California beaches - Zuma Beach, Malibu
Photo: wolterke/Fotolia

Whether you prefer the endless expanses of fine, golden sand of Zuma Beach in Malibu, or the purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach in Northern California, you will find your ideal beach in California. There are beaches where people watching is more fun than swimming, like in Santa Monica in California or Newport Beach. There are California beaches where families bring kids to frolic in the sand and warm surf and others where rip currents and underwater reefs make powerful waves only surfers can love. Here are the best California beaches.

»Huntington State Beach

Huntington State Beach


Huntington State Beach is located in the City of Huntington Beach, between Santa Ana River in Newport Beach and Beach Boulevard, where the city begins. Two miles of long sandy beach offers fairly good surfing, fishing, beach volleyball, swimming and sunbathing. It has several basketball courts and fire-rings for evening bonfires. Lifeguards patrol the beach year-round.

The 121-acre state park was created in 1942 to protect the beaches fragile environment, especially the endangered California least terns, which use the beach as their nesting sanctuary, and snowy plovers, which are threatened on the entire West Coast.

21601 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92646 Photo: lunamarina/Fotolia

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»Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz

Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz


Located between Santa Cruz harbor and the boardwalk, Seabright Beach is a lovely beach with soft white sand bordering Santa Cruz Main Beach. The wide expanse of sand stretches between the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and the natural wall that sticks out into the ocean where the San Lorenzo River meets the sea. River water passes through a small natural rock arch.

There is a nice little park on East Cliff Drive with the sights of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Amusement Park and Main Beach. The picturesque Walton Lighthouse is perched at the far end of the Santa Cruz Breakwater and a paved trail leads to it from Seabright Beach. Dogs are allowed on-leash.

E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062 Photo: Keith/Fotolia

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»California Beaches: Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg

California Beaches: Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg

For more than a century, people in Fort Bragg were in the habit of throwing bottles, cars and appliances, into the sea close to the north part of the city. Instead of getting mad, Mother Nature turned all glass bottles, headlights and other glass into little colorful jewels that washed ashore on three small beaches known today as Glass Beach, a part of MacKerricher State Park.

Hunting for the colorful glass is a popular tourist activity, so much so that the park management had to put a stop to it, asking people to look but not take, or very soon there would be nothing to look at. Beaches can be reached by foot, following a short but steep trail down the cliff to the edge of the water. Next read: Best Things to Do on the Mendocino Coast

Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive, Fort Bragg, CA Photo: Eric Harding/FotoliaRoman Sigaev

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»Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach


Located not far from downtown Los Angeles, California, Santa Monica beach is a quintessential Southern California beach and one of the most famous beaches in California. This iconic beach is three and half miles long, with fine, soft, well-maintained sand. It is within walking distance from all major hotels, restaurants and bars. Divided by the famous Santa Monica Pier, the beach is great for surfing, swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, and all other sports on the sand and in the water.

You can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas at Perry’s at the Beach, a beach equipment rental place and popular restaurant. The Santa Monica Pier features an aquarium, an amusement park and restaurants. Watching the sunset from the pier is a must. You can bike from Santa Monica Beach all the way to Torrance Country Beach by taking the Strand, a 22-mile-long bike trail. The best surfing is just off Bay Street, where you can rent equipment and take the surfing lessons you’ve always wanted.

Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90401 Photo: Zarnell/Fotolia

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»Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad State Beach, or Tamarack Beach as the locals call it, is a wide sandy beach that stretches between the jetties south of Tamarack Avenue, and Frazee Beach, close to Carlsbad Village Drive. The beach is popular for swimming, surfing, surf fishing, scuba diving, kayaking and picnicking.

It is a great beach for family outings and there is a picnic area with tables and benches. The Carlsbad Seawall is four-miles long and has a paved walking path that extends along the coast from Cannon to Carlsbad Village. The seawall is often busy with bikers, joggers and rollerbladers, and it separates the beach from Coastal Highway 101. The bluff at the end of the beach is a great spot for watching sunsets.

Carlsbad Blvd and Hwy 101, Carlsbad, CA 92008 Photo: sherryvsmith/Fotolia

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»California Beaches: Coronado Municipal Beach

California Beaches: Coronado Municipal Beach


Many consider Coronado Municipal Beach as the most beautiful American beach and one of the best California beaches, for its sparkling sand, soft, warm surf and picturesque surrounds. The municipal beach actually consists of four beaches: Coronado City Beach, Glorietta Bay Park, Tidelands Park, and Centennial Park. Both Glorietta Bay Park and Tidelands Park have grassy picnic areas and playgrounds for children.

All beaches are famous for their glittery sand, which is the result of the presence of fine mica particles, not bits of gold as many people think. The beaches are washed by calm waves that kids love, and have magnificent sunsets. Large expanses of sand are perfect for flying a kite, skim boarding, surfing or long walks. The northern part of the beach is dog-friendly.

Silver Strand Blvd, Coronado, CA 92118 Photo: wambliv- Fotolia.com

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»Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna

Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna


Crystal Cove State Park is located in Newport Beach, between the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Laguna Beach. The park includes three miles of magnificent sandy beach in a lovely cove, coastal cliffs, chaparral canyons inland, quaint beach houses that are part of the Crystal Cove Historic District, and the Marine Conservation Area.

The protected area covers coastal bluffs, the underwater park and inland canyons. The beach is popular with scuba and skin divers, surfers and swimmers. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer season and patrol the beach the rest of the year. The beach is wonderful for long walks and exploring fascinating tidal pools. Horseback riders also enjoy the beach packed sand, and hikers can explore one of 17 trails through the undeveloped woody areas.

8471 Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA 92651 Photo: steffstarr /Fotolia

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»Dog Beach, San Diego

Dog Beach, San Diego


Dog Beach in San Diego is the first off-leash dog beach in California. Although dog owners all over the state fought as well and now there are many other beaches where dogs can freely romp in the surf, Dog Beach remains one of the most popular and famous nation-wide. The wide stretch of sand is located at the mouth of the San Diego River, at the end of I-8, in northern Ocean Beach.

Dogs and dog owners are happily sharing the beach with surfers, and you do not have to own a dog to come and enjoy this lovely melting pot of people, and dogs, of all sizes, colors and breeds having fun with wild abandon. Dog owners are requested to clean up after their dogs and to make sure that their vaccinations are up to date. Dog park etiquette remains in place – do not bring a dog who does not know how to behave with other dogs and people.

Point Loma, Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA Photo: samantoniophoto/Fotolia

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»Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Moonstone Beach, Cambria


Uncrowded and wild, beaches of the California Central Coast are very different from the long expanses of fine powdery sand of the south. Moonstone Beach is one of the most beautiful of the Cambria Coastline beaches, surrounded by rugged cliffs and bordered by a long boardwalk that runs for more than a mile. The beach is covered by small, smooth pebbles polished by the sea to almost jewel beauty.

Walking along the water and searching for tide pools, interesting driftwood and the most beautiful stones is a great way to spend the time on the beach. You can also watch the sea otters having fun in the water, look for passing whales or enjoy many kinds of birds. Photo: randyandy101/Fotolia

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»El Matador Beach, Malibu

El Matador Beach, Malibu


If you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway in western Malibu, you will see the sign for El Matador Beach, one of the most beautiful in a place so rich with spectacular beaches. There are picnic tables in the parking lot on top of the bluff before you brave the steep dirt trail which descends on the bluff face before you find stairs that will take you the rest of the way to the beach.

The views from everywhere, but especially from the upper cliffs, are breathtaking, with huge boulders and deep dark blue water with underwater forests of kelp clearly visible. The beach is very popular with sunbathers, surfers and swimmers and has a lifeguard year-round. At low tide, stroll to the north end of the beach to see large caves and rock arches at the base of the bluff.

32350 El Matador Beach Rd, Malibu, CA 90265 Photo: cnaene/Fotolia

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»1000 Steps Beach, Laguna

1000 Steps Beach, Laguna


While the idea of 1000 steps is quite intimidating, there are actually only about 230 steps, very steep ones, leading from across the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, down to the water’s edge. There is a colorful sign which guides visitors down the steep stairs covered in a thick, lush canopy of vines and surrounded by trees, making a pleasant shady tunnel.

It is such a lovely surprise when you finally get a glimpse of the ocean at the bottom of the stairs. The beach stretches for seven blocks and is surrounded by sheer cliffs, making a small cove. The beach is popular for surfing, swimming and sunbathing and there is often a game of beach volleyball going on. Don’t overtax yourself, remember that you have to climb those 230 steps on the way home.

Ninth Ave and Pacific Coast Hwy, South Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach, CA 92651 Photo: steffstarr/Fotolia

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»California Beaches: Hermosa Beach

California Beaches: Hermosa Beach


Hermosa Beach is a small beachfront community, located in the South Bay area of greater Los Angeles. The city extends on 18 blocks only and is lined by two miles of fantastic, sandy beach, wide and hard packed, perfect for picnics, beach volleyball, building sandcastles and enjoying the sun. There is a wide boardwalk called the Strand that borders the beach, perfect for strolling along the beach and enjoying the views and pleasant ocean breezes.

The Strand stretches from Torrance Beach to Santa Monica. Hermosa Beach pier, the historic 1328-foot long concrete pier, was built in the early 20th century, and is located at the end of Pier Avenue, one of Hermosa Beach’s main entertainment and shopping areas. Photo: trekandphoto/Fotolia

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»Manhattan State Beach

Manhattan State Beach

Known for a long time as sportsmen’s paradise, Manhattan State Beach is located between Hermosa Beach and Los Angeles International Airport, in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. The two-mile-long wide sandy beach is famous for its surfing and volleyball; there are 50 volleyball courts and there is a game going on at all times. Every year, the City of Manhattan Beach organizes a volleyball tournament as well as an international surf festival.

The beach is very well-maintained and very popular, bringing more than four million visitors every year. In the center of the beach is the 1920s 928 foot long Manhattan Beach Pier, a popular hangout for surfers, and a great fishing location. The octagonal building at the base of the pier is the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium. Photo: trekandphoto/Fotolia

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»Mission Beach, San Diego

Mission Beach, San Diego

Mission Beach is located in the San Diego Mission Beach community, on a sandbar between Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This beautiful, wide sandy beach stretches for two miles between the San Diego River estuary, Mission Bay Park and the neighboring community of Pacific Beach. There is a popular boardwalk on both the bay side and ocean side.

A jetty, located at the south end of the beach offers a nice grassy area and a walkway. The beach is very popular and almost always packed with sunbathers and swimmers, and is great for surfing, biking, skateboarding, horseshoes and much more. There are basketball and volleyball courts and a recreation center on the bay side. While nude sunbathing is forbidden, thong bikinis are tolerated.

Mission Boulevard at Garnet Avenue, San Diego, CA 92109 Photo: stephenallen75/Fotolia

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»Baker Beach, San Francisco

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Baker Beach is a mile-long public beach at the base of steep serpentine cliffs just west of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. Its wide, sandy expanse is great for sunbathing and surf fishing, but not for swimming as the undertow, large waves and rip currents make it dangerous. Stroll along the fine packed sand and enjoy spectacular views of Land’s End, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.

There is a nice picnic area with grills and tables in the shade of the cypress grove, and the Coastal Trail passes by the Cliffside. The beach gets fairly crowded on weekends, and it is good to note that the north end of the beach is clothing-optional

1504 Pershing Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129-3306 Photo: rschlie/Fotolia

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»California Beaches: Newport Beach

California Beaches: Newport Beach

Newport Beach is a lively Southern California coastal city famous for its beautiful beaches, large harbor, and marina filled with boats of all sizes and kinds. The municipal beach is a five-mile-long stretch of fine powdery sand great for swimmers and sunbathers who want to take advantage of the year-round mild temperatures and warm waters.

Other popular beaches are the Wedge, famous for its big waves and popular with surfers, especially off the jetty, and Corona del Mar State Beach. There are two piers on Balboa Peninsula: Balboa Pier and Newport Beach Pier. Balboa Fun Zone is an old-fashioned amusement park with a range of attractions and a Ferris wheel that offers fantastic ocean views. Photo: kgrif/Fotolia

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»Best Beaches in California: Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Best Beaches in California: Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur


Pfeiffer Beach, with its purple sand and enormous boulders, is one of the most spectacular Big Sur beaches. It is located on Los Padres National Forest land, down the hill off Highway 1, at the end of unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road. Even the ride to the beach is an adventure, with towering ancient redwoods lining up the road.

The beach is small and flat, in a tiny cove, with huge rugged boulders scattered on the purple sand. Why the sand is purple is unknown, but it is one of the reasons people come for a visit. The other reason is the rock arch, a massive boulder sitting on the beach with a large hole that looks like a gate waves constantly go in and out of. The waves are rough and the beach is not suitable for swimming, but the wild beauty is mesmerizing and makes for wonderful photos.

Sycamore Canyon Road (Right off Highway 1), Big Sur, CA 93920 Photo: SandyS- Fotolia.com

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»Arroyo Burro County Beach Park, Santa Barbara

Arroyo Burro County Beach Park, Santa Barbara

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, or Hendry’s Beach as the locals call it, is located about five miles from Santa Barbara, near Hope Ranch. It is a popular, wide sandy beach where locals come to surf, have a picnic in the nice grassy areas with barbecues, tables and benches, or let their dogs frolic in the surf.

There is a lifeguard in the summer season and sometimes it is possible to spot migrating whales. Surf fishing is also popular, and there is a sandy equestrian trail. Hendry’s Beach is also a popular spot for sunset cocktails in the charming Boathouse (formerly Brown Pelican) restaurant with tables overlooking the beach.

2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109 Photo: Bob Faulkner/Fotolia

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»Best Beaches in California: Pismo Beach

Best Beaches in California: Pismo Beach


Pismo State Beach is a 17-mile-long beach on California’s Pacific coast, surrounded by large dunes and stretching in front of the small coastal towns of Oceano, Pismo Beach, and Grover Beach. The beach is great for swimming, fishing, surfing, camping and hiking, and is known for the famous Pismo clam.

It is a bird watchers’ paradise as it is home to the brown pelican, ivory gull, and great blue heron. It is also the country’s largest monarch butterfly over-wintering colony. The sea is full of life such as abalone, sea urchins, anemones, crabs and kelp. The Pismo Beach Nature Center is located in the campground, on the Oceano part of Pismo Beach. Photo: ahfotos/Fotolia

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»San Clemente State Beach, San Clemente

San Clemente State Beach, San Clemente

San Clemente State Beach in San Clemente is a mile long narrow strip of sand in front of large dunes and railroad tracks below the rugged park with high bluffs, ravines, cliffs and forested hills. There are a few short hiking trails through the park, and in order to reach the beach, visitors have to hike down the trail and pass through the tunnel under the railroad track.

The north side of the beach is popular with surfers and the whole beach is great for swimming and skin diving. A nicely landscaped bluff top offers fantastic views of the ocean and coastal cliffs and has a picnic area with tables and benches.

225 Avenida Califia, San Clemente, CA 92672 Photo: max/Fotolia

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»La Jolla Cove, La Jolla

La Jolla Cove, La Jolla


La Jolla Cove is a tiny, very beautiful cove with a small, sandy beach surrounded by cliffs. The Cove is part of a marine reserve which mean surfboards, boogie boards and other boards are not allowed. Underwater is very rich in marine life, and swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers can enjoy watching colorful yellowtail, garibaldi, rays, and even leopard sharks from time to time.

This small beach gets even smaller during high tide, but during low tide fascinating tide pools are created. Swimming off the beach is only for strong swimmers as there are often large swells and the water is colder than at other San Diego beaches. Next read: Best Things to Do in La Jolla

Coast Blvd, San Diego, CA 92037 Photo: kanonsky/Fotolia

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»Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach


About a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge is Stinson Beach, one of the most popular swimming beaches in the entire northern part of California. It gets crowded on warm, clear days with people surfing, hand gliding, kayaking, swimming, playing volleyball, sunbathing or having a family picnic.

Nearby surf shops can rent you all the necessary equipment, and even offer lessons if you wish. There are a number of picnic tables, benches and grills, but you have to come early to grab one. A trailhead from the beach will take you to Mount Tamalpais State Park. Fishing is also good on the beach so bring your tackle and lures. Lifeguards are on duty between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Dogs are allowed on-leash everywhere but not on the part of the beach that belongs to the National Park Service.

1 Calle Del Resaca, Stinson Beach, CA 94970-9706 Photo: JOSELO/Fotolia

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»Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines State Reserve


Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is located within the city limits of bustling, modern San Diego, but it looks as wild and untamed as it looked to the early settlers, with 2,000 acres of the rare Torrey pine, maritime chaparral, unspoiled beaches, and a lagoon crucial to migrating seabirds. The reserve is home to bobcats, skunks, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, coyotes and many other wild creatures.

There are eight miles of scenic trails through the reserve with views that will take your breath away. You can see La Jolla and Del Mar on a clear day. There is even a small museum at the top of the hill. As you stroll down to the beach, you can admire ancient cliffs of Torrey Pines formed by thousands of years of pounding waves and battering storms. There is a large Flat Rock that sticks out into the ocean, which marks the beginning of Black’s Beach, San Diego’s first nude beach.

12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037 Photo: Chad McDermott/Fotolia

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»Windansea Beach, La Jolla

Windansea Beach, La Jolla


Located at the end of La Jolla’s Nautilus Street, Windansea Beach is a small stretch of sand more popular among surfers than families with kids. Large protruding rocks make swimming hazardous and big pounding waves created by underwater reefs and jutting rocks bring experienced surfers in droves. You will find the beach very different in the winter, when storms often take away much of the sand.

Nevertheless, the beach is very beautiful, with sandstone rocks sticking out from the sand and surf, and a small beach shack with a palm roof built in 1946, now a historic landmark. The scenic spot is very popular for wedding photos, and sunset photos are spectacular. There is a lifeguard on duty during the summer, and no public facilities are offered.

6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92083 Photo: Sebastien Burel- Fotolia.com

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»Best Beaches in California: Zuma Beach, Malibu

Best Beaches in California: Zuma Beach, Malibu

One of the most popular beaches in Los Angeles County, Zuma Beach is located in Malibu, just next to Westward beach and Point Dume. Its wide stretch of fine sand is very popular with families and the beach easily gets crowded. There is a strong rip current, but there are lifeguards on duty year-round.

Excellent conditions make Zuma Beach very popular among surfers and the beach hosts several large yearly surfing events. The northern end is a spot for kitesurfing, when the conditions are right. Surf fishing and diving are also popular, and the flat sand is perfect for beach volleyball. Zuma beach has been a popular location for many movies and TV shows, so it is recognizable even to those who have never visited.

30000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265 Photo: wolterke/Fotolia

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25 Best Beaches in California