Going to the beach is one of the most popular things to do in Orange County, CA, even kids will like it. Orange County has 40 miles of coastline passing through seven cities, with three major state beaches and a few county beaches among them - which you can recognize by the changing lifeguard towers and different parking rates.
Orange County beaches have just as many different personalities as Los Angeles Beaches, with many distinct landscapes. Some are also more known for particular activities. Unlike Los Angeles County, where very few beaches have fire pits, most beach cities in Orange County from Huntington Beach south have some fire pits, and some have hundreds.
The shoreline runs at a diagonal from northwest to southeast along Orange County, so the overall coast faces predominantly southwest, but individual beaches may be entirely south-facing or west-facing. For photo buffs, the sun sets more directly over the water on south-facing beaches in winter but sets off to the right over land in summer. South-facing beaches are also less likely to be surfing beaches due to calmer waves, especially on cove beaches.
Highway 1 runs along the ocean, sometimes directly on the water, sometimes separated by houses or businesses. It is known as Pacific Coast Highway until it gets to Laguna Beach, where it changes to Coast Highway for a few miles. In Dana Point, Coast Highway appears again as the coast road when Highway 1 merges with the Interstate 5 Freeway. When it hits San Clemente, the name changes to El Camino Real and it veers inland again and also joins Interstate 5. A variety of local roads lead to the limited beach access points in San Clemente.
Note: I've included some activities specific beaches are known for, but what is permitted on which beach can change depending on surf conditions, weather and other hazards, so pay attention to posted signs. Designated swimming and surfing areas can shift from day to day.
Seal Beach is the northernmost beach in Orange County, just across the county line from Long Beach beaches. It's a very small-town, neighborhood beach. A few blocks of Main Street shops lead down to the pier. Houses go right down to the beach, so parking is in the neighborhood, with a tiny beach parking lot at the north end, near the San Gabriel River channel and on either side of the pier.
Seal Beach Beach is cut off from Long Beach by Alamitos Bay and the San Gabriel River, and separated from Surfside Beach by Anaheim Bay and the remains of the Seal Beach Naval Station, so there's no bike path continuation.
Surfside Beach is a tiny strip of sand in the city of Seal Beach on the other side of Anaheim Bay. It is at the northwest end of Sunset Beach. It runs in front of the gated Surfside Colony, 3 rows of houses from Anaheim Bay to Anderson Street - about the length of the shopping center across Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach.
Sunset Beach in Huntington Beach
The city of Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, has 10 miles of beachfront including Sunset Beach, Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Beach City Beach and Huntington State Beach.
Sunset Beach used to be its own unincorporated town, but it is now part of the city of Huntington Beach. However, the beach is still a county beach and it still has its own personality, separated from Huntington Beach proper by Bolsa Chica State Beach.
Like Seal Beach, the houses in Sunset Beach are built right on the beach. Sunset Beach stretches from Anderson Street in the northwest - where you'll see a water tower converted into a home in the middle of the street - to Warner at the southeast end. There's a smaller street, Pacific Avenue, between two blocks of houses on the beach side. There are numerous restaurants and bars right along PCH. There is free beach parking all along Pacific Avenue from Anderson south to a small park at Warner, right before Bolsa Chica State Beach.
Sunset Beach is also known for Huntington Harbor, an inland marina neighborhood with mansions and yachts lining a series of manmade islands. You can kayak or paddle board around Huntington Harbor from a small pocket beach across PCH from 11th Street. There are water-sports-rental businesses on either side of the small beach. There are a few little pocket beaches around the harbor that come in handy to take a break if you're kayaking, including one with a playground and restroom facilities at Seabridge Park.
Bolsa Chica State Beach
Bolsa Chica State Beach is 2.4 miles of flat beach lined with parking lots directly across Pacific Coast Highway from the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. It stretches from Warner Avenue at the north end to the Bolsa Chica Basin inlet just before Seapoint Street to the south.
Bolsa Chica is one of the few beaches with both fire pits and RV parking, so it's a popular party beach. It's also a popular surfing beach since there's plenty of (paid) parking and there's an annual pass available to park. There are beach concessions in the middle of the parking lot in summer, but in the off season, you'll have to bring your own food or leave the beach to find refreshments.
The Huntington Beach Bike Trail starts at the northwest end of Bolsa Chica Beach. The bike trail runs above the beach, not across the sand like some other places.
There are no bike or other equipment rentals at Bolsa Chica State Beach.
Huntington Beach City Beach
Huntington Beach City Beach surrounds the pier and the downtown shopping and entertainment district. The city of Huntington Beach has more working class roots than beach cities farther south. The entire waterfront used to be lined with oil derricks, and the north and south ends of the beach still have waterfront industrial areas right on Pacific Coast Highway. You'll also see a few oil derricks off the coast.
If you just want to experience that laid-back surfer lifestyle, you can still find it in Huntington Beach, and it may be slightly more affordable than the more southern beaches.
Main Street and the Pier are the heart of Huntington Beach. When local surfers aren't riding the waves on either side of the pier, they're grabbing a drink at a number of surf-centric watering holes along Main Street. Both sides of the pier are native surfer territory, so if you're not a local, it's best to seek out any of the other 14 breaks along this stretch of coast. If you're renting a surfboard, or even if you're not, the surf shops can point you in the right direction to find the right waves for your experience level where you won't run afoul of the regulars.
If you want to find an in with the local surfers, you might try having a drink with the younger set at Huntington Beach Beer Company, known affectionately as Brewco, or join the crew sharing tales and ales at Longboards in the oldest building in Huntington Beach.
Getting away from its roots, the city has added a number of upscale gastropubs and fine dining establishments to offset the surfer and biker bars. They've also added the trendy Pacific City shopping center right on Pacific Coast Highway just south of Main Street.
Huntington Beach City Beach is separated from the houses and shops inland by Pacific Coast Highway. There are food concessions, bike, skate, surrey, surfboard and other gear rental concessions right on the beach at multiple locations (more on Huntington Beach Bike Rentals). You may also run into kiteboarders. Ruby's Diner at the end of the pier and Duke's at the foot of the pier are Huntington Beach classics.
At the north end of the beach, from Seapoint to Goldenwest, is Huntington Dog Beach, a year-round dog-friendly beach. Animals are not allowed on any other beaches in the city. There are pay-and-display parking lots and some street meters in this area that take coins or credit cards.
Parking in the south beach lot at Huntington City Beach - accessible from Beach Boulevard - has the same day rate as the state beaches. If you're only staying a few hours, the pay-and-display beach lots near the pier have a more economical hourly rate, as do some of the parking garages on the other side of PCH. (more on Parking in Huntington Beach). You can also take surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and other watersport lessons from outfitters in Huntington Beach.
The only way you'll know you've gone from Huntington Beach City Beach to Huntington Beach State Beach, where Beach Boulevard runs into the beach, is the blue lifeguard towers on the city beach give way to beige towers on the state beach and the square fire pits change to round fire pits. There are also different signs if you turn right or left at the Beach Blvd entrance to the parking lots.
The Huntington Beach Bike Trail ends at the Santa Ana River, where it connects to the Santa Ana River Trail heading inland along the river.
Newport Beach is a 10-mile stretch of beaches, marinas and islands south of Huntington Beach. As you enter Newport Beach from the north, a block of beachfront homes replace the parking lots along the water and proceed out onto the Balboa Peninsula, and PCH veers inland.
Newport Beach is both very affluent and densely populated. It has some of the county's best high-end shopping at Fashion Island, as well as unique boutiques along Pacific Coast Highway. They also have some of the best waves for pro surfers near the pier. Within the embrace of the Balboa Peninsula are several islands accessible by bridge or ferry that are primarily residential. Balboa Island also has a strip of cute shops and restaurants. There are year-round gondola rides around the channels, and during the holiday season, there are special boat tours of the Christmas lights, as well as multiple nights of Christmas boat parades.
The primary beaches within the city of Newport Beach include Newport Beach from the Santa Ana River to the pier and Balboa Beach facing the ocean from the pier to the end of the Balboa Peninsula, which is really one long narrow strip of beach. The Newport Balboa Bike Path runs from the pier along the inside of Balboa Beach most of the length of the peninsula.
19th Street Beach is a stretch of public beach on the Newport Bay (northeast) side of the Balboa Peninsula. There are other little pocket beaches around the bay that are only of interest if you're kayaking or paddleboarding around. Inland, Newport Bay flows into the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, where you can also take guided kayak tours.
With the limited road access to the islands and the peninsula, driving and parking can be a real challenge during the summer.
The community of Corona del Mar has three beaches and Crystal Cove State Beach is also within Newport Beach, but they have their own personalities, so they get their own pages.
Corona Del Mar
Corona del Mar is a luxury beachfront community within the city of Newport Beach, south of the Corona del Mar Bend entrance to Newport Bay. Corona del Mar State Beach is the bigger of its two beaches at half a mile long and is accessible from street level parking. It has a handful of volleyball nets and a couple dozen fire pits. One end of the beach abuts the stone jetty along Newport Bay. The other ends in the cliffs at Inspiration Point. Although it is a state beach, it is operated by the City of Newport Beach and does not accept the California State Parks Pass.
Scenic Little Corona Beach is even smaller and completely surrounded by cliffs and clifftop mansions high above. It's accessible down a paved trail from the corner of Ocean Blvd and Poppy Ave. There is no beach level parking.
Crystal Cove State Park
At the southern end of the Newport Beach, shared with the city of Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park has 3.2 miles of scenic rocky and sandy beach accessible mostly by trails from upper parking lots. It is a popular spot for tide pooling, snorkeling and just exploring the craggy trails. About midway along the beach near the mouth of Los Trancos Creek, the Crystal Cove Historic District is a cluster of rustic beach cottages built in the 1930s and 40s. Some of them are now available for rent through the Crystal Cove Alliance. One of the cottages has been converted into the Beachcomber Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a small parking lot at the top of the cluster of cottages. Ruby's Shake Shack on PCH is right above the Crystal Cove Historic District.
The park also includes El Moro Canyon - 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness will many miles of trails on the opposite side of Pacific Coast Highway. It's near the south end of Crystal Cove Beach, partially in Newport Beach and partly in Laguna Beach. The Crystal Cove SP Moro Campgrounds is adjacent to the lower parking for El Moro Canyon hiking and mountain biking trails. The El Moro Visitor Center is at the upper parking lot above El Morro (sic) Elementary School. The Pelican Hill Golf Club and the neighborhood of Newport Coast are across from the north end of the beach.
The water off the coast is the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), which is subject to specific conservations practices and policies.
From the Marina Protected Area Regulations:
- It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for recreational and/or commercial purposes, with the following specified exceptions:
a. The recreational take of finfish by hook-and-line or by spearfishing, and spiny lobster and sea urchin is allowed. ...
- Take of all living marine resources from inside tidepools is prohibited. For purposes of this section, tidepools are defined as the area encompassing the rocky pools that are filled with seawater due to retracting tides between the mean higher high tide line and the mean lower low tide line.
Laguna Beach is my favorite of the Orange County beach cities with its chain of 7.5 miles of intimate coves and rocky cliffs. It should probably be its own list, but I don't have photos of all 33 of its gorgeous beaches, so they're all here on two pages, split into the City beaches in the north and the county beaches in the south.
The town itself is an extended artist colony that reaches from the beach into the canyon. The coast is lined with a string of rocky coves harboring sandy beaches. The quaint cottages that used to overlook the coves have mostly been replaced by mega mansions, but there are still areas that maintain the original artist colony feel. Inland, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park provides 40 miles of hiking trails among 7,000 acres of coastal canyons and hills to explore.
Laguna Beach Arts
For the entire summer, the town surrounding Broadway/Laguna Canyon Road is taken over by the Laguna Beach art festivals – three of them at once – and the Pageant of the Masters living pictures production. The rest of the year it still has the most scenic beaches, an exceptional number and range of art galleries, great restaurants and nice hotels. For those who like to meet the artists, Laguna Canyon road is lined with artist studios and workshops, some of which are open to the public.
All Beaches Are Public
Technically, all the beaches in Laguna Beach are public, but a couple of the cove beaches at the north end of Laguna Beach are behind gated communities and have no public access. In other neighborhoods, the entrances to the beaches below are tucked between houses and can be hard to spot and neighborhood street parking is limited. When you find them, the stairways to many cove beaches are equivalent to six to ten flights of stairs, with a few significantly more or less, depending on the beach. Factor in the climb back up when you plan what to carry down with you.
Look, But Don't Touch.
Much of the coast is rocky, and even sandy beaches tend to have rocky tidepool areas. It is prohibited to remove rocks, shells or marine life from beaches and tidepool areas. Fishing is also prohibited on all Laguna Beach beaches except 1000 Steps Beach.
Unlike other southern California beach cities, all of Laguna Beach's city and county beaches allow dogs on a 6-foot or shorter leash all day in the off season from mid-September to mid-June. During high season from mid-June to mid-September, leashed dogs are allowed on city beaches before 9 am and after 6 pm. The exception is 1000 Steps Beach, where dogs are not permitted. You are required to clean up after your pet. There is no off-leash dog beach in Laguna Beach.
Which Beach for What?
I've included some activities specific beaches are known for, but the activities permitted on each beach can change depending on surf conditions, weather and other hazards, so pay attention to posted flags and signs. The black dot on a yellow background is a no-surfing area. It is usually accompanied by additional signs indicating which direction is surfing and which direction is swimming. Designated swimming and surfing areas can shift from day to day. There is no pier in Laguna Beach, and other than kayaking, there's no boating. Motorized water vehicles are not permitted.
Surfing and skimboarding are restricted to only 3 full-time beaches and one part-time beach during summer days from sunrise to sunset, between June 15 and September 15. Rockpile, Thalia and Brooks Beach are available for surfing all day during summer. Surfers and skimboarders can also use Agate Street Beach before 12 and after 4 pm on weekdays.
Beyond Crystal Cove State Beach, which is partially in Newport Beach and partially in Laguna Beach, most of the 30+ beaches in Laguna Beach are managed by the City. There are also five county beaches at the south end of the city.
The City Beaches
From north to south, the beaches in Laguna Beach are:
- Crescent Bay Beach is the northernmost publicly accessible city beach. It is a south-facing sandy cove about 1/4 mile long lined with mansions with rocky outcroppings at either end. It's accessible down a long flight of stairs at the end of Crescent Bay or Barranca Street, but there's limited street parking and no lots nearby. Seal Rock, off the north end, is a good place to spot seals and sea lions, but keep your distance; people are not allowed on Seal Rock. Crescent Bay is popular for swimming, skin and scuba diving, body surfing, body boarding, and tide pooling. It has restrooms and showers and can be quite crowded in the summer.
- Shaw's Cove Beach is a secluded south-facing beach accessible down a long stairway at the end of Fairview Street. There's metered street parking around the top. There are no amenities on the beach. The beach is good for tide-pooling and sometimes on weekends has docents to educate the public. The west end is also popular with divers.
- Boat Canyon Beach is a small south-facing beach, around 400 feet long, with access down a stairway beside the Diver's Cove condos. This beach is sandy, but the entire underwater area is rocky, so it's not good for swimming, but is popular with divers.
- Diver's Cove Beach is the next beach south. The coast starts facing more southwest here. It's a steep beach with a constant shore break that is dangerous in high surf conditions. Popular activities include swimming, skin and scuba diving, and body surfing. There is metered street parking on Cliff Drive. Heisler Park is just above both Divers Beach and adjacent Picnic Beach.There are restrooms and picnic tables at the park, but no amenities on the beach. Access is down a stairway from Cliff Drive at the north end. There is a Cliff Walk from just above Diver's Cove south to the Main Beach Boardwalk.
- Picnic Beach is directly below Heisler Park. There's a ramp down to the beach from the south end of the park, making it one of the most popular beaches for families and groups of skin and scuba divers. Swimming can be hazardous due to submerged rocks. Avoid walking on the flat, wet, rocky areas at the south end of the beach. It's covered in fragile sea life and extremely slippery and dangerous. Stay on the dry rocks. There are no amenities on the beach, but there are restrooms at the park above. This is a more west-facing beach, so it's a nice spot to watch the sunset in summer.
- Rockpile Beach is around Recreation Point at the bottom of the cliffs between Picnic Cove and Main Beach where the coast goes back to facing south. It can be an excellent place to go tide-pooling at low tide, especially in winter. At high tide, the entire beach may become submerged. The ocean bottom is slippery rock, so swimming and body boarding are not allowed. This is one of Laguna Beach's three designated surfing areas. Some surfers like this area because it's less crowded. There is a stairway down from the south end of Heisler Park.
- Main Beach is a predominantly west-facing beach right at the center of town, starting just north of Broadway and running south four blocks to about Legion Street. Beach access is flat and just a few feet from the street downtown. It's a sandy-bottom area, making it a popular spot for swimming and body boarding. Surfing is not permitted at Main Beach in summer, but it is the rest of the year. There are a few volleyball nets, and there's a wooden boardwalk that runs the length of Main Beach Park and connects to the Cliff Walk to the north. Laguna Beach does not have a pier.
- Sleepy Hollow Beach is the strip of sand in front of the Pacific Edge Hotel. It is accessible from a stairway on Sleepy Hollow Lane just south of the signal at Legion and Pacific Coast Highway. The south reef area is good for bodyboarders, but not for swimming. Metered parking is available on Coast Highway.
- Cleo Street Beach is the continuation of Main Beach at the foot of Cleo Street. It is a family-friendly beach, but there are no amenities. There is beach access at the end of each street between the houses. The Cleo Street Barge is a shipwreck about 200 yards offshore. Cleo is not a surfing beach, but body surfing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking and SUPing are permitted.
- The five-block section of beach from St. Anne Street to Brooks Street is one continuous beach. The sections at St. Ann's Beach, Anita Street Beach and Oak Street Beach, each named for the location of the beach access stairs - are swimming beaches.
- Thalia Street and Brook Street are surfing beaches and swimming is not permitted. Surf flags define the area. There's a spot between St. Anne Beach and Thalia Beach known for having the strongest rip current in town in its one area of sandy bottom between rock reef. Brooks Street Beach is quite tricky entering the water, so only experienced surfers should try it. There are no amenities.
- Cress Street Beach is a pocket of sand at the foot of the stairs at the end of Cress Street on the opposite side of the craggy rocks from Brooks Beach. No amenities.
- Mountain Road Beach is a totally rocky area between Cress Beach and the next stretch of sand at Bluebird Beach that some surfers prefer in the off season. Popular activities include bodyboarding, bodysurfing, and scuba diving. The water here is rocky with two major rip currents. No amenities.
- Bluebird Beach is a sandy beach in front of the Surf & Sand Resort. It is accessible down a ramp from the corner of South Coast Highway and Bluebird Canyon. The beach is popular with body surfers to the north and body boarders to the south near several small reefs. No amenities.
- Agate Street Beach/Pearl Street Beach on Arch Cove is a small sandy beach that can be accessed via stairs at Agate Street and Pearl Street. Surfing is not allowed at the south end near Pearl Street from mid-June to mid-September. but it is permitted near Agate Street before noon and after 4 pm. No amenities.
- Woods Cove/Diamond Beach is the next stretch of sand beyond Cactus Point. The main stairway at Diamond Street is in the middle of the beach, with another stairway 4 houses north.
- Moss Point Beach is a tiny patch of sand and rocks at the foot of Moss Street. It doesn't hold very many people and can get totally submerged if the tide is high. It is popular with divers, but can have strong rip currents. From Moss Point to Victoria Drive, the coast is rocky cliffs.
- Victoria Beach is the next sandy stretch, which is accessed at the end of Drummond Drive or via a long stairway at Sunset Terrace off Victoria Drive. There are additional stairways to the beach between the houses on Lagunita Drive. If you see a crosswalk on the street, there's usually a stairway within a house or two. The beach doesn't hold many people and the locals have it pretty well occupied in summer, so you might not find a place to park your car or your beach towel.
- Christmas Cove Beach is the northernmost of three coves accessible from a small park behind the Montage Laguna Beach Resort. A ramp at the north end goes down to Christmas Cove Beach. A stairway at the beginning (south end) of the park leads down to Goff Cove Beach. Middle Man Cove, which is directly below the resort, is only accessible by climbing around the rocks from Goff Cove at low tide. Goff Cove and Middle Man are south-facing and have less surf than the west-facing beaches, so they're popular for snorkeling and diving.
- Treasure Island Beach is a longer stretch of sand that begins on the opposite side of the Montage Laguna Beach, extending south to Aliso Creek. There is a ramp down to Treasure Island behind the resort. There's a path to the same access point from Treasure Island Park on Coast Highway. There's also a stairway connected to a pedestrian bridge across Coast Highway between Aliso Circle and country Club Drive. Treasure Island is one of the city's most popular and busy beaches.
County Beaches in Laguna Beach
All the beaches from Treasure Island south to the city of Dana Point are managed by Orange County Parks.
- Aliso Beach has more amenities than most of the city beaches including restrooms, concessions, a playground, benches, a few fire pits and an actual parking lot (rare in Laguna Beach).
- West Street Beach/Laguna Royale is the continuation of the beach beyond the rocks at Aliso Point. It's a little longer and wider than Aliso Beach. There's a path down from the end of Camel Point Drive and a steep stairway down from Coast Highway on the south side of the Laguna Royale condominiums. There are port-a-potties on the north end of the beach.
- Table Rock Beach is a small double-cove beach between a condominium-topped rock promontory to the north and another sheer rock outcropping to the south. There are steps down from Table Rock Way at Eagle Rock Way and at the end of Seacove Drive. Table Rock is popular with skimboarders.
- Totuava Beach is the next stretch of beach south. There is no public access from Coast Highway above. The only access is to walk around the rocks at low tide from 1000 Steps Beach to the south. If you do this, be sure you know when the tide is turning so you can get back out before the tide comes in and cuts off access.
- 1000 Steps Beach is not 1000 stair steps, but it's 220+, which is the equivalent of 18 normal flights of stairs, so be ready for the burn on the way back up. You'll find these 220+ steps where 9th Avenue hits Coast Highway. There's a painted crosswalk on Coast Highway to help you spot this official entrance. There is street parking on Coast Highway. One of the highlights of 1000 Steps Beach is a rocky cave at the south end with stunning views back out to the ocean. The cave is only accessible at low tide.
South of Laguna is Dana Point, a small town with a harbor deep enough to host three tall ships, two of them at the Ocean Institute. The big draw fro visitors in Dana Point are the 5-star accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel on Salt Creek Beach and the Monarch Beach Resort, adjacent to the Monarch Beach Golf Links.
Like Laguna Beach, some of Dana Point's beaches are hidden behind gated communities. There are four easily accessible public beaches.
Salt Creek Beach is the northernmost beach accessible to the public. The beach is situated below the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel resort, extending northward to the Monarch Bay Beach Club. There's a large parking lot across from the resort on Ritz Carlton Drive, and a paved trail from there through Salt Creek Beach Park down to the sand.
There are restrooms, picnic tables, seasonal concessions and a half-court basketball court in the park just above the beach. There are paved trails and stairs down to the sand.
The beach itself has sandy and rocky areas around the mouth of Salt Creek, which is usually just a trickle by the time it reaches the sand. Salt Creek Beach is good for surfing, swimming, body surfing and tide pooling. Given the resort surroundings, it's much more landscaped, than most area beaches and has more beach vegetation.
If you're up for a splurge, the restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton are excellent and an ocean-view room is a nice end to a romantic beach day.
Strand Beach is a long narrow continuation of Salt Creek Beach from just below the south side of the promontory where the Ritz-Carlton is located to the Dana Point Headlands about a mile south. There's a trail that heads south along the inside of the beach in front of the Ritz-Carlton and brings you out onto the north end of Strand Beach. There is a beach parking lot on Selva Road that has a paved path past three rows of mini mansions to the beach. There is also a path down from Dana Strand Road, which is the extension of Selva Road where it dead ends above the south end of the beach and provides access to the trail around the headlands.
Dana Point Harbor, which is a relatively small marina compared to Newport Beach or Long Beach, interrupts the flow of beaches. You'll find the Ocean Institute and its tall ships, the Dana Point Nature Center, whale watching excursions, sport fishing, boat rentals and a ferry to Catalina Island at Dana Point Harbor.
Doheny State Beach and Capistrano Beach, described on the next pages, are also in the city of Dana Point.
Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach is a little over a mile of very narrow, straight beach from Dana Point Harbor south to Palisades Drive. The biggest attraction at Doheny State Beach is the campground right on the beach toward the north end. Between the harbor and the campground, separated by San Juan Creek, is a park with lots of picnic tables, restrooms, the Boneyard Cafe and Wheel Fun Rentals, where you can rent bikes, surreys, pedal karts, surfboards, boogie boards, beach chairs and umbrellas and sand toys. There's a parking lot adjacent to this area, and the rest of the beach south of the campground is also lined with a long parking lot for its entire length.
Doheny is predominantly a sandy-bottom beach, good for swimming and surfing, with a rocky area at the north end good for tide pooling.
There is a pedestrian bridge about half-way down the beach that crosses Coast Highway to a cluster of hotels and restaurants. There is a beach restroom near the pedestrian bridge and another at the north end of the main parking lot near the campground.
Train tracks, coming south from the San Juan Capistrano train station, run along the length of the Doheny State Beach parking lot, but there's no stop in Dana Point.
Capistrano Beach is a beach community below the town of San Juan Capistrano that is still within the city of Dana Point. It is separated from a high bluff by the Coast Highway. The beach itself is a narrow strip of unusually stony sand with a parking lot at the north end. The rest of the beach is lined with beachfront homes that sit just above the high tide line. The beach is managed by the county.
Palisades Drive becomes Beach Road as it crosses Coast Highway between Doheny Beach and Capistrano Beach and heads south along the parking lot to the back of the beachfront homes, parallel to the train tracks and Coast Highway.There are restrooms, seasonal concessions and a basketball court off the north parking lot.
Mission San Juan Capistrano, about four miles north of the beach, is a pilgrimage destination for fans of California and Catholic history, as well as the famous swallows that return every spring. The Mission has a special prayer room within the Serra Chapel dedicated to Saint Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer sufferers.
San Clemente, the southernmost Orange County beach city, has the distinction of being the only one where the Metrolink and Amtrak trains let you off steps from the beach at two different train stations. You can take a train from Union Station in Downtown LA and be on the beach in San Clemente in an hour and a half. You can also catch a train near Disneyland at the Anaheim or Fullerton stations.
San Clemente State Beach also has a campground, so despite the high property values of those Spanish-style homes, you can actually have a very economical getaway to San Clemente. The town has an even more small-town, laid-back vibe than Huntington Beach.
The northernmost beach in San Clemente is a little pocket called Palm Beach, which picks up at the end of Capistrano Beach, separated by a drainage canal. There's a small park with tennis and basketball courts right on the sand, but the parking is on the other side of Coast Highway, which is called El Camino Real from the city line at the intersection of Camino Capistrano. You can cross El Camino Real at the intersection. This beach is so isolated from the rest of the beach in San Clemente that it's not even included in the City's list of beaches. After Palm Beach, there's a half-mile stretch where houses are built nearly at the high tide line.
The first in the official stretch of San Clemente beaches is North Beach, where you'll find the San Clemente Metrolink train station.There's a four-mile stretch of stony beach from the top of North Beach to the end of San Clemente State Beach with nine other named beaches along the way.
North Beach has a small parking lot, restrooms, seasonal concessions and nearby restaurants, as well as the Metrolink Station. There are a few fire pits at the north end and a volleyball court. Beach access is limited due to the train tracks. There's an ADA access point from the parking lot south of the train station. The San Clemente Pedestrian Beach Trail runs along the inside of the railroad tracks.
The next beach access point is at Dije Court Beach stairs. The address at the top of the stairs is 1501 Buena Vista, just south of Dije Court. The stairway is a combination of stairs and ramps equivalent to about 10 flights of stairs. You can also walk along the pedestrian trail from North Beach. There are no amenities at Dije Court Beach.
El Portal Beach is the next access across the tracks off the trail. You'll also find a 112-step staircase from Buena Vista at the end of El Portal. There are no amenities. Slightly south of the stairway, the sand pedestrian path becomes a raised boardwalk.
Mariposa Beach is the next access point. There is a paved walkway down from the neighborhood above to the pedestrian boardwalk. There's an underpass under the train tracks to reach the narrow beach. It's a little less stony along this stretch compared to the northern beaches.
Linda Lane Beach has a pay-and-display parking lot, restrooms and level ADA access points. Linda Lane Park, at the inland end of the parking lot, has a playground, green play area and picnic tables. From the parking lot, trails lead left, right and straight ahead. Straight ahead is an underpass to the beach. Right goes toward Mariposa and Left toward a tiny patch called El Corto, which boasts restrooms and one volleyball court. There's a stairway down from Corto Lane.
Pier Beach is just steps from the restroom building at El Corto. The San Clemente Amtrak station is at the foot of the pier. There are restrooms, concessions, a few fire pits, ADA access and a full-service restaurant at the foot of the pier, with more restaurants and hotels across Avenida Victoria. There is a pay-and-display parking lot north of the pier and metered street parking. Pier beach is wider and sandier than most of the beaches in San Clemente. At the pier, the San Clemente Pedestrian Trail crosses to the beach side of the train tracks.
T-Street Beach is just south of the pier at the west end of Esplanade Street where it forms a T with Paseo de Cristobal. There is diagonal metered parking around the cul de sac on Paseo de Cristobal. You'll find a pedestrian bridge with stairs down to the beach. T-Street Beach has restrooms, concessions, picnic areas and fire pits. There are palapas - palm-thatched permanent beach umbrellas - paired with firepits from Pier Beach to T-Street Beach. South of the access point for T-Street Beach, the pedestrian trail crosses back to the inland side of the railroad tracks.
Lasuen (Lost Winds) Beach is the next official access point via a long stairway. You can also access the beach trail at a more or less level spot between T-Street and Lasuen at the end of Boca del Canon. Lasuen Beach has a few volleyball nets, but no restrooms or other amenities. Lasuen is less stony and has a lot of beach vegetation that extends from the hillside down onto the sand. Lasuen and Riviera Beach have a wider stretch of sand than other parts of the beach, so you're more likely to find dry sand at high tide.
The entrance to Riviera Beach is off the north cul de sac of Plaza a La Playa, a one-block street with cul de sacs at both ends. You can find it by mapping 2300 Plaza a La Playa. The underpass doubles as a storm drain outlet, so water can pool in the tunnel and in the sand beyond the tunnel after it rains. There are no amenities here, but a wider swath of sand.
Calafia Beach has an actual parking lot. Restrooms and concessions are in the parking lot. There's a short flight of stairs down to the beach.
San Clemente State Beach starts where the rock wall next to the train track gives way to low sand dunes and vegetation. There is a parking lot and a large campground for RV and tent camping on the bluff above the beach at this point. There's a steep trail from the campground down through an underpass to the beach. There are restrooms and showers on the bluff, but no amenities on the beach. There are some short hiking trails around the top of the bluff. The strip of beach below the bluff continues a mile south to San Onofre State Beach on the San Diego County line, but the state beach ends just before there. Where the beach vegetation by the train tracks goes back to a rock pile, you're on Cottons Point/Cypress Shores Beach, which can only be accessed by walking from San Clemente State Beach or San Onofre State Beach unless you live in the gated community above.