Our Favorite Beaches: California

Checkout part 2 of our 4 part series talking about our favorite beaches as we focus on California.

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Welcome to the second installment in our series on the best beaches around the country! In our first installment, we introduced you to our favorite beaches in the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on Oregon and Washington. In this installment, we are going to introduce you to some of the finest beaches in California.

While we typically feature locations where you can camp overnight, for this post, we will diverge a bit. Some of Southern California’s most iconic beaches do not support overnight camping since they are in dense urban areas.

Why Visit California Beaches?

  • The classic California experience. What is the first thing you picture when you think of California? For a lot of people, the answer is the beach. Not only that, but if you ask someone to imagine a random beach, there is a good chance their minds will jump right to CA. If you are going to be anywhere in the state, this is your chance to experience those world-famous beaches for yourself.
  • Warm, sunny weather. While the Pacific Northwest beaches we recommended are beautiful, there is no denying that for much of the year, they can be cold, windy and rainy. If you visit beaches in southern and central California, you can look forward to balmy, comfortable weather and warmer sea conditions for swimming.
  • Great surf. Like Pacific Northwest beaches, beaches throughout California are popular destinations for catching big waves.
  • Close to other attractions. A lot of the best beaches in California are clustered around San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, putting you in close reach of other exciting destinations.

1. Laguna Beach – Crystal Cove State Park Beach and More

Laguna Beach is a city in Orange County that draws around six million visitors a year. It is home to more than two dozen gorgeous beaches you will have to see to believe. Some of the most popular beaches at Laguna Beach include Aliso Beach, Heisler Park Beaches, Thousand Steps Beach, Crystal Cove State Park Beach, and Crescent Beach.

While you cannot camp at every beach in the Laguna Beach area, you can pitch a tent at Crystal Cove State Park Beach.

Why You’ll Love It

Not only will you love swimming and sunbathing at Laguna Beach’s beaches, but you also will enjoy everything else the city has to offer. Attractions include wine tasting, local art, whale watching, shops and restaurants, live music, festivals and more. You also can take advantage of the free open air trolley.

2. La Jolla – San Diego

If you are down in San Diego, consider visiting La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove. La Jolla Shores is a popular spot for swimming, kayaking and scuba diving. La Jolla Cove is a smaller spot which you may need to reach by kayak if the tides are high. If you snorkel, you might catch a glimpse of Garibaldi fish. You also will want to plan a stop at Torrey Pines State Beach to work on your tan. Adventurous surfers can head south to Black’s Beach.

Why You’ll Love It

The orange cliffs that enclose these beautiful beaches offer picturesque views—and if you are willing to walk far enough—a degree of solitude. That is hard to come by in a part of the world as crowded as Southern California.

While you are visiting, you can also drop by nearby attractions like the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Torrey Pines State Reserve, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and more.

3. Los Padres National Forest – Big Sur

Moving up the coast a ways, we come to Los Padres National Forest in the Big Sur area of California. Specifically, we direct your attention to Kirk Creek Campground, which Recreation.gov accurately refers to as an “oceanside paradise.” With its position up on a 100-foot bluff, this campground offers you commanding views of the Pacific Ocean.

Why You’ll Love It

The rocky beaches near Kirk Creek Campground may not be the classic sandy beaches you associate with California, but they will get you away from the crowds. You’ll appreciate the seclusion and the breathtaking scenery.

Along with walking along the beach, you can also hike in the forest. If you have a fishing permit, you can cast a line in the hopes of catching yellow perch. Keep your eyes open for wildlife such as deer, foxes, racoons, bobcats, and even bears and mountain lions.

Tips for Making the Most of California Beaches

Here are a few simple recommendations that will help make your next trip to a California beach a successful one:

  • Bring a beach canopy. Do not underestimate how bright and hot the sun can be at a beach in Southern California. You will be grateful for the shade offered by your canopy tent.
  • Watch out for rip tides and sneaker waves. Both of these can be dangerous, especially for those who do not have a lot of experience with ocean swimming.
  • Book in advance if you are camping. Campgrounds at California beaches can be quite crowded, especially near major metropolitan areas. So, the sooner you can make your reservations, the better. If you want to camp at a beach that is first-come, first-served, have a plan B ready to go.
  • Walk a little bit to avoid the crowds. Even if you are visiting a crowded beach in Southern California, you may be able to escape from the throngs of people simply by walking further down the beach. The farther you are willing to walk, the more likely it is that you will be able to enjoy relative solitude.

Enjoy the Classic Experience of California Beaches

Now you have had a chance to check out a couple of iconic Southern California beaches as well as a beautiful campsite that is a little more off-the-beaten-track. Pack your canopy tent for shelter from the sun, and enjoy the unforgettable experience of a day of California dreamin’!