Looking for the best beaches in Southern California? The Golden State of America is fortunate to have a dream coastline that has some of the best beaches in the world. Secluded sandy coves, Gorgeous sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, picturesque seascapes, and wave-tossed shores – Southern California is overflowing with first-class beaches.
We have asked frequent travelers to share their favorite beach vacations in Southern California. Their responses will truly delight you. We got a beautiful combination of family-friendly, secluded beaches coupled with various water activities, hiking, and beach camping to keep you busy.
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#1 La Jolla: Best Beaches in Southern California
La Jolla is one of the top places to visit in San Diego. It is a perfect place to view wildlife, enjoy water sports, and experience luxury in California.
One of the legendary things to do in La Jolla is discovering sea caves by kayak. There are 7 sea caves in La Jolla, and you can only access them from the water.
These caves were formed from the sandstone over 70 million years ago. They were also used by pirates for the safekeeping of booty & treasure. Each of La Jolla’s caves has a unique name and an interesting story to go with.
It is possible to access the Sunny Jim cave by land. It’s been turned into a museum of sorts and will cost a small fee to enter.
La Jolla is also an amazing place to view wildlife. You can snorkel in the La Jolla underwater park for a chance to catch Orange garibaldi (California’s state fish) or leopard sharks. You may also snorkel with seals and sea lions. Occasionally, you’ll see a pod of dolphins!
The best place to view sea lions outside of the water is at Seal Rock or the Children’s Pool. Sea Lions and seals love La Jolla!
Besides snorkeling and kayaking, La Jolla beaches are popular for surfing and stand up paddleboarding. The waves aren’t too rough! So, it’s a great spot for beginners.
La Jolla Beaches span some of California’s most famous neighborhoods. You’ll find plenty of boutique shopping, fine dining, art galleries, and some of the best beachfront hotels in Southern California. Dine at the Marine Room for an unforgettable meal with panoramic views.
Recommended by: Valentina
#2 Del Mar
Just 30 minutes north of San Diego lies the seaside town of Del Mar. This quaint town has some of the best beaches in Southern California, including Powerhouse Park and Beach.
This beach at Del Mar feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of other Southern California beaches. Powerhouse Beach is family-friendly, with long rolling waves and shallow water for quite a ways out. The North Beach in Del Mar is a popular dog beach in San Diego where your pup can run and play freely.
The city of Del Mar is just up a small hill from the beach, while several restaurants line the waterfront. For a nice dinner with a view, head to Poseidon Del Mar. If cheap but delicious Mexican food is more your style, Roberto’s Mexican Food is just a few minutes south of the beach.
Powerhouse Beach is free to visit, as are the public restrooms and outdoor showers. Behind the beach, an expansive grass lawn is a great place for an afternoon picnic or a break from the sand. Parking is readily available and relatively inexpensive. (It’s still California, so expect to pay upwards of $20 for a full day.)
Another great beach in Del Mar is Del Mar North Beach. This is mostly a popular dog beach in Southern California, if you are traveling with dogs, they can run free here. It’s a great place to stop and burn off energy if you are driving up the coast of Southern California.
Recommended by: Leigh Wilson
San Diego has a lot of fantastic beaches. It’s a big reason why it’s such an awesome place to be and often referred to as America’s Finest City. But if you’re looking for a consistently awesome experience with access to amenities and a family-friendly beach in Southern California, Coronado is where it’s at.
To get to Coronado, you can drive over the scenic bridge, take a ferry over from downtown San Diego, or drive all the way up the Silver Strand if you’re coming from the south. Yes, you can drive from San Diego to Coronado!
It’s not an island, but a peninsula, despite what you may have heard. Parking is available in lots all over Coronado, but if you’re patient, free street parking is always an option.
You have a few options for finding your perfect beach spot while on Coronado, and none of them come with fees to visit. North Beach is what you want if you have your dog with you, and Silver Strand State Beach is less populated and perfect for a picnic lunch, or if you’re interested in hunting for some unique seashells.
Coronado Central Beach is the main beach, though, and home to scenic views of the Hotel del Coronado, the inspiration for the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.
Spend your day hanging out on those white sand beaches and enjoying the calm waters. When you’re done sunbathing and building sandcastles – you’ll likely see some professional-grade sandcastles while you’re hanging out on the beach in Coronado – spend some time at the historic Hotel del Coronado, or just the Hotel del if you’re local, and check out the gift shops.
There are a number of bike rental shops on Coronado if you want to explore a bit more while getting some exercise. Pop by MooTime Creamery for an ice cream cone or a MooPie. Little Frenchie and The Henry are fantastic for a nice lunch or dinner. If you’re with the kids, pizza is always a crowd-pleaser. The Village Pizzeria is the best option in Coronado.
Recommended by: Agnes
#4 Two Harbors
Two Harbors Beach on Catalina Island provides the perfect island getaway just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California. Since many visitors to Catalina stick to the Avalon side of the island, Two Harbors feels more secluded and offers lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures.
You can explore the harbor underwater by snorkeling or scuba diving, or stay on the surface in a kayak or on a standup paddleboard. To go beyond the water, choose one of many hiking trails, which range from short jaunts with great views of the harbor to the Trans-Catalina Trail, which circumnavigates the entire island.
Over the course of a few days, you can backpack the Trans-Catalina Trail all the way from Two Harbors to Avalon (38.5 miles). On your hike, be on the lookout for bison, which were imported to Catalina for a film back in the 1920s and now roam the island.
To get to Two Harbors, you can either take the ferry directly from San Pedro (about $75 round trip) or take a shuttle across the island from Avalon. For accommodation options, you can splurge on a stay at Banning House Lodge.
Two Harbors is also considered as one of the best beaches to camp in Southern California. You can spend a more rustic night at the Two Harbors Campground.
The Harbor Reef Restaurant serves hearty meat and seafood fare, from burgers to swordfish, and the signature “Buffalo Milk” cocktail (with vodka, crème de cacao, crème de banana, coffee liqueur, and milk) is a must-try before you head back to the mainland after your island beach adventure in Two Harbors.
Recommended by: Team
#5 Zuma Beach: Best Southern California Beach
For many, Southern California conjures images of bright sunny skies, beautiful beaches, and sun-tanned surfers bobbing in the Pacific Ocean. Zuma Beach in Malibu will give you exactly that – with close to 300 sunny days per year, the odds are good that you will have the picture-perfect experience.
Just along the Pacific Coast Highway, with cliffs separating much of the housing from the shore, Zuma Beach is a great outdoor escape from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
This stretch of beach is famous for surfing year-round, largely because of the powerful offshore winds funneled in through Zuma Canyon, creating great waves.
In the summer, the wide sandy beach can get crowded with sunbathers and volleyball players but is typically much quieter and cleaner than many beaches closer to LA. It’s a great kid-friendly beach in Southern California. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes view wild sea life like starfish and sea lions.
Tips: Use caution if you are here to swim – the currents and rip tides are strong.
The beach is open from sunrise to sunset every day, and lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. Zuma Beach is roughly a one hour drive from downtown Los Angeles and is best reached by car.
Parking along Pacific Coast Highway is surprisingly free of charge; the designated parking lot is paid. Climb up (carefully!) onto nearby hills and cliffs for the best views.
Recommended by: Monica from This Rare Earth
#6 1000 Steps Beach
Another most beautiful beach in Southern California is 1000 Steps Beach which is located in beautiful Laguna Beach, California at 9th Ave and Pacific Coast Highway. There you will see the beach entrance across from 9th Ave that will bring you to the steps the beach is named after.
In actuality, there are only about 200 steps, but the enormity of the steps feels as though there are 1,000! These steps lead you to the gorgeous beach below along with sweeping views of the vast Pacific Ocean.
It has been named among the cleanest beaches in Southern California. There are several pristine caves at the beach which can only be accessed at low tide and certain times of the year due to safety. During low tide, one of the caves will bring you to the hidden Totuava Beach which features incredible tide pools.
Tips: Use caution when entering these caves and be aware of the tide at all times! People who are looking for hidden beaches in southern California must visit this secret beach.
Sitting on top of the cliffs above you are million-dollar homes with spectacular views and their own private access to the beach below. The beach is free to access, and free parking is available on PCH, but beware of the heavy traffic!
A public restroom is located at the bottom of the stairs with a shower to rinse off at. There are no ramps to access the beach, so if you are coming with smaller children be prepared to tackle the steps! A lifeguard is usually on duty and the strong waves attract local surfers.
Nearby the secluded beach is several delicious restaurants including Papa’s Tacos and Neapolitan Pizzeria. Grab some food to go and enjoy a wonderful picnic on the beach!
Recommended by: Erin McLaughlin from The Gal On The Go
#7 Mission Beach
Mission Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego. You can do so much there, not just lay on the beach. If you like an active beach vacation in Southern California, this beach is your dream.
You can go surfing (or take lessons, if you are a beginner), rent a bike and ride along the boardwalk, or play ball at one of the many beach volleyball or basketball courts. Of course, you can also relax and get a tan in the sand or splash in the waves.
Along the boardwalk, you will find many restaurants and bars. Looking for free things to do in San Diego – nothing better than people watching on the beach with a cocktail in one hand and a fish taco in the other.
I like Beach House Grill for the atmosphere – nothing puts you in vacation mood like their spicy Margarita and feeling the warm sand between your toes.
If you are traveling with kids, or simply want to channel some childhood memories, you should stop by Belmont Park – a small amusement park with a historic rollercoaster, game booths, and fair food stalls. Ride the Giant Dipper overlooking the Pacific and make some fun memories.
Mission Beach is located right in the city of San Diego, just to the north-west of Downtown. There is free parking, but it can get crowded, especially on summer weekends, so I suggest you get there early to find parking.
If you don’t have a car and are not staying nearby, I recommend taking a shared ride, as public transportation is not that great in San Diego.
Recommended by: Maria
#8 Santa Monica
If you’re visiting Los Angeles, you have to visit Santa Monica, a popular beach town in Southern California. It’s a classic SoCal beach destination that lives up to the hype and can be cheaper than you might think.
It’s fun to walk the length of the Santa Monica pier where you can watch street performers, ride a vintage carousel, play in an arcade, or even take a ride on the Ferris wheel or roller coaster.
Once you take in the pier, you can lay out at the beaches that sprawl in both directions. Take your pick. To the south is Venice beach and if you drive 2 miles north, you’ll find my personal (local’s) favorite, Will Rogers State Beach, and even further north up Pacific Coast Highway are the Malibu beaches.
You’ll often catch surfers or people flying kites. Santa Monica is one of the best beaches in Southern California for families and travelers who want the classic Los Angeles beach experience.
To get to Santa Monica State Beach and Pier, in a car from Los Angeles, take the 10-West to 4th avenue. Turn right on 4th and left on Colorado, then you’ll run right into it. Parking is $3.75 an hour and $18 max.
You can also park downtown where usually the first 90 mins are free. If you take public transportation (which costs only $1.75 one way), you take the blue Metro E line to Downtown Santa Monica and from there, it’s an 8 min (0.4 miles) walk.
For an inexpensive (but yummy) food option, I recommend Hot Dog on a Stick under the base of the pier on the Southside toward Venice beach. They have great corn dogs, fries, and lemonade with vegetarian options.
Recommended by: Alanna Koritzke
#9 Moonlight Beach, Encinitas
Moonlight Beach is one of the most underrated beaches in SanDiego. While it’s popular with San Diegans, you’ll rarely find tourists crowding its shoreline.
Moonlight Beach is perfect for families, and there’s no entrance fee to visit. Back from the sand is a grassy area with playground equipment. On the sand, spend the day challenging one another to beach games, building sandcastles, and playing volleyball. There are clean and well-equipped public restrooms with freshwater showers nearby.
The beach itself cedes to the ocean at a gentle slope, making it one of the safest beaches in Southern California to swim. During summertime and holiday weekends, lifeguards are typically on duty and you’ll find dedicated surf and swim sections throughout the beach. If you’re a keen surfer, walk a few steps south to D Street, it hosts one of the best waves around.
Stay until sunset to watch as the sky turns from blue to every shade of orange. There are plenty of picnic benches and bonfire pits to host an evening get together after a fun day in the sunshine.
Within walking distance, you can explore many of the main shops, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries in Encinitas found along South Coast Highway 101. Grabbing a slice of pizza at Leucadia’s Pizza is a must, and it’s worth picking one up before your day at the beach.
Reaching Moonlight Beach is easy. Drive along the Interstate towards Encinitas and turn west onto Encinitas Boulevard. Moonlight Beach is found at the end of the road, turning into B Street.
Tips: There is a paid parking area near the beach itself on C Street, but you can typically find free street parking at D Street or along 3rd Street.
Recommended by: Chantae from The Salt Sirens
#10 San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre State Beach is one of the nicest beaches in Southern California, and with good reason! This California state beach features miles of sandy shoreline, gorgeous sandstone cliffs, and stunning views all around.
Located just an hour drive north of San Diego on I-5, and an hour and a half south of Los Angeles, San Onofre is easily accessible. The state beach is broken up into two main beach areas: the San Onofre Surf Beach and the San Onofre Bluffs.
While both are worth visiting, the San Onofre Bluffs, and the beach they lead down to, is special. The beach is gorgeous, and the blue Pacific stands in sharp contrast to the bluffs laced with streaks of red.
There’s a $15 fee to access the Bluffs, but you’ll get day-use parking, picnic tables, showers, and restrooms. From the Bluffs, you can easily take one of the six trails down to the water. The trails are fairly steep but offer amazing views.
For an easier slope, take Trail 6 down to the water – the slope is gentler than the other trails, but you’ll still need sturdy hiking boots! The trails are steep for little ones, so plan accordingly if you’re visiting with kids.
At the beach below you’ll find a red sandy color and a ton of rocks. This is a great spot for surfers, fishermen, and anyone else who enjoys beautiful ocean views.
You can camp at the San Onofre Bluffs, one of the best campgrounds in Southern California for less than $50, and enjoy waking up to the ocean right from your tent – it’s incredible. San Onofre is a must-visit gorgeous, unspoiled part of Southern California.
Recommended by: Ale Leon
#11 Victoria Beach
Victoria Beach is located in Laguna Beach, just halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. The city is widely known for its beautiful coastline and wonderful weather. The city has 30 beaches to choose from. However, Victoria Beach is definitely one of the top beaches in Southern California and has some unique features.
There’s a whimsical “Pirate Tower” that looks straight out of a fairytale, a circular manmade pool, tide pools, romantic sunset views, and more.
The Pirate Tower stands about 60-feet tall and is perched against the rocky sea cliff. A while back it served as a private staircase so the owners can access the beach. Now it’s locked but makes for one of the best photos spots in Laguna Beach.
To get to the Pirate Tower you’ll want to head north once you hit the sand. You’ll pass the circular pool on your way there. The beach can draw in crowds especially the weekend.
However, if you head south you’ll find that it’s a lot quieter and there is more room to spread out. To get to the base of the tower you’ll need to go at low tide. And depending on how low the tide is the circular pool can also be empty so timing is everything when visiting.
Another great reason to visit during low tide is to check out the tide pools. If you happen to be there in the evening make sure to stay for sunset. As the sky changes colors it truly looks magical with the Pirate Tower in the background.
Parking can be a challenge, you may need to park at a meter on PCH but other that the beach is free. And if you’re looking for cheap eats head to La Sirena Grill, an eco-conscious Mexican eatery. Enjoy your visit to Victoria Beach!
Recommended by: Jeanine Romo from Le Wild Explorer
#12 Huntington Beach
Along the beautiful coast of Southern California lies the pleasant seaside city of Huntington Beach. This charming beach town of California is 37 miles from Los Angeles and is a well-known beach spot for tourists and locals.
From LA, the quickest route to get this beach city is via the I-405 S and takes one hour without traffic. Ultimately, what makes Huntington State Beach a fantastic place to visit is it’s simultaneously has a relaxed yet enthusiastic atmosphere. It’s an excellent option for creating a budget-friendly wellness-focused getaway and has a great nightlife for anyone wanting an unforgettable night at the beach.
Moreover, Huntington Beach is a prime spot for surfers and has amazing fire pits that are excellent for roasting good old fashioned s’mores. The beach is extremely family-friendly, offering you soft sand for the sandcastle creators.
Along the beach, you’ll also find the Balboa Pier and the Huntington Beach Pier. Both piers are beautiful landmarks, ideal for fishing, and have tasty eateries to grab a bite to eat.
Directly across from the beach you’ll find an attractive downtown area with a lively environment. Located there, you’ll discover a delicious food scene packed with yummy restaurants, chic boutiques, and various other shopping stores.
Here you can also rent various sports equipment such as a bike, a tandem bike, or a surfboard. For museum lovers, consider visiting the International Surfing Museum of the Huntington Beach Art Center.
Lastly, there are several places that offer to park. If you’re planning on spending most time downtown, consider parking at the Main Street Parking Structure. It’s free for 30 minutes, then it is $1.00 per hour.
If you’re planning on going to Huntington State Beach, the parking lot fee is either $10 or $8 depending on the season. There is also street parking available for free.
Recommended by: Ciara From Wellness Travel Diaries
#13 Newport Beach
When exploring the Southern California beaches, visiting Newport Beach is a must! From beautiful beach houses and yachts to lots of small shops and cafes, Newport Beach offers the ultimate relaxing Orange County experience to visitors who just want to let go of all their worries for a day.
One of my personal favorite spots in Newport Beach is Balboa Island, a small island located between the Balboa Peninsula and the city center. It’s the perfect place to take a stroll or exercise alongside quaint houses and the blue sea to completely clear your head.
Afterward, you can treat yourself to Newport’s famous Frozen Banana – literally, a frozen banana covered in chocolate and other toppings – and spend some time at the sunny beaches.
If you’re in the mood for some shopping, head over to Fashion Island to shop your favorite clothing brands with a stunning view of the ocean. This combination of relaxation and shopping makes Newport Beach an ideal place to spend a beach vacation in Southern California for visitors of any age and gives everyone the opportunity to sample the high-end lifestyle for less.
While the most convenient way to get to Newport Beach is definitely by car, it’s not impossible to reach the city by public transportation. Take a train to Irvine Station and use the OCTA bus to get to Newport Beach, Balboa Island, or Corona Del Mar.
However, I’ll have to warn you that although it’s very cheap, the bus service in Orange County is extremely inconvenient due to a lack of stations, service, and confusing schedules. Therefore, if you don’t have a lot of time to spare and no car available, I strongly recommend calling a Lyft or Uber instead.
Recommended by: Arabela from The Spicy Travel Girl
#14 Torrey Pines State Beach
One of the most stunning beaches to visit in Southern California is Torrey Pines just north of San Diego proper and a beautiful beach with large cliffs that line the beach area.
More well known for the golf course and luxury hotel located in the area, the beach part of Torrey Pines is mostly a local spot for residents or San Diego natives to enjoy.
Torrey Pines is located within Torrey Pines State Reserve, a coastal park with over 2000 acres of protected land. The long sandy beach and cliff areas can be reached from the parking area and entrance to the park.
If you are looking for the best beach hikes in Southern California, Torrey Pines State Reserve is the ideal place for you.
This is an active surfing area and it is fun to watch all the surfers in the long stretch of beach riding some of the best waves in the area. This large and least crowded beach of Southern California allows you plenty of space and privacy to find a nice spot away from any crowds on the beach.
My favorite part is just walking the long stretch of beach and enjoy the waves, views, and nature at it’s best. While you’re visiting the beach areas north of San Diego, also check out my post on the best things to do in La Jolla here which is very close to Torrey Pines and worth the drive to another beautiful coastal area in San Diego.
Recommended by: Noel Morata
Perhaps one of the best beaches in California, it doesn’t get much more fun than a day out in Malibu hanging out in the surf and sand. This incredible beach town of Southern California is famous for the celebrities who live out here and for its wide beaches.
Technically the city’s beaches are divided into almost twenty distinct beaches, but Malibu Lagoon State Beach, along with Zuma, is one of the most well-known beach destinations in SoCal. This is the point where Malibu Creek meets the sea, forming a lagoon that stands out from the rest of the town’s beaches.
It’s also a state-protected beach and part of the larger Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. This is a popular surfing beach, and it’s also great for sand sports like volleyball since the sand is soft and consistent.
To get here you will want a car. The parking charge is $12 per car per day. If you have extra time in the area, you can visit the Adamson House, a 1920’s Spanish-style historic mansion built along the waterfront.
Alternatively, you can combine your day at the beach with a good hike through Malibu Creek State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains.
If you want to enjoy some wine tastings after your day in the sun, you can visit local wineries. Otherwise, head to the Broad Street Oyster Company or one of the other delicious fish and seafood restaurants on the water or just a few blocks back. Another great option is the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe if you’re looking for a good brunch.
Recommended by: Stephanie Craig from Oklahoma Wonders
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