The Best Beaches in Southern California Are Worth Crossing the Country For

Updated 06/20/19
El Matador Beach, Malibu, CA. Kayte Deioma

No place is more synonymous with beach culture than Southern California. Sure, you can wade in the Atlantic on the East Coast, walk on stone-covered beaches in Europe along the Mediterranean, or lounge on the white sand of the Caribbean, but in our humble opinion, nothing truly compares the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. "There's an authentic surfer vibe, a laid-back casual attitude combined with a cool factor that can't be replicated anywhere else," according to Sienna Spencer-Markles, a California native and McCue Communications PR manager for tourism and travel destinations in California.

With so many beaches stretching up and down the coast, you could visit every year and find a new hidden gem every time. "Visitors come back again and again and never go to the same beach twice," Spencer-Markles says. If you're planning a trip to the iconic Southern California coast, take note of the best beaches to visit, no matter your ideal beach day. Whether you're into surfing, boating, relaxing, or exploring, there's a beach to match your favorite outdoor activities. From San Diego to Los Angeles, these are just 10 of the best beaches in Southern California. Grab a pair of sunglasses, a good book, and extra sunscreen. It's time to hit the beach

If You're a Surfer…

Newport Beach
Shea Salisbury /Unsplash

The Beach: Newport

The Location: Orange County

The Insider Info: Newport beach is home to "The Wedge," a spot on the east end of the Balboa Peninsula known for its large wedged-shaped swells. The waves have long enticed surfers to this popular spot, making it a must-visit beach for any fan of the sport. Even if you're not a skilled surfer, you can still enjoy nearby restaurants and bars or camp out on the sand for a day of sunbathing and surfer-watching.

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If You're Into Paddleboarding…

Coronado Beach
Dirk Hansen/Wikimedia Commons

The Beach: Coronado

The Location: Coronado Island

The Insider Info: Just south of downtown San Diego, a bridge can transport you to Coronado Island, where you'll find quaint shops, the expansive Hotel Del Coronado, and long sandy beaches. The water just off the idyllic island is perfect for beginner stand-up paddleboarders thanks to its various sandbars and calm waves. 

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If You Have Kids…

Crystal Cove State Park
Jasperdo /Flickr

The Beach: Crystal Cove State Park

The Location: Laguna

The Insider Info: This kid-friendly beach is the perfect spot for a family beach day. Along the sand, kids can explore, swim in mellow water, fly kites, and watch fisherman make their daily catch. Bring a few beach chairs and set up for a full day of sun and surf.

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If You're Looking for Somewhere Under the Radar…

El Matador Beach,
Xan Griffin /Unsplash

The Beach: El Matador

The Location: Malibu

The Insider Info: If you're in the mood to relax and sunbathe far from the big crowds, you'll want to venture to El Matador beach in Malibu. It's located just north of Los Angeles on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, and it's the perfect place to dive into your summer beach read, uninterrupted. Instead of large groups and lots of noise, you'll be surrounded by sand, caves, and otherworldly rock formations.

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If You're a Swimmer…

Hermosa Beach
Marion Michele /Unsplash

The Beach: Hermosa 

The Location: South Bay

The Insider Info: South of Manhattan Beach and North of Redondo, you'll stumble upon Hermosa Beach, a bustling beach city filled with some of the most active Angelenos around. Often associated with the local beach volleyball scene, the sand courts are never empty. With crystal-clear water and generally mellow waves, it's also the perfect place to take a dip. It's even home to an annual pier-to-pier swim, where competitive swimmers tackle a two-mile course from Hermosa to Manhattan.

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If You Want the Quintessential SoCal Experience…

Huntington Beach
Renato Sanchez Lozada /Unsplash

The Beach: Huntington

The Location: Orange County

The Insider Info: Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, is widely regarded as one of the best beaches in Southern California. The waters are primed for surfing, swimming, and boogie boarding, while beyond the beach, unique shops line the streets with everything from swimwear to knickknacks. For the true experience, grab a burger from Ruby's the '50s diner and local favorite located on the end of the pier.

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If You're a Photographer…

La Jolla Cove
Buyenlarge /Getty Images

The Beach: La Jolla Cove

The Location: San Diego

The Insider Info: La Jolla Cove is one of the most photogenic beaches on the coast. Though it may be small, it's tiny crescent of sand situated between tall sandstone cliffs is one of the most photographed beaches in Southern California. Take your camera to this hidden spot to capture the ocean at its best.

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If You're Chasing the Best Sunset…

Manhattan Beach
Pedro Szekely /Flickr

The Beach: Manhattan

The Location: South Bay

The Insider Info: Another South Bay gem, Manhattan Beach is situated just outside of Los Angeles. Take in the sunset on the wide stretch of sand by water, on the pier, or at one of the many delicious restaurants lining Manhattan Beach Boulevard.

Head straight to Simmzy's for a glass of sangria—it's only served on the weekends—or grab a cocktail from The Strand House for a beachfront view of the sunset.

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If You're a Sailor…

Marina Del Rey
Geri Lavrov /Getty Images

The Beach: Marina del Rey

The Location: Los Angeles

The Insider Info: Not far from the eclectic strand of Venice beach sits Marina Del Rey, the largest manmade harbor for small craft boats in the world. If you're looking to set sail, this is the place to do it. The marina leads out toward the low-key beach Playa del Rey, where you'll spot young families, runners, and cyclists enjoying a beachfront trail.

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If You're an Explorer…

San Pedro Beach
Pam Susemiehl /Getty Images

The Beach: Cabrillo

The Location: San Pedro

The Insider Info: Harness your inner oceanographer by exploring the infinitely interesting tide pools found at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. The area is home to some of the most diverse tide pools in Southern California thanks to warm temperatures that create an ideal habitat for a variety of sea life. Carefully observe sea anemones, sea slugs, and crabs to get your fill of marine life. 

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