Discover the best beaches in California for your next beach vacation. From Santa Monica to Laguna Beach, find the best places to soak up the sun 🌞🌊
California’s shoreline spans over 800 miles, offering beach lovers endless options when planning a vacation. With rugged cliffs, family-friendly bays, hidden coves, and surfing hotspots, the Golden State boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Whether you prefer lounging on the sand with a good book, riding waves, or exploring tide pools, you’ll find your perfect slice of paradise along the California coast.
To help you discover the best beaches for your next trip, we compiled this guide to the can’t-miss seaside destinations in California. From tranquil La Jolla Cove in San Diego to the iconic Santa Monica Pier, these are the 25 best beaches in Сalifornia in 2023.
What is the Prettiest Beach in California?
With its powder-soft white sand, soaring palms, and crystal-clear turquoise waters, Coronado Beach often tops the list as one of California’s most picturesque beaches. Located just across the bay from downtown San Diego, this nearly two-mile stretch of shoreline dazzles with its postcard-worthy setting.
Other contenders for California’s prettiest beach include Carmel Beach, praised for its sugary white sand and cypress-tree backdrop, and El Matador State Beach, which stuns with its rocky cliffs, sea stacks, and secluded coves.
What is the Cleanest Beach in California?
When it comes to water quality, Newport Beach earns top marks year after year. This Orange County beach town takes pride in its sparkling shoreline, with diligent maintenance and water testing ensuring its ocean and bay stays swimmable.
Other notably clean beaches include Avila Beach, a quaint central coast getaway, and Coronado Beach, a wide fine-sand beach across from San Diego. Both destinations benefit from significant infrastructure investments focused on pollution and runoff prevention.
What is the Clearest Beach in California for Swimming and Snorkeling?
Year after year, La Jolla Cove tops lists of California’s clearest beach waters. The small sheltered beach features exceptional visibility, allowing snorkelers and swimmers to marvel at a kaleidoscopic underwater world just offshore.
On most days, you can easily see silvery fish, swaying kelp forests, and the La Jolla Underwater Park’s richness of aquatic life. For more excellent snorkeling, head north to adjacent La Jolla Shores Beach.
What Beaches are Best for Swimming in California?
The top swimming beaches in California feature clean water conditions, lifeguard supervision, gentle waves, and plenty of room along the shore. Great options for enjoying the Pacific include kid-friendly Coronado Beach, stunning Point Dume Beach in Malibu, serene Carmel Beach on the Monterey Peninsula, and classic Main Beach in Laguna Beach.
Heading inland, swimmers also rave about Avila Beach on the Central Coast near Pismo Beach and Silver Strand Beach in San Diego’s South Bay. Both offer warmer, gentle surf ideal for swimming and wading out from their wide sandy shores.
What is the Nicest Beach Town in California?
From swanky seaside enclaves to nostalgic surf havens, California spoils beach lovers with charming coastal communities and vibrant oceanfront villages. Perennial favorites include Mediterranean-style Santa Barbara, artsy seaside Carmel, posh yet laidback La Jolla, retro Oceanside, eclectic Venice Beach, and posh Newport Beach with its yacht culture and scenic piers.
Up in Marin, Stinson Beach grabs attention for its scenic natural setting close to San Francisco while down south both artsy Laguna Beach and sleepy Avalon on Catalina Island entrance visitors. Ultimately picturesque beaches, blockbuster sunsets, lovely architecture, and welcoming local flavor define the nicest beach towns.
What is the Safest Beach Area in California?
While the entire California coast generally ranks high for safety, Orange County claims some of the state’s safest beach cities.
The Top 5 Beaches in Northern California
Baker Beach – San Francisco
Baker Beach offers visitors two iconic sights in one – the rugged beauty of the Pacific and the renowned Golden Gate Bridge. Located in the Presidio and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this mile-long beach delights with its panoramic views, making it one of the best beaches to visit near San Francisco.
The northern section of Baker Beach also happens to be clothing-optional, while the southern half offers amenities like picnic tables, grills, and restrooms. However, note that the waters here are quite cold, with dangerous rip currents making swimming inadvisable.
Point Reyes National Seashore
For remote wilderness and isolated beaches, venture just north of San Francisco to the Point Reyes National Seashore. Encompassing over 70,000 acres of coastal headlands and hillsides, this national park shelters peaceful beaches like Limantour Beach, Drakes Beach, and North Beach.
While swimming is dangerous, visitors adore these rugged beaches for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and beachcombing. Just watch out for rogue waves, especially during winter months when storms swell.
Half Moon Bay State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach spans four miles just south of San Francisco, offering tons of sandy space to spread out. The broad state park contains several beaches like Roosevelt Beach, Francis Beach, Venice Beach, and Dunes Beach, each with its own unique geography and recreation opportunities.
Campers should pitch their tents at the family-friendly campground overlooking the ocean bluffs while bodysurfers can ride waves at the northern end. Walkers and joggers will love exploring miles of flat, sandy beaches with few crowds.
Pfeiffer Beach – Big Sur
One glimpse of ethereal Pfeiffer Beach might convince you it was a magical realm in a fairy tale. Part of Big Sur’s breathtaking allure, this small cove beach impresses visitors with its shimmering purple sands and an arched stone keyhole just offshore.
While dangerous rip currents prevent swimming, the protected beach still offers space to picnic, photograph its famous sites, hunt for tide pools, or simply soak in Big Sur’s spellbinding coastal beauty.
Stinson Beach – Marin County
In western Marin County, Stinson Beach delights San Francisco day-trippers with its laidback surf vibe and family amenities. Ideal for swimming during calmer summer months, the wide sandy beach also appeals to volleyball players, picnickers, birdwatchers, and sunset viewers.
Newer additions like the Beachside Café and upscale boutique hotels make lingering here into the evening even more tempting. Just arrive early if visiting on weekends when crowds flock in.
The Top 10 Beaches in Southern California
Coronado Beach – San Diego
With its pestle-fine sparkling sand, gentle surf, and family-friendly amenities, Coronado Beach regularly tops rankings of California’s best beaches and prettiest shores. The beach and its bayside sister, Silver Strand State Beach, span nearly two miles past the iconic red-roofed Hotel del Coronado.
Visitors adore Coronado for its calm, swimmable waters, perfect for children to splash about. Search for seashells, fly kites on the sand, or rent bikes to cruise the oceanfront boardwalk. As an added bonus, the beach also offers prime views of sunset over downtown San Diego’s skyline across the bay.
La Jolla Shores – San Diego
La Jolla Shores serves up some of San Diego’s most quintessential SoCal beach scenes with its gentle waves, kayak-dotted waters, and palms swaying over white sand. The mile-long beach not only offers beginner-friendly surf but also features a grassy park ideal for picnics and playgrounds to entertain the kids.
When they tire of the shore, take them to see leopard sharks and fish at neighboring La Jolla Cove. And for camera-worthy sunsets, head to the La Jolla Shores Kellogg Park overlook.
Crystal Cove State Park – Newport Beach
Offering a peaceful coastal escape in urban Orange County, Crystal Cove State Park shelters over three miles of gorgeous beaches wrapped around coves, bluffs, and tide pools. Visitors adore little hideaways like El Moro Canyon Beach with its scenic waterfall view and Rocky Bight Beach for sand crab exploring.
The offshore Crystal Cove Historic District even contains charming vintage beach cottages for overnight stays in the heart of this idyllic state park.
Zuma Beach – Malibu
For an expansive Los Angeles beach with room to roam, visit Malibu’s Zuma Beach. Stretching over two miles past rocky Point Dume, Zuma offers flawless sand, gentle waves, and the welcoming sun of Southern California.
Families flock here to swim, surf, beachcomb, and enjoy oceanside picnics and barbecues. Come during the week to escape crowds. And for stunning sunsets over the Pacific, take an evening stroll to Westward Beach just over the point.
Santa Monica Beach
The carnival colors and seaside bustle of the Santa Monica Pier have made it one of California’s most iconic oceanfront landmarks. But venture onto Santa Monica State Beach to discover over three miles of its famous soft golden sand.
Parallel to the pier, Santa Monica Beach always hums with activity, from tourists learning to surf to locals playing beach volleyball. Extending through the city center, the pedestrian Ocean Front Walk captures stunning sunsets behind the Palisades. Ride the solar-powered Ferris wheel when the lights sparkle after dark.
The Top 10 Beach Towns in California
With its idyllic setting between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the shimmering Pacific, Santa Barbara epitomizes the California beach town dream. Travelers adore Stearns Wharf Beach for its mountain-framed sunsets and butterfly-filled gardens along the waterfront walk. Or escape to lesser-known gems like serene Butterfly Beach tucked against the cliffs.
Beyond the sand, Santa Barbara entices visitors with a vibrant downtown, chic resorts, fabulous wine tasting, and a calendar full of festivals and events.
Affluent La Jolla with its upscale boutiques and oceanfront hotels may exude luxury, but its stunning beaches still offer unpretentious California fun. In addition to family-friendly La Jolla Shores, discover the La Jolla Underwater Park stretching from the shoreline out to sea.
Go scuba diving, snorkeling with garibaldi fish, kayaking through sea caves, or sunset viewing over glittering coves. When not playing along its beaches, explore La Jolla’s excellent museums, restaurants, and wildlife refuges.
For a peaceful small town vibing with classic California beach culture, visitors rave about Pismo Beach. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo offers vacationers 9 miles of pristine shoreline dotted by Monarch butterflies in winter.
Rent beachfront vacation homes with direct sand access or budget hotels on the main strip. Spend sunny days beachcombing, surfing, or tearing over Oceano Dunes on ATVs before enjoying fresh seafood bayside as the sun sets.
Among theMonterey Bay beaches, Capitola-by-the-Sea stands out for its romantic allure. Soak up the sights on Capitola Beach with its colorful oceanfront cottages on stilts over the sand. Enjoy the laidback surf culture or the seaside village’s eateries, shops, and wine bars.
Joinpaddleboarders on calm Soquel Creek or take the kids to splash through Venetian Court, a funky overhead walkway crossing the inlet. Every view evokes breezy coastal charm.
No California beach tour is complete without experiencing the weird and wonderful world of Venice Beach. Along the bustling Ocean Front Walk, people watch everything from chained rollerbladers to Chihuly glassblowing. Hit Muscle Beach to see bodybuilders pumping iron or join the skaters, cyclists, and strollers heading to the Santa Monica border.
The beach and boardwalk perfectly capture the sun, surf, and free-spirited ethos shared by the best California beach towns. Just embrace its playful strangeness.
On California’s stunning Monterey Peninsula, storybook Carmel-by-the-Sea beautifully blends European village charm with dramatic Pacific coast beauty. Filmmakers and celebrities adore this upscale yet unpretentious beach town with its fairy-tale cottages, top-notch cuisine, galleries, and indulgent inns.
Yet just blocks from Carmel’s downtown, Carmel Beach still feels hidden away, with visitors strolling its white sands flanked by Pebble Beach’s cypress and pine. Watch the sun melt into the sea, setting the sky ablaze in dazzling color.
In southern Orange County halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, San Clemente delights beach lovers with over six miles of shoreline and a pedestrian beach trail passing from one sandy cove to the next.
Main Beach and North Beach both offer playful seaside hubs with dining and shopping just off the sand. Or escape to the scenic solitude of Calafia State Beach further south, perfect for swimming, surfing, tide pooling, and beach yoga as the sun sets.
Located on the Central Coast near Hearst Castle, tiny Cambria charms visitors craving a peaceful oceanfront retreat. Laze on a pristine cove beach below Monterey pines or take Moonstone Beach Drive to find shops, tasting rooms, and bistros beside rocky Moonstone Beach.
Nearby, kayakers explore sea caves along San Simeon Cove while elephant seals lounge on the beach at Piedras Blancas. Cambria feels intimate yet still connects travelers to the incredible natural landscapes of Big Sur just north.
While many seek out famous beaches farther south, Oceanside surprises travelers with its gorgeous San Diego County shoreline and small-town friendliness. Hit the Oceanside Pier to find beaches ranging from quiet San Luis Rey River Beach to the Winkler Surf Museum at Wisconsin Avenue Beach.
Oceanside Strand stretches over three miles from the pier, offering space for joggers, surfers, and picnickers with fire pits overlooking the waves. Vibrant beach culture comes seasoned with a dash of nostalgia here.
Arguably Orange County’s most beautiful beach town, Laguna Beach gathers over 30 pristine coves and beaches between its dramatic headlands. In the late afternoon, watch surfers ride waves to shore at Main Beach before stopping to admire Heisler Park’s oceanfront artworks during a cliffside stroll at sunset.
The following morning, descend the stairway to secluded Diver’s Cove or explore Laguna’s secret beaches, caves, and tide pools with local guides. Overall, Laguna Beach provides the complete artful California beach lifestyle.
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