Any California native can tell you that beach bonfires have been a long treasured tradition along the Pacific coastline. There’s nothing more spectacular than digging your toes into soft warm sands and listening to massive waves crash violently against the shore while you and your best buds roast some ooey-gooey s’mores over an open fire just as that orange hued sun sets below the horizon.
Unfortunately, this decades-old tradition that’s been relished by locals far and wide has seen its fair share of troubles, as it’s gotten continued backlash from environmentalists, governments, and coastal property owners claiming they are hazardous. Still, bonfires by the beach remain an essential part of the California lifestyle and needless to say, there are more than a variety of areas along the coast that do permit these cozy outdoor blazes (to a certain extent of course!). Warm up and have a good time at these California beaches that allow bonfires.
Have A Beach Bonfire At These 9 California Beaches
Photo: m kasahara/Flickr
1. Dockweiler Beach
Though not the quietest beach for a bonfire—due to its close proximity to LAX (just a 15-minute walk!)—this local favorite remains the hallmark of beach culture despite the endless sounds of planes roaring up above. Find 75 fire pits that dot an extremely large expanse of sand where peeps enjoy everything from volleyball games, surfing, hang-gliding, fishing, and nature walking in the daytime, to telling ghost stories and cooking s’mores once the sun sinks into the Pacific.
The entire area begins at Ballona Creek and runs south until it reaches neighboring El Segundo Beach, and most fire pits are readily available for use on a first come-first serve basis. Just don’t forget to get an early start, as the 75 fire pits go rather quickly. Stake that claim!
2. Newport Beach
Just steps away from the Balboa Pier at Balboa Peninsula, the awesome fire pits in this Orange County hotspot are just a stone’s throw away from the city’s iconic Boardwalk, which by itself is a treasure chest of fun. Be sure to head to the sands early though, as fire pits are super limited and are taken quickly.
You’ll also find Corona Del Mar State Beach nearby, a crown jewel of the sea that was made famous by the TV show Gilligan’s Island. It’s tucked away at the bottom of a cliff, so it’s the perfect spot for private cozy bonfires that’ll have you snuggling under the stars under a locally-beloved rock formation known as “Pirate’s Cove.”
Photo: Patty Mullins/Flickr
3. Cabrillo Beach
Situated below a cliff and facing the Newport Beach jetty is this time-honored beach, which was once a prime spot for skilled surfers hoping to hang ten on The Wedge across the channel. Besides the ample array of volleyball nets also available at Cabrillo Beach, there are fire rings for use all along this tranquil spot. Enjoy picnic areas situated under shady trees, tons of swimming and diving opportunities, and lots of hills to hike and climb. It’s the ideal family beach where everyone no matter how young or old can have themselves some fun. Cap off the night by a dreamy bonfire and enjoy the feelings of endless summer.
Photo: Dennis Hill/Flickr
4. Doheny Beach
First designated as a California state beach back in 1931, the about two hundred and fifty acres of protected coastline at DoHo is an adventure waiting to be discovered, as it edges along the mighty Pacific Ocean offering everything from sensational surfing at Boneyard to magnificent Doheny sunsets-- as well as plenty of opportunities for making perfect bonfires.
Beware though because the area is quite rocky, especially at low tide, so grab some beach shoes to avoid getting cuts on those feet. Pits can also be reserved, especially if you want a nice view of local divers and fishermen who hang out at the nearby rock jetty.
5. Carmel Beach
Think quaint cottages, cobbled sidewalks, and stunning views—you’ll get one of the world’s most romantic places—i.e. Carmel Beach. It’s a spot ideal for couples hoping to cuddle up and canoodle next to a beach fire, so take that loving to the next level by lighting up under the stars and aww-ing over the sea otters and dolphins that make regular rounds along the shore.
Don’t forget to explore nearby tide pools and kelp forests, participate in a sandcastle building contest, and to do some fine wining and picnicking with local residents. Remember though that bonfires are only allowed in a designated area south of 10th Avenue.
Photo: Will Hastings/Flickr
6. Bolsa Chica Beach
It’s the spot where California grunion run and a fave place for locals to catch fish with their bare hands. The popular three-mile stretch of sand was designated as a state beach at the beginning of the 1960s and offers stellar surf, awesome camping, and, of course the best fishing around—other than grunion, be prepare to find the likes of California corbina, croaker, perch, and shovelnose guitarfish. Bolsa Chica even has a number of campsite hook-ups for RVs, so mosey on up to those fire pits and get ready for a perfect bonfire. Just make sure to start and finish between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm.
Photo: Sergei Gussev/Flickr
7. Grover Beach
It’s not your typical California beach, as it lets visitors drive their cars up onto the sand next to the bonfire spots they’ll be roasting marshmallows at. Awesome, right?! What’s more is that you can horseback ride on the beach, skate within a beachside skate park, and meander endlessly through an array of killer sand dunes. So. Rad.
8. Mission Beach
Home of the infamous Belmont Park — America’s only beachside amusement park — this nine mile stretch of sun, sand, and surf has been deemed by many as the number one beach for a summer bonfire in all of California. Head down for a visit and you’ll definitely see why, as fire pits are just a short walk away from the beach’s iconic three-mile Boardwalk. Let the fun times begin!
9. Huntington Beach
Just about a couple hundred fire pits are available on a first-come, first-served basis at Surf City USA -- and if you're one of them avid surfers or bird-watchers, this is definitely the spot to go.
First of all, you can purchase firewood right on the sand, as it is conveniently sold at concessions right along the shore. Once the sun goes down, you’ll be all ready to start up that bonfire, which is why it is not at all unusual to see hordes of other beach lovers gathering around an evening fire singing songs and roasting marshmallows all night long. Locals stake out their territory as early as 10 am, so if you want to grab a favored spot next to the beach’s iconic pier, be an early bird.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.