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22 Top-Rated Beaches in California

22 Top-Rated Beaches in California

Did you know that California has over 3,000 miles of coastline? And that means A LOT of beaches. I had the opportunity to visit many of the Golden State’s beaches and can say without a doubt that they are some of the best in the world. From the world-famous Venice Beach to the hidden gems like Carmel Beach, there’s a beach for everyone in this state. In this article, I’ll be sharing my top 22 picks for the Best Beaches in California. So sit back, relax, and get ready to find your new favorite beach.

1. Venice Beach, Los Angeles County

With its canals, palm trees, and colorful boardwalk, Venice Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in California. This world-famous attraction is a great place to people-watch, do some shopping, and enjoy the sunny weather.

The two-and-a-half-mile Venice Beach Boardwalk is the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll, go for a jog, or ride your bike. The boardwalk is lined with dozens of shops selling everything from souvenirs to jewelry to art. You’ll also find a number of food vendors selling snacks and drinks.

Venice Beach is the perfect place for you if you’re looking for a more active vacation. There are several basketball courts where you can shoot some hoops, and the beach itself is great for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. In addition, this beach is famous for its outdoor gym, which has been attracting bodybuilders since the 1930s. And if you get hungry, there are plenty of food options available, including some of the best street food in Los Angeles. 

Venice Beach is located in the city of Los Angeles, just a few miles from downtown. The best way to get there is by car, but you can also take the bus. Parking can be tricky, so I suggest you arrive early or be prepared to walk a few blocks.

2. Santa Monica State Beach, Santa Monica

I was looking forward to visiting Santa Monica State Beach, one of the world-famous beaches in California. I had heard so much about it that my expectations were high. Fortunately, the beach lived up to its reputation.

Famed for its beautiful white sand and gentle waves, Santa Monica State Beach is a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. The beach stretches for 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) along the Santa Monica coastline. It’s one of the busiest beaches in California, so be prepared for crowds, especially on weekends during summertime.

Other popular activities at Santa Monica State Beach include volleyball, fishing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. You can also take a leisurely stroll or bike ride along the paved beachfront path that stretches for 22 miles (35 kilometers) from Santa Monica to Venice Beach.

If you get hungry while enjoying the beach, there are plenty of food options available. Restaurants located just off the sand serve up fresh seafood, burgers, and other American favorites. There are also food trucks scattered along the beach where you can buy snacks and drinks.

Santa Monica State Beach is located just a few blocks from Santa Monica Pier, which is another popular tourist destination. The pier features an amusement park, an aquarium, and a historic carousel that was built in 1922.

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Santa Monica during your stay. This vibrant beach community is home to outstanding shopping, dining, and nightlife venues. While you’re here, be sure to visit Third Street Promenade, an open-air pedestrian mall lined with shops and restaurants.

Parking can be difficult to find, especially on weekends during peak season. I suggest you take advantage of the public transportation system or park in one of the nearby commercial lots. And being one of the most popular beaches in California, plan to arrive early if you want to avoid the crowds and find a spot on the sand.

3. Capitola Beach, Santa Cruz

My search for the best California beaches took me to Capitola Beach in Santa Cruz, about 70 miles south of San Francisco. This is a classic California beach town, with a quaint village and lovely sandy shores.

The sandy shoreline at Capitola Beach is ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. The waves are not huge, but they are fun for beginner and intermediate surfers. The beach is also a great place to go for a walk, build sandcastles, or just relax and enjoy the view.

The colorful Capitola beach houses are another big attraction here. The pastel-hued buildings have been an iconic part of the Santa Cruz coastline since the late 19th century.

The charming village of Capitola is located just steps from the beach. This is a great place to enjoy seafood, do some shopping, or simply wander around and take in the atmosphere. The Esplanade Park sits on a bluff above the beach and offers sweeping views of Monterey Bay.

Capitola Beach is one of the best places to visit in California if you’re looking for a classic beach experience. It’s also one of the most family-friendly beaches in the state.

4. Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County

Avila Beach is a beautiful beach destination on California’s Central Coast. This small community sits in a sheltered bay, and the climate is mild year-round.

Avila Beach has a boardwalk that stretches for half a mile along the edge of the shoreline. The boardwalk is popular with joggers, strollers, and cyclists. It’s also a great place to take in views of Avila Pier, which extends more than 1,000 feet into the ocean.

Avila Beach is known for its excellent scuba diving and snorkeling. The clear water and lack of waves make it a perfect spot for beginners.

I spent most of my time at Avila Beach just relaxing on the sand and swimming in the water. But there are also plenty of other activities to keep you busy. You can go kayaking, fishing, or sailing. And if you’re looking for something more adventurous, you can try your hand at kitesurfing.

There are several hotels and vacation rentals in Avila Beach, but I recommend the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort if you’re looking for something really special. This luxury resort has its own private beach, and the rooms have balconies with ocean views.

5. Zuma Beach, Malibu

You can’t talk about the best beaches in California without mentioning Zuma Beach. This beautiful sandy beach is located about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles in Malibu. Zuma Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Southern California, and it’s easy to see why.

The shoreline here stretches for almost 3 miles, making it a great place to walk, jog, or simply relax on the sand. The beach is also popular for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. In fact, Zuma Beach is considered one of the best surfing spots in Los Angeles County.

If you’re looking for a place to eat near Zuma Beach, there are several excellent options. The Paradise Cove Beach Cafe is a great choice if you’re in the mood for seafood. Or you could try the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe, which offers stunning views of the ocean along with its healthy California cuisine.

When it comes to things to do near Zuma Beach, you won’t be disappointed. There are plenty of options for both adults and children. You could spend the day hiking in the beautiful nearby Santa Monica Mountains. Or you could explore one of the many tide pools that dot the coastline.

6. Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles

I knew I was in for a treat when I arrived at Manhattan Beach and saw the beautiful Strand, a 22-mile oceanfront bike path that stretches from one end of the city to the other. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in California if you love being outdoors.

The Strand is great for walking, running, and biking, and it offers stunning views of the ocean. It’s also a popular spot for people watching, as you never know who you might see. The beach itself is wide and beautiful with gentle waves. It’s a great place to relax, sunbathe, swim, or surf. I enjoyed strolling along the shoreline and taking in the fresh ocean air.

Manhattan Beach is also home to the famous Manhattan Beach Pier, which was built in 1920. The pier is 1,860 feet long and offers stunning views of the coastline. It’s a popular spot for fishing, and there’s also an aquarium at the end of the pier.

The beach is surrounded by fancy homes, and there are a few upscale hotels in the area. But don’t let this scare you. Manhattan Beach is a laid-back community with a small-town feel. There are plenty of casual cafes and restaurants where you can get a bite to eat. And the shopping is excellent, especially if you’re looking for beachwear or souvenirs.

I had a great time exploring Manhattan Beach and all it has to offer. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in California to visit if you’re looking for some fun in the sun.

7. Mission Beach, San Diego

I visited Mission Beach on a beautiful summer day, and it was as busy as any beach should be on a sunny day in Southern California. This beach is situated on a long, narrow strip of land that separates Mission Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The beach is about two miles long, and it’s adjacent to a long boardwalk where you can stroll, inline skate, ride bikes, and Rollerblade.

The atmosphere at Mission Beach is festive and slightly chaotic, with people playing beach volleyball, swimming, surfing, fishing, flying kites, and picnicking. On the sand, you’ll see all types of people, from young to old, locals and tourists.

If you want to take a break from the sun, there are plenty of cafes and bars in the area. Or you can walk over to Belmont Park, an old-fashioned amusement park with a giant roller coaster, Ferris wheel, and other rides.

During my trip here, I enjoyed people-watching as I strolled along the beach. I also took a spin on the famous Giant Dipper roller coaster at Belmont Park. So if you’re looking for a fun and lively beach atmosphere, Mission Beach is the place for you.

8. Stinson Beach, Marin County

Stinson Beach is one of the best beaches in California for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. This small town is located about 20 miles north of San Francisco and is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Stinson Beach is known for its beautiful powder-soft white sand and clear blue water. The beach itself is wide and spacious, with plenty of room to sunbathe, swim, or play games. Lifeguards are stationed here from late May to mid-September. Facilities at the beach include restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.

In addition to the beach, Stinson Beach offers several hiking trails with amazing views. The most popular trail is the Dipsea Trail, which leads to the nearby town of Mill Valley. This trail is seven miles long and can be challenging in parts. But the views are well worth the effort.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, there are several hotels and vacation rentals available. Or you can camp at one of the nearby campgrounds. There are also several restaurants and cafes in town, so you won’t go hungry.

So if you’re looking for a beautiful beach in California to relax and enjoy the outdoors, you can’t go wrong with this beach.

9. Pacific Beach, San Diego

If you’re looking for a California beach with all the trimmings, Pacific Beach is where you need to be. It’s one of San Diego’s most popular beaches for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, paddle boarding, and playing beach volleyball.

The 3-mile-long boardwalk is a great place to soak up the sun, people-watch, and do some window shopping at the many stores and boutique shops. It’s also a bike-friendly path. You can rent bikes from one of the many businesses along the boardwalk and enjoy a leisurely ride.

If you’re looking for a little more action, Pacific Beach is also a great place to surf. The waves here are some of the best in Southern California. There are also several volleyball courts along the beach, so you can join in on a game or two.

Nearby Crystal Pier is a historic wooden pier that’s open to the public for fishing and strolling. It’s also home to a quaint cafe where you can enjoy beautiful views of the ocean while sipping on a cup of coffee or eating a meal. And if you’re looking for nightlife, Pacific Beach is the place to be. The area is packed with bars and nightclubs that stay open until the wee hours of the morning.

Pacific Beach is also conveniently located near other San Diego attractions, such as SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park. You can easily spend a day or two at Pacific Beach and still have plenty of time to explore all that San Diego has to offer.

10. Paradise Cove, Malibu

If there’s one beach that epitomizes Southern California’s coastline, it has to be Paradise Cove in Malibu. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in California, if not the entire world. With its dramatic cliffs, brilliant blue waters, and sandy shores, this beach looks like it was plucked from a postcard.

The cove is well protected from the strong waves and rip currents. This makes it an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. Visitors can also go snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. If you just want to relax, there’s plenty of space on the sand to set up your beach chair and soak up the California sun. Or you can stroll along the water’s edge and enjoy the stunning views.

The Paradise Cove Beach Cafe is a great place to have a bite to eat or drink while enjoying the view. The menu features fresh seafood, burgers, salads, and sandwiches. There’s also a full bar, and the cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And if you’re looking for a place to stay in Malibu, there are several hotels located within walking distance of Paradise Cove. Or you can camp overnight at one of the many camping sites in the area.

I should mention that there is a fee to enter Paradise Cove, but it is well worth it. The amenities are top-notch, and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful. I highly recommend Paradise Cove to anyone looking for a perfect day at the beach.

11. La Jolla Beach, San Diego

The next stop on my list of the best beaches in California is La Jolla Beach, a world-famous destination in San Diego. La Jolla, which means “the jewel” in Spanish, is an affluent community with a scenic setting. The oceanfront cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop for the beach below.

La Jolla Beach is one of the best places to go swimming in California because the water is almost always calm and clear. The shoreline here is beautiful, with soft white sand and plenty of room to spread out. And there’s plenty to do on land as well: sunbathing, jogging, picnicking, and people-watching are all popular pastimes.

If you’re interested in marine life, La Jolla Beach is an excellent place for tide pooling (exploring rocks at low tide). You might see crabs, sea stars, and other creatures in the pools.

Scuba diving and snorkeling are also popular activities here, and there are several scuba-diving operators in La Jolla. And if you don’t have your own gear, no problem; you can rent everything you need.

La Jolla Beach is located just minutes from downtown San Diego, making it easy to get to. There are several ways to reach the beach, including driving, taking the bus, or riding a bike. If you plan to drive, be aware that parking can be difficult to find and expensive. You might want to consider taking public transportation instead.

12. Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles

My trip to Hermosa Beach was an opportunity to relax and enjoy the good life. This beach community is located in Los Angeles County, just south of LAX airport. It’s one of the three communities that make up what’s known as the South Bay beach cities.

The name Hermosa means beautiful in Spanish, and Hermosa Beach lives up to its name. The wide, sandy beach stretches for miles, and the sparkling ocean water is perfect for swimming, surfing, and sailing. This beach is also a great place for sunbathing, walking, and jogging.

During the day, you can enjoy shopping and dining in the Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza. This renovated area features an array of shops and restaurants, as well as a farmers’ market on Wednesday. And if you’re looking for excitement, Hermosa Beach is the place to be. The nightlife is vibrant, with many bars and clubs opening until dawn.

I should mention that Hermosa Beach is an excellent place to stay if you’re visiting Los Angeles. It’s much less crowded and hectic than downtown LA, and it’s just a short drive to all the major attractions. So if you’re looking for the best California beaches to relax on, Hermosa Beach should be at the top of your list.

13. Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea

My trip to Carmel beach was an experience I will never forget. This beautiful sandy shore is located on the Monterey Peninsula in the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Carmel beach is one of the best beaches in California for many reasons: its dramatic ocean views, its rocky coastline, and its tide pools.

The tide pools at Carmel beach are a favorite destination for kids and adults alike. These pools are full of interesting marine life, including crabs, anemones, and urchins. The best time to visit the tide pools is during low tide when more of the pool is exposed.

Carmel beach is also a great place for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. However, I would caution you to be aware of the strong currents and undertow. It is always best to swim with a buddy. Also, note that there are no lifeguards on duty at Carmel beach.

The dramatic coastline and crashing waves make Carmel beach a popular spot for photographers and painters. If you’re feeling creative, why not try your hand at capturing the beauty of Carmel beach on canvas or film?

And if you’re feeling hungry, there are several restaurants located nearby Carmel beach. I would recommend La Bicyclette restaurant, which has an excellent menu of Italian-inspired California cuisine.

After a day spent at Carmel beach, you can wander around the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This town is full of art galleries, boutique shops, and cozy cafes.

14. Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara

Just a few miles from downtown Santa Barbara, Butterfly Beach is one of the best-kept secrets in Southern California. Although it’s adjacent to the exclusive Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara hotel, the beach is open to the public.

The shoreline here is beautiful, with golden sand and gentle waves. The water is clean and clear, making it perfect for swimming, boating, and windsurfing. Butterfly Beach is also a great place where people come to enjoy the ocean views, build sandcastles, hunt for shells, and explore tide pools.

There are plenty of amenities nearby if you need them, including public restrooms, showers, and a picnic area. You can also rent beach umbrellas and chairs from the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara hotel.

Butterfly Beach gets its name from the Monarch butterflies that sometimes congregate here in large numbers. The best time to see them is late October through early February. If you’re lucky enough to see them, it’s truly a magical experience.

15. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in California. It’s located in Big Sur, a remote and rugged area of the California coast. Pfeiffer Beach is known for its dramatic cliffs, lovely sandy shoreline, and purple sand.

The purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach results from the manganese-rich rocks that erode into the sand. The purple color is most visible when the sand is wet.

Pfeiffer Beach is a great place for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. The waves here can be quite large, so it’s important to be careful. There are also plenty of tide pools to explore.

Pfeiffer Beach is located within the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The park is open for camping, hiking, picnicking, and other activities. There are also several restaurants and lodges located nearby.

If you’re looking for a beautiful and remote beach, Pfeiffer Beach is the perfect place for you. Just be sure to bring plenty of supplies with you, as there are few services available in this remote area.

16. Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur

During my travels up and down the California coast, I discovered that Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The coastline is rugged and dramatic, with towering cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

One of the best Big Sur beaches is Sand Dollar Beach, which gets its name from the many sand dollars found in the tide pools. Although swimming here can be dangerous due to the high surf and strong rip currents, it is a popular spot for sunbathing, fishing, and picnicking.

There are no lifeguards on duty at Sand Dollar Beach, and there are no facilities either. So make sure you bring everything you need for a day at the beach, including food, water, and sunscreen. Also, be sure to pack up all your trash when you leave, as there are no trash cans at the beach.

17. Huntington City Beach, Orange County

If you love to surf or bodyboard, then Huntington City Beach is the place for you. This 3.5-mile-long beach is one of the best beaches in California for these water sports. The waves here are some of the tallest and most consistent in Southern California. The surf break is divided into several sections, including the beginner-friendly Longboards section near the pier.

If you’re not a surfer, you can enjoy Huntington City Beach just the same. The wide shoreline is perfect for sunbathing, strolling, and swimming when the waves are calm. The beach also has a bike path that’s popular with cyclists and inline skaters.

At the southern end of the beach is a unique attraction called the International Surfing Museum. It’s worth a visit, even if you’re not interested in surfing. The museum traces the history of surfing and has some interesting artifacts on display, including a surfboard from the early 1900s.

If you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area, as well as fast food options. You can also bring your own food and picnic on the beach. Just be sure to clean up after yourself.

Huntington City Beach is located in the city of Huntington Beach, about an hour southeast of Los Angeles. Parking is available for a fee in several lots near the beach. You can also park on the street, but be aware that parking meters must be fed.

18. Main Beach, Laguna Beach

As I was planning my trip to Main Beach, I was struck by how popular this destination is with tourists. Located in the city of Laguna Beach in Orange County, Main Beach is one of the busiest beaches in Southern California.

The shoreline at Main Beach is a little more than three miles long and is flanked by palm trees, making it a beautiful place to spend the day. The sand is clean, and the water is clear and relatively warm. This makes it a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, paddleboarding, and kayaking. There’s also a boardwalk where people can take a leisurely stroll, ride bikes, or Rollerblade.

If you get hungry, there are plenty of food options available, including a food court, cafes, and restaurants. And if you want to buy souvenirs, there are several shops in the area. There are also hotels located near the beach, so it’s easy to find a place to stay. But if you’re on a budget, there are also several camping options in the area.

Main Beach is located in the city of Laguna Beach, which is about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. Laguna Beach is a beautiful city with a number of art galleries, shops, and restaurants. The city is also home to a number of annual festivals, including the Festival of Arts and the Sawdust Art Festival.

19. East Beach, Santa Barbara

East Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Santa Barbara and is often considered one of the best California beaches. It’s a beautiful spot with a wide white-sand beach, crystal-clear water, and a lovely promenade perfect for strolling, biking, or Rollerblading.

A wide variety of beach activities take place here daily, including volleyball, sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and windsurfing. The Santa Barbara Beach Bike Path runs parallel to the shoreline, making it easy to explore other parts of the city on two wheels.

Just offshore is a reef that’s popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. You can also go kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or sailing in the calm waters of Santa Barbara’s harbor.

If you get hungry, picnic tables, BBQ grills, and a snack bar are available, or you can stroll over to nearby State Street for lunch or dinner. A number of popular events are held at East Beach throughout the year, including the Santa Barbara Music Festivals, the Santa Barbara County Fair, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

East Beach is located in central Santa Barbara, about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. There’s plenty of public parking available, or you can take the local shuttle bus.

20. Coronado Central Beach, Coronado

Coronado Central Beach is located in the city of Coronado, just across the bay from downtown San Diego. The beach faces the Pacific Ocean and has a wide, sandy shoreline that’s perfect for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and playing beach volleyball.

Coronado Central Beach is also a great place to people-watch. The beach is popular with locals and tourists alike, and on any given day, you’re likely to see families playing in the sand, couples walking hand in hand, and groups of friends laughing and enjoying the sun.

The beach is well-maintained and offers plenty of amenities, including showers, restrooms, and a playground. Visitors can also rent beach umbrellas and chairs.

There are several restaurants and cafes located near Coronado Central Beach, so it’s easy to grab a bite to eat or a drink in between sessions of sunbathing. There are also several hotels in the area, so it’s easy to find a place to stay if you want to make a weekend of it.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Hotel del Coronado is right across the street from the beach. This historic hotel has been a favorite vacation destination for celebrities and presidents since it opened in 1888.

Coronado Central Beach is located just a few miles from downtown San Diego. It’s easy to get to by car, and there is also a public bus that stops right in front of the beach.

21. Pismo State Beach, Pismo Beach

My friends and I decided to take a drive down the coast to Pismo State Beach, one of the best beaches in California. It’s a mecca for surfers, boogie boarders, beachcombers, and birdwatchers. This is a large beach with lots to do.

Pismo State Beach is also a great place for swimming, although the water is usually cold. The sand here is light-colored and very fine, making it a favorite among sunbathers. The beach has a number of facilities, including public restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and BBQ grills. There’s also a boardwalk that runs for nearly a mile along the beach.

Pismo Beach is also famous for its annual Clam Festival, held every October. This huge festival celebrates the local seafood with live music, cooking demonstrations, clam chowder contests, and more.

During the summer months, Pismo State Beach is a popular spot for camping, and there are several campgrounds in the area. However, camping is only allowed with a permit, and reservations are required.

Pismo Beach is located just south of San Luis Obispo, and it’s about a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles. The best time to visit Pismo Beach is during the summer months when the weather is warm and sunny. However, the beach can still be crowded during the winter and spring months.

If you’re looking for things to do in California, Pismo State Beach should definitely be on your list. It’s a beautiful spot that offers something for everyone.

22. Doheny State Beach, Dana Point

During my research, I found that many tourists had never heard of Doheny State Beach. That’s a shame because this beautiful Orange County beach is one of the best-kept secrets in California.

The beach is located in Dana Point, a posh seaside community in Orange County. The town is home to many multimillion-dollar mansions, but you don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy the beach. Doheny State Beach is a great place to spend the day, especially if you enjoy swimming, surfing, or simply relaxing on the sand.

The beach features about two miles of shoreline, with a large day-use area that includes picnic tables, a volleyball court, and public restrooms. The water is usually clean and clear, although there can be strong rip currents during high surf conditions.

I tried my hand at surfing during my visit to this beach. I was a beginner, so I rented a surfboard and took a lesson from one of the local surf schools. I had a great time and was surprised at how easy it was to catch a wave. I would definitely recommend trying if you visit the area.

After a day at the beach, you can explore the town of Dana Point, which is home to many restaurants, cafes, and shops. There are also several hotels in the area if you want to stay longer.

In summary

What’s your favorite beach in California? These are just a few of the best beaches in California. With so many great choices, it’s hard to go wrong. I suggest you visit as many as you can and decide which one is the best.

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