The Golden State is known for its sandy expansive beaches, long piers out over the water and surfing as well as paddle board adventures. There are so many beaches to explore in southern California and I have made a bucket list below of some of the best beaches and unique features to help you decide your next weekend beach adventure! Each beach is different and is known for an activity or feature that sets it apart from the others. This is a compiled list of some of favorite spots over the years.
Seal Beach is one of the most old school quaint and peaceful smaller beach towns that is not touristy in southern California. The pier is smaller than the other beaches but a great place to walk out over the ocean. There are open empty sandy beaches to lay out. This beach never gets too crowded and is a locals hang. The little main street is filled with great local boutique shopping like Stitch and Feather, Coast Modern, and Elison Rd. and has an adorable flower shop called Petals and Pop. My favorite coffee shop in the downtown is Bogarts Coffee House that is across the street from the pier with oceanside views. The coffee shop is not modern or trendy but filled with old vintage furniture and is a low key family run business with comfy chairs and nooks with light streaming in through big windows and delicious tea and coffee. The Hangout Restaurant is a popular surf themed cafe on the corn with great ocean views that is always busy. Another perk of this sleepy cute beach town is the old fashioned store fronts, and pretty open and easy street parking that is free for the beach! This is a great spot to walk around downtown, shop in the boutiques, have coffee at Bogarts and bring a book or work to do for beach views for the day. This is also a great beach to come to tan, read or just lay out in the sand and sun.
Laguna Beach is a sand & surf haven centered around a historic 1929 lifeguard tower with volleyball courts available on the main beach in downtown. This higher end beach town has some of the most beautiful rocky beach coves in southern California. Laguna has cute boutiques, great coffee shops, an acai bowl heaven restaurant called Banzai Bowls, and narrow neighborhood beach passageways that you must find with stairs down into bliss. Urth Cafe is a popular spot, as well as a Whole Foods, but my favorite is Zinc Cafe & Market. This cafe I visit every time I am there for a great tea latte, homemade lemon bar and they have delicious homemade food and pastries. There are cute boutiques like Laguna Supply, The Shop, Hobie Surf Shop, Thalia Surf Shop, Blue Eyed Girl, and AREO home goods store. This was my go to spot for paddle boarding on a beautiful day or finding a small cove for easy swimming access. There are tide pools and lots of wildflowers and bright colors that come alive on Laguna beaches in the spring. The beaches here have a lot of character and are filled with water activities like surfing and paddle boarding. Laguna is known for its fancy resort, The Montage that sits right on the beach with private access. The hardest part about beaches in Laguna is the parking since there are not parking lots besides one main public parking garage that charges. You have to get creative by parking along the neighborhood streets and PCH and try to come early to save your spot for the day! Laguna encompasses Crystal Cove State Park and beach as well with hiking in Moro Canyon. There are some great trail hikes overlooking the Pacific Ocean from hill country in Laguna. My four favorite beaches in Laguna are listed below.
- Diver’s Cove
- Shaw’s Cove
- 1000 Steps Beach
- Victoria Beach
This was the first paddle boarding cove I ever used in Laguna and fell in love with this spot. It has close parking in the neighborhood that is open and free with easy access. The beach is off of a neighborhood not the PCH like many beaches in Laguna which makes it easier and less stressful and dangerous parking. This cove descends stairs down through rocky cliffside with palms above to the sand and bright teal sea below. Diver’s Cove is technically on the edge of Heisler Park and Recreation Point. This is definitely the cove that is a bit more open to the public and known than the others since it is attached to a public park that has paths walking all across the top of the beaches and coves with lots of beautiful tropical plants and ocean views. This cove has a smaller sandbar that is best used in low tide for laying out and is mostly used for swimming for kids or surfers and paddle boarders heading out. Diver’s Cove blooming in the spring with lots of tropical flowers is shown below!
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Rustic feels caused by early sunsets 🌅🌴 #shawscovebeach #shawscovelagunabeach #thousandstepsbeachlaguna #laguna1000steps #lagunabeachsocal #socalorange #southerncaliforniasunsets #rusticfeels🌱🍂🌻 #rusticsunsets #canonphotography #canonsunsets #canon6dmarkii #canon6d #sunsetphotos #socalsunsets🌅 #socalphotography #lagunabeachphotography
Shaw’s Cove is the next beach cove down from Diver’s Cove off Heisler Park. This is the neighborhood off of Cliff Drive that you can park in for free as well. This cove is smaller and rockier than Diver’s Cove with less sandbar to lay out. This is definitely more a recreational launching beach cove for water sports. This is a great spot I would paddle board often with a friend. This beach is also best used when the tide is low as well.
1000 Steps Beach
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Where is this and how do I get there? I’ve been getting questions about the last post. So here you go! @naturephotosbybri shows us Laguna has a couple secret(ish) pools that are naturally filled with salt water and sandy bottoms. I’ll be short and sweet. Directions: Go to 1000 steps beach. Go left all the way to end of beach. There will be a little cave to get through. After that, you’ll climb and walk through some rocks and tide pools. 15 minutes later, you’re there! MUSTS: Definitely have to go during low tide. Bring footwear for slippery and jagged rocks. Watch your step-the tide pools are an ecosystem that a lot of creatures call home like sea anemones, crabs and small fish. Comment with any emoji letting me know if you like and understand or ask any question if you don’t. ✌🏼
1000 Steps Beach is one of the most well known and loved beaches in Laguna that is farther outside the downtown area on the PCH. This step is well named because of its very steep staircase that leads down to a larger shell and rocky beach sand that is more course than the other beaches and beautiful. There are bathrooms at the bottom of the stairs and it is a way more remote cove with lots of open expanse of sand to lay out and stay for the day. There are mansions on the cliffs above the beach especially out on the end towards the left. There is also a famous beach cave shown below here when the tide is low that you can explore. If you go through the cave this beach also has secret rock pools on the beach and a gazebo that overlooks the rock pool from above you can float in that you can see above. This is a great beach to do workouts at running the stairs and lots of people come to run the beach and the staircase.
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Exploring caves that take you to hidden coves when no one is up is the best start to the morning 🙊 #wakeupandlive #livethedream #socal #laguna #thousandsteps #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #adrenalist #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #socality #bewild
Victoria Beach is the hidden gem of Laguna with a historical pirate tower. This is a smaller neighborhood beach that is off the main drag and less trafficked and known. The tower is near Sugarloaf point hiking out right from the main Victoria Beach. This beach is off the PCH on Victoria Drive hence the name of the beach. There is a public staircase beach access in the neighborhood. The tower is a historical landmark in the city with a pointed top at the base of the cliffs on a rugged and rocky beach.
Crystal Cove State Park Beach
This beach state park is right next door to Laguna and Moro Canyon for hiking with panorama ocean views. This park is the perfect place for hikers, runners, bikers and people who want to do some trails and get a workout before chilling at the beach and jumping in to cool off. The park has 3.2-mile beach with sandy coves & tide pools, plus 2,400 acres of land for hiking & biking. There is a campground here as well and parking for day use costs $20 per vehicle. This is one of the most expensive beach parking spots in southern California but is a fun adventure when using for the day with trail access and the canyon to get beautiful ocean views. There is also a Ruby’s Shake Shack near this area that is delicious!
Oceanside beach is just outside of San Diego and near La Jolla area in southern California. This is a bit more quiet beach area that is not as big and busy as San Diego. Oceanside is known for a palm-dotted Harbor Beach and Oceanside Harbor, with its marina and shops. There is a California Surf Museum and the city is right next door to Carlsbad which is famous for its beautiful blooming flower fields in the spring. Oceanside has San Luis Rey Mission for a beautiful local historic site to visit that has beautiful grounds. In Oceanside while you are there you need to have a California Burrito because near San Diego they have some of the best! Breakwater Brewing Co., Stone Brewing Taproom and Taphouse are the local bars downtown, as well as a comic book coffee bar called Panels, an artsy cafe called Banana Dang and a low key library spot called Jitters Coffee Pub. There are large expansive sandy beaches here that are great for laying out and hanging out for the day.
La Jolla Beach
Children’s Pool (La Jolla)
La Jolla is known for its Child’s Pool that is filled with huge seals swimming around and sunning on the rocks. This is a great animal lovers spot to seal watch and beautiful beach coves and caves to explore and hide from the sun. There are tide pools in this area as well to observe sea life. La Jolla offers beautiful open sandy beaches for laying out and is a popular area to snorkel and dive to see sea life at the spot called Marine Room. La Jolla has a rugged coasts with lots of trails connected to the neighboring park reserve. Trails filled with pine trees and sandstone canyons in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are right next door to La Jolla beach. There is famous beach side golfing as well with courses overlooking the ocean. Trendy boutiques and waterfront restaurants are all over in the walkable, La Jolla Village. THE LOT La Jolla is an upscale restaurant and theater including a bar and a cafe serving mediterranean food for a unique experience. The Cave Store in the village is a cool souvenir shop that has an entrance to the La Jolla Cave! The Athenaeum is a beautiful Spanish renaissance library with reading rooms and live jazz music.
San Onofre Beach
This is some of the best beach camping that southern California has to offer! Not only are there great beachside campgrounds there are beautiful green cliffs and sweeping Pacific Ocean views. This beach is the best known for its famous surfing beaches and nature trails for hiking and biking. There is lots to do with outdoor adventure at this beach and is also huge sandy expanses to hang out and lay out. There are camping spots on the bluffs overlooking the ocean with the best views. This is one of the most budget and best places to camp on the California coast.
Corona Del Mar
Corona Del Mar is a beach in Newport in a seaside neighborhood with its famous Inspiration point lookout that has a walking path and ocean views. Corona Del Mar is one of the most rocky rugged coastline stretches in southern California and has beautiful beach caves to explore as well as tide pools. There is expansive sand to lay out and there are lots of little cafes just up on main street from the beach. Fashion Island, the huge beautiful upscale mall is very close to go shopping as well as bordering Crystal Cove State Park which has endless trails for hiking, biking, running or walking and a beautiful beach area as well. Sherman Library & Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden not too far from the ocean that is definitely worth checking out.
Sunset Beach is one of the most underrated chill private beaches with free beach parking. Let me repeat that, most likely the ONLY beach left in CA with free parking! The parking lot fills up fast in the summer but start your day early and grab a spot to park. This area is mostly locals and the residents who live in the beach houses and apartments on the water. This beach is a great place to surf or paddle board. I would go here often to paddle board because of the small waves and empty beaches as well as the beach being less than a mile from our apartment. We would come down often to watch the sunset or have a picnic dinner or lunch on the beach. Across the street from Sunset Beach is Huntington Harbor that has OEX paddle board rentals which I have used before and they have great service and lessons to teach beginners. Secret Spot is a hidden gem with vegan and healthy food with a smoothie bar and lots of other goods. Near Sunset beach is Harbour Rackhouse which was one of our favorite local classy pool bar and restaurant to play a game of pool and grab a drink. The Pocket Burger is also a secret gem of Sunset Beach that is a small burger shack that has vary few open hours with an aloha island feel of when the business is open.
Huntington Beach is near and dear to our hearts on the California coast because we lived there! Huntington is a low key family beach that has a famous long pier with Ruby’s Cafe with the best milkshakes out on the pier overlooking the ocean. Huntington is a surfer’s paradise and has sandy expanses to hang out and is known for paddle boarding as well. There is a cute old school downtown with lots of restaurants, coffee shops and surf shops. Some of the surf shops are Huntington Surf & Sport, and Jack’s Surfbords. Surf boards can be rented here by the hour to take to the beach across the street. Sessions is a favorite trendy sandwich shop downtown, and Bruxie is a killer waffles sandwich brunch or great lunch spot in downtown. Banzai Bowls is my favorite acai bowl place I have ever been to, and Sanchos Tacos is good tacos with outdoor beach patio views. 25 Degrees is one of the nicest classy cocktail bars in the downtown with a chill vibe and great drinks. Every Tuesday night there is a street fair with main street closed off to drivers for a market with booths of food vendors and lots of boutique artisans and their crafts in the area. There are farmers market produce items as well sold in the market. There is live music and it is a fun spot to spend a Tuesday night. The dog beach in Huntington is off Goldenwest street and is a fun place to take your dog or play with lots of other friendly dogs in the ocean. Near there is Northside Market a small and cute old school locals deli with snacks and drinks perfect to take to the beach.
Huntington Beach also now has a huge complex called Pacific City that has lots of restaurants, shops, bars and an open deck hangout area in the sun with the perfect beach views especially for sunset. Lemonade is a great healthy lunch spot with delicious home mixed different types of lemonade. Ola Mexican Kitchen is one of my favorite restaurants for upscale Mexican food with sweeping ocean views. The Dude’s Brewing Co. has a killer burger and is a fun vibe. The two most popular coffee spots in Pacific City are, Portola Coffee Roasters which has great craft coffee and home baked goods, as well as Philz Coffee. My favorite boutique for women is Irene’s Story with a cute bohemian beach vibe with neutral colored linen clothes. The Bungalow is a popular upscale spot for drinks and dinner with rooftop views of the ocean in a bohemian plant jungle.
North Huntington Beach is a more quiet and residential area further inland from the beach but is filled with great food and coffee. Aosa Coffee is a minimalistic trendy coffee spot with beautiful wood tables and live music nights. Harbor Rackhouse is a bar and restaurant with pool tables that has a laid back vibe and is fun to go shoot pool and have some drinks or sit by the fireplace on the couch in the winter. Red Table is a popular warm and eclectic restaurant with American comfort food with lots of diverse options. North Huntington has Huntington Harbor which is a great paddle boarding and kayaking spot! You can rent paddle boards through OX at the back of the harbor. North Huntington has Bella Terra a shopping center and complex with lots of restaurants, stores and a movie theater.
The harbor in Huntington is a great place to go paddleboarding with the paddle boarding company called OX where you can rent paddle boards to use for a few hours or the day right on location at the harbor. They are on the backside of the harbor on PCH facing sunset beach. The harbor is a great place to take your paddle board for a workout or when you are just learning or the waves are too big on the ocean.
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I definitely think falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean is the best alarm clock I have ever had. Also sand is free memory foam mattress hahaha 🌴🌊☀️ #malibu #socal #neverstopexploring #westcoastbestcoast #adrenalist #sheroams #getoutstayout #socality #bewild
Malibu has a beautiful more rugged and less crowded coastline. Santa Monica Beach is right on the coast before hitting Malibu with the big beach pier with restaurants and the amusement park rides. Three of the best beaches in Malibu are Point Dume for great beach camping, as well as Zuma beach for wide open sand expanses and Matador beach for a rocky cliff type rugged coastline. This is a beach best to go to when there is a low tide otherwise there is not much room to hang out. Leo Carillo Beach a bit farther down also has more beach camping across from the beach.
El Matador State Beach
Palos Verdes Cliff Beach
Palos Verdes is a beautiful cliffside area above any of the main beach areas really on the coast. There are however some secret sweet rugged spots on the coast that are nice for escaping the crowds at the main beaches and adding on a hike as well if you enjoy a good workout as well. There are a few private cove beaches that you can hike down into through beautiful small canyons. Abalone and Sacred cove are the two main coves with beach hikes in to private beach areas. The entrance to these coves hiking is through the Abalone Cove Shoreline Park across the street from Wayfarer’s Chapel. This is one of my favorite hiking and beach combined adventure combos besides Laguna canyon hiking with the beach. These cove beaches are definitely more rocky and entering without water shoes in some of the areas is a bit rough.
Big Sur is the famous gorgeous stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. It is known for its mountains to water rugged coastline with the narrow 2 lane 1 highway, and winding turns, seaside cliffs and views. This is the spot to come camp and hike on the coastline. Read my full Big Sur guide here.
Long Beach is a cool downtown area with lots of cool coffee shops and boutiques. There is street art to peruse and a casual laid back beach with lots of volleyball nets. There is a large marina to walk and see the boats as well as a nice restaurant and shopping area right on the water and marina. The lack of parking and free parking is the main issue with this beach and area. The parking downtown is all metered and by the hour which makes going to the beach highly inconvenient. But if you are taking a stroll just for a short jaunt then you can easily walk from Arts District to the beach. Rose Park Roasters is the best coffee spot in Long Beach and Ballast Point is the best brewery.
Newport Beach (Balboa Island)
Newport Beach has a pier that is popular for fishing & ocean views, as well as lots of open sandy beach with nearby shops & restaurants. Lido Marina Village is one of the most trendy hangout spots as well as walkable areas with stylish boutiques, instragrammable cafes and restaurants. Honor Coffee Roasters is a popular spot in the village. Sherman Library and Gardens is a cool spot not that far inland from the beach. There is a beautiful greenhouse with lots of exotic plants and trees. There are 2.2 acres of greenery to wander succulent beds, ponds with koi fish and nooks to stop and take it all in. Balboa Village is another hangout spot in Newport that has lots of good places to eat and hangout. JuiceMI at Balboa Village is plant based food and drinks that is one of the most popular spots. Balboa Fun Zone is a retro arcade and amusement park area that is decorated very old school and has lots of retro vibes for fun with kids or on a date. Balboa Pier itself is a very beautiful area to walk around and get the famous shot of the beach under the wooden old pier.
Redondo Pier is in Torrance that is a bustling floating village on the water. There are lots of restaurants, coffee shops and fisherman on the pier. This is a cool area to go to hang out if you want to be at the beach but maybe not go on the sand or in the water. This is a waterside area to cruise without swimming. There is not much open sand stretch in this area. Redondo Coffee Shop is a fun old school diner on the water. You can rent poles from them as well if you want to try your hand at fishing off the pier. Moonstone Beach near here is a picturesque sand beach with a more rugged coastline. There are also free concerts and art fairs held often at the pier that you can walk around and enjoy or take in local musicians for free. There are lots of paths which make for a great spot to skateboard, bike or rollerblade along this area as well.
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach is a famous beach with the big pier next to the water with a 3 mile coastline with mountain views and lots of hiking, walking and running paths along the water. There are lots of restaurants and coffee shops on the pier as well as amusement park rides. The pier is a busy spot that has lots of musicians that come perform on weekends. Urth Cafe is close off the pier which is a popular spot, as well as the aquarium. The cute downtown area is walkable from the pier and beach. Santa Monica place is a high end outdoor mall that has lots of trendy stores like Rip Curl, Lush, and Urban Outfitters. Flower Child and True Food are two nice trendy health food oriented restaurants with bohemian vibes. There is also Westside Comedy Theater which is a popular stand up club.
Ventura Beach is the most old school chill surf beach on the coast. This became one of my favorite secret hideouts because of its cute downtown area and still has the feel of California before the tourists and crowding from years ago. This is a great spot for surfing as well as hiking in the area since it sits at the base of the hills. Surfer’s Point Seaside Park is a popular spot and the surfers point dunes. Walden’s Surfboard Inc is a cool surf shop spot. There are city botanical gardens to walk through, the original Patagonia store, and lots of surf stores to check out. Some other surf store spots are Ventura Surf Shop, Surfboards by Fletcher, and a Rip Curl. There is an old beautiful architecture spanish mission called Mission San Buenaventura you can explore. There are several cool breweries that are walkable in the downtown area, Topa Topa Brewing, Barrellhouse 101, and Anacapa Brewing Company and Ventura Coast Brewing Company. If you are a book lover there is the coolest old big bookstore at the top of the hill called Bank of Books. There are several cool thrift stores, ARC Foundation Thrift Store, Buffalo Exchange, and Coalition Thrift Store. There are also many trendy new boutiques, Passport Habits, and Secret Garden Florist. Also there is a great juice place called Channel Islands Juicery.
Santa Barbara Beaches
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Where the mountains and the sea collide. Two of the best places!! So fun to hike the Los Padres mountains one day and gaze upon them from the sea the next knowing you were way up there 🙂 #breakingspring2015 #mountains #beach #santa barbara #findyourpark #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #alpinebabes
Santa Barbara is another favorite beach area on the coastline. A city on the central coast that has the backdrop of the Santa Ynez mountains and valley with the colliding of the beach and mountains. Goleta Beach park and area has amazing hiking trails, wind caves and hot springs. There is lots of adventure to be had in Santa Barbara with some of the best surfing, camping and hiking spots. There is a huge beautiful botanic garden and the Old Mission that has gorgeous architecture to walk around. Inspiration Point is a beautiful hike overlook with a trailhead near the botanic gardens. Lizard’s Mouth is a cool small bouldering area hike that is perfect for watching the sunset or sunrise. There is a 37 acre botanical area called Ganna Walska Lotusland. There is a seaside wines tasting room called Conway Family Wines, as well as Stearn’s Wharf a fun place to walk around and hang out. There are lots of tasting rooms including, The Valley Project, Sunstone Winery, and Municipal Winemakers. This is the perfect launching ground for visiting Channel Islands National Park which you can take a boat to and kayak and swim around the beautiful islands as well as camp. The Santa Ynez valley and Los Padres Mountains are an amazing area an hour outside the city to do lots of hiking and camping. A cool and picturesque shopping area spanish style with lots of tiled stairways is called Paseo Nuevo shops and restuarnts.
Venice Beach is without a doubt one of the weirdest places you will find on the coast. This is definitely a people watching beach with lots of activity, bustle and crazy street carnivalesque occurrences with lots of street performers. The famous Muscle Beach is here as the beach workout gym zone with lots of bars and rings. There are great pathways to rollerblade, bike, or run along the beach. Venice Beach has the coolest downtown area with lots of boutiques, restaurants and the best ice scream, Salt and Straw. The neighborhood next to the beach is fun to walk in and of itself because of its venetian style canals and lots of boats and kayaks on the Venice canals in between the houses. There are bridges and walkways and you can take in the area. There is lots of cool street art and murals to peruse as well as LA Louver modern art museum. Some of the cool boutiques are, Urbanic Paper Boutique, Stronghold, Zingara, Aust, Salt and more on Abbot Kinney Boulevard shopping area. There is also Blue Bottle Coffee, Blue Star Donuts, and Intelligentsia Coffee which are highlights.
Catalina Island Parsons Landing Beach
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Parsons landing 10 mile hike in remote beach!!🌊🙌🏽 #wakeupandlive #adventureisoutthere #livewell #spiritualgangster #swagger hahaha #livethedream #gradlife #wakeupandlive #notetoselflive #workhardplayhard #timebandit #stealbacktime #livewell #spiritualgangster #wakeupandlive #gradlife ! #andshesdopetoo #radgirlscollective #outdoorwomen #adrenalist #sheroams #neverstopexploring #spiritualgangster #liveauthentic #socality #alpinebabes #bewild #borntoroam #shewentwild
Catalina Island are some desert island beaches off the mainland coastline. This is a fun adventure you can take a ferry day trip and go for the day or stay overnight. You can camp and hike roughing it or stay in a beautiful seaside hotel. The beaches are definitely more empty than on the mainland and have different topography.
Santa Cruz is a a central coast beach with a long wharf and a cute downtown with lots of shops and eateries. The boardwalk has vintage rides on the beach including a 1911 roller coaster. Pacific Avenue downtown has all the coolest boutiques, shops and coffee as well as vintage clothes and galleries. This beach is known for its close proximity to getting to the redwood trees for some hikes in the same day. This is a majestic part of the coast with a mystery spot gravity hill. Capitola Beach with the cute colorful beachfront houses are also in this area. Henry Cowell’s Redwoods State Park a few miles off the coast offers gorgeous hikes under the canopy of the beautiful redwood trees. Natural Bridges State Beach park along the coast here is known for its natural bridge shaped rocks that are really cool.
San Francisco is a cold beachfront town in northern California. This definitely feels more like the Oregon Beach of California. Boasting the famous Golden Gate Bridge with countless parks and trails along the beach with sweeping views of the mountains and the bridge. 16th avenue tiles steps, the Painted Ladies, the Mission District, Lombard crooked street, Chinatown and Alcatraz island are just a few of the highlights.