Explore the best beaches in Southern California beaches for a fun beach day
Southern California and spending a fabulous day on the beach and enjoying the SoCal vibe is what it’s all about here. Finding some of the best Southern California beaches to explore and hang out in is part of the fun and discovery of the gorgeous coastline areas in Los Angeles and San Diego areas. Check out these local favorite beaches by travel writers and bloggers sharing the best spots to visit and spend a beach day in Southern California. These beaches are all an easy drive from Los Angeles or San Diego and are must visit beaches to explore and enjoy a swim, stroll on the beach or even a more active adventure experience like kayaking or surfing on the beach.
Beaches close to San Diego Area
The beaches at La Jolla really ooze with Southern California beach vibe from the small beach at La Jolla Cove to the larger beach area further out of the cliff areas at La Jolla Shores. There’s plenty of parking spots with free parking and access to the beach areas. For families there are picnic tables, grass areas and a nice playground. The ocean waters on the beach are relatively calm and a perfect spot for kayaking along the cave openings, snorkeling and boogey boarding fun. Both beaches are perfect spots to end your day with a gorgeous sunset experience on the beach and then a brilliant night sky where you will see bright stars up in the skies against the dark sky. Afterwards, you’ll find some fantastic brew pubs, casual bars and fine dining venues to enjoy late into the evening.
Noel With This Hawaii Life
To find the best southern California Beach, look no further than Coronado Beach. Located on Coronado Island, just outside of San Diego is one of the most gorgeous beaches anywhere in the USA.
One of the things that makes Coronado Beach so spectacular is its unique sand. An element in the sand called mica creates a gold glitter effect. It quite literally shimmers in the sunlight and is exquisite during sunset! For a short 2-day visit to San Diego or a longer week trip, this is a must on any itinerary.
While visiting Coronado Beach, travelers should witness the iconic Hotel del Coronado. At over 130 years old, this red-roof hotel is full of history. Presidents and royalty have stayed there, it’s such an icon.
Because this beautiful beach is nestled on an island with limited space, parking can be a bit of a challenge. Visitors who arrive early in the morning later in the day – after 4pm to find parking parallel to the beach. Parking is free near the beach and walking may be necessary if the beach is full, such as holidays or weekends.
Before or after a visit to Coronado Beach, the restaurants on Orange Avenue will satisfy any craving. Find everything from quick bites to ice cream, full-service meals and more right near Coronado Beach.
Recommended by Nikki of She Saves She Travels
Mission Beach Belmont Park
Located close to SeaWorld, Belmont Beach is the typical SoCal beach with a long beach promenade boardwalk and lively amusement park area and Long beach area with lifeguard stations set up at strategic intervals. A fun pass time with family is to rent bicycles to go down the paved promenade or even skate, jog or walk the promenade to enjoy the views, people watching and just being outdoors on Mission Beach. For water fun, you can SUP, kayak, swim or even take a surfing lesson on the beach if you feel challenged to trying this fun sport.
There’s a lot of fun amusement games, rides, food venues and other entertainment at Belmont park amusement park that is family friendly and very colorful to see at night time. Parking is free and easy with plenty of parking spaces at Belmont park area.
Torrey Pines State Park
Located north of La Jolla at Torrey Pines, the state beach park here is lined with tall cliffs with a long sandy beach area. One of the most popular state park beaches in San Diego, Torrey Pines also has a 2,000 acre state park reserve with hiking trails, pine forested areas, sandstone canyons and dirt trails that is accessed mostly on the north end of the park. You can get a day use pass by paying at the automated pay stations and costs for day passes vary from 15-$25 based on demand pricing. Parking spots fill up early at the park so you should come early or later in the day or wait on the side until a spot opens up and you can enter.
The north area of the park is rugged and good for swimming or surfing and other traditional beach activity while the area of the southern part at Blacks Beach is a naturalist spot geared towards nudists, gays and even surfers that like the swells that are popular.
Check out the Torrey Pines website for details and conditions here for more information to visiting the park area.
Beaches close to Los Angeles Area
Visit Laguna Beach
California has so many amazing places to visit and Laguna Beach is one of the top. Located in Orange County, just an hour south of LAX, its nine miles of waterfront beaches there are 36 named beaches. It is one of the only places in Southern California where you can stay in a hotel literally on the beach.
The parking is not terrible, as there is metered and street parking available. If you are coming on a weekend you may want to get there early to get a spot, for both the parking and for a spot on the beach. The beaches are clean and spacious, but they too can fill up very fast.
The most popular things to do are to enjoy swimming, surfing, hiking and watching the sunsets. Motorized water sports are prohibited by Laguna Beach as it is a Marine Life protected area. This means that there are not boats blocking the view of the beautiful sunsets. Victoria Beach has an old lighthouse that makes for some great sunset pictures. Heisler Park is also a great spot for sunset and for posting up for the day.
There are two major spots you may want to hit while in Laguna Beach. The first is shopping along the South Coast Highway for all the cute local shops, your money makes such an impact when you shop small and these shops have some amazingly cool stuff. The second stop is to visit the smallest church in Southern California, it once was the smallest cathedral, according to the Guinness book of world records, it lost that title, but now remains as a National Landmark. It is quite the hike up to it, but totally worth the climb to see this super cute church, this is incredibly tiny!
Rebecca McKellips with Whatever Packs Your Bag. Com
Voted a Reader’s Choice “Best California Beach” in USA Today in 2018, Huntington Beach is the quintessential year round beach destination in southern California — perfect for summer fun in the sun, and one of the best warm places in the US to spend the winter.
Located just a 50-minute drive from Los Angeles on I-605 S or 1 1/2 hours north of San Diego on I-5 N, Surf City USA is a popular beach getaway for the day or longer.
Huntington Beach is famous for its soft, super wide 8.5-mile-long beach, and even more famous as a mecca for surfers of all skill levels. There are over 500 designated fire pits right on the beach that can be had on a first come, first served basis along with volleyball courts, and a wide cement pathway that runs the length of the beach with casual walk-ups to grab a bite and a cold drink.
The big draw here is surfing. The surf culture has a long history that is on full display along the Surfing Walk of Fame and at some of the coolest fun surf shops found anywhere. You’ll find more surf shops than you can imagine. If you can’t find a piece of surfing gear here, it no doubt doesn’t exist.
But surfing and the beach are not the only reason to visit. Right across the street from the beach and the famous Huntington Beach pier, you’ll find parking, upscale shopping, excellent restaurants and unique eateries to fit any budget, and beautiful hotels.
Even if you’re not inclined to try your hand at surfing, Huntington Beach is a great place to just chill out.
Lori with Travelin Mad.com
Santa Monica State Beach and Santa Monica Pier
One of the most popular LA beaches at Santa Monica Beach and Piers is well loved by LA locals enjoying a day on the beach and also the pier and amusement park. There is no fee to enter the pier and the beach area has various parking lots is typically maintained and cleaned daily. The paved promenade is popular with joggers, bikers and walkers on the pave trail enjoying time outdoors on the beach area. Swimming, boogey boarding and surfing are popular water options on the cool Pacific Ocean waters.
The beach area is large at 3.5 miles and wide beach with nice sandy beach that is maintained daily. Also the beach area is accessible by local hotels, restaurants and the pier with other tourist venues, amusement park, playground and stores.
The expansive Santa Monica pier is a popular tourist attraction with an aquarium, restaurants, shopping and an amusement park that is family friendly and fun to explore. You’ll also get nice views and photo ops of the water and coastal areas off the pier. Check out additional information to visiting Santa Monica State Beach here for more information.
Sands Beach in Goleta, California is a truly hidden gem. Located just outside of Santa Barbara, this is the perfect beach for nature lovers looking for a remote and relaxed beach. Conveniently, it is not too far from Santa Barbara, a popular town with all of the proper amenities.
A large part of this beach’s uniqueness is its remoteness, although it is not too difficult to find. To get there, one must simply take the Storke Road exit off Highway 1 and drive straight up until a street called Camino Mallorca. On Camino Mallorca there is a long row of parking. Once parked, there is a trail that runs cliffside above the ocean, that leads down to the beach. The parking and entrance to this beach is completely free, although it is important to note there are no amenities.
Sands Beach is the perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of Southern California, and simply embrace its beautiful nature. California’s endangered and protected bird species, the Snowy Plover nests here, and the Snowy Plovers are a beautiful delight to watch at Sands Beach- from a safe distance of course!
Dolphins also frequently play at Sands Beach, and relaxing on the beach with eyes on the ocean is a great way to see them splashing and playing around in the surf! Speaking of surf, surfing is one of the best activities to do at Sands Beach. The waves are fun and gentle, and your chances of spotting dolphins are that much greater while in the ocean itself!
By Haley from Gathering Waves
Visiting the colorful and wacky on Venice Beach
A visit to Venice Beach delivers to the SoCal vibe, colorful characters and skimpy bath suits and outdoor strolling and people watching fun. The main walking promenade through the beach is made for enjoying a nice walk, bike, roller blade or some outdoor activity through the wide pathways which are full all morning to late afternoon timeframe. But don’t spend all your time just enjoying the boardwalk area, hit the beach and enjoy the swimming, boogie boarding or surfing fun on the water. Or you can work out at the outdoor gym at Muscle Beach, go hang out at the cool skate board park or play some vicious sand volleyball if your challenged.
Venice Beach is fun, wacky and eclectic, just what you would expect and LA type of beach and SoCal cruising the boardwalk to be. You can also find some cool rooftop Lounges to hang out above the beach, Visit iconic Menotti’s Coffee stop with the artsy vibe, check out the Venice beach lagoons or do your own walking tour of the Venice Beach murals around the board walk area. For something really one of a kind, check out the mosaic house at Venice Beach here where this couple mosaic tiled their entire home, inside and out.
Carlsbad State Beach
Carlsbad is located about 40 minutes north of downtown San Diego. It is home to attractions including LEGOLAND® California Resort, SEA LIFE Aquarium®, The seasonal Flower Fields, K1 Speed and of course, gorgeous beaches!
The most popular and accessible beach is Carlsbad State Beach, also known as Tamarack Beach. It stretches from just south of Tamarack Avenue, to Frazee Beach, near Carlsbad Village Drive. Standup paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing, skim boarding, swimming, scuba diving, windsurfing, fishing and beachcombing are some of the most popular beach activities in Carlsbad.
Tamarack Beach is incredibly popular for skimboarding; using a board (much smaller than a surfboard) to glide across the water’s surface and sand to meet an incoming breaking wave, and ride it back to shore.
A section of this beach includes the Carlsbad Seawall, a paved 4-mile walking path along the coast that extends from Carlsbad Village drive to Cannon where you can walk, jog, rollerblade and cycle.
Carlsbad State Beach is famous for it’s sunset view. Every night people gather on the bluff at the north end of the beach to watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean.
A plus to Tamarack Beach are the amenities which include restrooms, a picnic area with five picnic tables and lifeguards in towers 21-28. The easiest parking is found on Carlsbad Blvd and on the surface streets near the beach. Another parking option is Ponto Beach, which is just south of the campground and has a pay lot.
Check out Alexa’s post on Top things to do in Carlsbad
West and East beach in Santa Barbara
With long stretches of wide beach areas, a paved walking/biking trail area, the West and East Beach areas of Santa Barbara close to downtown is where most locals go for accessible parking and enjoying the beach areas. Sundrenched and sandy coastline with almost perfect sunny weather, the beaches here in Santa Barbara are fantastic with gorgeous conditions, beautiful sunsets and lots of space to spread out between the seven beach areas in Santa Barbara area. On East beach is Stern’s Wharf which is a boardwalk and working wharf over the Pacific ocean with restaurants, shops and water tour outfitters to explore, eat and enjoy the views from the pier into the beach and coastal areas. Lifeguard stations around all the beach parks are set for watchful guards that are always checking conditions in the area and surf changes.
Other popular beach areas to explore and spend some time in Santa Barbara include: Butterfly beach, Leadbetter beach, Goleta Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach and 1000 steps beach, just a short drive from downtown. Check out the Santa Barbara beach scene here for more information to visiting any of the beaches in the area.
Check out these other posts to visiting SoCal areas
Have you visited any of the best beaches in Southern California
These SoCAl beaches in California are impressive raw or more urban seaside beaches with amenities, dining and drinking venues and walking promenades. But they are fun to hang out and enjoy a beach day, explore and hike and even on a few enjoy tidepool areas or do some type of outdoor adventure on the beach.
If you have visited any of these wonderful beaches do you have any comments or tips to share? Please share on the comments below.
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