8 Best Beaches in California For Your Summer Vacation!

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California has always been well-known as one of the best summer destinations in the US. Cool sea breeze, epic landscapes and plenty of unique national parks, California truly have something for every type of person. Located on the West Coast, California is also home to numerous breathtaking beaches. After working in Santa Cruz for months, I totally fell in love with this state. And today, we’re gonna have a glimpse of the best beaches in California for your next summer vacation!

This article is a collaboration post with several travel bloggers, so you can rest assured that you’re getting the best tips and suggestions by someone who has actually been there and done that.

Now, without further ado, let’s dive in and check out these best beaches in California!

Santa Cruz Beach in California

El Matador State Beach

Contributed by Alexander at Destinavo.

El Matador State Beach is one of the most iconic beaches in California, well-known for its cliff and spectacular landscape. It’s one of the three beaches that are located within Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. It’s quite close to Malibu which is just a 10-min ride from the beach.

It makes a great day trip from LA, Santa Monica, and Malibu and it’s conveniently located next to the road with only a small hike down to the beach from the parking space.

It’s a popular place for photographers who come here to shoot models in swimsuits and fantastic sunsets with the arch in the backdrop. The north beach has several caves and arches in the rocks that visitors can explore, and overall El Matador State Beach offers a fun adventure for the whole family, no matter if you want to just sunbathe or combine a day on the beach with beautiful scenery.

Sunrise is nice too, but sunsets are particularly nice to view from here and above the beach, you can find several picnic tables as well overlooking the sea. Another option could be to bring some snacks and wine/beer and just enjoy the beautiful nature at El Matador State beach as it’s truly something special, and so accessible.

El Matador State Beach in California

Main Beach in Laguna Beach

Contributed by Wendy at Empty Nesters Hit The Road.

Time spent on any beach in the city of Laguna Beach, California, is going to be enjoyable. This small seaside town is always a great destination. But to get a feel for the Laguna I recommend spending time on Main Beach, right in the center of town.

Whether you enjoy sunbathing, walking on the sand, playing volleyball or swimming, this beach has something for everyone. It’s also a great family destination since there are restroom facilities and a playground nearby.

One of the definite advantages of Main Beach is its proximity to several other things to do in Laguna Beach. Take a stroll along the one-mile Heisler Park which offers wonderful views of Main Beach and a few surrounding coves. Or check out the Laguna Art Museum which feature works by local artists.

And after all that walking, swimming and playing, you’ll definitely get hungry, so check out one of the nearby restaurants. The closest option for an ocean view is Las Brisas, especially from one of their patio tables. If you’ve seen enough of the ocean and want a delicious and healthy meal, head across the street to Urth Cafe.

Get to Main Beach early in order to grab a parking spot on one of the nearby streets. And don’t forget to feed the meter since parking tickets are given out regularly.

Main Beach in Laguna Beach in California

Point Reyes National Seashore

Contributed by Laura at Adrift Aesthetic.

When people think of the best beaches in California, they often think of the ones on the southern coast of the state. However, some of the most stunning beaches can be found further north, specifically within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore. This gorgeous peninsula of nature preserve just outside of San Francisco is almost entirely encircled by the Pacific Ocean, meaning the beach options are endless. McClure’s Beach, Wildcat Beach and Drake’s Beach are all popular spots to bask in the sun during the warmer months. You may even spot Elephant Seals nesting in the sand along the shore!

In between catching rays, burn calories by exploring one of the many hiking trails the area has to offer. The Tomales Point trail is one of the most popular excursions that take you through the Tule Elk Nature Preserve. This means that as you hike the trail that winds along the cliff’s edge, you’re also likely to pass elk of all sizes grazing in the fields overlooking the ocean.

Make sure you stock up for your day at Point Reyes in Inverness, a small town located within the National Seashore. With a local deli and market and a few restaurants boasting amazing fresh seafood, you can easily pack a fresh picnic lunch. So whether you need to boost your tan, or you want to tackle an adventurous trek, Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the best options in California!

Point Reyes National Seashore California

Santa Monica State Beach

Contributed by Constance at The Adventures of Panda Bear.

Santa Monica State Beach is one of the best beaches in California to visit when you’re in the Los Angeles area, not only is it close to many of the popular things to do in Santa Monica and is the perfect place to visit on a 3 day trip to Los Angeles.

Though the water can be a bit chilly, it is definitely possible to swim and surf here. Sunbathing on the beach is great on a warm, sunny day.

One of the best things about this beach is the Santa Monica Pier. The pier is located just off of the beach and it’s the perfect place to grab a bite or just hang out.

You can get a variety of eats along the pier, including seafood, hot dogs, and funnel cake. There are also a few carnival rides including the roller coaster and Ferris wheel. If rides aren’t your thing, check out the carnival games and you’ll hopefully win a prize! There are also souvenir shops along the pier so you can bring something home for your friends and family.

The best part about visiting Santa Monica State Beach is that there are many things to do aside from hanging out at the beach. You’ll have another place to visit nearby that’s great when you’re tired of your sunny beach activities.

Santa Monica State Beach California

Pfeiffer Beach

Contributed by Kieren at Got My Backpack

Pfeiffer Beach at Big Sur was a major highlight during my Pacific Coast Highway road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The beach lies 145 miles south of San Francisco with it’s off the beaten track location making it a great find for those looking to avoid hordes of tourists.

The beach’s location down a narrow windy lane makes getting to it a little cumbersome, but you’ll be rewarded with a sought-after view across the coast of California.

Pfeiffer Beach is known for the incredible rock formation that sits a little offshore with its famous keyhole arch.

During Winter, the sunset shines straight through the arch in a natural “light show” that has become popular with photographers around the world. Whilst this phenomenon is best witnessed in January, the sunset is still incredibly beautiful year-round as the sun’s rays reflect off the water that splashes against the jagged formation.

Look out for the beach’s other natural phenomenon, purple sand, this occurs after Manganese garnet washes down from the surrounding hills and is most prominent after heavy rainfall.

The beach is day time only and closes at 8 pm. There is a $10 parking charge for the day although parking is quite limited so you may need to wait for a space on busier days. The access road is not suitable for trailers or RV’s so bear this in mind if you’re planning a visit.

Pfeiffer Beach in California

Doran Beach

Contributed by Sierra at Free to Travel Mama

The Northern California coast is lined with beautiful beaches with powerful, crashing waves but most of them aren’t safe enough for people to actually go in the water. This is what makes Doran Beach in Bodega, California such a special spot and one of the best beaches in California.

As one of the top things to do in Sonoma County, the drive to Doran Beach itself is beautiful and bordered with apple trees and majestic California Redwoods.

Doran Beach is wide and two miles long. The rock jetty on the west end of the beach is a popular spot for tide pooling and fishing, and the bay provides a barrier that keeps the waves calm and relatively safe for swimming and bodyboarding (exercise caution in the ocean at all times).

The sand is also perfect for sandcastle building and kite flying. The best spot on the beach with clear sand and a beautiful view is from the first day-use parking lot on the left after paying the fee ($8 per car).  Keep in mind that the coast is usually always chilly, so pack layers even if it is very hot inland.

While the beach park does offer restroom facilities and rangers on staff, there is not any food available. There are, however, many picnic tables available or you can stretch out a blanket on the open sand.

If you wish to eat outside the park in the town of Bodega, we highly recommend the fish and chips from the Boat House or the famous clam chowder from Spud Point Crab Company. You will also not want to miss Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy just up the coast from Doran Beach. You can’t miss the pink and white striped building filled with tasty unique flavors by the bag full!

If you’re planning a trip to Penang, Malaysia, then Pantai Kerachut Beach will be perfect for you!

Bodega Bay - Doran Beach

Venice Beach in Los Angeles

Contributed by Valentina at Valentina’s Destinations

Venice Beach isn’t just one of the most unique beaches in California, it’s one of the most iconic cultural hubs in America. Walking down the Venice Boardwalk is an experience like no other. You’ll encounter street performers, muscle heads, vivacious murals, funky shops, and gorgeous California coastline.

You’ve got to check out the Muscle Beach Gym. It was home to famous bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Many impressive athletes still come here to show off!

Aside from gym rats, Venice Beach is also very popular in the surfing community. Surfing lessons are offered here 7 days a week. Although, if that’s not your type of recreation… not to worry… Venice Beach also hosts volleyball courts, a skate park, basketball courts, gymnastics apparatuses, tennis courts and MORE.

Venice Beach is lined with endless tattoo shops, marijuana dispensaries, bars, and restaurants. It’s a lively place for fun in the sun and nightlife! Also, there are always fun events happening, so be sure to check the local calendar.

No matter what you are looking for, Venice Beach has something interesting to offer. It’s a can’t-miss California experience unlike any other!

Venice Beach at Los Angeles

Main Beach in Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

If you’ve followed my blog for a while now, you might know that I’ve spent my summer in 2018 working in Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on the Work & Travel USA Program. While it seems like I’m trying to promote my former employer, no, the fact is, I really love this beach.

What makes this beach one of the best beaches in California? Well, you don’t get to enjoy your sunbathing beside a theme park that often, do you? Also, if you’ve watched the movie ‘Us’, you might be familiar with the settings there. The beach is also very well-maintained, as there are workers cleaning the beach at all times.

During the summertime, the beach gets really busy with visitors from all around the west coast. With all the rides and amazing snack stalls, it’s a perfect destination for a family vacation in the summer!

One thing you should note is that the sea breeze is extremely cold, at least for me. Not to mention the freezing water which numbs my feet the moment I soak them in. I certainly can’t lie on the beach without my shirts on as I’m pathetically afraid of cold, but most of the Americans seem to be okay with it. It’s their home after all.

things to do in santa cruz

What do you think about these best beaches in California?

Let me know what you think about these amazing beaches in California in the comment section below. Huge thanks to all the contributors who made this post happen, I’d appreciate if you would share it with your friends. Check out my backpacking guides on Nepal, Vietnam, and Laos as well! Have fun in California, and be safe!

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Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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