17 Best Beaches in Southern California

Whether you're seeking ideal surfing or swimming conditions or a secluded spot to sunbathe, there's a SoCal beach for you.

Southern California beach with Santa Monica pier in background

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Southern California's coast stretches from San Diego in the south to Malibu in the north, although the northern border is not clearly defined. Most guidebooks include San Diego County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. That's more than 150 miles of stunning coastline, with a mix of sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, calm bays, and wave-tossed shores.

Some beachgoers seek secluded spots on the shore, while others prefer activity, people-watching, and access to restaurants, rentals, and facilities. Here, we have 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.

Coronado Beach, San Diego County

The Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island
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Pillowy sand, tide pools, convenient facilities, and a dog-friendly section make San Diego's Coronado Beach popular. Set away from the rest of the city by the overwater Coronado Bridge, the island has a shoreline of sparkling, seemingly gold-flecked sand. Bring your pooch along and let it run around off-leash at the top of the beach, nearest to the North Island U.S. Naval Station. And if you're looking to spend the night, luxury awaits you at the historic "Del" (aka Hotel del Coronado). The sprawling hotel — a complex, really, separated into "villages" — provides oceanfront accommodation with a side of SoCal nostalgia.

Mission Bay Park, San Diego County

High-angle view of San Diego Mission Bay and Beach
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This beach area has something for everyone: kayaking, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, fishing, and, of course, swimming and surfing. Mission Bay Park, 15 minutes from central San Diego, spans 4,235 acres and has been billed as "the largest man-made aquatic park in the country." It includes a section for water skiing, 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, a spa, and waterfront dining.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego County

Aerial view of waves crashing on La Jolla Cove

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The coastline curves perfectly around this La Jolla beach, making it a refuge for sea lions and snorkelers alike. The marine reserve offers stunning scenery comprising seaside cliffs and verdant vegetation, and the village gives a glimpse of what's to come further up the coast — i.e., upscale shopping, refined dining, and other hallmarks of high-end OC-esque lifestyles. One of the biggest draws to La Jolla Cove is the sparkling blue water, often called the clearest in Southern California. Be sure to go during low tide because the beach is pretty narrow and likely to be submerged otherwise.

South Carlsbad State Beach, San Diego County

Colorful sunset off the coast of Carlsbad

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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 accessed only by steep steps mean uncrowded shores. South Carlsbad State Beach offers gentle waves for surfing, swimming, scuba diving, and fishing, as well as restroom and shower facilities. Overnight camping is available here, too, but for more upscale accommodations — that come with access to a golf course, spa, and elegant dining — Park Hyatt Aviara Resort is a 10-minute drive away.

Doheny State Beach, Orange County

Aerial view of Doheny State Beach with town in background

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Doheny State Beach in Dana Point was California's first state beach, made public in 1931. It's more than a mile long and offers some of the best swimming, surfing, and tide pooling around. On dry land, beachgoers can play volleyball at one of the public courts, hike the San Juan Creek Trail, or grab a frozen margarita from the Doho Cafe and bask in the salty breeze. The state park has picnic areas aplenty and serves as a campground; however, those who prefer more upscale accommodation will find a number of resorts perched right on the sand.

Treasure Island Beach, Orange County

People sitting on Treasure Island Beach at sunset

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A sandy, rock-free bottom primes the water at Treasure Island Beach for swimming. This cove becomes Aliso Beach Park at the south end, but stick to the north side if you want a little more peace and quiet plus some epic scenery created by the towering palm-topped cliffs that surround it. When you work up an appetite, head up to the Mosaic Bar and Grille, part of the Montage Laguna Beach, which co-manages the beach with the city. Order a Mai Tai and the poke bowl to have on the ocean-facing patio.

Diver's Cove, Orange County

View of Diver's Cove from Heisler Park in Laguna Beach
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An artsy town and craggy hills overlook the Pacific in Laguna Beach, where an array of desert flora often meets the sand. The beaches here characteristically curl around the ocean and create protected coves ideal for diving and snorkeling. Diver's Cove is one of Southern California's best beaches for underwater viewing. It's also right next to beautiful Heisler Park, where you can walk through impeccably manicured gardens, play a game of lawn bowling, admire the public art, barbecue, and look out over the marine refuge.

Balboa Peninsula Beach, Orange County

Drone shot of Balboa Island pier and beach

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Surfers flock to the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach for big waves at "The Wedge," where 30-foot swells crash on the tip of the peninsula. Meanwhile, families go to enjoy the Balboa Fun Zone amusement park, where they find ocean views and vintage rides. The peninsula stretches about three miles, and the side facing the ocean is all beach (the other side is all harbor). Along the white sand are stunning homes to admire, all kinds of restaurants for refueling, bars, hotels, and more. The centerpiece of the beach side is the Balboa Pier, around which you can rent bikes, grab an ice cream, let the kids loose at the play area, and take advantage of public restrooms and showers.

Huntington State Beach, Orange County

Aerial view of Huntington State Beach

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Known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach is home to a pier and lively downtown area, plus a dog beach and surfing competitions throughout the year. Needless to say, it can get quite crowded at the peak of tourism season, so those in-the-know tend to escape to Huntington State Beach, about two miles south of the pier. This state beach spans 121 acres and features ball courts, nature trails, bonfire rings, and two miles of coast ideal for surfing, swimming, fishing, and sunbathing. For birders, this beach is heaven — home to elusive and endangered species such as the California least tern — especially because it's located across from a 114-acre wetland reserve.

Descanso Beach, Los Angeles County

Cabanas lined up along Descanso Beach on Catalina Island

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Who knew Southern California could be so... Mediterranean? On the Avalon side of Catalina Island, you'll feel like you've been transported to a European seaport via an hour-long ferry ride from LA. Hotels and shops ascend the dusty hills and wrap around a yacht-dotted harbor. There's the public beach, then there's Descanso, a private beach club where you can rent a cabana and sip Veuve Clicquot like an A-lister. DJs liven up the beach bar on Saturdays in the summer. Descanso Beach is within walking distance of the town and costs just $2 to get in.

Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles County

People walking around downtown Hermosa Beach

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It can be tough to find a spot of sand in LA County that isn't jam-packed with families or large groups of twenty-somethings, but Hermosa remains relatively quiet compared to its neighbors. In any case, the beach, with its extensive pier and ample opportunities for fishing and surfing, is just one reason to love Hermosa — there's also its lively town, home to the Lighthouse Cafe, known for its jazz brunch, and the iconic Hermosa Beach Comedy and Magic Club, where comedy greats from Jay Leno to Jerry Seinfeld have been known to pop in.

Manhattan County Beach, Los Angeles County

Manhattan beach pier

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Adjacent to Hermosa Beach, only a couple miles away, this South Bay oceanfront town has a historic pier featuring the free-entry Roundhouse Aquarium, which houses more than 100 marine animals along with educational exhibits. Popular with swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers, the main 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 your beach time is done. And if you're looking for a place to stay, the Westdrift Manhattan Beach is conveniently located to both LAX airport and the beach.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles County

People cycling along a beach walkway on Venice Beach

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Ocean Front Walk — a 2.5-mile boardwalk featuring vendors, street performers, eateries, and stores — is a Venice highlight. You can rent a beach cruiser right on the boardwalk and pedal through the chaos or grab an ice cream and souvenir shop hop. The beach also has a skate park, basketball courts, and the iconic Muscle Beach outdoor gym. Modeled after Italy's Venice, this part of the Los Angeles coast boasts a web of canals and bridges ideal for strolling and admiring houses. Hotel Erwin, situated just steps from the beach, offers tasty bites and sensational views from its rooftop lounge.

Santa Monica State Beach, Los Angeles County

Santa Monica beach with Ferris wheel and mountains in background

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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 beach around it offers swimming, surfing, volleyball, exercise equipment, a bike path, and convenient facilities. Meanwhile, the walkable downtown area features upscale dining and shopping. For a more locals-only atmosphere (and easier parking), head south of downtown to the stretch of beach parallel to Main Street.

Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Los Angeles County

Surfers in the water with Malibu Pier in background

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Drive through Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway and you'll likely see a line of old-school Volkswagen buses and sun-bleached bangers with surfboards strapped to their roofs parked just north of the pier. It's technically called Malibu Lagoon State Beach, named after the wildlife-rich lagoon that stretches inland from the sea — great for tide pool viewing — but the locals call it Surfrider Beach because of its iconic swells. Even if you aren't drawn to the sport, it's fun to watch the locals, not to mention the century-old Malibu Pier is a short walk away and has a regionally renowned brunch.

Point Dume, Los Angeles County

View of beach from top of Point Dume, Malibu

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Farther north along the PCH is one of Southern California's most beautiful and famous beaches. You might recognize the soaring cliffs of Point Dume from "Planet of the Apes" or "The Big Lebowski." In real life, they're popular among local rock climbers. Whether or not you plan to scale the oceanfront walls, you can walk to the top of them — sometimes amid a sea of wildflowers. The top offers a great vantage point for spotting sunbathing sea lions and whales in the water.

El Matador State Beach, Los Angeles County

Daisies in the foreground El Matador State Beach in the backgroudn

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The scenery gets arguably even more dramatic the further north you go. Near the top of Malibu, El Matador State Beach has some of the most impressive rock formations on the Pacific Coast. Columnar features rise from the water, and arches large enough to walk under jut out from cave-dotted sea cliffs, making this beach the most beautiful in Southern California, according to some. Birds love this secluded little pocket about as much as the average sunbather, but beware there is one minor barrier to entry: To get down to the beach, you have to descend quite a few stairs.

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