Megan Bryant is a passionate writer and traveler who has combined her two loves to help others fulfill their traveling dreams. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually curled up with her 3 Dachshunds and a good book or planning her next adventure—wherever that may be.
California, with its diverse landscapes and stunning coastline, is an absolute paradise for beach enthusiasts. From the rugged, windswept shores of the northern coast to the sun-soaked, sandy stretches of the south, the Golden State boasts a wealth of picturesque beaches that cater to every kind of beachgoer.
Whether you’re seeking a tranquil escape, world-class surf, or vibrant beachfront communities, California’s shoreline offers it all, and in this article, we’ll explore some of the best beaches all throughout the state, each offering its own unique charm and allure.
Baker Beach is one of the best beaches in all of California, and it can thank its incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge for that. Unlike other beaches in California, however, Baker Beach does experience temperamental weather, and it can get somewhat breezy. So, it’s definitely recommended to take a few extra layers if you plan on hitting the sand.
If you do plan on visiting Baker Beach, which stretches for a mile below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline, then do so at sunset as the sun reflects off the Golden Gate Bridge—just be sure to pack a blanket or two!
Carmel Beach is one of California’s most visited beaches, and with just one look at its rugged coastline, pearlescent sand, and vibrant blue water, it’s easy to understand why. For decades, Carmel has been attracting both locals and tourists, but it has become increasingly popular amongst surfers looking to catch the perfect wave. Carmel even welcomes your four-legged friend off-leash!
12 miles east of Santa Barbara is the city of Carpinteria, which is home to well-maintained beaches that are ideal for relaxing, swimming, fishing, and tide pooling.
If you’re looking to hit the waves while visiting Carpinteria, then head to Rincon Park County Beach and for a truly unique experience—as there are only five natural tar pits in the world—pay a visit to Tar Pits Park, which is situated directly next to the sand.
Coronado Beach stretches for almost two miles and has become a favorite amongst families and couples due to its calm waters, soft sparkling sand, and incredible sunsets that will leave you in awe.
Whether relaxing or getting involved with activities like surfing is your thing, Coronado Beach has it all, and if you’re lucky, from December through to February, you may even catch a glimpse of various whale species that migrate each year through California’s waters.
If you’re looking for a beach that will tick everyone’s boxes, then look no further than Hermosa Beach. Not only does the two-mile stretch of sand provide the perfect conditions for sunbathing, but the waters, depending on the time of year, offer both calm conditions for swimming and waves that are ideal for surfing.
Two of the main draws to Hermosa Beach, however, are the miles-long beach boardwalk that attracts California sightseers and the 1,140-foot-long Hermosa Beach Pier, which is one of the best locations in all of California to watch the sunset. Additionally, visitors to Hermosa Beach can make use of amenities like beach volleyball courts, showers, eateries, and restrooms, so you really have everything you could possibly need right at your fingertips.
Huntington Beach has understandably made its way onto this best beaches in California list as it has previously gained not only the title as one of the best beaches in the state but also within all of the USA.
Stretching for two miles from Beach Boulevard to the Santa Ana River Channel, Huntington Beach, with its incredible surf, soft sand, and nearby amenities, is a must-visit when traveling to California. You can even make use of the beach’s fire rings and grill your favorite BBQ food.
Laguna Beach, as well as Thousand Steps Beach and Victoria Beach, offer beachgoers an entirely different California beach experience as these stretches of sand in Orange County come together to form a collection of cove beaches that you won’t find anywhere else in Southern California.
As Laguna Beach is situated between both Los Angeles and San Diego, it is the perfect location for an afternoon on the sand. But if sitting on the sand isn’t your thing, then you can also explore the beach’s sea saves and discover aquatic animals in the natural tide pools.
La Jolla is the beach for you if sitting on the sand for hours on end doesn’t interest you. I mean, of course, you can kick back on the sand and relax, but many people visit the La Jolla Shores to swim in the near-perfect water conditions, snorkel with leopard sharks, and kayak. Lifeguards patrol La Jolla all year round, and with the La Jolla sea caves to explore, you really will be entertained from the minute you step foot on the sand.
Malibu is home to both big and small beaches that offer tranquility and the chance to truly unwind while breathing in the fresh ocean air. Zuma Beach and Point Dume State Beach are top choices for those in search of expansive stretches of sand, while Carbon Beach and Puerco Beach—both backed by Malibu’s famous mansions—are the place to be if you want to spot a celebrity of two.
If you’re after a beach in Southern California that doesn’t attract the crowds that Venice Beach and Santa Monica do, then look no further than Manhattan Beach. Located 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach is a haven for those in search of tranquility. With excellent surfing conditions, a paved path that is ideal for an afternoon stroll, and a pier that offers front-row seats to the sunset, it’s no surprise that Manhattan Beach is up there as one of the best beaches in all of California.
There are some Monterey beaches where swimming is possible, but for the most part, the waters at Monterey can be dangerous and unpredictable, so we don’t recommend going in deeper than knee height. But despite its unswimmable shores, Monterey is home to some spectacular scenery, and as it’s often quiet amongst beachgoers, the chances that you’ll have entire stretches of sand all to yourself are typically quite high.
If you do want a beach that is safe for swimming, then Monterey State Beach is your best bet. You can also participate in surfing, tide-pooling, and fishing.
Pfeiffer Beach is one of California’s most famous beaches, as it is one of the only accessible beaches in all of Big Sur. What makes Pfeiffer Beach so impressive, however, is its cliffs and rock formations—the most photographed being Keyhole Rock. Unfortunately, it isn’t safe to swim at Pfeiffer Beach due to strong currents and underlying rocks, but the beach’s purple-tinted sand and its rock pools make it a must-visit for both locals and tourists who are visiting California.
Pismo Beach is another great California beach contender for those who prefer to keep active as opposed to relaxing on the sand. Beach activities truly are in abundance at Pismo Beach as visitors can kayak out to the Dinosaur Caves Park, hire a dune buggy in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, horseback ride along the sand, or surf, fish, or bodyboard. And don’t worry, if you prefer to sit back, relax, and read a book, then Pismo has you covered.
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach boasts three miles of soft sand, excellent surf conditions, and, of course, the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, which is decked out with amusement rides. Santa Monica Beach attracts over 3 million visitors each year, and with plenty of shops and eateries to explore, it’s understandable why so many people come back time and time again.
And to end this best beaches in California list off, of course, we had to include Venice Beach, which is quite possibly one of the most famous beaches in all of California. But
what makes Venice Beach so popular amongst both locals and tourists, however, is the fact that it offers more than just ocean and sand.
Venice Beach is home to a skate park, a boardwalk, various shops, bars, and eateries, and the outdoor gym, Muscle Beach, where bodybuilders show off their chiseled physiques. However, although there is so much going on at Venice Beach, there are also vast stretches of sand and waters suitable for swimming, meaning you can truly unwind and soak up California’s sun if and when you please.