you've come to El Matador to savor the beach rather than get sucked into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, then you're in luck -- there's blissfully little else to do here other than bask on Malibu's most glorious stretch of beach. The best way to enjoy your time is to check the tide schedule, pack a picnic lunch or sunset dinner, grab a blanket, and trek down to one of El Matador's hidden nooks and coves to enjoy the incredibly romantic atmosphere.
Venice Beach
Venice Beach

Venice Beach

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iStock

No beach in the world is like Venice Beach. Sure, other California beaches have sand, surf and sunshine. But they do not have a 3-ring urban street circus, complete with philosophizing artists, trash-talking hoopsters, preening weightlifters, barefoot sand sculptors and more. All of this frenetic activity happens on Ocean Front Walk, a 3/4-mile concrete boardwalk with stores, fast-food spots, flea markets and artists.

Venice Beach's Weirdness 02:51

Marianela soaks in the weirdness and visits her favorite spot on Venice Beach.
Santa Monica
Santa Monica

Santa Monica

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ThinkStock

There’s never a shortage of seaside fun at Santa Monica Pier where the beach meets the boardwalk in a festive display of amusement park rides, aquarium wonders and festival food. It’s free to stroll the historic boardwalk and peruse the goods, and even if you don’t go for thrill rides, there’s no charge for the show-stopping sunset at the end of each day.
Newport Beach
Newport Beach

Newport Beach

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iStock

Trendsetters, jet-setters, and beach lovers in the know have been taking advantage of Newport Beach's coastal charms for decades. There's the ritzy harbor most folks will only dream of docking a yacht in; beachside "bungalows" worth many, many millions; a shopping district so chic, Rodeo Drive looks discounted; and, oh yes, an utterly magnificent stretch of beach. This wide bed of sand, silky and blonde, rolls south from Newport Pier to Balboa Pier, and plays host to diehard surfers, serious sunbathers, trendy 20-somethings and families. Sitting by a weathered pier, gazing past wooden lifeguard stands toward a fiery sunset, one can't help but wax nostalgic for days when Beach Boys records and long boards were all the rage.
Hermosa Beach
Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach

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iStock

Hermosa Beach takes pride in its abundance of outdoor beach activities, which include surfing, swimming, paddleball, sunbathing and, of course, volleyball -- there always seems to be intense serving and spiking action on the 1.5-mile stretch of sand. By day, the Strand, a paved boardwalk that borders the beach, is a thoroughfare for bikers, bladers, joggers and strollers. At night, the Strand is a great people-watching spot as crowds fill the restaurants and bars.
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove, CA

La Jolla Cove, CA

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ThinkStock

With its small crescent of sand tucked between towering sandstone cliffs, La Jolla Cove is one of the smallest but also the most photographed beaches along the Southern California coastline. And things are just as lovely below the surface at this is popular spot for scuba-diving and snorkeling, thanks to visibility that extends up to 30 feet and wildlife protected by the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve.
Catalina Island
Catalina Island

Catalina Island

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ThinkStock

Located 22 miles off the Southern California coast, Catalina Island is known for its myriad of outdoor activities like snorkeling, scuba, horseback-riding, kayaking and hiking. After an active day, stroll around the quaint social center of the island at Avalon for window-shopping, gallery-hopping and a gourmet meal. Bring a camera as photo opportunities present themselves at almost every turn; shutterbugs should be on the lookout for grazing buffalo. Boats depart from Newport Beach, Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point; for jet-setters who don't want to waste any time traveling, helicopter trips are also a possibility.
Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park

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ThinkStock

A secluded beach stretching some 3.5 miles, an official "underwater park" teeming with reefs and 2,000-plus wooded acres for exploring make Crystal Cove State Park a remarkable escape from the crowds and bustle of Newport Harbor. Tide pools and coves delight visitors to the beach year-round, though rangers advise exploration of these during winter, when lower tides present clearer views of the aquatic life. Carved into the park's ridges and canyons are more than 23 miles of mountain-biking, horseback-riding and hiking trails, many of which feature steep, rocky climbs.
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