The Best Beaches in California

A man walking along the beach

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Best California Beaches to Watch People

  • Venice Beach: Los Angeles' quirkiest beach attracts a cast of characters fit for a Hollywood movie.
  • Main Beach, Laguna Beach: This small beach in the middle of town attracts a variety of people, including artists and musicians.
  • Baker, San Francisco: I always enjoy the mix of families, fishermen, and nudists who play side by side here.
  • Main Beach, Santa Cruz: All the goings-on at the adjacent amusement park and pier make it people-watcher's heaven.

California Beaches With the Best Waves for Surfing

If you're a California surfer, you already have your favorite, but for the visitors, these are a few:

  • Black's Beach, San Diego: Fast, powerful waves demands respect - a good place to watch.
  • California Street, Ventura: Popular point for surfing.
  • Huntington Pier, Orange County: Huntington Beach is so proud of its surfing heritage that they've trademarked the name "Surf City, USA." Serious surfers ride near the pier. Beginners like Bolsa Chica, where local surf schools give lessons.
  • Mavericks, Half Moon Bay: The big waves only come in winter, but they're some of the biggest in the world and not a place to surf without experience (and a buddy). In years when the waves are big enough, this is where the big surfing competition is held.
  • Ocean, San Francisco: Not recommended for the drop-in surfer who doesn't know how to contend with the rip tides and undertow, but a hardy group of surfers can be seen here most days.
  • Rincon Beach, Santa Barbara: With seemingly non-stop waves, it's a surfer's favorite.
  • Steamer Lane/Lighthouse Field, Santa Cruz: Big-wave surfing started here and it still boasts the area's best surfing, but Cowell's Beach is better for beginners.
  • Surfrider Beach, Malibu: Possibly the most famous surfing spot in the state.

Best California Beaches for a Volleyball Game

  • Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles): Birthplace of the sport and home of the world's first beach volleyball tournament.
  • Huntington State, Orange County: Lots of clean, soft sand and plenty of nets.
  • Mission Beach, San Diego: A lot of well-maintained nets at the south end.
  • East Beach, Santa Barbara: It runs from the wharf east, protected by the harbor.
  • Capitola and Main Beach, Santa Cruz: Plenty of nets in both places.

Best California Beaches for a Bonfire

  • Dockweiler Beach, Los Angeles: One of the few LA beaches that allow bonfires.
  • Huntington State, Orange County: Lots of places to build your blaze.
  • Ocean Beach, San Francisco: Bring your firewood and dress warmly.
  • Seacliff, Santa Cruz, and Sunset: Arrive early to stake out the best spots.

Best California Beaches for a Romantic Stroll

  • El Matador Beach, Malibu: Secluded pocket beach is a great place to watch the sunset with your sweetie.
  • Main Beach, Orange County: Just off downtown Laguna Beach, popular for lovers' evening strolls.
  • La Jolla Shores, San Diego: This long, flat beach is a great place for a hand-in-hand stroll, with great views of La Jolla.
  • Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara: Just across the street from the Biltmore Hotel. In the late afternoon, it's a nice place for a romantic walk.
  • Seascape, Santa Cruz: The long, sandy beach just below this seaside resort is accessible to everyone but seldom crowded.
  • Manchester Beach, Mendocino: A pretty beach with lots of sand and driftwood.

Best California Beaches to Take the Kids

  • Coronado Beach, San Diego: Downtown Coronado is nearby. Lots of clean sand and gentle waves.
  • Rodeo, San Francisco: Kids love the pebbly beach here.
  • Main Beach, Santa Cruz: The boardwalk is nearby and lifeguards are on duty during the busiest times
  • Monterey State Beach: This stretch of sand next to Fisherman's Wharf is a family favorite.
  • Asilomar Beach, Monterey: One of Monterey Peninsula's prettiest and most popular beaches, with a wide, sandy place to play and nice walking trails through the dunes.
  • La Jolla Cove: Great tide pools and a small, rocky cave.

California Beaches With Nearby Amusements

  • Santa Monica Beach: The beach here is nice, but most people also come for the amusement park on the pier.
  • Balboa, Newport Beach: With a great beach, a pier and the nearby Balboa Fun Zone, there's a lot here to keep the kids occupied.
  • Mission Beach, San Diego: Belmont Park is home to the Giant Dipper, originally built in 1925, a classic carousel and some modern thrill rides.
  • Main Beach: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located at Main Beach.

Best California Beaches for Easy Walking

  • Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles): A long, paved walking path with Santa Monica Bay views makes Manhattan Beach our favorite place to take a walk.
  • Mission Beach, San Diego: For a slice of California beach life at its best, take a walk along the paved boardwalk that runs between the houses and the sand.
  • Moonstone Beach, Cambria: Moonstone Beach has a little of everything: an easy clifftop boardwalk that's easily accessible by wheelchair or ECV, tide pools, surfers, crashing waves and golden-colored cliffs above the rocks.

Best California Beach Events

  • Imperial Beach, San Diego: The Sun & Sea Festival (formerly the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition) is America's largest and longest-running sand castle competition.
  • Mavericks, Half Moon Bay: Dependent on Mother Nature and launched within 24 hours after the big waves approach the coast, Mavericks Surf Contest boasts some of the world's biggest waves.
  • Volleyball Championships, Manhattan Beach: Some people call the AVP Volleyball Championships the Wimbledon of volleyball.

The Truth About California Sunshine

The Beach Boys weren't quite telling the truth when they crooned about West Coast sunshine. You may find California less sunny than expected, especially at the beaches. Rising inland temperatures pull cool, moist ocean air onto the beaches like a foggy blanket. It's so predictable in early summer that locals dub it "June gloom," but it can persist into "No Sky July" and "Fogust". Some days, fog and low clouds disappear early - or the sun may not put in an appearance until mid- to late-afternoon.