The beaches along the Southern California coast are among the most beautiful in the world. They offer everything from surfing to swimming to Ferris wheels to sunbathing sea lions and much more.
Whether it’s the rocky cliffs and secluded inlets bordering the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the music, art, and eccentric street life of Venice Beach, or the raw beauty and lavish lifestyles of Laguna Beach, SoCal’s got style. Each coastal locale along the 150 miles from Malibu to San Diego makes its own unique contribution to Southern California’s distinctive character.
On the flip side, Northern California has its beaches too. You can’t really going wrong booking an oceanside holiday in California, soaking in the beaches while zipping up the PCH.
After your day at the beach consider heading out to one of the hot springs in Southern California. Rejuvenate yourself while you soak in natural mineral water only a couple hours from the coast.
Here are the top beaches in Southern California to visit, in no particular order:
Zuma Beach, Malibu
Malibu is home to movie stars, socialites, and some of the best beaches in all of Southern California.
Zuma Beach, located right off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, is among the most popular destinations in Southern California for a traditional beach experience: swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, fishing, surfing. It’s a perfect spot for families and hobbyists alike.
The shoreline at Zuma Beach stretches for nearly two miles, leaving room for plenty of visitors and ample amenities such as showers, parking, food stands, and restaurants. If you’re there at the right time of year, you can even spot some grey whales during their winter migration.
Main Beach, Laguna Beach
Located an hour south of Los Angeles in Orange County, Laguna Beach is a seaside resort town that offers fancy restaurants, luxury spas, art galleries, and 36 beaches along its nine-mile coast.
The city’s largest public beach, Main Beach, is one of the area’s crown jewels. It has basketball and volleyball courts, bike paths, kayak rentals, a playground, and endless picturesque views. A number of shops and restaurants border Main Beach, as well as a few hotels offering dazzling balcony and rooftop views of the Laguna Beach coastline.
Tamarack Beach, Carlsbad
Carlsbad, located about 40 minutes north of downtown San Diego, is a perfect destination for a quiet, relaxed California vacation. Carlsbad is home to several beautiful beaches, but the most popular among them is probably Tamarack Beach, also known as Carlsbad State Beach.
Tamarack offers scuba diving, kayaking, windsurfing, and fishing, and is well known for ideal surfing conditions. It’s also home to the Tamarack Beach Resort (affiliate link) for those looking to enjoy beachfront sleeping accommodations.
Crystal Cove State Beach, Orange County
You’ll find a lot of trendy stores, fancy restaurants, and expensive cars in Newport Beach, but Crystal Cove State Beach, just 20 minutes away from all the opulence, is a far more quiet, unassuming place to spend your time. Dogs are only permitted on a paved trail and not on the beach or backcountry.
Located in a wildlife reserve full of hiking trails and picnicking spots, this beach is popular for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and surfing. There are a few small cafes and shops nearby, but nothing that will draw in an overwhelming crowd to spoil the peace and quiet.
Santa Monica, Los Angeles
Santa Monica State Beach is a 3.5 mile stretch of California coastline located just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. It’s home to the original location of Muscle Beach and the famous Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Pier marks the end of route 66, America’s most iconic roadway. The pier itself is one of the most iconic spots in California. It has an arcade, a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, food, fishing, and more. Beneath the pier is Heal the Bay, a marine-education center that’s open to the public.
The beach is wide and lined with bike paths that can take you 50 miles south, past Venice all the way down to South Bay. It offers picnic areas, playgrounds, bike rentals, restrooms, and concession stands. There are also restaurants with outdoor dining and beachfront hotels.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
There is no place in the world quite like Venice Beach. With a boardwalk full of artists, musicians, street performers, craftsman and other eccentric inhabitants, it’s a destination unto itself. If you’re not too busy people-watching, there are also numerous gifts shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, and art galleries to explore.
Just two miles south of Santa Monica, Venice Beach is home to the current Muscle Beach, as well as a wide array of recreational activities including basketball courts, handball courts, paddle tennis, volleyball nets, a skatepark, and bike rentals.
The main attraction in Venice Beach is all of the surrounding entertainment, but the beach itself is popular for swimming and sunbathing, and the Venice Breakwater, just north of the Venice Pier, is an iconic local surf spot.
Playa Del Rey Beach, Los Angeles
Located about 15 minutes from LAX, Playa Del Rey Beach is the quickest beach to get to once your plane has landed. It’s a part of Dockweiler State Beach, which is operated by LA County.
Amenities include a paved bike path, running paths, volleyball courts, basketball courts, a playground, lifeguard stands, restrooms, fire pits, and plenty of parking.
For those looking for luxurious sleeping arrangements in the area, the newly constructed Inn at Playa del Rey (affiliate link) is a short walk away from the beach.
Seal Beach, Orange County
Seal Beach is a beautiful coastal city in the far west corner of Orange County, just south of Long Beach. There’s a concrete boardwalk that runs along the beachfront, which is wide and flat and lined with private homes and apartments.
Seal Beach Municipal Pier is among the longest piers in the state of California. It’s a popular spot for fishing and walking, and there’s a nearby playground and sandbox.
A block over from the beach on Ocean Avenue are a number of stores, bars, and restaurants to enjoy.
Coronado Beach, San Diego
Perhaps the most picturesque of all the beaches on this list, Coronado Beach in San Diego is frequently considered among the most popular oceanfront destinations nationwide. This almost two mile stretch of bright soft sand and calm blue ocean has tons of amenities and is only 15 minutes from the Gaslamp Quarter, one of San Diego’s most popular districts. There’s even a separate pet-friendly dog beach.
Coronado is also home to the historic Hotel del Coronado (affiliate link), a sprawling Victorian beach resort that’s been open since 1888. If it looks familiar, that’s because it was used as a location in the 1969 Marilyn Monroe film Some Like It Hot. The Hotel del Coronado will cost you an arm and a leg to spend the night in, but at the very least its impressive to look at.
La Jolla Cove, San Diego
This beautiful little beach and cove may not always provide its human visitors with a safe place to swim – its swells are known to be powerful and occasionally overwhelming – but it is a flourishing home to marine life of all kinds. So much so that it’s home to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, a protected aquatic preserve.
Because of the wide array of aquatic life to observe, La Jolla Cove is a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, because of legal protections placed on marine life in this area, surfing, boogie boarding, and kayaking are not permitted.
You don’t have to snorkel or scuba dive to observe the aquatic creatures in La Jolla Cove, though. You can see hundreds of sea lions sleeping, playing, and sunbathing on the shores on any given day.
Those are among the best beaches to visit in Southern California! If it’s wintertime and you’re itching to hit the slopes, consider visiting one of the ski resorts near LA. There are several found within three hours drive.