California has a long coastline of around 840 miles with over 420 public beaches. Sandy beaches, sunny beaches, rocky beaches, secluded beaches, crowded beaches, and foggy beaches, you will find any and every kind of beach for a perfect vacation with your loved ones. There are beaches on the coastline where one can enjoy swimming and some for the adventure seekers traveling from far off lands for a beach vacation in California.
Having said about the hundreds of beaches along the city’s coastline, it gets difficult for a traveler to choose one narrowing down the long list of beaches. To help you with this, we have shortlisted the best beaches in California for you. No matter what you are looking for, a sweet surfing spot, a place for safe swimming, a beach offering mesmerizing views or a people-watching spot, we have one from all the categories in our list.
Along with the name of the best beaches, we have also mentioned some good places to stay close to the beaches. Check out the list now!
Best Beaches in California for Families
1 – Coronado Beach in San Diego
The first one on the list is a beach best for family vacations. Situated on the Coronado Island, right over the beach near San Diego, Coronado Beach is a family-friendly beach boasting of a wide stretch and calm waters. It was listed in the top ten beaches in 2018 by Dr. Beach. Colorado Beach is also popular for the Victorian-style, red-roofed Hotel Del Coronado also famous as Del.
Places to stay: Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter and Hotel Del Coronado.
2 – Carmel Beach in Carmel by the Sea
Want to capture the best sunsets on a beach in California? Head towards the Carmel Beach with your troop! The small village is home to a gorgeous beach close to the Ocean Avenue. It is crescent-shaped stretch famous for the pure white sand at the shores and the breathtaking view of the Pebble beach’s golf course. You can take along your dog as well and watch the mesmerizing sunsets with stars starting to twinkle in the night sky. You can relax by the wood-burning fire pits in the evening while alluring the sunset.
Places to stay: Hotel Carmel and L’Auberge Carmel
3 – Baker Beach in San Francisco
Baker Beach is an amazing place to capture the spectacular bridge views around like the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco and not to miss the awe-striking views of Marin Headbands. The strong riptides doesn’t favor it as a safe place for swimming but the mile-long coast is a perfect place for a leisure day or afternoon picnic. Plan your day accordingly.
Places to stay: Hotel Zetta San Francisco and Fairmont San Francisco
4 – Mission Beach in San Diego
Now, this one’s is known to be the beach for swimmers and boasts of a perfect boardwalk scene, being the favorite for family weekend getaways or vacations. One of the best parts of the Mission Beach is the Belmont Park. It is a famous amusement park. Do not miss out on taking the Giant Dipper ride, a historic roller coaster on the run since 1925. There is also a mini golf, arcade games and classic eateries selling fudge and cotton candy.
Places to stay: Andaz San Diego, Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa.
5 – Huntington Beach
Travelers who love surfing must not miss going to the Huntington Beach along the California coastline. Given the nickname, ‘Surf City USA’, the Huntington Beach is one of the best spots when it comes to surfing. Watch the skilled surfers from a perch along the long pier, the ‘50s-style popular Ruby Diner at the top.
Places to stay: Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa and Kimpton Shorebreak Resort
6 – Torrey Pines State Beach in San Diego
While you take a leisurely stroll along the golden-colored sandy shores or take a dip in the calm waters of Pacific Ocean of the Torrey Pines State Beach, you can allure the fantastic views of the Sandstone cliffs, over 300-ft in height forming a gigantic backdrop. Situated in the north of La Jolla, you can sport several birds along the shoreline such as brown pelicans, royal terns and osprey.
Places to stay: Inn by the Sea at La Jolla and San Diego Marriott La Jolla
7 – Venice Beach in Venice
If you have plans to visit L.A. (Los Angeles), do not miss going on a day trip to the Venice Beach which is famous for its plain old weird and over-the-top boardwalk scene. It is called the sea of humanity for a reason – be its joggers, street performers, artists, skateboarders or the bronzed gods lifting weights, you will never be bored at Venice Beach.
Places to Stay: Hotel Erwin and The Kinney
8 – Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
So, you love clicking pictures for your Insta feeds and stories? You will love capturing the best shots at Pfeiffer Beach on your tour to the best beaches in California. Located along the Pacific Coast Highway, the beach was recently given the title of being the most scenic drive in the state. Not just its purple-hued sand, but its several rocky outcroppings are also a read on for travelers to explore this stunning beach in California. Watch the sun’s rays filter via the natural pathway of the Pfeiffer keyhole rock, forming an amazing tunnel of light.
Places to stay: Ventana Big Sur and Portola Hotel & Spa
9 – Crescent Beach in Catalina Island
One of the best island getaways in California, the Crescent Beach on the Catalina Island is an ideal place to get away from the hustling city life. Avalon, the largest town on the island, is home to small harbors with sailboats with Crescent Beach being the main strand. The beach is comprised of 3 small beaches. You might not find a long sandy stretch here but the more than spectacular harbor views makes up well for it.
Places to stay: Hotel Metropole and Portofino Hotel
10 – Zuma Beach in Malibu
Celebrities also visit beaches and if you won’t spot one of your favorites, include Zuma Beach in Malibu in your itinerary list. It is a beautiful enclave called home by many popular celebrities. Stretched to a couple of miles along the coast, the marvelous Zuma Beach has a lot of space for almost everyone. Stroll around and if you spot a celebrity by the shores, you can try getting a selfie to show it off to your friends. Well, do think about their privacy.
Places to stay: Malibu Country Inn and Nobu Ryokan Malibu
11 – Santa Monica Beach in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Beach is recognized as one of the main strands of LA County and the iconic pier here has never been as popular as it is now. If you are out on day’s tour with your family, the kids will love spending the day at the amuse park, enjoying its Ferris Wheel. There’s also a historic carousel, a trapeze school, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and a few eateries serving delicious dishes from Dungeness crab to funnel cake.
Places to stay: Shutters on the beach and Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier
12 – Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point
This one is counted in the list of luxury resort beaches in California. Situated in the Orange County, the Salt Creek Beach is a broad, sandy stretch in front of the rocky cliffs, mainly on its southern region – the end where Laguna Niguel and The Ritz-Carlton boasts their stature. If you have booked the resorts for stay, a shuttle ride can take you to the beach.
Places to Stay: The Ritz Carlton, Laguna Cliffs Marriot Resort & Spa and the Laguna Niguel
13 – Fiesta Island Park Beach in San Diego
Situated in the Mission Bay, the Fiesta Island is only at a 15minutes ride from downtown San Diego. The best thing about this place is the leash-free park for dogs. Your little friends are going to love their time here running along the crescent-shaped beach on the sand dunes. A family trip to his park beach will add to your travel memories of California.
Places to stay: The Sofia Hotel and Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
14 – James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach
The long coastline of California is famous for its several tide pools such as the beach at James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in the Moss Beach, situated 40 minutes south of San Francisco. During low tides, a few of sea critters might be spotted like snails, mussels, sea stars, urchins, etc. However, you are not allowed to collect those.
Places to stay: Oceano Hotel & Spa and Seal Cove Inn
15 – San Clemente State Beach in San Clemente
Not many beaches in California have a campground, but the ones that have are must-visit for travelers, both locals and foreigners. You can find one of the biggest campsites in San Clemente State Beach. It is just a few minute walk from the parking and is situated between San Diego and LA. For camping, you need to make advance reservations as they get booked very quick, specifically in summer.
Places to stay: San Clemente State Beach Campground
16 – Thousand Steps Beach in Laguna Beach
The Laguna Beach area is known for its beautiful strands, one of the unique ones being the Thousand Steps Beach. An important thing to note while planning a tour of California’s best beaches is that this beach has a sea cave! A traveler often gets puzzled while finding the beach area. You need to climb down over 200 steps to touch the sands. We bet you won’t regret making that effort. The sea cave is situated on the southern end of the beach and at low tides, you can easily take a walk to the cave and explore.
Places to stay: Montage Laguna Beach and Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa
17 – Summerland Beach in Santa Barbara
Want to take a horseback ride by the calm sandy shores of a pristine beach? Go to Summerland Beach, one of the most scenic places in the area. Another interesting thing about this beach is that you can take along your doggo and not just that, horses too!
To make it an unforgettable experience, we would suggest you to book the 90-minute ride of the Santa Barbara Beach horses. It will take you straight to the edge of the waters.
Places to stay: Hotel Milo, Brisas Del Mar and Inn at the Beach
18 – Stinson Beach in Marin County
It is yet another crescent-shaped beach along the coastline of California, located in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. The Stinson Beach has something for every kind of traveler. It is an ideal place for barbecuing and picnicking, you can also enjoy water sports like surfing and boogie boarding. In addition to this, there are various hiking trails for adventure junkies that lead to Mount Tamalpais State Park.
Places to stay: Sandpiper lodging at the Beach
19 – Main Beach in Santa Cruz
You will always find a buzz at the Main Beach in Santa Cruz. It is a prime sand stretch popular as Boardwalk Beach, where you can take a rollercoaster ride in the amusement park as well. Enjoy the arcade games or just sit idle on the boardwalk bench alluring the beautiful ocean views around with a soft serve ice cream in your hand.
Places to stay: The Dream Inn and Edgewater Beach Inn
20 – Alamitos Beach in Long Beach
The next on the list of best California beaches is the Alamitos, which it is no less than others when it comes to beauty and fun for travelers. Alamitos Beach is best for visitors who want to have fun playing beach volleyball. It is a perfect scenic spot for nature lovers as well. You are going to love this place for a weekend vacation.
Places to stay: Hilton Long Beach and The Westin Long Beach
21 – Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz
Seabright Beach is a popular beach located between the broadwalk and Santa Cruz. It is a lovely beach boasting soft white sand that borders along the Main Beach Santa Cruz. The wide coastline stretches from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and the natural wall where the river merges with the sea.
You can also visit the small park located at the East Cliff Drive boasting the amazing views of the Main Beach and Santa Cruz Boardwalk Amusement Park. From the Seabright Beach, you can take the trail towards the Santa Cruz Breakwater to the stunning Walton Lighthouse. Got a pet dog? You can take it along!
Places to stay: Pacific Blue Inn and Bay Front Inn Hotel
22 – Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Situated on the end point of Malibu Creek at the ocean, Malibu Lagoon State Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in California. It is at this point when the creak pools up to create the Malibu Lagoon. During winters, the beach experiences tidal flows that divides the lagoon beach from Surfrider Beach. If you are on a drive to the beach, you can park your car at the parking lot at the meeting point of Cross Creek Road and Pacific Coast Highway. From the parking lot, you can take the trail around the wetlands to reach the beach enjoying bird-watching en route. Along the path, you will also come across some art structures and interpretive signs that ends at the stunning sandy beach.
Places to stay: Malibu Beach Inn, Malibu Vacation Rentals and more
23 – Pebble Beach
The beauty of this coastal site is just breathtaking! Pebble Beach is a popular tourist spot in California since 12th century. It is a coastal area that attracts visitors from all across the country and world. Pebble Beach is a community between Carmel and Monterey of California. It involves an extensive residential community and Pebble Beach Resort where the house rates are as high as tens of millions. This beach stands as one of the most reputed beaches that boasts of unparalleled elegance and natural beauty.
It is one of the favorite beaches of golfers and people who love playing sport in a naturally beautiful environment. It can be your best romantic or relaxing getaway, a scenic drive or just for a superb meal.
In case you like hiking and exploring scenic environment, you can go towards Point Lobos, located to the south of Pebble Beach. Not many know, but Pebble Beach is also a bit upscale when it comes to the style of dress. If you think putting on shorts and a faded T-shirt along with flip flops will be a good option on a beach day, this might not be a good choice for you.
Places to stay: The Lodge at Pebble Beach and Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach
24 – Cayucos State Beach
Cayucos Beach is a sandy beach popular for the old wooden fishing pier constructed back in 1875. Cayucos is also called ‘the last of the California beach towns’ for its laid-back vibe, miles of spotless sand and untouched terrain. If you love to take long contemplative walks, beachcombing, kayaking, exploring tidal pools, fishing, surfing and kiteboarding, this one if definitely your place in California for a beach vacation.
If you wish to try some fishing, move towards the pier. The best part is you don’t need to produce a fishing license and it is amazing for night fishing.
Places to stay: Cayucos Beach Inn and Beachwalker Inn
25 – East Beach
Located in Santa Barbara, East Beach is the ultimate spot for a beach day and sides of activity. You can enjoy a wide range of water sports and activities such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, volleyball courts, a bike path, generous parking, boogie boarding, palm trees and Stearns Wharf. Stearns Wharf was built in the year 1972 and is now home to tons of art galleries, shops and restaurants. Moreover, the beach is super clean!
You must be careful about the tarballs as they are common during summer. It is because of the oil release from the natural offshore seeps and you might need baby oil or baby wipes to get rid of them.However, a vacation to East Beach is still worth it.
Places to stay: Santa Barbara Inn, Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara, Blue Sands Inn, Spanish Garden Inn
To sum up
With a long coastline, California is most popular for its beaches – the rocky beaches, foggy beaches, sandy beaches, secluded beaches, you will find it all here. If you are planning a vacation in the city, do not miss going on a weekend getaway to one of these best beaches in California.