15 Best Beaches in Southern California

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Home to some of the best beaches in the United States, Southern California is well-known for its warm weather throughout the year and a variety of vacation destinations to choose from. Whether you are looking for iconic beaches with plenty of family-friendly activities and facilities or secluded beaches that offer more privacy, you will definitely find your ideal beach in Southern California.

Some beaches are perfect for swimming, while others offer water activities like surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling. Here is our list of the best beaches in Southern California:

1. El Matador Beach

El Matador Beach, Malibu, CASource: divanov / shutterstock
El Matador Beach

Located in Malibu, El Matador Beach is one of the most stunning beaches in the region and features amazing rock formations and stunning views of the surrounding areas. The landscape allows you to find hidden coves that offer secluded areas where you can get some peace and quiet away from the large crowds of tourists.

Parking costs $9, but you can find free street parking if you come early in the morning. Families with small children should know that the stairs that go down to the beach are not stroller accessible.

The best way to enjoy El Matador Beach is to pack some food for a picnic, bring a blanket, and choose one of the hidden nooks for a romantic atmosphere.

2. Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica BeachSource: oneinchpunch / shutterstock
Santa Monica Beach

Located just a 20-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica Beach is one of the most popular beaches in California. It is a great place for surfing, volleyball, swimming, and just chilling in the sun.

Go to the Santa Monica Pier to visit the aquarium or check out the fabulous amusement park. You can also rent a bike and take it on a 22 mile-long journey from Santa Monica Beach to Torrance County Beach.

Don’t forget to watch the sun go down from the pier, everyone says that the sunsets here are amazing.

3. Zuma Beach

Zuma Beach, CaliforniaSource: divanov / shutterstock
Zuma Beach

Located right next to Point Dume in Malibu, Zuma Beach is a popular beach among surfers and there are a couple of large annual surfing events based here. Beware that the rip currents can be strong on Zuma Beach, but there are lifeguards on duty from morning to night during the summer season.

If you are into kite surfing or like to play volleyball in the sand, go to the northern part of the beach where both of these are on offer.

In case you get hungry after all of the water activities, there are a couple of great restaurants in the area including the Sunset Restaurant and Spruzzo Restaurant & Bar.

4. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach, CASource: WaitForLight / shutterstock
Coronado Beach

Popular with families with kids and couples, Coronado Beach is well-known for its calm ocean waters and the famous Hotel Del Coronado.

The beach is well-maintained and has all the necessary facilities like restrooms and showers which you can use as a visitor. One of the reasons why many people choose to come here is because the beach is ideal for safe swimming.

There are seasonal lifeguards everywhere on the beach and being pet-friendly, you can walk your dog up and down the sandy stretch.

If you get hungry and want to go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner, make sure to visit the nearby popular Gaslamp Quarter which offers all kinds of cuisine.

5. Venice Beach

Venice Beach, CaliforniaSource: Ingus Kruklitis / shutterstock
Venice Beach

We all know that California beaches have surf, sand, and plenty of sunshine, but not a single beach in the state can be compared to fabulous Venice Beach.

Here you will find everything from a 3-ring urban street circus full of artists, to barefoot sand sculptors and weightlifters. All of this activity can be found on the popular Ocean Front Walk, a 3/4-mile concrete boardwalk with fast-food spots, flea markets, and shops.

You will also find a skate park, outdoor gym, and dozens of colorful murals. This cultural hub attracts millions of tourists each year who come to people-watch and soak up the quirky atmosphere.

6. Newport Beach

Newport Beach, CaliforniaSource: Grzegorz Czapski / shutterstock
Newport Beach

A lively Southern California coastal town, well-known for its huge harbor and spectacular beaches, Newport Beach features a five-mile-long stretch of coastline. It’s an ideal beach for all sunbathers and swimmers who wish to spend their summer vacation taking advantage of the warm weather in South California.

There are two piers including the Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Pier, walk out to the ends to get some spectacular ocean views. Head out to the Balboa Fun Zone which is an amusement park that houses numerous attractions for all the family including a huge ferris wheel.

Some of the most popular activities include sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. Check out the shopping district and dozens of restaurants and bars that offer delicious meals and refreshing drinks.

7. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, CaliforniaSource: jessicakirsh / shutterstock
La Jolla Cove

Surrounded by cliffs, La Jolla Cove is one of the smallest beaches in Southern California and definitely the most picturesque beach in the region. Thanks to the 30-feet visibility under water, this beach is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Keep in mind that surfboards and boogie boards are not allowed on La Jolla Cove because it’s part of the Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. You can see a variety of marine life and fish including rays, yellowtail, and garibaldi. Even leopard sharks can be seen sometimes.

Unfortunately, the water is quite cold and swimming off the beach is not recommended for inexperienced swimmers. Vacationers who are visiting La Jolla Cove during low tide will have a chance to explore fascinating tidal pools.

8. Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach, CaliforniaSource: aragami12345s / shutterstock
Hermosa Beach

Situated in the South Bay area, Hermosa Beach is a small beachfront community famous for its outdoor activities such as surfing, sunbathing, swimming, and volleyball. There is a paved boardwalk which is perfect for joggers, bikers, and strollers.

In the evening, the Strand is a great place for people-watching and going out for dinner at one of the many restaurants. Don’t forget to check out the 1328 foot long concrete pier, also known as Hermosa Beach Pier. It was built in the early 20th century and is situated at the end of the main entertainment and shopping area, Pier Avenue.

9. Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State ParkSource: LagunaticPhoto / shutterstock
Crystal Cove State Park

Located in Newport Beach between the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway, Crystal Cove State Park is a secluded beach that stretches for 3.5 miles. Some like to call it the underwater park because of its famous reefs, tidal pools, and coves where plenty of marine life can be seen. Of course, Crystal Cove State Park is popular among scuba divers.

You will also find over 20 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking tracks and horseback riding schools. During the summer season, you will find lifeguards patrolling the area from morning to night.

If you are into long walks and like to explore magnificent tidal pools, Crystal Cove State Park should definitely be included in your list of beaches to visit while on vacation in Southern California.

10. Catalina Island

Catalina Island, CaliforniaSource: Chris Grant / shutterstock
Catalina Island

Catalina Island is situated just 22 miles off the Southern California coast and is famous for its outdoor activities including hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

After a long day on the beach, head out to the social center of the island and check out dozens of galleries and shops. You can also have a meal at one of the high-end restaurants on the island.

Don’t forget to take a camera with you as Catalina Island offers plenty of photo opportunities. The easiest way to reach the island from the mainland is by boat that departs from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Newport Beach.

Those with deep pockets who don’t want to waste time on traveling can arrange transportation with a helicopter!

11. Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach, CaliforniaSource: Sebastien Burel / shutterstock
Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach is situated at the end of Nautilus Street in La Jolla and features a small stretch of sand which is popular among families with kids and surfers. However, keep in mind that swimming is almost impossible due to the large hazardous rocks.

The beach looks quite different in winter when the regular storms blow away the sand from the beach. Nevertheless, Windansea Beach looks amazing with sandstone rocks and a cute beach shack that was built in 1946.

Many people come to this beach to take wedding photos, and with the amazing sunsets, we can see why. Unfortunately, there are no public facilities provided, but lifeguards are on duty during the summer season.

12. Manhattan State Beach

Manhattan State BeachSource: OlliCh / shutterstock
Manhattan State Beach

Situated right between Los Angeles International Airport and Hermosa Beach, Manhattan State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Southern California, with over 4 million visitors each and every year.

This two-mile-long sandy beach is ideal for surfing and volleyball. There are more than 40 volleyball courts and each year a popular volleyball tournament is organized by the City of Manhattan Beach.

Make sure to check out the popular Manhattan Beach Pier which is a hotspot for many surfers and fisherman. One of the main attractions is definitely the Roundhouse Aquarium, located at the end of the pier.

13. Arroyo Burro County Beach Park

Arroyo Burro County Beach ParkSource: sergei.gussev / Flickr
Arroyo Burro County Beach Park

Situated five miles from Santa Barbara, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is a popular sandy beach that attracts many locals who come here to surf or have a simple picnic because of all the tables, benches, and barbecues available.

Hendry’s Beach, as the locals call it, is a place where you can see migrating whales during the winter season. Head out to the lovely Boathouse Restaurant for refreshing cocktails and amazing sunset views from its outdoor terrace.

It’s a safe place to swim due to lifeguards being on duty during the summer months and you can even bring your dog with you.

14. Huntington State Beach

Huntington State Beach, CaliforniaSource: holbox / shutterstock
Huntington State Beach

A municipal pier located in Huntington Beach between Santa Ana River and Beach Boulevard, Huntington State Beach features a two-mile-long beach that is perfect for activities like swimming, surfing, fishing, volleyball, and romantic walks.

Expect to find fire-rings for cosy bonfires with friends and a couple of basketball courts for those who are more active. Head to one of the longest piers in the state which is included in the list of California Register of Historical Resources.

Perfect for families with children, Huntington State Beach offers basic facilities and has lifeguards on duty all summer.

15. 1000 Steps Beach

1000 Steps BeachSource: LagunaticPhoto / shutterstock
1000 Steps Beach

We know that the idea of walking up, or even down, 1000 steps doesn’t sound very inviting, but actually, there are only 230 steps. These steps are quite steep and lead from the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach to 1000 Steps Beach.

Thankfully, there is a sign that will guide vacationers down the steep stairs which are surrounded by trees providing plenty of shade. Once you finally reach the bottom, you will be rewarded by spectacular views of the ocean.

The beach itself is surrounded by sheer cliffs and stretches for ages. It is popular for various activities including swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. You will also notice many visitors playing volleyball in the inviting soft sand.

The only downside to 1000 Steps Beach is that at the end of the day you will have to climb back up those 230 steps.


15 Best Beaches in Southern California:

  • El Matador Beach
  • Santa Monica Beach
  • Zuma Beach
  • Coronado Beach
  • Venice Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • La Jolla Cove
  • Hermosa Beach
  • Crystal Cove State Park
  • Catalina Island
  • Windansea Beach
  • Manhattan State Beach
  • Arroyo Burro County Beach Park
  • Huntington State Beach
  • 1000 Steps Beach