California is known for having the prettiest beaches. Here are my top 15 picks for the best southern California beaches.
Most of these beaches are perfect for swimming, surfing and enjoying time in the California sun. Southern California actually has some of the best swimming beaches in the state.
Most of these beaches are also easy to access and located in urban areas next to cities, lodging, and restaurants.
1. Huntington Beach, Orange County
Huntington Beach is a seaside city in Orange County located about 35-miles southeast of Los Angeles. The shoreline of Huntington Beach is made up of five wide open sandy beaches.
The most popular of the beaches is the Huntington City Beach and the connected Huntington State Beach.
Together these two beaches stretch 6-miles along the coast. These sandy beaches are popular for surfing, swimming, and sunbathing.
The city of Huntington Beach is even called “Surf City USA” since the beaches are a popular surfing location, and also the home to many surf events each year.
These wide sandy beaches are located right next to the city, so there are nearby restaurants and hotels just steps away.
In the center of the entire stretch of the beaches you will find the popular Huntington Beach Pier.
Where you can experience some scenic views of this beautiful southern California Beach, go fishing, or get something to eat at the famous Ruby’s Surf City Dinner.
Huntington City Beach also has volley ball courts and places to rent surfboards and bikes. The Huntington Beach Bike Trail is a paved 15-mile path that runs along the beach.
2. Dockweiler Beach, Playa Del Rey
Located in Playa Del Rey within Los Angeles County is Dockweiler State Beach. This beach offers 3 miles of shoreline.
Dockweiler is the perfect southern California beach for a day trip since there is so much to do at this beautiful beach.
The day use area of Dockweiler Beach has a wide sandy stretch that is lined with 60-80 fire pits. This is one of the best bonfire beaches in Los Angeles. The bonfire pits do fill up fast so if you want to get a fire pit you should arrive early.
On the main beach there are restrooms, showers, a picnic area, and volleyball nets. There is also a beach bike path that runs along Dockweiler Beach called the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.
Jetties at the north end of the beach are a great location for fishing. This beach is easy to access with a parking area nearby, and there is also a RV park right next to the sand with 118 full hookups.
Dockweiler RV Park is the only place in Los Angeles County where you can camp with your RV right on the beach.
Dockweiler Beach is a great spot to bring the kids and it is perfect for sunbathing ,swimming and surfing.
This beach is also one of the closest beaches to LAX so you will hear the noise of planes coming and going, but the noise is worth the trip to this incredible southern California Beach.
3. Coronado Beach, San Diego County
Coronado Beach is located on a small peninsula across the bay from downtown San Diego. This beach has a gentle surf, wide open sparkling sand, and is home to the historic Hotel Del Coronado.
Many consider Coronado Beach to be one of the best beaches in California and in all of the USA. The actual beach is located in the City of Coronado which is a beautiful historic city with some incredible oceanfront dining and shopping.
Coronado Beach has a 1.5-mile long shoreline of sand that contains that mineral mica which causes the sand to sparkle and glimmer in the sun. This is one of the most popular beaches for families near San Diego.
Activities enjoyed on this beach in southern California are boogie boarding, swimming, sunbathing, beachcombing, volleyball, and tide pooling. Coronado Beach is a perfect place for walking or biking.
There are over 15-miles of bike paths in the area. There is the 14-mile out and back Silver Strand Bikeway that offers views of the water and nearby wildlife refuge and the 6-mile Around the Island Path that has great views of the ocean and the city.
Hotel Del Coronado is a huge wooden red and white building and includes restaurants and shopping. If you do visit Coronado Beach you should definitely check out this Historic Hotel.
4. Venice Beach, Los Angeles County
Venice Beach is one of LA’s top attractions. This beach is as entertaining as it is beautiful. Located in the Venice district of Los Angeles.
This 3-mile long beach stretches from the Venice Beach Pier to the northern part of the beach which borders Santa Monica.
Thousands of visitors are drawn to Venice Beach daily as this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.
This flat sandy beach is located just steps away from the city. The beach is popular for surfing, swimming, beach volleyball, and fishing.
There is also the iconic Muscle Beach Gym, a 27,000 sq. foot skate park, playgrounds, and the world famous Venice BoardWalk.
The boardwalk is lined with shopping, bars, restaurants, and street performers.
If you do visit this fun California beach, then make sure you check out the Venice Pier, which is a great place for photos, fishing and watching the surfers.
Rent a bike or scooter and check out the “Ocean Front Walk” a paved 2.5-mile path that runs along the beach.
5. Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles County
Hermosa is about a half hour south of downtown LA and offers 2 miles of beautiful shoreline. This sandy beach is popular for surfing and volleyball. It is also a great spot for families, sunbathing, and swimming.
Hermosa means “beautiful” in spanish, and this southern California beach lives up to its name as there are some great scenic views at this fun little beach.
The beach is right next to the City of Hermosa where you will find parking, restaurants and shopping.
The Strand is a wide boardwalk that borders the beach and is the perfect place for walking or biking along the shoreline.
There is also the Hermosa Beach Pier that you can walk out on to see even more views of this popular beach in Southern California.
6. Corona Del Mar State Beach, Newport Beach
This is a perfect Southern California beach for families and swimming. The half mile long sandy beach of Corona Del Mar is located in Newport Beach.
This beach is unique as it is framed by cliffs and a rock jetty, which makes it perfect for swimming.
It is also a popular location for surfing, diving, volleyball, and sunbathing. There are lifeguard stations on the beach, and beautiful little sandy coves along the cliffside.
It would also be the perfect spot for a beach bonfire as there are 16 fire rings available along the beach.
There are houses that line the cliffside, and the cliffs above the beach offer amazing scenic views. It is one the best places to watch the sunset. Some have even spotted dolphins out in the waters.
There is a grassy area near the beach that is perfect for picnics. There are restrooms, volleyball nets, picnic tables and even outdoor showers.
7. Zuma Beach, Malibu
This beach is located in Malibu right off the Pacific Coast Highway. It is one of the largest beaches in Los Angeles County. Zuma Beach is famous for its long wide sands and surf.
It is one of the longest surfing beaches in California and one of the best Southern California beaches since it offers so much to do and see.
This sandy beach stretches 1.8 miles and it is easy to access from the nearby public parking. There are over 2000 public parking spaces as this is one of the most popular beaches near Los Angeles.
There are food stands, restrooms, volleyball nets, and some nearby restaurants.
Zuma beach has life guards and is a great swimming beach. It is also perfect for body boarding and windsurfing.
The views at Zuma Beach are gorgeous. This Southern California beach is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy some beautiful scenery. It is easy to see why this beach is a favorite of so many in LA county.
8. Manhattan State Beach, Los Angeles County
This beautiful clean 2-mile long stretch of sandy beach is found about 40 minutes from Los Angeles. It is great for swimming, surfing, volleyball, and sunbathing.
The north end of Manhattan Beach is called El Porto and is a popular spot for surfing lessons. There are lifeguard stations that line this beach, and the shoreline is a wide sandy stretch.
The beach is just steps away from the Southern California beach town of Manhattan Beach, so there are plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby.
You will also find the Manhattan Beach Pier, which is one of the oldest concrete piers in the state. This is a popular attraction on the beach and it has an aquarium and cafe at the end of the pier.
9. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego
Known as one of the best places to watch the sunset in San Diego. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a great Southern California beach that sits about 9 miles west of downtown San Diego.
This beach offers some amazing scenery from the cliffs above the beach. This 68-acre park is connected to Point Loma Reserve, a protected coastal habitat.
The park features over a mile of sandstone cliffs that line the beach below. The rugged coastline and panoramic views draw in thousands of people to this beach each day. If you go to watch the sunset make sure you arrive early because parking fills up fast.
The beach and surrounding areas are also popular for hiking, surfing, and exploring. There are a few different paths and stairs that lead down to the beach. Down on the beach there are different caves and tidepools to explore.
Since this beach is so beautiful you will often see events such as weddings and photography sessions being held on the cliffs above the ocean.
While much of the beach is rocky, there are some secluded sandy beach areas that are perfect for a relaxing day.
If you are near San Diego then you will want to add this to your list of must-see Southern California beaches.
10. Doheny State Beach, Dana Point
Doheny State Beach is located in the City of Dana Point. This Southern California beach is very popular and attracts almost one million visitors per year. This was one of California’s first state beaches.
This beach has a north and south section for day-use-areas. The north end of the beach is a great place for surfing and volleyball. The north end is also where the San Juan Creek flows into the ocean.
At low tide, there are tide pools to explore. A popular spot on Doheny Beach is a 5-acre grassy area with picnic spots that are located right next to the sand.
At the southern end of the beach, you will find the Doheny State Beach Campground with 118 campsites that are right next to the ocean.
This would be a great spot to camp right next to the beach, many of the sites even have ocean views.
11. Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County
This beach located next to the cities of Laguna and Newport Beach is a 3-mile stretch that is made up of 6 different beaches.
When the tide is out these 6 beaches are all connected. When the tide is in, the separate beaches have to be accessed by their own day use points.
Some of the most popular beach access points at Crystal Cove State Park are Reef Point, Pelican Point and Los Trancos.
Off the shore of the Crystal Cove Beach is also a 1140 acre underwater park that is a great place for snorkeling and scuba diving.
At the southern edge of the park is El Moro, a 2,200 acre area with over 18 mile of trail for biking, hiking and horseback riding. In addition to the beautiful beaches there is also an adorable historic district with cottages for rent, camping, and walking trails.
Some popular hikes in Crystal Cove State Park include the 5-mile Morro Canyon Hike and the 3-mile paved Crystal Cove Trail.
The Morro Canyon Hike has some great views of the canyon and the Crystal Cove Trail offers some amazing ocean views.
12. El Matador Beach, Malibu
Sitting right next to the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu is the El Matador Beach. This beach is one of three that make up the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Park.
This beach is a popular location for taking photos and watching the sunset due to its unique rock formations and sea caves.
The beach is stunning from the cliffside, but if you walk down to the sand and water you will have to hike down a 150-foot staircase. This beach is popular for surfers due to its large swells, but not ideal for swimming as there are many rocks.
It is best to visit at low tide, so that you can explore the tide pools and walk to the neighboring Lechuza Beach. Since this beach is so stunning, you will likely see many photography sessions and it can get really busy.
The parking area is very small and fills up fast, so plan to arrive early in the day or visit during a weekday when it’s not as busy.
13. La Jolla Cove Beach, San Diego
If you are looking for the perfect beach in Southern California to go snorkeling or scuba diving then you will not want to miss out on La Jolla Cove Beach.
Located in San Diego this little beach is home to a 6,000-acre underwater Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park.
La Jolla Cove Beach is one of the top places in the world for snorkeling and scuba diving. Snorkelers get a chance to explore the underwater sea caves and canyons.
There are a variety of sea life such as Garibaldi fish, Octopus, Dolphins, Sea Turtles, Leopard Sharks, Sea Lions, and more.
The actual beach is small, but the waters are not too strong which makes it great for swimming. The cove is also a popular kayaking location.
If you would rather not get in the water, La Jolla Cove beach is still worth visiting as there are beautiful sandstone cliffs and you will often see sea lions on the beach.
If you are looking for an underwater adventure you will want to add La Jolla Cove beach to your list of the best beaches in Southern California to visit.
14. San Onofre State Beach, San Clemente
Less than a 10 minute drive from San Clemente is another one of the prettiest beaches in California.
San Onofre State Beach is a favorite of all beach lovers, but is best known as a world class surfing location.
Sunbathers, swimmers, kayakers, bikers, hikers and campers love to visit this stunning 3.5-mile long sandy beach in Southern California.
This beach is part of the San Onofre State Park and is one of the top visited state parks in California.
The three main areas of the beach include the San Onofre Bluffs, the San Mateo Campground, and the San Onofre Surf Beach.
Over 2.5 million visitors enjoy the beautiful views and amazing waters that make up this state park.
15. 1000 Steps Beach, Laguna Beach
If you are looking for a pristine beach that is less crowded than many of the other southern California beaches then you will want to check out the lesser known 1000 Steps Beach located in Laguna Beach.
You do have to walk down some stairs to get to the beach, but don’t worry the stairs are not really 1000 steps. The walk is worth it to experience this beautiful sandy beach.
The beach is a long stretch of soft sand with a beautiful backdrop of the hillside featuring some of the most lavish homes in Laguna Beach.
The view of the ocean is stunning, and you can also explore the tide pools, and there is even a hidden little sea cave that you can access at low tide.