By Shauna Murray
It’s no secret that California is home to some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. Millions of people flock to the California coast each year to visit its beaches
or take scenic drives along the Pacific Coast Highway, but what are the best swimming beaches in Southern California?
When the temperatures rise outside, there’s nothing like cooling down with a refreshing dip in the Pacific surf…if you know where to go. While each stretch of sandy coastline has its own unique charm, some are better than others when it comes to dipping a toe (or your whole self) into the water.
So where are the best swimming beaches in Southern California where you can have the softest sand, calmest surf, and everything you need for a great day at the beach? This list takes the guesswork out so all you have to do is grab your towel and sunscreen, and get ready for a day of fun in the California sun.
Santa Monica beach is on our list of best swimming beaches in Southern California because there is perhaps no other beach in California quite as iconic. The world-famous Santa Monica Pier provides the backdrop for a picturesque beach day, and the waters of Santa Monica Bay are usually quite calm for swimming. There’s plenty to do out of the water, too, with shops and restaurants on and around the pier, as well as the games and rides at the amusement park.
There’s also a great little aquarium under the pier with activities for kids to learn about the local marine life. Don’t be surprised if you see a pod of dolphins swimming by as you splash in the surf – they regularly swim close to shore, delighting beachgoers of all ages.
Venice Beach might be known for its quirky charm and for the daily circus of artists, vendors, and street performers along Ocean Front Walk, but it’s also home to some of the best swimming beaches in Southern California. The smooth, sandy beach is wide and flat with plenty of room for sunbathers to stake out a spot without feeling crowded, and a rock jetty offers swimmers some protection from stronger surf.
Of course, when you’re ready to head in from the sand, you’re in for the best people-watching of your life. There’s a reason millions of people visit Venice each year to experience all of its sights, sounds, and unique characters.
While Coronado is technically a peninsula, the “island” moniker feels much more fitting for this little escape from the mainland. Located just off the coast of San Diego, Coronado actually has five white-sand beaches including Coronado Central Beach, North Beach, Glorietta Bay Beach, Silver Strand State Beach, and the Ferry Landing Marketplace.
The crystal clear waters are just right for swimming, and Glorietta Bay is especially great for young swimmers with its calm waters. When the sun hits it just right, the pristine beaches of Coronado literally sparkle thanks to flecks of mica in the sand. So to recap: in Coronado, you’ll find clear and tranquil waters and sparkly golden sand. Need I say more?
Located just a few miles south of Los Angeles International Airport, Manhattan Beach is one of the most popular and best swimming beaches in Southern California and one of three Beach Cities in the South Bay region along with Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. This sunny stretch of coastline is a favorite among all types of beachgoers including families, surfers, sunbathers, and professional athletes.
Manhattan Beach has something for everyone. Widely considered to be the birthplace of beach volleyball, you’ll find plenty of volleyball nets along the sand that is free to use – just remember to bring your own ball. Other can’t-miss activities include a cruise along The Strand bike path, checking out the cute shops and restaurants downtown, and visiting the free aquarium at the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Keep heading south along the coast from Manhattan Beach and you’ll find yourself in the beachfront city of Hermosa. The beach itself is pretty much the same as Manhattan Beach, with a wide expanse of sand, friendly waves to swim and surf in, and volleyball nets aplenty.
What sets Hermosa Beach apart is the bustling bar and restaurant scene on Pier Avenue, where there’s often live music and an active nightlife. Hermosa Beach is just far enough away from L.A. and the freeway to feel more like a local surf hangout than a tourist attraction, which might be why USA Today called it a “Beach Boys song come to life”.
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect Southern California beach: soft sand stretching wide and far, surfers, sunbathers, a long pier over the water, and a laid-back vibe wherever you go. If this sounds like what you have in mind, Huntington Beach is where to find it. Also known as Surf City USA, USA Today named Huntington Beach “The Best Beach of California” in 2018 and it’s not hard to see why.
Surrounded on all sides by the Pacific, the water off of Catalina can feel a bit colder than on the mainland beaches, but what it lacks in temperature it makes up for in beauty. Catalina boasts some of the best diving spots in the world and you don’t have to be a certified scuba diver to experience them. Rent a snorkel and fins from a local dive shop and swim right off the beach to see the famous kelp forests and marine life that live in the Channel Islands.
If snorkeling isn’t your thing, fear not; the Descanso Beach Club has a great swimming beach and there’s even a little beach right in the harbor, where you can wade in and kids can play on the floating playground.
Moonlight State Beach is located on the coast of Encinitas, just north of San Diego. Moonlight is a popular destination for all kinds of beachgoers and is especially great for families as there’s a snack bar and a grassy park area with a playground. The white sand beach slopes gently into the ocean, so the water is usually pretty calm for swimmers and there are plenty of lifeguards on duty, too.
There are also fire pits along the beach so you can cozy up around the fire after the sun goes down. Even on a hot day, the temperature gets cool by the water at night.
The coastal city of Newport Beach is well-known for its 10 miles of pristine coastline, it’s yacht-filled harbor, and the Balboa Pier and amusement park. It’s also famous for its beaches, namely the surf break known as “The Wedge” and the Corona Del Mar State Beach, which is where you’ll want to head for a swim. Two rock jetties off the coast of Corona Del Mar offer some protection from high surf, making the waters safer for swimming, and the wide, flat beach has plenty of room for sunbathing and volleyball games.
On the other side of the parking lot opposite the main beach, the small Pirates Cove Beach is tucked away offering one of the best swimming beaches in Southern California as well as some fun caves and rock formations for kids to play on.
Zuma occupies 1.8 miles of beachfront in Malibu and at 105 acres of property, it’s one of the biggest beaches in L.A. County. Unlike some of the nearby beaches in Santa Monica Bay, Zuma opens right on to the Pacific Ocean so it’s waters can be a bit colder and more unpredictable, but on a calm day, it’s a great spot to swim and body surf. Rough surf or not, Zuma remains one of the most popular and best swimming beaches in southern California.
Visitors love it for the wide-open sand, ample parking, and convenient amenities like food stands and restrooms. It’s also a great place to observe grey whales during their migration (December through March) and dolphins and sea lions can be spotted year-round.
If you’re looking to have even more fun in Southern California, be sure to book one of our Los Angeles bus tours!