Pacific Coast Highway Travel's list of the best beaches in California with beaches in Santa Monica, Big Sur, Malibu, Carmel, Cambria, La Jolla and Coronado.
Picking the best beaches in California is a difficult choice, as what appeals to one person may not appeal to someone else. Some people like quiet beaches, others like beaches where there's lots to do, which inevitably means lots of people.
Families may like beaches which shelve gently, while keen swimmers may want the opposite. Some people want great surf while others couldn't care less.
Some people want a beach where you can walk and get something to eat (like Santa Monica and Huntington Beach), while others might prefer a great place for a picnic, like Pfeiffer Beach.
Nevertheless, here's our attempt to pick what we'd better call some of the best beaches in California! And they're listed purely in the order we thought of them.
We've a soft spot for it as it was the first beach we visited when we made our first ever trip to California, to see Los Angeles and Disneyland.
Situated in Laguna Beach, this scenic beach is noted for its cliffs, coves, and tide pools, making it a popular spot for snorkeling and exploring. You can't really go wrong in Laguna Beach, though, as it has nine beaches altogether, spread over several miles of coastline.
Located on Coronado Island in San Diego, this expansive beach features wide, flat sand, sparkling blue waters, and stunning views of the Hotel del Coronado. The beach is roughly 1.5 miles (2.4 kms) long and features soft, fine-grained sand, gentle waves, and clear water. What more do you want?
There are also lifeguards on duty during peak season, restrooms, showers, and picnic areas. There's also some surfing here, and beach volleyball, and it's a popular spot for jogging, and has bike paths nearby.
This secluded beach, located in Big Sur, is known for its purple sand, towering rock formations, and breathtaking sunsets. The purple hue comes from the presence of manganese garnet particles that have been washed down from the nearby hillsides.
The beach is also famous for its natural rock formations, including a large archway that sits just offshore. These formations provide plenty of photo opportunities and make for a beautiful backdrop.
The waves at Pfeiffer Beach can get quite big, making it a popular spot for surfing. However, the beach isn't always safe for swimming due to the strong currents and undertows.
Watch for the turning on the west of Highway 1, a mile south of Big Sur Lodge, marked 'Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park'. Access to the beach is along a narrow, winding road, and parking is limited. There's also a small entry fee (cash only).
Situated in lovely La Jolla, this picturesque beach features crystal-clear waters, dramatic cliffs, and abundant marine life, making it a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.
The cliffs and rocky formations create a natural barrier and make the water calmer than other nearby beaches. The rocky formations also provide an excellent habitat for a range of marine animals, such as seals, sea lions, and various species of fish.
The Huntington Beach that gives the town its name (or is it the other way round?) is known for its consistent waves, wide stretch of sand, and lively atmosphere. The consistent waves mean that you'll see lots of surfing here, which is why the town is nicknamed 'Surf City USA'.
Other popular activities here include beach volleyball, and beachcombing. The beach is also home to a famous pier, which offers panoramic views of the coastline and is a popular spot for fishing and a great place to eat.
While Baker Beach is a beautiful spot for a day at the beach, you should be aware of the strong currents and cold water here. Swimming is allowed, but it's not recommended due to the hazardous conditions.
There are restrooms here, and outdoor showers, but no lifeguards or food concessions. Visitors should bring their own food, water, and sunscreen.
Situated in Malibu, this wide, sandy beach is popular for its surf breaks, scenic views, and iconic rock formations. The sand is ideal for sunbathing and building sandcastles. You'll also see beach volleyball being played here. There's also a year-round dedicated lifeguard team.
The beach has restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and food concessions. There are also several parking lots, although they can get crowded during peak season and especially at weekends. It's also one of the few beaches in the Los Angeles area that is dog-friendly. Dogs are allowed on the beach, but they must be leashed and under control at all times.
Located in the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, this beach features white sand, clear water, and picturesque views of Pebble Beach and Point Lobos. It's a dog-friendly, and dogs are allowed to run off-leash.
It's also a great place to watch sunsets, as we know from personal experience. There are restrooms and outdoor showers, but no lifeguards. As currents can be strong and the water cold, exercise caution about swimming.
This scenic beach, located near the town of Cambria, is known for its unique moonstone pebbles, tide pools, and scenic boardwalk. The shiny pebbles wash up on the shore and are believed to have healing properties. We loved staying at the Pelican Inn and Suites and being able to get up and go for a stroll along the boardwalk in the morning.
It's popular for surfing and fishing, though you do need a fishing permit. It's also a good place to watch for whales, especially gray whales in winter.
There are also plenty of shops and eating options lining the road that's the other side of the boardwalk. Even if you're not staying here, stop off and take a break as it's only just off the Pacific Coast Highway.
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