California is one of the most popular states in the United States, especially for anyone wanting to enjoy the fun and relaxation the ocean can provide. One of the most desired vacation spots or places to live is along some shoreline, and you can find some of the greatest areas at any one of the over 500 beaches in California. Not only are there many miles of sand and magnificent oceanfront to enjoy, there are also hundreds of California attractions that can only be found in this wonderful state. While there are many famous beaches, such as Newport Beach, Pismo Beach and Huntington Beach, there are so many more places to see in California that are not nearly as crowded as these. Below is a list of some of the best beaches in California that you will love to visit. There is a wide variety of types of shorelines in this list, from rocky shores with little sand, to wide open beaches with plenty of sand, that will satisfy everyone’s desire.

 

1. Manhattan Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: Kent Kanouse

Manhattan Beach is one of those California beaches that is extremely popular and very busy, especially on the weekends. Located at the city in Los Angeles County with the same name, this beach is a long, wide and flat sandy beach that is perfect for sunbathing and volleyball, and there are in fact around 100 volleyball courts ready and waiting to be used. Surfing and other board sports are extremely popular here, especially along the Manhattan Pier and El Porto.At the end of the pier is one of the popular California attractions, the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium. This little red roofed, two storied aquarium is a touch tank, several large tanks and even a baby nursery. It is such a great place to see marine life up close without scuba diving in the deep. For those that like some exercise, there is both a bike trail and a walkway nearby that are beautifully maintained. All along the beach you will find lifeguard stations, full facilities you may need and many vendors with food and drink, souvenirs and anything you may need for a full day of water sports. This is one of the most impeccable beaches in California, and was named as the top “2011 Best Places For the Rich and Single” by CNN Money. In 2008 it was named 9th in the world on the list for “21 Sexiest Beaches” by The Travel Channel. All in all, this “Pearl of the South Bay” is one of the top California beaches you will want to see.

2. Santa Monica State Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: Eiji Saito

Santa Monica State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in California, not only for the local residents but for visitors from around the world. It has everything anyone that loves sun, surf and sand could want. It is over 3 miles long with wide open expanses of beautiful sand for plenty of space to sunbathe, play volleyball or build sand castles. The rolling waves of the Pacific make for great surfing, body boarding, stand up paddle boarding or many other water sports. The Santa Monica Mountains provide a spectacular view in the background that you will love. Bike and walk paths are also there for that evening stroll or ride, and there are several places where you can rent bikes. On the north end of the beach is the Santa Monica Pier which is an historic pier that was built in 1909. Here you will find one of the most popular California attractions in the Pacific Park Amusement Park. It has everything you would expect to find in a large amusement park plus a National Historic Landmark – the 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel. The ferris wheel provides spectacular views of the ocean, and is completely solar powered! There is also a wonderful aquarium that you will want to visit. All along the beach you will find activities for all ages and interests. There are parks with playgrounds for kids, picnic areas, places to get something to eat and drink and so much more. There is the International Chess Park where players of all ages and skill level can enjoy a good match. With so much to see and do here, this certainly is one of the top places to see in California.

3. Venice City Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: allanlmitchell

Venice City Beach is right next to Santa Monica State Beach and should be next on your list of California beaches to visit. At the heart of the beach is an area known as Muscle Beach, where there are outdoor workout facilities and a “muscle display” platform. This is one of the more famous California attractions and has been featured in several movies. You will also find a large skate park built right on the beach, as well as handball courts, paddle tennis courts, basketball courts and the Skate Dancing plaza.The boardwalk, or “Ocean Front Walk” is lined with businesses where you can get anything you need to make your stay perfect. It is also well known for the street entertainers, tattooed bodies, and “eccentrics” that demand attention along the way. For anyone wanting to try their hand at fishing in the majestic Pacific Ocean, check out the very popular ‘Venice Fishing Pier’. A 1,310-foot concrete structure that is a wonderful way to spend the day. For the surfing enthusiasts the Venice Breakwater is perhaps the best of the beaches in California with its extended sand bar, piping, and large rocks at its end. Overall, Venice Beach is perhaps one of the best beaches in California you could see.

               Related: The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving California

4. La Jolla Shores Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: peter p

La Jolla Shores Beach is one of the California beaches near San Diego. It is a beautifully sandy beach about a mile long, with more gentle waves that make it a perfect spot for swimming and playing in the water. With lifeguards scattered all along the shoreline it is a safe place to enjoy the water as well. As you go toward the north end of the beach you will find it much less crowded, and the waves get rougher making it more of a challenge for surfers.At the south end of the beach you can paddle out a little way and see La Jolla Cave as well as other sites. Many people love to scuba dive here, and you can find several dive shops that offer lessons for anyone wanting to learn. One of the most popular California attractions is the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve that is adjacent to the beach. Divers and snorkelers from all over will especially enjoy this. There is a great, grassy park behind the beach to enjoy and beautiful pine covered cliffs and mountains in the background that add to the magnificent scenery. Combine all of that with the almost perfect year-round temperatures and climate of the area, this could arguably be one of the best beaches in California.

5. Scripps Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: Heather Ignas

Scripps Beach is another one of the best beaches in California. It is located north of La Jolla Shores, and is a much quieter, less crowded beach. It is very popular with surfers, who have their own designated area, making it much safer for swimmers, kayakers and others enjoying the many other water sports that are available here. In the midst of the beach is the long concrete Scripps Pier. This isn’t open to the public, but does make for some great photo opportunities, especially around sunset. There are some great tide pools along the beach which are full of amazing marine life such as star fish, sea anemones and you may even get to see some lobsters. There is a wide array of fish species in the area as well, which makes it as amazing place for divers and snorkelers. Adjacent to the beach is the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus, which is also one of the very interesting places to see in California. With all of the amenities here that you would expect from California beaches, you will have an absolutely wonderful time enjoying the water, the scenery, sunbathing and just relaxing. Take a stroll along the beach, but if you find yourself too far north, you will come upon South Blacks Beach, where clothing is optional!

6. Border Field State Park

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: danlmarmot

Border Field State Park is the furthest south of any of the beaches in California. It starts at the mouth of the Tijuana River and runs all the way to the Mexican border. Next to the border fence, in the southwest corner of the park, stands the beautiful Monument Mesa. There you will find a wonderful picnic area and grassy park,  complete with barbecue grills and restrooms. Several trails are in the area as well, for those that love to hike or bike. While the water of the ocean is not suitable for swimming in, this is still one of the best beaches in California for those wanting a quiet bit of coastline with plenty of ways to spend a wonderfully relaxing day.

7. Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: weber_sd

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge is just north of Border Field State Park on the other side of the Tijuana River. This is one of the best beaches in California for nature lovers. The view from the beach is amazing, as you can see Tijuana, Mexico in one direction, the Imperial Beach Pier to the other direction, and even the Coronados Islands off the Baja Coast. Surrounding the beach is the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, which includes wetlands that are protected, giving rise to many species of birds and wildlife. They have built a boardwalk and viewing platform so you can look out over the refuge and see some of them, There is another trail that leads through the dunes to more places where you can view the animals. Like Border Field State Park, the ocean water here is not suitable for swimming in, but this is one of those amazing California beaches where the birds and wildlife outnumber the people and are much more enjoyable to watch!

8. West Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: Michael Barton

West Fiscalini Ranch Preserve includes a mile of one of the more rocky beaches in California. It is ideal for anyone that wants to enjoy nature at its finest while also enjoying the ocean. The rocky bluffs fall right down into the Pacific, creating some wonderful tide pools. During low tide you can find some amazing sea creatures in these. Sea lions are also known to hang out here, so you may be lucky enough to see some of these guys, with the rocky shoreline and amazing ocean view, this is one of the California beaches that provides for a unique and spectacular photo shoot opportunity. There are many trails leading from the shore to the interior of the Preserve where you will find some wetlands and marshes as well as a beautiful forest of Monterrey pines. Many species of birds and wildlife live here, and with many miles of well-maintained trails throughout, you may spot several of them. For a truly unique experience of nature, this is one of the beaches in California you will not want to miss.

9. Moonstone Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: linda m bell

Moonstone Beach is one of the beaches in California that is in the Hearst San Simeon State Park. The beach consists of beautiful brown sand, and is surrounded by a rocky bluff. There are coves that are separated by rocky outcroppings that add to the beauty of this place. Scattered along the shoreline are many large rocks and logs. These are the perfect place to sit and rest after swimming and playing in the ocean, or to sunbathe on and watch people from. A wooden boardwalk runs along the top of the bluff that connects to the other beaches that are included in the Park if you have the desire to take a stroll. With hotels and restaurants nearby, as well as many shops, you will find this is one of the best beaches is California to spend extra time at.

10. Elk Creek Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: Gone to Look for America

Elk Creek Beach is one of the more unique and hidden beaches in California. Located near the tiny town of Elk, it is only accessible from the sea. Kayakers reach it by setting out from Greenwood State Beach, but find it is well worth the effort. It is a deep cove where Elk Creek flows into the Pacific, with a very large rock blocking it midstream, creating a large pool of fresh water before reaching the ocean.Surrounding the cove is a beautiful sandy beach with plenty of driftwood to make it look as it came right out of a postcard. The town itself is a wonderful sight, as it has remained untouched by commercialization more than most. There are several Bed and Breakfasts to stay at which are so much more fun than big hotels. Dine at one of the local restaurants and enjoy what the many shops have to offer and you will get a real sense of small town flavor. While more difficult to get to, this is one of the California beaches you will fall in love with. Rent a kayak or canoe, or hire a guide, and you will have the best day ever.

11. Navarro Beach

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: James Lin

Navarro Beach is situated at the mouth of the Navarro River where it spills into the ocean, and is one of the best beaches in California for anyone that also loves to camp. With two campgrounds, one with primitive spots and one with developed sites, you will find this to be the perfect place for camping on the ocean. Surrounding the beach are beautiful cliffs that fall down to the sea. You will find may caves to explore in. There are also many tide pools to investigate as the tide goes out.The beach is warm sand with plenty of driftwood to keep your campfire going nicely after a full day of playing in the ocean. The Arch of the Navarro is a natural arch in the rock that is visible from the north end of the beach. The area was once a lumber town that was booming during the 1800’s, but suffered during an economic crash later that century. Most of the buildings were destroyed by earthquakes, fires and floods, but Captain Fletcher’s Inn survived and is still there for all to get a glimpse of history from. Whether you enjoy kayaking or canoeing, camping by the ocean while watching amazing sunsets, or exploring the beautiful surroundings, this is the best beach in California where you can do it all!

12. Van Damme Beach State Park

 

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: Eduard Baba

Van Damme Beach State Park is another one of the California beaches that offers some great camping areas. There are also many miles of trails where you can hike or take your bike along the ocean bluffs or up Fern Canyon and many more scenic places. The beach runs along a semi-protected cove and is perfect for swimming, kayaking and so many other water sports. There are some sea caves a little ways out into the ocean that scuba divers love to explore. The cove is at the mouth of Little River and the small town of Little River is nearby where you can everything you could need or want to make your visit here perfect. There are shops where you can rent or buy the gear you need for a terrific day enjoying the magnificent waters of the Pacific Ocean. This is definitely one of the beaches in California that you will want to add to your list of favorites.

best beaches in California

Flickr Credit: dgonsalves2000

The Little River Blowhole is located near the Van Damme Beach State Park, and is one of the more unique places to see in California. It is a natural rock tunnel along the shoreline which the waves roll through and fall into a large depression, or “bowl”. You can drop down into the bowl by way of a steep and slippery trail. This section of the beach is surrounded by pine forest, giving it such a scenic background. There are many hidden gems like this all along California beaches that are so amazing to see. No matter where you find yourselves, be sure to ask the local residents and they will be able to direct you to some spectacular finds.

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best beaches in California
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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!
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