The Top 10 Beaches You Can’t Miss in California

Welcome to the Golden State, where stunning beaches stretch along the Pacific coastline, offering sun-soaked shores, crashing waves, and breathtaking vistas. California is renowned for its diverse collection of beaches, each with its own charm and unique features.

Whether you’re seeking a peaceful getaway, thrilling water sports, or simply a place to bask in the sun, California has something for everyone. 

In this guide, we’ll go on a journey through the top 10 must-visit beaches in the state, showcasing their natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and nearby attractions. Get ready to discover some of my favorite coastal gems in California!

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica California sunset on Pier Ferrys wheel.
Image Credit: lunamarina

Located in the vibrant city of Santa Monica, Santa Monica Beach is a quintessential Southern California destination. Stretching for 3.5 miles along the Pacific Coast, this iconic beach offers a perfect blend of sun, sand, and a lively atmosphere.


Santa Monica Beach boasts wide sandy shores, a picturesque pier, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. I love walking the beautiful wooden pier and taking pictures of the beautiful sunsets.


There are a variety of activities to take part in at Santa Monica Beach as well. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel or roller coaster at the Santa Monica Pier, enjoy a game of beach volleyball, or rent a bike to cruise along the beachfront bike path. Surfing and paddleboarding are also popular water activities, and there are ample opportunities for swimming and sunbathing.


When visiting Santa Monica Beach, it’s best to arrive early to secure a good spot on the sand, especially during peak summer months. The beach offers ample parking options, as well as picnic areas. Additionally, the nearby Third Street Promenade offers a plethora of shopping and dining which was a fun feature while visiting the beach. 


Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach landscape.
Image Credit: DGWorld

Nestled along the picturesque Orange County coastline, Laguna Beach is a gem renowned for its natural beauty and artistic atmosphere. This coastal haven is known for its pristine beaches, charming coves, and rugged cliffs. I personally think it is one of the most beautiful beaches in California.


Laguna Beach is characterized by its stunning turquoise waters, hidden sea caves, and dramatic rocky cliffs. The blend of natural beauty and artistic inspiration makes it a favorite destination for photographers, painters, and nature lovers alike.


Visitors to Laguna Beach can explore the tide pools teeming with marine life, go snorkeling (my personal favorite) or scuba diving to discover the vibrant underwater world, or embark on scenic hikes along the coastal trails. The beach is also known for its excellent surfing conditions, attracting surfers from near and far.


Laguna Beach offers several public access points, each with its own unique features. The best part of the beach, Main Beach, is located in the heart of the town, and provides convenient amenities such as restrooms, showers, and a boardwalk. Visitors can also explore the charming downtown area, filled with art galleries, boutiques, and a wide range of dining options.


Pismo Beach

Portrait of young woman at sea looking at camera. Smiling latin hispanic girl standing at the beach with copy space and looking at camera. Happy mixed race girl in casual outfit with wind in her hair.
Image Credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock.

Located on the Central Coast of California, Pismo Beach is a charming seaside town known for its wide sandy beaches, stunning dunes, and laid-back coastal vibe. It offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and recreational opportunities.


Pismo Beach is famous for its scenic beauty, including expansive sandy shores, rolling dunes, and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. You can enjoy picturesque sunsets, go for long walks along the shoreline, or simply relax and soak up the coastal atmosphere.


Pismo Beach offers an array of outdoor activities. Take a thrilling ATV ride or go sandboarding on the impressive sand dunes at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Surfing, swimming, and fishing are popular water-based activities, and you can also explore the tide pools or go whale watching during the migration season.


When visiting Pismo Beach, be sure to check the tide schedule for optimal beach activities. The beach provides convenient amenities such as picnic areas and beachside restaurants. Nearby, you can explore the charming downtown area, visit the iconic Pismo Beach Pier, or indulge in fresh seafood at local eateries.


Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach in San Diego.
Image Credit: bennymarty

Situated on a peninsula just across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado Beach is a pristine stretch of coastline renowned for its sparkling sands, gentle waves, and iconic landmarks. It offers a tranquil escape from the city.


Coronado Beach is celebrated for its soft, white sands that stretch for miles along the shoreline. The beach provides stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the Coronado Bridge, and the historic Hotel del Coronado. It’s an idyllic setting for leisurely walks, sunbathing, and building sandcastles.


Visitors to Coronado Beach can enjoy swimming in the calm waters, picnicking on the beach, or playing beach volleyball. The beach also offers opportunities for water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and boogie boarding. You can also explore the charming town of Coronado, with its boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.


Coronado Beach provides convenient access points and has ample street parking and several public parking lots available. While there, make sure to explore the historic Hotel del Coronado, take a stroll along the scenic Ocean Boulevard, and enjoy a meal at one of the seaside restaurants.


Zuma Beach

Sunset Dume Cove Malibu, Zuma Beach, California, USA
Image Credit: ibrester via

Located in Malibu, Zuma Beach is a picturesque stretch of coastline that epitomizes the beauty of Southern California’s beaches. Known for its wide sandy shores and clear blue waters, Zuma Beach offers a quintessential beach experience.


Zuma Beach boasts pristine white sands backed by majestic cliffs and rolling hills. I thought the beach itself was quite large and provided stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.  There was plenty of space for sunbathing, beach volleyball, and building sandcastles. The serene atmosphere and beautiful sunsets make it an ideal spot for relaxation.


Zuma Beach offers various activities to suit all interests. Beachgoers can enjoy swimming in the refreshing ocean, surfing on the rolling waves, or simply taking a leisurely stroll along the shoreline. The beach also provides picnic tables, BBQ pits, and volleyball courts for group gatherings and family fun.


While visiting Zuma Beach, you can also explore nearby Point Dume State Beach and Preserve, which offers hiking trails and breathtaking coastal views. Make sure to bring sunscreen, beach towels, and a picnic to enjoy your day at Zuma Beach fully.


Pfeiffer Beach


Pfeiffer Beach Keyhole Rock, Big Sur, Monterey County, California.
Image Credit: anderm

Tucked away in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is a hidden gem renowned for its unspoiled beauty and unique features. This secluded beach offers a peaceful escape and a chance to immerse yourself in the rugged natural landscape.


Pfeiffer Beach is known for its towering rock formations, sea caves, and vibrant purple sands. The beach offers a stunning contrast between the turquoise waters and the rugged coastline, creating a captivating and awe-inspiring atmosphere.


Visitors to Pfeiffer Beach can explore the fascinating rock formations and sea arches, which make for incredible photo opportunities. It’s also a popular spot for sunbathing, picnicking, and beachcombing. However, swimming is not recommended due to strong currents and unpredictable surf.


Access to Pfeiffer Beach requires driving along the scenic Highway 1 and then taking a short hike from the parking area. There are no lifeguards or facilities available at the beach, so it’s essential to bring your own supplies. Pfeiffer Beach is a popular spot for watching the sunset, so be sure to get there early.  


Huntington Beach

Bali / Indonesia - May 22, 2019: Colorful surfboards on the beach.
Image Credit: PhotoSeka/Shutterstock.

Known as “Surf City, USA,” Huntington Beach is a vibrant coastal city situated in Orange County. With its wide sandy shores, consistent waves, and lively beach culture, it is a haven for surfers and beach enthusiasts.


Huntington Beach offers a picturesque coastline with miles of sandy beaches and a stunning backdrop of rolling waves. The beach is known for its iconic Huntington Beach Pier, providing an excellent vantage point for panoramic ocean views and beautiful sunsets.


Huntington Beach is a paradise for surfers of all skill levels, with consistent waves that attract professionals and beginners alike. You can also enjoy beach volleyball, bike riding along the boardwalk, or taking leisurely walks on the sand. The adjacent Huntington Beach Bike Trail offers scenic views and extends for miles.


The bustling downtown area nearby, known as Main Street, offers an array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Don’t forget to check out the International Surfing Museum and explore the vibrant beach culture that defines Huntington Beach.


Carmel Beach

California Coast near Carmel .
Image Credit: slickspics

Nestled on California’s picturesque Central Coast, Carmel Beach is another hidden gem known for its natural beauty and enchanting atmosphere. With its pristine white sands, dramatic rocky outcrops, and mesmerizing ocean views, it is a true coastal paradise.


Carmel Beach boasts a stunning blend of rugged coastline, turquoise waters, and golden sands. The beach is framed by cypress trees and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. It is also known for its captivating sunsets and the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links in the distance.


Carmel Beach is an ideal spot for leisurely walks, beachcombing, and picnicking. The calm waters make it suitable for swimming, and dogs are allowed off-leash, making it a popular destination for dog owners. Visitors can also explore nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, with its charming village atmosphere, art galleries, and boutique shops.


Remember to dress in layers, as coastal weather can be cool and breezy. After enjoying the beach, take a stroll through the quaint streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea, indulge in gourmet cuisine, and immerse yourself in the town’s artistic and cultural offerings.


Moonstone Beach

Exploring the coastline at Moonstone Beach in Cambria California.
Image Credit: surfphoto

Situated in Cambria, along California’s stunning Central Coast, Moonstone Beach is known for its tranquility and natural beauty. This idyllic beach is named after the unique moonstones that can be found along its shoreline.


Moonstone Beach offers a serene coastal retreat, with its long stretch of sandy shores, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque tide pools. Travelers can enjoy breathtaking ocean views, explore the tide pools teeming with marine life, and search for beautiful moonstones washed up on the beach.


Moonstone Beach is perfect for leisurely walks along the boardwalk that runs parallel to the coastline, offering spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Birdwatching, picnicking, and beachcombing are popular activities, while surfers can head to nearby Leffingwell Landing for more consistent waves.


There are several picnic areas and benches along the boardwalk, allowing visitors to relax and soak in the peaceful atmosphere. Nearby, the charming town of Cambria offers quaint shops, art galleries, and dining options to complete your coastal experience.


La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove.
Image Credit: rabbit75_dep

Located in the coastal community of La Jolla in San Diego, La Jolla Cove is a small but spectacular beach renowned for its natural beauty, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life. It is an aquatic paradise in the heart of Southern California.


La Jolla Cove showcases dramatic cliffs, sparkling turquoise waters, and rocky outcrops that provide a picturesque setting. The beach is known for its stunning underwater ecosystem, making it a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.  We enjoyed watching the sea lions

sunbathing on the rocks! 


The nearby cliffs offer scenic walking paths with panoramic ocean views. Kayaking and paddleboarding are also popular activities for exploring the caves and coastal scenery.


Parking can be challenging near La Jolla Cove, so arriving early or utilizing public transportation is recommended. After enjoying the beach, explore the charming village of La Jolla, known for its upscale shops, art galleries, and waterfront restaurants.


Other Must-See Stops in California

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Image Credit: Andrew Opila/Shutterstock.

While exploring California’s beautiful beaches is a highlight of any trip, the Golden State has so much more to offer.  Here are a few other must-see spots to add to your California itinerary.


Yosemite National Park: Home to towering granite cliffs, magnificent waterfalls, and ancient sequoia groves, Yosemite National Park is a natural wonder that should not be missed. Hike the famous Half Dome, marvel at the beauty of Yosemite Valley, and immerse yourself in the breathtaking wilderness.


San Francisco: Known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, historic cable cars, and vibrant neighborhoods, San Francisco is a must-visit city. We enjoyed exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, strolling through the colorful streets of Chinatown, and taking a scenic drive down Lombard Street. Don’t forget to sample the city’s renowned culinary scene.


Napa Valley: Wine enthusiasts should plan a visit to Napa Valley, one of the world’s premier wine regions. Embark on wine tasting tours, indulge in gourmet cuisine, and take in the picturesque vineyard landscapes. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or simply appreciate beautiful surroundings, Napa Valley is a must-see destination.


Joshua Tree National Park: Located in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park is a unique desert paradise. Marvel at the otherworldly Joshua trees, hike through rugged landscapes, and witness breathtaking sunsets. The park is also a fantastic spot for stargazing due to its dark skies and is a favorite among rock climbers.


Disneyland: No trip to California would be complete without a visit to the magical world of Disneyland. Disneyland is actually made up of two distinct parks and an entertainment and shopping district.  Experience the enchantment of these iconic theme park, meet beloved Disney characters, enjoy thrilling rides, and immerse yourself in the magic of Disney. If you are a Disney lover, like I am, you won’t want to miss this place where dreams come true for visitors of all ages.


Hollywood and Los Angeles: No visit to California is complete without a trip to Hollywood and Los Angeles. Walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, visit the iconic Griffith Observatory, and explore the cultural institutions of the city. Experience the glamour of Beverly Hills, enjoy the vibrant nightlife, and take in the stunning views from the Getty Center.


Remember, California is a vast state with an abundance of natural wonders, cultural treasures, and magical experiences. Plan your itinerary carefully to make the most of your California journey and create lifelong memories.


Conclusion: Must-Visit Beaches in California

Only on Beverly Drive Los Angeles. Beverly drive in Beverly Hills, California. Vintage style image meant to portray the affluence of Losa Angeles and it's historic neighborhoods.
Image Credit: veeterzy/Shutterstock.

California’s beaches are a testament to the state’s natural splendor and provide endless opportunities for relaxation, adventure, and memorable experiences. From the vibrant energy of Santa Monica Pier to the tranquil coves of Laguna Beach, each coastal destination offers its own unique brand of magic. Whether you’re a local seeking a weekend escape or a traveler planning a dream vacation, California’s beaches will not disappoint. 

Remember to pack your sunscreen, beach towel, and a sense of adventure as you embark on an unforgettable journey along the sun-kissed shores of the Golden State. Start planning your beach-hopping adventure today and create lifelong memories on the stunning beaches of California!

Trying To Plan a Trip to St Croix on a Budget?

Couple on a beach
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If you’re looking for an affordable vacation spot, you can find it in St Croix, USVI! With plenty of free and affordable activities and attractions to enjoy, you can have a great time without spending a lot of money.

How To Plan Your Trip St Croix on a Budget