If I say the words “beach” and “California” I bet the first words that come to mind are Santa Monica, Malibu and Venice Beach, which are also some of the best places to visit in California.
With well over 1,200km of pristine coastline, this south-western most state of the US is a paradise for beach lovers, be it those in search of a calm getaway, to surf the waves or check out the marine life. Rent a car, book yourself into one of the dreamy California beach house rentals (like the celebrities), take a surf board to the infamous Orange County, or stay at one of the luxury hotels in the area and explore the beautiful shores.
Here are 9 beaches in California worth a road trip.
1. San Diego beaches
San Diego is the perfect California beach city and a must for any California itinerary. San Diego has some of the best beaches in Southern California, whether you are looking for lively beach with lots of sports and entertainment options, family-friendly beaches, or empty beaches that you’ll have almost to yourself.
Some of the most popular ones are Mission Beach, Coronado, and the beaches in La Jolla. You can relax on the sand, take surfing lessons, or ride your bike along the boardwalk for a fun day on the beach. In San Diego, there is a beach that is perfect for everyone.
2. Venice Beach
Coming to Los Angeles and not spending time in Venice Beach would be a shame. From the outdoor skate park to the open air gym at Muscle Beach. From the marihuana stores to the many oddities filling Venice Beach, this is a place sure to entertain you, whether you actually step onto the sand or not.
And if you do, you will be greeted with waves to surf and cold water stretching down the shoreline to Santa Monica. Make sure to include this in your California beach vacation.
3. Santa Monica
With a flash and easily recognizable amusement park right on the pier, Santa Monica beach is one of the nicest State Parks in California and looks out of a postcard. You could walk from Venice all the way there and enjoy some rides and food that are literally above the ocean, at the end of the pier.
You can also meditate while watching the sun go down through the palm trees that line the ocean road. Santa Monica is more chilled and family friendly than Venice, and it sure lacks the weird and wacky feel, but I loved the beautiful beach houses and the slightly more relaxed vibe to it.
4. Malibu Beach
Playground of the rich and famous and site of some of the most stunning beach mansions you ever will see, Malibu, also known as “Billionaire’s Beach” has been made famous by the many movies featuring it.
It is the place where celebrities come to get away from it all with private access roads and isolated properties away from the peering eyes of the paparazzi. If you cannot live there, you could always stay at the only hotel available, the Malibu Inn. Or simply take a stroll along Carbon Beach, where you can get a glimpse of what it is like on the other side of the millions.
5. Pebble Beach
At the tip of the Monterey peninsula lies this pretty beach famous with golfers. The coastal drive of 25km accessed via a fee gives a good feel for the beautiful views and the expensive mansions to match. If you like golf, you can play your 18 holes along the sea with waves crashing onto the shore. Lots to do here as well if you are in the area and golf is not your thing.
6. Natural Bridges State Beach
A wonderful beach with natural tide pools and a picturesque arch providing that beautiful sunset shot. There is a tourism office that offers tours and from late fall to winter you can view thousands of Monarch butterflies that have formed cities in the trees. There are picnic facilities so it is best to bring your food and enjoy a day out. From the shore you can spot whales, otters and seals.
7. Shell Beach Sea Ranch
This beach in Sonoma’s Sea Ranch private community is located south of Gualala and is filled with trails for all levels and durations. It is a great way to add in some beach time to your Sonoma and Napa wine country days (to walk off the wine and great food of California) while breathing in the fresh sea air.
8. Black Sands Beach
A very unusual beach that can be reached through a scenic and head spinning route. The beach is rocky, so shoes are advised and the waves and tides can be unpredictable but what a sight when you get there. A beach worth the drive.
9. The Esalen Institute
You can pay a generous amount to attend the wellness retreat at the Institute or buy tickets for their nightly 1-3am naked in the darkness experience in one of several spring water pools by the beautiful beach.
This is a different kind of experience as many choose to bathe naked and it may be too dark to actually see the beautiful beach but it is certainly a once in a lifetime experience.
10. La Jolla Cove
San Diego’s most coveted beach is a tiny stretch of sand with additional green spaces to sunbathe and relax. Watch out for the marine life as this is protected territory so surfing is not allowed. You may even be lucky enough to see leopard sharks!
Further reading: See more of the best beaches that Southeast Asia has to offer by reading my articles on the best beaches in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. We’ve also made a list of the best overwater bungalows in Southeast Asia to spur on your wanderlust. There’s also articles on the best beaches in Montenegro, Albania, Malta and Macau for more san-and-sea inspiration.
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