Hear that thunderous roar? Feel that cool windy breeze? It’s the Southern California coastline calling you to stop by for a quick visit, especially since those hot summer months are a comin’! Along the shimmering bottom half coast of the Golden State are everything from luxury-laden to laid-back beach towns where you’ll be able to enjoy perks like not-at-all-crowded beaches, cool Pacific waters, and warm silky sands that you can easily take an afternoon snooze on after a morning full of surfing. It’ll also get you prepped for that long night of fun you’ll be having until the sun rises the next day.
No matter for small weekend getaways or permanent moves to the sea, SoCal is the ultimate place to offer an array of bustling beach towns that are each very different and unique in their own special ways. Orange County alone offers over forty miles of coastal spots filled with ritzy golf courses, counterculture surfers, and glam-worthy hotel rooms, as well as numerous coastlines of all varieties (from broad sand beaches to smaller cove beaches to tide pool areas). Explore the many beach towns of Southern California and choose a favorite depending on what exactly you and your family want.
8 Of Southern California’s Best Beach Towns
Get the true taste of SoCal in this "brand name" beach community of Los Angeles County that’s world famous for surfing, celebrity beach homes, as well as Gidget and Elvis beach movies of the Boomer generation. It also happens to be home to the popular CBS television series “Two and a Half Men.”
All along a narrow coastline, there are over thirty beautifully windswept and boulder-strewn natural beaches to choose from (some of them private, with no public access and, in many cases, not visible to the public), running parallel to the infamous Pacific Coast Highway—a.k.a. PCH—a multi-lane highway that makes its way through the area. On the inland side of this major east/west road (away from the beach) are the Santa Monica Mountains, which offer residential neighborhoods, hiking trails of all levels, and unmatched mountain views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean below. Plus, there’s also an elongated stretch full of stores and restaurants strung out along Cross Creek Road near town center, as well as the prestigious Pepperdine University to check out if you head further west towards Malibu Canyon Road. For all sorts of beach bums and bunnies, Malibu’s the best place to park, walk, grab a latte, and to scout for some stars and celebs.
2. San Clemente
Though most of Southern California’s sleepy little beach towns have been torn down, built up, priced up, and often times, messed up, this true “Spanish Village by the Sea,” -- complete with sweeping mountain and ocean views-- has managed to escape mass destruction over the years. It came to notoriety in the 1960s by being the site of Richard Nixon’s Western White House, and is tucked comfortably in among hills and canyons. Its beaches also boast some of North America’s best waves for surfing, including the spot known as ‘Trestles,’ which most people hail “the Yosemite of surfing.”
On the main drag, or El Camino Real, you’ll find plenty of well-preserved red-tile roofed buildings and a whole slew of old and new local chow spots to grab a bite at: such as Sonny’s for pizza and the Riders Club Cafe for burgers and other “slow fast food. There’s also that massive 1,300-foot long San Clemente Pier that juts straight into the ocean, perfect for watching a gorgeous sunset or gawking at some monstrous waves crashing down below. As for lodging options, who can forget the funky Beachcomber Motel, a pseudo-Spanish cottage style inn featuring a dozen rooms all perched on a grassy knoll right by some train tracks and the beach? Or, Casa Tropicana, a similar style place but with way more space and jazzy furniture—for just about the same low price.
3. Manhattan Beach
It’s been called one of the sexiest beaches in the United States, an exclusive coastal city with two miles of clean beaches and expansive ocean views, as well as a mix of trendy restaurants, boutique shops, family-friendly dining, and the Manhattan Beach Pier-- where you can watch well-toned volleyball players or surfers do their thang.’ What’s more is that the multimillion-dollar beachfront homes surrounding the area offer even more pleasures for the naked eye. The facts are indisputable: this beach town is hot hot hot, and a way more quieter alternative from Santa Monica for families and couples. It also happens to be super conveniently located just south of LAX airport.
4. Laguna Beach
It’s the most picturesque Orange County beach city and has been said to resemble the French Riviera-- a truly artistic resort community that has become highly popular with tourists all around the world. With a large Main Beach at Pacific Coast Highway and Broadway, as well as numerous other smaller cove beaches to choose from, LB actually came to fame in the roaring twenties as an artist’s colony. Today’s it’s the home of an array of art galleries, museums, and art festivals including the annual Sawdust Festival, the Festival of Arts, and the famous Pageant of the Masters every summer, as well as the smallish but smart Laguna Art Museum, the Redfern Gallery, and the marvelous Len Wood’s Indian Territory featuring Native American blankets and beadwork. Be sure to check out First Thursdays Art Walk on the first Thursday of every month when more than forty galleries stay open for all hours of the day.
There are also a multitude of restaurants and shops to pick from, as well Crystal Cove State Park, a desirable spot for hiking, horseback riding, and more than three miles of beach (backed by 2,400 acres of pristine woodland), tide pools, or sandy coves to wade in. There’s even an underwater park catering especially to scuba divers! Plus you’ll likely find yourself doing tons of bodysurfing, skim boarding, volleyball playing, or hoop shooting on some of the best-sited sands and B-Ball courts in California. For couples and families, it’s also just a terrific scene to plan a day of playing with the kids at Picnic Beach or Heisler Park, followed by a romantic evening stroll down the coastline with that favorite honey bunny of yours. It’s pure beachtown bliss indeed.
5. Dana Point
Located in South Orange County, this one’s hugely popular with local surfers and with visitors for its small town charm. It was named after prominent the headland of “Dana Point” described by author Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his novel Two Years Before the Mast, and features a nice mix of famous city and state-run beaches, a yacht harbor, as well as hotel accommodations ranging from luxury penthouses to more budget friendly motels. The city center also has superb options for dining and is extremely close to the famous Mission San Juan Capistrano, established in 1776. Plus, this oceanfront point is a good location for those hoping to take some limited day trips to the theme park or other attractions of North Orange County, Los Angeles, or San Diego County, especially with the convenient train line at the nearby San Juan Capistrano Station.
6. Hermosa Beach
This quaint, laid-back city is known as the birthplace of California surfing and features super-model beaches, notably clean sands, numerous volleyball courts, and a sheer absence of frivolous tourist junk! It’s also got The Strand, a paved, multi-use trail that runs for miles, attracting trekkers, bikers, and hikers hoping to break some sweat. Inline skates and jogging strollers can even be rented nearby.
Let’s just say that Hermosa lives up to all its hype, which is no surprise why it was named by Los Angeles Magazine as "Outstanding Coastal Town.” There are also plenty of restaurants and upscale shops to delight families and tourists. Make sure to stop by the Hermosa Beach Historical Society to learn about the past and current preservation of this expansive, pristine, and truly spectacular beach.
7. Huntington Beach
Better known as Surf City USA, this Orange County beach town is home to an awesome line-up of attractive surf-popular beaches, funky hotels, waterfront restaurants, as well as the International Surfing Museum (which offers exhibits devoted to surf films, music, and memorabilia), the annual U.S. Open of Surfing, the Women’s Pro Beach Volleyball Tournament, and Boardfest, the largest youth-oriented sports event in America. There’s literally tons to do both on and off the sand, especially along that 1,800 foot long Surf City Pier (one of the longest piers in California). On Tuesdays, the city even hosts its complimentary Surf City Nights, a weekly street fair and Farmer’s Market. Take a stroll down Main Street to marvel at local street performers, bargain hunt at sidewalk sales, and sample favorite restaurant dishes.
However, though HB may seem all about scruffy surf culture and staying out until late night hours, nature lovers also have the chance to flock over to Bolsa Chica State Beach, which is best known for its ecological reserve and wildlife watching opportunities. You and the family can even set up camp anytime of the year at the on site RV campground that comes complete with fire rings, basketball courts, and picnic areas. Huntington’s Dog Beach also provides a mile long stretch for those traveling with their favorite little pooches. All this and more is just an hour’s drive away from all the hustle and bustle of L.A. or Hollywood. Seriously, dudes, over eight miles of uninterrupted coastline await you. So go ahead, throw on some shades, lather on some SPF 45, and dive head on into those gnarly waves. It’s the place to “Hang Ten.”
8. Santa Monica
A separate city of more than 80,000 people on the far northwestern edge of Los Angeles, it’s LA's most famous beach community, and during summer weekends, can swell up to a population of more than one million beach-bound individuals. Together, they all gather to enjoy a truly vibrant and urban seaside escape, featuring some of the area’s most sophisticated restaurants, deluxe hotels, and chic shopping options. There's always something to see or do, especially near the beach, where a wide stretch of sand surrounds a pleasure pier that has everything from a historic, turn-of-the-century carousel, a light-up Ferris Wheel, and a mini-amusement park, to arcades, a small aquarium situated below, as well as some fabulous seafood restaurants. Plus, fishers need no license to reel in some big ones by the pier. Weather wise, it’s just as fantastic since the never-ending stream of sunny days in this SoCal hotspot keeps the ocean water swimmingly warm even in the wintertime.
For those looking to spend some quiet time, there is Tongva Park and the refurbished City Hall gardens and fountains near downtown—both are fine places to take a stroll with the kids. Bikers can take the over twenty-mile long Marvin Braude Bike Path that runs along the edge of the beach, beginning at Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance, while partyers can visit the Annenberg Beach House - a public beach house with a pool and the original Hot Dog on a Stick. Muscle Beach, anyone?!
This article was written by Pamela Chan.