California Beach Vacations: Top Places

  • 01 of 11

    California Beach Vacations Simplified

    A California Beach
    George Rose / Getty Images

    When we think of California beach vacations, we picture sand, clean water, and lodging so close you can run out to build a sand castle without getting in the car.

    The Golden State has so many miles of shoreline that you might think Californians would be dizzy trying to figure out where to spend their vacations, but in fact, much of the coast is rocky, lined with precipitous cliffs or in the middle of a city.

    There are still plenty of places to go for your California beach vacations, though. These are some of the best spots for a California Beach Vacation, listed geographically from north to south.

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  • 02 of 11

    Irish Beach, Mendocino

    Sunrise at Irish Beach
    Adapted from Ernesto Andrade/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    Irish Beach is a small vacation rental community south of Mendocino with private entry to the sand. It has great views and is an especially good place to get away with friends and family. 

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  • 03 of 11

    Dillon Beach, Marin County

    Going for a Walk at Dillon Beach
    Daniel MacDonald/Getty Images

    Near the mouth of Tomales Bay, the little village of Dillon Beach sits on the hillside above the ocean. It's packed with rental houses and not far from the Tomales oyster farms and Point Reyes. It's just isolated enough - and more than beautiful enough - to have the makings of a  truly memorable California beach vacation.

    Try Moore Vacation Rentals or Dillon Beach Property Management to find a place to stay at Dillon Beach.

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  • 04 of 11

    Santa Cruz

    Main Beach, Santa Cruz
    Main Beach, Santa Cruz. Michael Koukoullis/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    With a reputation as Surf City and a classic oceanfront amusement park, Santa Cruz is as good as it gets for a classic California Beach Vacation. 

    Learn more in the Santa Cruz Vacation Planner.

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  • 05 of 11

    Pismo Beach

    Camping at Pismo Beach
    Camping at Pismo Beach. ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Pismo Beach is one of my favorite California beach towns. There's plenty of sand at Pismo - sand to play on, drive on, and zip around in if you have an off-road vehicle.

    The charming downtown faces a nice little pier, and you can get a great basket of fish and chips or a cup of clam chowder. What could be more stereotypical?

    Learn more in the Pismo Beach Getaway Guide.

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  • 06 of 11


    The Beach at Cayucos
    Ann Cecil/Getty Images

    Cayucos is a beach town that's just big enough to have some nice restaurants and interesting shops, yet small enough to be huggably cute.

    With a couple of hotels next to the sand, plenty more just a few steps away and a nice little pier and beach, it's got all the ingredients that make for a great California beach vacation.

    Learn more in the Cayucos getaway guide.

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  • 07 of 11


    The Malibu Coastline
    Kent Kanouse/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    Malibu is the iconic California beach town, but it's more residential than touristy. Casa Malibu Inn is the only hotel we can recommend in the area, but you'll find nice beach houses for rent through California Vacation Rentals.

    If you want to go there, here's How to Plan a Getaway to Malibu.

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  • 08 of 11

    Redondo Beach

    Redondo Beach Pier
    ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Redondo Beach is one of the South Bay beach towns in Los Angeles on the shores of the Santa Monica Bay. It's a great place for a beach vacation, close to the ocean but with lots of things nearby.

    There's a nice, sandy beach at Redondo where you can walk, or play volleyball. The fishing pier is full of restaurants and amusements, and you can catch a deep sea fishing boat from the nearby marina.

    Learn more about Redondo Beach.

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  • 09 of 11

    Laguna Beach

    Laguna Beach from Heisler Park
    Courtesy of Visit Laguna Beach

    One of Orange County's prettiest coastal towns, Laguna Beach has some great oceanside resorts and hotels, a nice beach area right in town and lots of shops, restaurants, and boutiques in town to browse around in.

    Learn more in the Laguna Beach Guide.

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  • 10 of 11

    Mission Beach, San Diego

    Bike Ride at Mission Beach
    Adapted from David Overholt/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Not too many tourists know about Mission Beach, on the ocean side of the peninsula that separates Mission Bay from the ocean, making it a great place to enjoy the California beach lifestyle like the locals do. You'll find lots of beach volleyball nets, a nice paved walking trail, the old-fashioned Belmont Park amusement park and lots of ways to just chill out.

    Learn more from the San Diego Visitors Bureau.

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  • 11 of 11

    California's Best Beach Resorts and Places for Beach Camping

    Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
    Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica. Shelly Munkberg/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    These selected resorts are great places for your California beach vacation, too. Any of them is a good place to lay around, get waited on, go to the spa or maybe play a round of golf. And not much else.

    Finding a place in California where you can actually camp on the beach isn't easy. Lots of places will try to make you think they're on the beach when they're so far away you can't even see the ocean. To help you find the places that are actually on the beach, I created these lists of Northern California Beach Campgrounds and Southern California Beach Campgrounds.