When asked where the best beach in the world might be, one might automatically think of the finest sand or the biggest swells for surfing, but beaches are like people: unique in their personalities. From street art to quaint shops, yacht races to Christmas boat parades, celebrity sightings to secluded caves, these beaches offer a look at the paradise of the Southern California coastline.
Image: Newport Beach, California by Ken Lund
From beginners to experts, surfing was made for Newport Beach. With consistently great waves for the sport, the beach has become known as a surfing haven. For those wishing to stay a little closer to the shoreline, Newport also offers the finest bodyboarding and bodysurfing atmosphere in the world.
With the kind of perfect sand that beach goers crave, the beachfront is the ideal place for playing a game of volleyball, sitting with your toes warming in the sand, or building sand castles and running away as the waves threaten conquest.
For those less inclined to lay out a towel and rake their fingers through the sand, Newport also offers the largest recreational boat harbor on the west coast. Boat lovers flock to the harbor for fishing, sailing, rowing, and many other boat sports along the water’s edge. Make sure to get a schedule of the weekly yacht races and other boating events, and if you are visiting during the holidays, catch the Christmas Boat Parade, which has been hailed as one of the best holiday events in the country.
Image: Huntington Beach, CA by wikimedia commons
The waves at Huntington Beach are different than other beaches. Great swells form as water hits Catalina Island off the coast, then head toward the beachfront beyond. These swells create ideal surfing waves all year long, which has led to the nickname “Surf City.” Huntington even had the name Surf City patented to them in order to create a tourism brand that will draw in more Beach lovers from around the world. The area is known abroad as the “Surfing capital of the world,” and hosts the world surfing championships each summer.
Surf City hosts many beach related events. The National beach volleyball tour hosted by AVP competes in Huntington as one of their locations. There is also a lifeguard swimming race every July. In February, the Huntington Film Festival kicks off. March brings in throngs of car enthusiasts with classic car shows such as the Beachcruisers. In December, Huntington Harbour hosts the Cruise of Lights Boat Tour, which not only showcases ships decorated with holiday lights, but also offers boat tours to view some of the more prominent decorated houses along the water’s edge.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Santa Monica is that it was the ending point on Route 66. Even today, without the country-long highway bringing travelers in, there are many reasons to visit the beach city and its famous pier. It is renowned for being the first muscle beach, where body building events were held annually. The shoreline is so ideal as a beachfront that it was the beach chosen for filming the Baywatch series, and will host the surfing and beach volleyball events in the 2028 Summer Olympics. Packed with parks and playgrounds, the beach is also home to the International Chess Park, which holds a life-sized chess board and dozens of public chess tables.
A day at the beach would not be complete without a stroll along Santa Monica Pier. Built in 1909, the pier is home to another old structure: the 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel, a National Historic Landmark. During the summer months, free concerts and movies are put on at the pier.
Image: Laguna Beach by Max Pixel
Everything about Laguna speaks beauty and art. From the tenacious efforts to preserve the natural ecology, to the famous art community that stretches back more than 100 years, Laguna beach draws in crowds for much more than the sand and ocean. First attracted by the stunning coastline with its array of colorful flora and fauna, painters graced their canvases with depictions of the beach in the early 1900’s. Since then, Laguna has blossomed into a hub for the fine arts. A plethora of events are held each year for art exhibition and beach activities. Some include:
Pageant of the Masters, held each summer, takes famous portraits and recreates them with live actors posing in a precise replica of the art.
The Sawdust Arts Festival brings together all non-juried arts and crafts from local residents, including sculptures, paintings, glass blowing, ceramics, woodworking, jewelry making, mixed media, and art workshops, among others.
The Laguna Playhouse is the oldest operating theatre on the west coast.
Started in 1955, The Brooks Street Surfing Classic, is perhaps the world's longest running surf competition.
The 'Vic' Skimboarding World Championship is the longest running pro skimboarding competition.
Image: San Clemente Beach, CA by Don Graham
San Clemente earn the name “The Spanish Village by the Sea,” due to its Spanish colonial style architecture. This is partly in reference to the first non-native settlers who came from Spain. It was meant to be built as as resort community in a Mediterranean style with red brick roofs and White House exteriors. One of the very first villas ever built was bought by Richard Nixon during his presidency and nicknamed the Western White House, becoming his Pacific vacation home. The city is also neighbors with San Juan Capistrano, one of the more visited Spanish Missions in California.
San Clemente is the surfing media capital of the world, with several surfing magazine centered around the city. It also consistently wins national surfing championships, which can be contributed in part to the large number of surfboard shapers and manufacturers, as well as the number of famous surfers who have taken up residence in the area.
Corona del Mar
Image: Corona del Mar by wikimedia commons
Corona del Mar, or “crown of the sea,” is the perfect beach for the spelunking enthusiast. With caverns and rock faces that provide hours of climbing and exploration fun, the beach feels like a mashup of a California sandy shore and a jutting Oregon coastline. The landscape has everything a beach goer could wish for, from stretches of sandy shoreline , to tidepools, to cliffs and cliff top views of the ocean.
The area is an affluent one, which offers some off-the-shore house seeing opportunities, as well as a plethora of must-visit quaint shops with unique merchandise.
Carlsbad is the fifth richest city in California, and is in the top twenty wealthiest cities in the United States. Locals call the place the “Village by the Sea.” It is also known as the “Titanium Valley” due to several golf manufacturing companies being headquartered there. It is the golf manufacturing capital of the world. It is also the site of Legoland California. The city gets its name from its water quality, which is similar to some of the most prestigious spa resorts in the world. The famous Bohemian spa of Karlsbad was the inspiration for the name.
Carlsbad beach is well known for its coastal bluffs, with 220 campsites on top of the cliffs for visitors to camp in while resorting at the beach. The shoreline is ideal for beachcombing, with items of interest consistently sifted out of the sand. Scuba diving is another popular pastime along the water’s edge.
Image: Oceanside CA by cultivar413
Everything about Oceanside is big, from big competition to big history to big entertainment. With the Supergirl Pro Jam taking place each year, Oceanside boasts World's Largest Women's Surf Competition. The Oceanside Pier, built in 1888, is one of the longest wooden piers on the west coast at 1,942 feet. Every Thursday evening, the Sunset Market is held downtown, with live entertainment and local food. The architecture and grounds of Mount Ecclesia offer beauty and reflection. The 8th largest Turkey Trot in the nation takes place each year, attracting 10,000 runners from around the globe. Oceanside also hosts the toughest sporting event in existence, the Race Across America, which challenges bicyclists on a 3,000 mile cross country ride. Every May, the largest beach soccer competition, The Beach Soccer Championships are held, even offering a pro Beach Soccer Cup that is the most challenging of any in the country. In Oceanside, the “go big or go home” lifestyle ensures that visitors are always in for a once in a lifetime memory.
Image: Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA by wikimedia commons
This is one beach city that must be experienced at night. Because of its long history as a hub for young people and college students, the strong nightlife includes promising eateries and prominent bars, as well as clothing stores and eclectic shops that cater to the night owls. The center of the nocturnal activities lies around Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue. “P.B.” as locals called it serves as the hottest nightlife spot in San Diego County.
What started as grain fields quickly became a budding beach town. Developers built a race track to bring in potential residents, and modern homes now sell for millions. Another set of landmarks that catch the eye of visitors is the group of streets named after precious stones. The names are given to the streets that head east and west, and prompt passersby to see how many they can name along the route.
Image: Beach in Malibu by Public Domain Pictures
Malibu, the home to hundreds of Hollywood celebrities and the vacation home of the rest. And it’s easy to see why. Signs throughout the city boast of its “27 Miles of Scenic Beauty.” Driving down Pacific Coast Highway only confirms what the signs say, offering perhaps the most stunning drive along any coastline in the world.
The coast is just one of the major attractions that draw in crowds. The hills just off the coastline entice bikers, hikers and climbers to scale their magnificence.
The Malibu Civic Center brings in those wishing to catch a glimpse of celebrities strolling down the streets.
Adamson House, The large home that belonged to the original owners of Malibu, has stunned visitors for over 100 years.
The Malibu Garden Club offers annual tours of some of the most breathtaking residential gardens in Malibu.
The Getty Villa is a museum dedicated to the works of Paul Getty, including his art, sculptures, antiquities, and cultural pieces.
Image: Long Beach, California by wikipedia
Long Beach presents the unique feature of combining an industrial landscape with a coastline. Skyscrapers and high rises brush up against the sandy shore, allowing for one of the most relaxing lunch breaks for office workers in the area. As the third largest city in Southern California, Long Beach offers much more in the way of sightseeing than the ocean meeting the land.
Famous for its street art, many of the murals were sanctioned by Mural and Cultural Arts Program.
The city hosts a number of music festivals that include Reggae, Salsa, Jazz, Blues, Hawaiian, and Brazilian.
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company holds outdoor productions throughout the summer.
The Skinny House, a three story house built on a lot that is 10 feet by 50 feet, is the skinniest house in the United States.