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.
When the temperatures rise outside, there’s nothing like a 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 which beaches have the softest sand, calmest surf, and everything you need for a
great day at the beach? This list takes the guess work 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.
1. SANTA MONICA BEACH
There is perhaps no other beach in Southern California quite as iconic as Santa Monica
Beach. 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 beach goers of all ages.
2. VENICE BEACH
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 Santa Monica Bay. The smooth, sandy beach is wide and
flat with plenty of room for sun bathers to stake out a spot without feeling crowded,
and a rock jetty offers swimmers some protecting 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.
3. CORONADO ISLAND
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?
4. MANHATTAN BEACH
Located just a few miles south of Los Angeles International Airport, Manhattan
Beach is one of the most popular 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 beach goers 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 are 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.
5. HERMOSA BEACH
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”.
6. HUNTINGTON BEACH
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect Southern California beach: soft sand stretching
wide and far, surfers, sun bathers, 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.
7. CATALINA ISLAND
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.
8. MOONLIGHT STATE BEACH
Moonlight State Beach is located on the coast of Encinitas, just north of San Diego.
Moonlight is a popular destination for all kinds of beach goers 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.
9. NEWPORT BEACH
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 wear 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 sun bathing and volleyball
On the other side of the parking lot opposite the main beach, the small Pirates Cove
Beach is tucked away offering another good swimming beach as well as some fun caves
and rock formations for kids to play on.
10. ZUMA BEACH
Zuma occupies 1.8 miles of beach front 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 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.