Whether you're seeking ideal surfing or swimming conditions or prefer a secluded spot for sunbathing, there's a beach in Southern California for you.

By Patricia Doherty
May 31, 2020
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Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Southern California’s coast stretches from San Diego in the south through Malibu in the north, although the northern border is not consistently defined. Most guidebooks include San Diego County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. That’s about 150 miles of stunning coastline, with a mix of sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, calm bays, and wave-tossed shores. Since the summer season is nearly upon us, we’re sharing a few of SoCal’s most inviting beaches, though there are truly too many to mention.

Some beachgoers seek secluded spots on the shore, while others prefer activity, people-watching, and access to restaurants, rentals, and facilities. What we have here is a variety of the region’s offerings, along with a few suggestions of where to stay if you’re planning a road trip or local staycation. We’ll begin our tour of Southern California’s beaches in San Diego and then head north.

Coronado Island, San Diego County

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Golden sand, tide pools, convenient facilities, and a dog-friendly section at North Beach make Coronado Island’s beaches popular. Choose waves or the calm bay, and relax on the shore or stay busy surfing, paddleboarding, or boogie boarding. Cross the stunning Coronado Bay Bridge to the island, and consider spending the night in a guest room, suite, or beachfront villa at the classic Hotel del Coronado.

Mission Bay, San Diego County

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This beach area has something for everyone: kayaking, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, fishing, and, of course, swimming and surfing. Billed as “the largest water park of its kind in the world,” Mission Bay has a section for waterskiing, wave running, jet skiing, and sailing. On land, paths around the bay are ideal for skating, bicycling, and walking. Mission Bay Resort, just steps from the beach, offers an enormous outdoor pool, tennis courts, spa, and waterfront dining.

Carlsbad, San Diego County

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Coastal bluffs, green hills, and rugged cliffs set the strikingly beautiful scene at Carlsbad’s beaches. Small beaches divided by seawalls and steps for access provide uncrowded shores. Carlsbad State Beach offers gentle waves for surfing, swimming, scuba diving, and fishing, as well as restroom and shower facilities. Overnight camping is available at South Carlsbad State Beach. For luxury, golf, spa, and elegant dining, the newly renovated Park Hyatt Aviara Resort is nearby.

Dana Point, Orange County

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Doheny State Beach, Capistrano Beach, and Salt Creek Beach are all set along this scenic part of the coast. Doheny’s one mile of sandy beach offers some of the best swimming, surfing, and tide pooling, as well as a campground and picnic area. Surfers head to Salt Creek for great waves created by a small offshore reef. Monarch Beach Resort overlooks the Pacific and is home to a private beach club, oceanfront golf course, pool, and spa.

Laguna Beach, Orange County

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The artsy town and craggy hills overlook the beach here, creating stunning views of the shore. Surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, diving, and snorkeling attract beachgoers to this marine-protected area, where tide pool-viewing is also superb. Visitors can explore sea caves and coves along the seven-mile shore. Stay steps from the beach at the oceanfront Surf & Sand Resort or at the elegant Montage Laguna Beach, set atop a coastal bluff for ocean and sunset views.

Newport Beach, Orange County

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Surfers head to Newport Beach for big waves at the Wedge, and families enjoy the Balboa Fun Zone amusement park with its ocean views and vintage style. Ten miles of shoreline offer swimming, fishing, and sunbathing, and the expansive harbor attracts boaters and visitors who cruise among the city’s extravagant mansions. As for where to stay, the Balboa Bay Resort is a top waterfront option, and The Resort at Pelican Hill provides five-star luxury, golf, and a spectacular pool.

Huntington Beach, Orange County

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Known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach hosts several surfing competitions each year. Ten miles of shoreline and five beaches, including Huntington Dog Beach, offer ideal swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and fishing conditions. Fire rings at three of the beaches make watching sunset, picnicking, and roasting s’mores a special experience, too. A wide range of lodging includes the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa and the Pasea Hotel & Spa.

Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles County

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This South Bay oceanfront town’s historic pier features the Roundhouse Aquarium with more than 100 marine species along with educational exhibits. Popular with swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers, the beach is set along the Strand, a bike path that winds from South Bay to Pacific Palisades. In town, shops, restaurants, and pubs provide lots to do when beach time is done. Stay at the Westdrift Manhattan Beach, conveniently located to both LAX airport and the beach.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles County

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Ocean Front Walk, two miles of sidewalk vendors, street performers, eateries, and souvenir shops, is a Venice highlight. The broad, sandy beach also features a skate park, basketball courts, and the Muscle Beach gym. Modeled after Italy’s Venice, the city boasts a web of canals and bridges, ideal for strolling and glimpsing a variety of houses. The Hotel Erwin, situated just steps from the beach, offers tasty bites and sensational views from its rooftop lounge.

Santa Monica, Los Angeles County

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Santa Monica’s three-mile sandy shore is split by the city’s historic pier, home to amusement park rides, a Ferris wheel, a vintage carousel, arcade games, eateries, fishing, and more. The pristine sandy beach offers swimming, surfing, volleyball, and convenient facilities. Meanwhile, the walkable city features upscale dining and shopping. For a luxurious visit, stay at the elegant Shutters on the Beach or oceanfront Hotel Casa del Mar.

Malibu, Los Angeles County

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With more than 20 miles of coastline, Malibu is home to a variety of beaches, both public and private. Topanga Beach, Surfrider Beach, Nicholas Canyon Beach, and County Line Beach are popular with surfers. Leo Carrillo State Park is ideal for swimming, fishing, surfing, and exploring tide pools and coastal caves. Camping is available, and some sections are dog-friendly. The luxurious oceanfront Malibu Beach Inn is set on Carbon Beach, just steps from the shore.