13 Best Beaches in Southern California You Shouldn’t Miss

South California is all about its picturesque beaches, long stretches of sand along the Pacific Ocean, and some hidden unknown gems drawing people to soak in the moment of tranquillity and beauty of nature.

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Best Beaches in Southern California

Here you can relish quiet strolls along the shores, taking in the fresh coast air and vies sun setting down or even catching a glimpse of dolphins gracefully swimming near the coastline. The Southern California beaches offer something to everyone!

The temperature is perfect for cooling down and learning some beach activities like surfing in SoCal. Just imagine sitting on the softest sand, dipping your toes into the water, and reading your favorite storybook. How does it feel?

So, let’s know some known and secluded and best beaches in Southern California for vacation.

My Favourite Unheard Beaches in Southern California –

1. Coronado Beach

Coronado isn’t your typical natural beach; it’s a charming man-made “island” nestled in the heart of the Crown City, beckoning you to a Pacific paradise with its half-mile stretch of glistening silver sands. 

If you ask anyone from San Diego, they’ll tell you that this beautiful peninsula, just a stone’s throw away from downtown, is the ultimate destination for soaking in panoramic views and enjoying mouth-watering seafood with your friends. 

Locating Coronado is a breeze – just follow the iconic Coronado Bridge, and you’ll find yourself at the doorstep of the Hotel Del, where the beach sprawls before you in all its glory. 

The breathtaking vista, complete with the gentle rhythm of the waves, will effortlessly soothe both your eyes and your soul. 

Once you set foot on Coronado’s shores, you’ll quickly understand why it’s earned its well-deserved reputation as one of the best beaches in the United States. TripAdvisor, The Travel Channel, and Dr. Beach.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Coronado several times, savoring its small-town charm and watching the sun dip below the horizon with my family. California’s small beach towns are so beautiful to explore!

But this year, I decided to enroll in the Surfing Academy –to learn something new! And if you’re a dog owner, there’s a special treat in store for you. 

Head straight to the northern end of Coronado Beach, where your furry friend can roam leash-free. The view of the majestic Hotel del Coronado and the picturesque Point Loma from this point is nothing short of amazing!

Coronado Beach, Best Beaches in Southern California
Coronado Beach

2. McWay Cove

No matter where my travels take me, and regardless of the breathtaking sights I come across, I’ve been always fortunate to witness, McWay Cove in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, nestled in the heart of Big Sur.

Disclaimer: I know it’s on the central coast but just south of the San Francisco Bay Area!

It all started in 2017 when I came across an aerial photograph of the cove on Instagram for the very first time. The moment my eyes met that stunning image, I knew without a doubt that I had to experience the beauty of McWay Cove in person.

It was only after two years, that I was, standing at the exact spot where that photographer had captured the magic. Let me tell you, the view was nothing short of hypnotizing!

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The cove looked like a horseshoe shape, surrounded by towering cliffs cloaked in lush greenery. The sky overhead was a pristine canvas of clear blue, and the Pacific Ocean shimmered with an enchanting shade of aqua blue.

But the adventure had only just begun. As I kept hiking through a pristine forest, I could hear the waves crashing in the distance. What awaited me was an 80-foot-tall, cascading waterfall that graced the cove.

McWay Cove is a true hidden gem in Southern California, and it’s an experience you simply cannot afford to miss out on! Also, if you’re planning to propose to your girlfriend in California, this location is great!

McWay Cove
McWay Cove

3. Leo Carrillo Beach

We Californians are born with a natural zest for adventure and enthusiasm, and in keeping with that spirit, I’ve got a gem of a spot in Southern California that’s perfect for you – Leo Carrillo Beach. 

Starting from windsurfing, cave exploration, and tide pooling, to relaxing on the beach and the chance to bask in the presence of giant sycamore trees, it has all of it.

For those who like to camp under the starry Southern California skies, there’s a campground waiting for you. And for the hikers with dreams of conquering the Malibu Mountains, this is a golden opportunity. 

I highly recommend spending time on the Yellow Hill Fire Trail, exploring the Channel Islands, and tackling the steep Nicholas Flat Trail, which will eventually lead you to a serene little pond where you can kick back and relax.

Of course, there’s a small entry fee of USD 12 to access this outdoor haven, which might pinch your pockets just a little. But I promise you, it’ll be worth every cent. If you’re searching for affordable options, I would ask you to look into my other blog on budget-friendly places in California.

Plus, the good news is it is one of the dog-friendly beaches in Southern California – just be sure to keep them on a leash.

Prepare yourself to revel in the wild beauty of this place, and who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of the majestic whales that pass by. The topography supports a wealth of small marine animals, so be sure to have your camera ready. 

Tip: Tide pooling in South California’s Leo Carrillo Beach is must try thing

 Leo Carrillo Beach
Leo Carrillo Beach

4. Huntington Beach

In 2016, Huntington Beach, situated just southeast of Los Angeles, earned its well-deserved reputation as one of the best SoCal beaches and indeed the entire USA. 

Once you set foot here, you’ll understand why. The picturesque view of palm trees, crashing waves, and the iconic pier will capture your heart. I had the pleasure of visiting in the winter months, and let me tell you, there was hardly a crowd in sight. 

However, if you plan your visit during the summer, you’re in for a treat. Huntington Beach hosts some incredible annual events like the Great Pacific Air Show and the Van US Open. 

In August, you can experience the electrifying US Open of Surfing, drawing water sports enthusiasts from far and wide. 

But the hidden gem of this beach: the fire rings. These rings allow you to cook your own BBQ right on the beach, and that’s simply fantastic. Just a quick word of caution: the beach closes at 10 p.m., so plan your beachfront barbecue accordingly.  

For those who enjoy vibrant nightlife and a unique character, make your way to Downtown Huntington Beach. Here, you’ll discover beautiful restaurants, architectural gems, and a plethora of shopping centers to satisfy your desires.

huntington Beach
Huntington Beach

Scenic Beaches in Southern California

5. Mission Bay Park, San Diego

What could be more amazing than visiting an artificial aquatic amusement park with a sandy beach while gazing at the Pacific Ocean with your friends? Welcome to Mission Bay Park, where you can bask in the sun, go jet skiing, sailing, surfing, wakeboarding, and even camping. Trust me, this is one of those best SoCal beach camping sites. 

But you know, I have a soft spot for all things organic. That’s why I always enjoy visiting Mission Beach as well. I can assure you, that this place is much more vibrant compared to Mission Bay Park. Here, you’ll discover charming shops, delightful restaurants, and a thriving nightlife scene

Mission Bay Park, San Diego
Mission Bay Park

6. El Matador Beach, Malibu

Being on El Matador beach feels like you’re on a private pocket beach where you’ll awarded with natural treasures like – sea caves, pristine white sugary sand, natural archways, and the sight of small sweet marine creatures.

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During my visit to El Matador, I had the chance to witness a professional photoshoot in progress, featuring supermodels set against the backdrop of towering cliffs on one side and the setting sun on the horizon. 

I won’t say much about the photoshoot, but I can tell you that the ambiance during the sunset is incredibly romantic! While at El Matador, I also spotted surfers and bodyboarders enjoying the waves. 

However, I’d advise against swimming here, as this beach is known for its rocky terrain. To reach the beach, you’ll need to descend a steep staircase, and during low tide, you can take advantage of tide pooling. El Matador Beach truly offers a unique and enchanting experience in Southern California.

El Matador Beach, Malibu
El Matador Beach

7. Abalone Cove, Rancho Palos Verdes

In 2007, when I was new to California for the first time, my friend took me on the famous shipwreck hike in Rancho Palos Verdes. Little did we know that there was a hidden, stunning cove right nearby. It wasn’t until five years later that we discovered Abalone Cove Reserve, and we were mesmerized after our first visit.

This beautiful reserve is located to the west of LA and offers the perfect setting to spend some quality time with yourself, contemplating life and watching the sunset. You’ll hardly encounter many people here; it’s an incredibly peaceful spot. 

If the tides are low, it’s an excellent California beach destination to bring your sister or cousins to spot sea urchins, starfish, and sea anemones, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot migrating whales and resident seals. Abalone Cove Reserve is a hidden gem that provides solace and wonder amid Southern California’s bustling life.

Abalone Cove, Rancho Palos Verdes
Abalone Cove

8. Seal Beach

As you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll come across the iconic wooden Seal Beach Pier. Follow that, and nestled between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find Seal Beach, a fantastic spot for families with children.

This beach is all about spending quality time, relishing delicious sandwiches, and enjoying the soothing sounds of ocean waves, the melody of chirping birds, and the laughter of children at play. This is one of the best family-friendly Pacific Coast beaches in South California. 

I should mention that the beach can get a bit crowded, so if you prefer a quieter experience, head to the north side of the pier. On the north side, you can take the opportunity to learn to surf on the gentle waves. I must say that this is the best surfing spot in South California. 

If you venture to the south side, you can indulge in some bodyboarding and skimboarding. After you’ve had fun in the sun, don’t forget to explore the various restaurants and bars, and then you can truly call it a fantastic weekend at Seal Beach!

Seal Beach Restaurants
Seal Beach Restaurants

9. Thousand Steps Beach

Don’t worry, there’s no need to be afraid. It’s not 1,000 steps; there are 218 steps to reach this secret spot in South Laguna, Thousand Steps Beach. The name “Thousand Steps” actually refers to the number of footsteps it takes to walk from the starting point to the end.

Undoubtedly, reaching this place is not for everyone. If you’re one of the fortunate few who can make it here, get ready to be rewarded with an intimate beach experience. You’ll even discover a hidden pool and a sea cave to explore.

Note: Though this place is one of the hidden gems in South California but very dangerous during high tide and the sea cave is not accessible during this time.

Thousand Steps Beach
Thousand Steps Beach

10. East Beach, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is renowned for its vibrant surfing culture and its iconic boardwalk. East Beach is a haven for beach lovers, where you can revel in the golden sands, bask in the sun beneath the shade of tall palm trees, and take in the breathtaking view of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

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It’s worth noting that East Beach is one of the more popular beaches, so you’ll find some upscale hotels and high-rise buildings nearby. However, if you find the crowd a bit overwhelming, you can take a short walk to visit attractions such as the Santa Barbara Zoo, Chase Palm Park, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Skater’s Point.

East Beach, Santa Barbara
East Beach

11. San Onofre Beach, San Clemente State

San Onofre Beach is a magnet for history buffs, especially those with a passion for exploring ancient American history. I’ve visited San Clemente several times, drawn in by its consistently amazing weather, relaxed atmosphere, and the opportunity to catch some waves at Trestles Beach.

I can personally guarantee that if you’re a dedicated surfer like me, the waves at this beach will bring you nothing but happiness. San Onofre Beach is located to the south of San Clemente State Beach. However, the beach draws millions of tourists every year, and unfortunately, this heavy footfall has resulted in damage to the beach and its surrounding wilderness

San Onofre Beach
San Onofre Beach

12. Doheny State Beach

Is there any romantic beach getaway in Southern California where my partner and I can camp and enjoy ocean views? Yes, I have a plan for Doheny State Beach near Dana Point. 

Here, you have the chance to explore tide pools, visit aquariums, play beach volleyball, go surf fishing, swim, and at night, gaze at the stars. It’s truly a beautiful experience! 

The campground is just a short walk from the beach; however, you may hear some train noises from the campgrounds. Even in the summer, the highest temperature is 70 degrees, making it quite comfortable and enjoyable.

Tip: Doheny State Beach is one of those beaches of South California that is new metro transportation, hence if you do not have a private vehicle use the metro to reach here

Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach

13. Oxnard Beach Park

One of my top Southern California coastal spots, located 100 kilometers from Los Angeles, is Oxnard Beach Park. 

This place is free from crowds and full of natural wonders, with beautiful waves. I know that most people associate Oxnard with the California Strawberry Festival and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, but very few know it for its beautiful, remote beaches. 

From the beach, you can enjoy a priceless view of the Channel Islands that I guarantee will elevate your senses. Additionally, there are various restaurants to choose from, including Brazilian, seafood, and others.

Oxnard Beach Park
Oxnard Beach Park

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FAQ: Best Beaches in Southern California

1. Are there any hidden gem beaches worth visiting in Southern California?

A. Sometimes some hidden gems need to be hidden too so I did not mention Newport Beach’s Pirate’s Cove Beach where the sand and water just feel perfect to soak up.

2. Which Southern California beaches are best for swimming and sunbathing?

A. Can I ask you to come to the Switzer Falls Picnic area in the San Gabriel Mountains? It’s such an amazing swimming hole in SoCal where you can enjoy the perfect amount of sun, water, and relaxing vibes.

3. What are the best surfing hotspots on Southern California beaches?

A. Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach can be one of the best surfing hotspots as they have endless dining options. After surfing, you’ll be pretty hungry!

4. Can you recommend the best beaches in Southern California for watching the sunset?

A. Pfeiffer Beach is the best beach in Southern California to watch romantic sunsets. The beach boasts a stunning landscape with mountains, and one of them features a keyhole through which the light filters, creating a beautiful sight.

5. Which Southern California beaches have the clearest waters for snorkeling?

A. South California draws scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts all over the world and Casino Point in Catalina Island is one of the best spots. You’ve to take a boat to reach the island, but after reaching you’ll love spotting the marine animals, and fishes. 

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