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The 15 Best Beaches in California

Few states are lucky enough to get the type of beaches the Golden State possesses. With all of the options, how do you pick the best beaches in California to visit? Considering the state is so large, it can also be tricky to know what kind of weather to expect in different regions. 

 

We did the research and even tried some out to round up (in no specific order) the best beaches in California for you, with helpful information on driving, parking, and what to do in the area.

1. Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach is a gated community that sits on the Monterey Peninsula just north of the fairytale-home town of Carmel by the Sea, California.

 

Pebble Beach is part of the 17-Mile Drive along the coast in this part of the Golden State. Pebble Beach is about one hour and 30 minutes north of San Francisco, and just over two hours west of Sacramento.

Getting To Pebble Beach

From San Francisco, you can take US-101 along the scenic coast. From the Sacramento area, you can take I-80 west, but note that portions of this drive are on private or gated roads and require a fee. 

 

You will have to pay the $10.25 fee to enter the Pebble Beach area from one of the five guarded gates in either Pacific Grove or Carmel (no motorcycles are allowed).

Parking At Pebble Beach

You will want to research events before visiting Pebble Beach, as it is host to significant happenings such as the AT&T Pro-Am Golf Tournament, the Concours D’Elegance car show, and even the US Open. For some events, designated free spectator parking spots are available. 

 

Along the 17-Mile Drive, there are scenic lookouts for quick parking. Sometimes, you can find a spot.

Photos Of Pebble Beach

pebble beach with trees and a hillside in the background
rocks on pebble beach
a view of pebble beach at sunset time looking at a tall cliff

Pebble Beach is known for golfing and the scenic drive. The Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach Golf Links, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club are all notable golf club right in the vicinity of Pebble Beach. 

 

Only advanced surfers should brave the waves here.

Good For Yes / No

Surfing

 

 

Yes

Swimming

 

 

No

Fishing

 

 

Yes

Snorkeling

 

 

No

Kite Surfing

 

 

No

Paddle Boarding

 

 

No

Beach Sports

 

 

No

Visiting the beach is more for the views and grabbing some pictures, rather than swimming for beach sports.

 

Those who want a peaceful drive along the rocky, scenic coast, or a quiet stroll on the shore to admire the environment will enjoy the Pebble Beach area.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

No

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Pebble Beach Weather

Pebble Beach is not part of the perfect-year-round weather of Southern California. 

 

Average highs in July and August only hover around 68° and 69°, but this is a temperate area, with the high in January with a pleasant average of 60° and lows around 44° during those coldest months of winter.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach is an upscale area, so resorts are abundant, as are hefty price tags for lodging if you aren’t careful.

  • Casa Palermo 
  • La Playa Carmel
  • The Colonial Terrace
  • Lincoln Green Inn
  • Sea View Inn

Top 5 Things To Do Near Pebble Beach

Scenic views, golfing, driving the coast, and visiting the fairytale houses of Carmel by the Sea are the highlights of this area. One of the most notable sights is the view of the Lone Cypress; a tree believed to be roughly 250 years old.

  • Visit Carmel by the Sea and Carmel Beach
  • Take the scenic 17-Mile Drive
  • View the Lone Cypress
  • Golf one of the eight courses in the area
  • Tour Carmel Mission Basilica Museum

Top 5 Restaurants Near Pebble Beach

You’ll have to travel to Carmel by the Sea for most dining options unless you are staying at one of the resorts in Pebble Beach. Upscale European is prominent in the area, along with seafood options.

  • La Bicyclette 
  • Mission Ranch Restaurant
  • Dametra Café
  • Caraccioli Cellars
  • The Bench American Restaurant

Pebble Beach is a scenic area that is ideal for coastal drives, golfing nearby, and surfing for those advanced wave-riders. The water is cold, so wear a wetsuit if you are braving the low temps.

2. Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach is just north of Newport Beach, west of Irvine, and south of Los Angeles. Seal Beach sits north up US-1 (Pacific Coast Highway).

Getting To Huntington Beach

From Los Angeles, you can take the 605 to the 405 to 39 South. Yorktown Avenue to Lake Street will take you to the heart of Huntington Beach.

Parking At Huntington Beach

There is a municipal parking lot, a pier parking lot, and garages in Huntington Beach, with varying rates to park per hour or for the full day. Metered parking is also available in allotted areas. Prices and spots are listed here. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Huntington Beach

surfers walking at sunset at huntington beach
a crowded clear sky day at huntington beach california
surfer in a full wetsuit surfing a wave at huntington beach

Huntington Beach is known as Surf City, USA, and is home to an iconic walkout pier, fantastic surf conditions, tourist shops, and a stretch of beautiful sandy beach.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

No

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

No

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

The popularity of Huntington Beach has lasted decade after decade, and you can see everything from young families to teens to elderly individuals enjoying the beach. Huntington Beach can be a spring break spot for some college students, too.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Huntington Beach Weather

Huntington Beach gets beautiful weather most of the year. The highs in July hover around 72°, and the daily average is January is a high of 64°. The beach gets fantastic sunsets over the water.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Huntington Beach

A few more affordable motels are around Huntington Beach, as well as an RV park, but if you want the best beach experience, check out one of the spas or resorts.

 

Prices vary a bit, and some are high because of high tourism.

  • Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort
  • The Waterfront Beach Resort
  • Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach
  • Paséa Hotel & Spa
  • Huntington Surf Inn

Top 5 Things To Do Near Huntington Beach

Whether you like shopping, walking the pier, eating out, or playing a game of beach volleyball, there is something to do for almost everyone at Huntington Beach. Watching surfers catch the waves is fascinating.

  • Surf or watch surfing
  • Walk the pier
  • Surfing Walk of Fame
  • International Surfing Museum
  • Take the Huntington Beach downtown bus around town

Top 5 Restuarants Near Huntington Beach

Ruby’s Diner is an iconic spot to eat out on the pier. American food, seafood, and tacos are abundant in Huntington Beach.

  • Ruby’s Diner
  • Duke’s Huntington Beach
  • Chronic Tacos
  • Caffe Caldo
  • Subculture Extraordinary Sandwiches

Surf City is worth a visit for anyone who loves to ride waves or enjoys watching the sport. Huntington is one of the best beaches in California for surfing and that So-Cal vibe.

3. Catalina Island

Catalina Island is 22 miles off the coast of California, just south of Los Angeles, due west of San Clemente and Dana Point.

Getting To Catalina Island

You can take a helicopter for a 15-minute ride in the air, or a ferry for a one-hour boat trip to the island. The Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer are two vessels that transport visitors and commuters back and forth from the island.

Parking At Catalina Island

Parking for ferries (such as the Catalina Express) are in designated parking lots, and they were generally designed to accommodate the number of travelers that get ushered back and forth. Unless it is a hectic time, spots are usually available. You can almost always find a spot.

Photos Of Catalina Island

a view of catalina island bay with many boats anchored in the bay
boardwalk at catalina island

An array of beaches and activities are around the island. Avalon Beach, Middle Beach, South Beach, and Step Beach have lifeguards on duty for swimming in the summer.

 

Two Harbors Beach on the island has excellent beach volleyball spots. Shark Harbor is one of the best-known places for surfing off Catalina.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

Yes

 

Snorkeling

 

 

Yes

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

No

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

With SCUBA tours, zip-lines, hiking trails, shopping, beach sports, and swimming (when the weather is warm) there is a place on Catalina Island for virtually every demographic.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Catalina Island Weather

Catalina Island gets the typical, lovely Southern California weather, with slightly cooler temps thanks to the breeze over the Pacific island. Averages in July are 70° / 56° with most days seeing no (full-day) rainfall in summer. 

 

Temps in December average 59° / 43° with the winter months only getting around three to four days of rain each month.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Catalina Island

Average hotels on Catalina Island are around three-stars and can be pricey during summer months. Hotels near Avalon Beach are abundant.

  • The Avalon Hotel
  • Descanso Beach Club
  • Pavilion Hotel
  • The Old Turner Inn
  • Seacrest Inn Catalina

Top 5 Things To Do Near Catalina Island

Snorkeling at Lovers Cove is a hot spot, touring the Avalon Beach area is prime for swimming or shopping, and for those who love eco-tourism, the Trans-Catalina Trail, zip-lining, and the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) are worth checking out.

  • Catalina Island Nature Conservatory Center
  • Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden
  • Catalina Island Undersea Expedition
  • Snorkeling Catalina
  • Catalina Island Zip-Line Eco Tour

Top 5 Restaurants Near Catalina Island

Seafood is a huge staple in restaurants on the island, but plenty of burger joints and even some Mexican (The Sandtrap) are available, too.

  • Buffalo Nickel Inc.
  • The Sandtrap
  • The Lobster Trap
  • Luau Larry’s 
  • Seaport Bistro

Catalina Island has a bit of something for everyone. If you enjoy outdoor adventures or exploring the world of marine life, you will especially enjoy a visit.

 

Catalina has some of the best beaches in California for diverse activities.

4. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is a beachside community in Orange County, roughly an hour and a half south of Los Angeles.

Getting To Laguna Beach

From the Los Angeles area, you can take I-5 south to CA-133 south. The 405 south to CA-73 is another option when traffic is lighter. Signs for Main Beach will take you to the heart of the shore activities.

Parking At Laguna Beach

Parking is sometimes tough to find near the beaches. It’s best to use one of the periphery parking lots and take the city trolley to the shore area. You can sometimes find a spot.

Photos Of Laguna Beach

a view of the ocean from laguna beach under 2 umbrellas
looking at the rocky boulders by laguna beach with cliff in the distance

Once featured on the show Laguna Beach, this area is home to a more affluent area. Some of the main attractions in Laguna Beach are art museums and public art, beautiful beaches, outstanding public parks, and gawking at gorgeous homes.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

No

 

Snorkeling

 

 

No

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

Beachcombing strolls through parks overlooking the Pacific, kayaking, and admiring the lovely architecture and outdoor art are some of the main draws to this affluent beachside community.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

No

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Laguna Beach Weather

Laguna Beach gets nearly perfect weather. In summer, the high is around 80° with very little rain. January sees about four to five rainy days, with average highs of 68° and lows of 44° in winter.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Laguna Beach

Hotels are not cheap right in Laguna Beach, especially during peak seasons. This affluent area has some fantastic accommodations, though, with high-end resorts, hip new hotels, and an array of three-star establishments or somewhat reasonable prices.

  • Hotel Joaquin, Saline
  • Laguna Beach House
  • Surf and Sand Resort
  • Laguna Surf
  • Laguna Shores

Top 5 Things To Do Near Laguna Beach

Public art is big around Laguna Beach, with numerous outdoor art pieces on display, including sculptures and murals (perfect for those Instagram photos).

  • Main Beach 
  • Explore public art 
  • Visit Heisler Park
  • Laguna Beach kayak tour with sea lion viewing
  • Hollywood Sightseeing Tour from Orange County

Top 5 Restaurants Near Laguna Beach

Seafood, “Californian” cuisines, upscale dining, and Mexican are some of the most popular types of places you’ll find. Beach views are available at several restaurants with breezy California-style fair.

  • Driftwood Kitchen
  • South of Nick’s Laguna Beach | Mexican Kitchen + Bar
  • The Cliff
  • Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico
  • Nick’s Laguna Beach (the original)

Laguna Beach is ideal for those looking for a quintessential Southern California getaway with an upscale flair, and a quieter area with lots of outdoor parks, sandy beaches, and activities such as kayaking.

5. Newport Beach

South of Huntington Beach, and north of Laguna, Newport Beach is a hub of a lot of activities.

 

This Southern California community is about one hour and 45 minutes north of San Diego, and roughly one hour and 20 minutes south of Los Angeles.

Getting To Newport Beach

Taking either CA-4 or the 405 south to CA-73 and then 55 South will get you to the heart of Newport Beach. CA-5 to CA-73 north from San Diego. Much of the activity is on the Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island.

Parking At Newport Beach

There are several lots on the Balboa Peninsula, such as the Municipal Lot and the Ocean Front Lot. Parking can fill up quickly, so go early in the morning for the best chances of a spot. The 26th Street Lot can often be a good bet. Sometimes you can find a spot.

Photos Of Newport Beach

sunset view of the boardwalk at newport beach
man standing on the archway over the ocean at newport beach

The Balboa Fun Zone is an old-school amusement park next to a park and across from a pier. Surfing and kite surfing are commonplace activities. Swimming is popular but use caution as waves and rip tides can be intense.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

No

 

Snorkeling

 

 

No

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

No

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

With outdoor parks, two piers on the peninsula, an amusement park, whale watching, and coastal “adventure” boat rides, Newport Beach is full of family activities.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Newport Beach Weather

Newport Beach faces directly southwest, getting some breeze off the Pacific with the southern California sun. July sees highs around the mid-70s with almost zero rain, while the coldest winter months have highs in the low 60s.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Newport Beach

A mix of more affordable chain hotels (such as Holiday Inn Express) combine with four-star resorts all through the peninsula, along the Pacific Coast Highway, and around Newport Center.

  • Balboa Bay Resort
  • Fashion Island Hotel Newport Beach
  • Balboa Island Hotel
  • Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa
  • Bay Shores Peninsula Hotel

Top 5 Things To Do Near Newport Beach

Newport Beach is ideal for surfing, watching yacht races, golfing, boat rides, and strolling museums as well as Balboa Village.

  • East meets West Excursions Whale Watching
  • Newport Coastal Adventure
  • Ferry to Balboa Island
  • Balboa Fun Zone
  • Balboa Village

Top 5 Restaurants Near Newport Beach

Newport Beach is one of the more eclectic dining beach communities on our list. You can find Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean, Vietnamese, sushi, Chinese, American, seafood, and oyster bars all within the peninsula and Balboa Island area.

  • Fly N Fish Oyster Bar and Grill
  • Saigon Beach Restaurant 
  • Aurora
  • 21 Oceanfront
  • Trattoria Restaurant (Balboa Island)

Newport Beach has something for almost everyone in the family. Offshore boat excursions are worth checking out, as is a walk on one of the piers and dinner in one of the abundant choices of restaurants. Huntington Beach (Surf City, USA) is also right up the road to the north.

6. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is only about 15 minutes from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and about 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. It connects to the long strip of shore that turns into Hermosa Beach to its south.

Getting To Manhattan Beach

From LAX, you can take CA-1 south to Valley Drive, which gets you to the heart of the Manhattan Beach area. For a more scenic route, take Imperial Highway to Vista Del Mar south for a ride along the coast.

Parking At Manhattan Beach

There are 12 public lots for parking in Manhattan Beach. Some will fill up quickly, especially closer to the shore, so get there early. Most of the time you can find a spot.

Photos Of Manhattan Beach

manhattan beach california at sunset

Manhattan Beach has a casual vibe, lots of cafes, and a fantastic bike trail. Swimming and kiteboarding are typical, although the water can get cold out of the summer months. Rules regarding fishing are here.

Good For Yes / No

 

Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Swimming

 

 

Yes

 

Fishing

 

 

No

 

Snorkeling

 

 

No

 

Kite Surfing

 

 

Yes

 

Paddle Boarding

 

 

Yes

 

Beach Sports

 

 

Yes

Manhattan Beach is an affluent yet casual area. It’s typical to see families here, young adults on the beach, and outdoor sports lovers.

Good For Yes / No

 

Young Adults

 

 

Yes

 

Families

 

 

Yes

 

Elderly

 

 

Yes

Manhattan Beach Weather

Manhattan Beach gets the heat of Los Angeles with those Pacific sunset views. High during the year average between 67° in winter and 76° in summer. Air quality is more likely to be an issue than severe storms.

Top 5 Places To Stay Near Manhattan Beach

Hermosa Beach, just down the road to the south, has some affordable places to stay. Manhattan Beach still has a decent mix of some reasonable places, alongside high-end four-star hotels.

  • Shade Hotel
  • Ayres Hotel Manhattan Beach
  • Best Western Plus Manhattan Beach
  • Manhattan Inn and Suites
  • Westdrift Manhattan Beach, Autograph Collection

Top 5 Things To Do Near Manhattan Beach

The Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier is a can’t-miss attraction. Take a stroll down the pier, then check out some of the art galleries right by the shore.

  • Roundhouse Aquarium
  • Manhattan Beach Pier
  • Riley Arts Gallery
  • Marvin Braude Bike Trail
  • Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Top 5 Restaurants Near Manhattan Beach

Cafes, sushi, pizza, Mexican, and bakery/gluten-free options are prevalent in Manhattan Beach. It’s easy to find quick and casual dining in the area. Check out Kotosh for Peruvian cuisine.

  • Pisces
  • El Tarasco Mexican Food 
  • Kotosh
  • Fishing with Dynamite
  • Crepe Lab

If you are visiting Los Angeles, but need a day at the shore, Manhattan Beach is a decent bet. It’s a safe area and has plenty of places to grab a bite.

7. Hermosa Beach

Just down the road to the south of Manhattan Beach, you’ll find Hermosa Beach—part of the South Bay area of Greater Los Angeles.

Getting To Hermosa Beach

From Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) take CA-1 south to Pier Avenue (less than a half-hour). Imperial Highway to Vista Del Mar, then Highland Avenue will take you along the coast in roughly the same amount of time.

Parking At Hermosa Beach

All around downtown Hermosa Beach, you can find parking areas, and those closest to the water can fill up fast. Parking tickets are commonplace, so following the guidelines. You’ll almost never find a parking spot at Hermosa Beach. If you do – consider yourself lucky!

Photos Of Hermosa Beach

view of hermosa beach with people and a bright slight cloudy blue sky
morning surfer wading out into the ocean at hermosa beach by the boardwalk