Top 10 California Beaches

With over 800 miles of wildly varying coast, California offers a diverse feast for the hungry beach enthusiast. From pristine natural beauty to baroque displays of boardwalk culture, there’s truly something for every taste.

It’s easy to plan a trip that incorporates several of these destinations, as beachfront California vacation rentals can be found virtually anywhere along the way. Let’s look at some of the famed spots, moving up the coast from south to north.

Coronado Beach

This popular spot near downtown San Diego is notable for its “all in one” appeal, offering the full beach spectrum of swimming, surfing, volleyball, or just catching some rays on a nice big towel. It’s also a great whale watching spot from December through January each year.

Credit: Susan Smith

Credit: Susan Smith

Laguna Beach

There’s a kind of utopian feel to this breezy Orange County enclave, where an affluent population enjoys rich cultural options and clean, calm waters lapping into warm, white sands. It’s a great option for those seeking a nice, quiet day at the beach.

Hermosa Beach

Moving into the Los Angeles area, Hermosa Beach is the true capital of beach sport culture. The whole town seems built to support a healthy sporting life that includes swimming, surfing, and above all, volleyball. Professional tournaments are regularly hosted here, but don’t worry – you’ll never have trouble getting into a casual game.

Venice Beach

In this famed stretch of southern California culture, the sun and sand serve merely as a backdrop for the dizzying compilation of frantic sideshow activity. Come here to witness heavily pierced burnout hippies roller skating past you on the boardwalk while juggling chainsaws and preaching about some fabricated religion. You’ll barely notice, with everything else going on.

Credit: Kwong Yee Cheng

Credit: Kwong Yee Cheng


Another Los Angeles area institution, this icon of California surf culture retains its original distinction but today carries an added layer of relaxed Hollywood charm. Many celebrities live here, meaning you can now find every sort of amenity that exists to support a dreamy idyllic life where the best of everything is available (for a price).

Cayucos State Beach

Located a few hours north of Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County, this beautiful beach also features historical buildings and a great pier that offers unlimited views of the surrounding area. It’s an excellent place to watch sea lions and pilot whales as they pass through.

Point Lobos Natural Reserve

A true crown jewel in the California state park system, the Point Lobos area includes virgin beaches and pristine marine conservation areas. It is located along central California’s Monterey County coast, just north of Big Sur. The reserve’s coastal trails feature tide pools, plentiful wildflowers and diverse marine life, making this a nature lover’s paradise.

Santa Cruz

This sleepy beach town on central California’s Monterey Bay offers so much variety for the natural beach lover, especially surfers. Its local breaks are legendary, making this a full-time home for several professional wave riders.

Main Beach is a great place to get a taste, where a scenic boardwalk spills into nearby shops and beach life. The movie Lost Boys was filmed here.

Half Moon Bay

Just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay’s lovely protected beaches are perfect for sunbathing and picnicking. It’s perhaps best known, however, for the gigantic waves that break off nearby Pillar Point at a legendary surf spot known as Mavericks.

Baker Beach

This public beach on the San Francisco peninsula sits in the shadow of serpentine cliffs and was the original site of the Burning Man Festival. A number of rare plants grow here, but its true claim to fame is a great view of the nearby Golden Gate Bridge.