California Beaches

Headed to the Golden State? Don't miss these California beach getaways, perfect whether you're looking to surf, sunbathe or just take in the sunset.

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Laguna Beach

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.

La Jolla

You’ll have to leave the surfboards and boogie boards behind, but trust us it will be worth it. Called “the jewel” of San Diego, this beach is small, but you’ll find more room to stretch out on the mile-long La Jolla Shores to the north. 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.

Coronado Beach

Just 5 minutes from San Diego, this family-friendly beach boasts wide stretches of sand, mostly calm surf and ideal whale watching (January through March). The lifeguards on staff, nearby public facilities and free parking along Ocean Boulevard add to its convenience — and popularity. Couples can take a romantic walk to the luxury beachfront Hotel del Coronado and sip cocktails on its patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Monica

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.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, founded by the Chumash Indian Tribe, is located in central California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Whichever direction you travel from, there’s plenty of activities to keep you here: fishing on the 1,200-foot-long pier, strolling through the Monarch Butterfly Grove, horseback riding along private trails, and exploring tide pools and caves, to name just a few.

Sonoma Coast

Sonoma Coast State Beach comprises 13 miles of coastline, stretching from Blind Beach to Bodega Head. It’s dotted with nothing save hidden beaches tucked between the rocky coves and tall bluffs. Follow the Sonoma Coast Trail to visit these secret beaches and take postcard-worthy pictures, #nofilter necessary.

Main Beach in Santa Cruz

For most beachgoers in Santa Cruz, Main Beach is where the action is — complete with restaurants, shops, surfing spots, beach volleyball courts and, of course, a scenic boardwalk and bandstand. If you ask us, it’s just the right amount of Americana.

Huntington Beach Pier

With a location at the end of Main Street and a nickname like “Surf City, USA,” Huntington Beach evokes a time gone by. The pier (one of the longest on the West Coast), the year-round surf (thanks to ocean swells around Catalina Island) and Ruby’s Diner (the milkshakes are a must) will continue to draw crowds here for years to come. 

Venice Beach

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.

Baker Beach

To the west of the Golden Gate Bridge lies the rocky serpentine shoreline of Baker Beach. Rip currents make swimming unsafe, but you’re here for the panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge … and maybe to picnic. Just don’t venture too far north unless you’re looking for another kind of scene: the northernmost end of Baker Beach, which attracts clothing-optional sunbathers.

Malibu Surfrider Beach

Formerly known as Surfrider Beach, Malibu Lagoon State Beach’s famous right point breaks have made it the most-surfed spot in Los Angeles since the ’60s. Arrive early to find a parking spot and pick a point — some of the perfect swells due to Surfrider Beach will give you a ride all the way to the pier (a couple hundred feet away). And for non-surfers, the historic wooden Malibu Pier offers excellent saltwater fishing, bird-watching and picnicking.

Dockweiler State Beach

Located just west of the LAX runway, Dockweiler Beach is where people come to relax and party. That’s because the 3-mile-long shoreline is the only Los Angeles beach that has an RV park and allows bonfires. S’mores, anyone?

El Matador Beach

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.

Newport Beach

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 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.

Catalina Island

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

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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