Top 10 Best Beach Towns in California
With a coastline spanning over 840 miles, it's no wonder that California is known for its beautiful beaches that attract visitors from all over the world. From the sandy shores of San Diego to the rugged coastline of Big Sur, there's no shortage of stunning beach towns to explore in California.
In this blog post, we'll be highlighting the top 10 beach towns in California that are definitely worth a visit. Whether you're looking for a relaxing vacation or an adventurous getaway, these towns offer a variety of experiences that cater to all ages and interests.
What Makes Them the BEST Beach Towns?
To determine the top 10 beach towns in California, we considered a few main factors to make our selection:
- Cleanliness: The town and beach should be clean and well-maintained, with little to no signs of pollution or litter.
- Accessibility: The town should be easy to get to, with plenty of nearby parking.
- Amenities: The town should have a range of facilities for visitors, such as restaurants, cafes, and shops.
- Natural beauty: The beach should be located in a scenic area with stunning views and natural features.
- Activities: The town should offer a range of activities and attractions to keep visitors entertained, such as water sports, hiking trails, dining, or events.
By using these criteria, we were able to narrow down the top 10 beach towns in California that offer the best overall experience for visitors. Let's explore each of these towns in more detail.
Top 10 Beach Towns in California: From North to South
Santa Cruz is often regarded as one of the best beach towns in California, and for good reason. Located about 70 miles south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz offers visitors a unique blend of coastal beauty, vibrant culture, and a laid-back atmosphere that makes it a great destination for travelers of all ages. The town is home to several beaches, each with a distinct personality, from the popular Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the scenic Natural Bridges State Beach.
In addition to its beautiful beaches, Santa Cruz is also known for its lively downtown area, where visitors can find an array of restaurants, shops, and art galleries. The town's rich history and diverse cultural influences are also evident in its many landmarks and attractions, such as the Mystery Spot and Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
For those looking for adventure, Santa Cruz has plenty to offer as well, including surfing, hiking, and mountain biking. The town is also home to several parks and nature preserves, such as Wilder Ranch State Park and Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where visitors can explore the region's stunning natural beauty.
Best activities in Santa Cruz:
- Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Explore the scenic Natural Bridges State Beach
- Take a stroll down the historic Santa Cruz Wharf
- Visit the Museum of Art & History
- Go surfing at Pleasure Point or Cowell's Beach
- Hike in the redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Explore the tide pools at Panther Beach
- Visit the Seymour Marine Discovery Center
- Enjoy the sunset at Seabright State Beach
2.Carmel By The Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea, located on the central coast of California, is a charming beach town that exudes elegance and sophistication. Known for its pristine beaches, quaint cottages, and fine dining establishments, Carmel offers a unique and upscale beach experience. The town's picturesque streets are lined with art galleries, boutique shops, and cafes, making it an ideal destination for those who enjoy strolling and exploring.
The town's main beach, Carmel Beach, is a long stretch of white sand that's perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. The beach is also dog-friendly, and allows dogs to run off-leash. In addition to its beautiful beaches, Carmel is also known for its famous, stunning 17-Mile Drive and the Carmel Mission. The town's close proximity to Monterey Bay and Big Sur makes it an ideal destination for those looking to explore the region.
Best activities in Carmel:
- Relax on Carmel Beach
- Explore the scenic 17-Mile Drive
- Visit the historic Carmel Mission
- Go hiking in the nearby Carmel Valley
- Kayak along the stunning coastline
- Browse art galleries and boutique shops in downtown Carmel
- Visit the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Go wine tasting in nearby Monterey and Carmel Valley
- Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Take a scenic drive on the Big Sur coastline
Morro Bay, located a bit further south along the central coast of California, offers visitors a laid-back and relaxing beach experience. The town's most iconic feature is the towering Morro Rock, a massive volcanic peak that rises up from the ocean and can be seen from miles away. The beach town is also known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, beautiful beaches, and diverse wildlife.
Morro Bay offers visitors a range of activities, including biking, fishing, and hiking. The town is home to several parks and nature preserves, such as the Morro Bay State Park and the Montana de Oro State Park, which offer visitors the opportunity to explore the region's stunning natural beauty. Additionally, the town is home to a bustling harbor to watch fishing boats or rent a kayak to explore the bay.
In addition to its outdoor activities, Morro Bay is also known for its vibrant art scene and unique local shops and restaurants. Visitors can browse art galleries, visit local boutiques, and sample the town's fresh seafood.
Best activities in Morro Bay:
- Kayak or paddle board in the bay
- Rent bikes and cycle along the beach
- Visit the Morro Bay State Park and hike to the top of Black Hill for stunning views of the bay and Morro Rock
- Go fishing or whale watching in the bay
- Stroll along the Embarcadero and enjoy fresh seafood and local shopping
- Explore the Montana de Oro State Park
- Take a sunset stroll along the beach
- Visit the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History
- Attend a local event or festival, such as the Morro Bay Art in the Park
Santa Barbara is a spectacular beach town that offers visitors a unique blend of laid-back beach culture and upscale sophistication. Known for its beautiful beaches, stunning Spanish architecture, and picturesque coastal mountains, Santa Barbara is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike.
Santa Barbara's most popular beaches include East and West Beaches, Sands Beach, and Leadbetter Beach, which offer visitors the opportunity to swim, sunbathe, and enjoy a variety of water activities. The town's beautiful parks and gardens, such as the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden or the many hiking trails in the Santa Ynez Mountains, provide a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Alongside its stunning natural beauty, Santa Barbara is also known for its upscale dining and shopping scene. Visitors can enjoy fresh seafood and local wine at one of the many oceanfront restaurants, or shop for unique gifts and souvenirs at local boutiques and galleries.
Best activities in Santa Barbara:
- Relax on one of the town's beautiful beaches
- Take a stroll through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
- Explore the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara
- Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History or the MOXI
- Shop and dine along State Street and the Funk Zone in downtown Santa Barbara
- Hike or bike in the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains
- Go whale watching in the Santa Barbara Channel
- Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo
- Enjoy local wine tasting at one of the many in-town or nearby wineries
5.Alavon Beach Town
Avalon, located on the beautiful Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California, is a beach town that offers visitors a unique island escape. Known for its crystal-clear waters, stunning beaches, and vibrant marine life, Avalon is a popular destination for beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Avalon's most iconic feature is its stunning harbor, which is home to a variety of boats and yachts, and provides visitors with access to a range of water activities, such as snorkeling (some of the best in the world!), kayaking, and paddle boarding. The town's beautiful beaches, such as Descanso Beach and Lovers Cove, offer visitors the opportunity to relax, sunbathe, and enjoy the island's natural beauty.
This beach town also offers visitors a range of dining and shopping options, with local shops and restaurants serving up fresh seafood and island-inspired cuisine. Catalina Island is easily accessible by an hour boat ride from Long Beach.
Best activities in Avalon:
- Explore the town's charming streets and architecture, including the iconic Catalina Island Casino Building
- Take a glass-bottom boat tour to see the vibrant marine life and colorful kelp forests
- Relax on one of Avalon's beautiful beaches
- Go snorkeling or scuba diving in the crystal-clear waters
- Hike the Trans-Catalina Trail for stunning views of the island's rugged interior
- Rent a golf cart to explore the island's scenic roads and trails
- Visit the Catalina Island Museum for Art & History to learn about the island's rich history and culture
- Go parasailing for a bird's eye view of the island and ocean
- Take a sunset sail on a yacht or catamaran
Santa Monica is one of the most popular beach towns in California, located on the coastal section of the Los Angeles metropolis. With over three miles of pristine, sandy beaches, Santa Monica is a prime destination for those seeking sun, sand, and surf. But Santa Monica is much more than just the beach - it also boasts an upscale food and shopping scene, world-renowned restaurants, a lively nightlife, and the iconic fair on the end of the boardwalk. Of course, its proximity to the city of Los Angeles and greater LA area make it an ideal destination for tourists looking to explore the infamous city.
Best activities in Santa Monica:
- Visit the Santa Monica Pier, where you can enjoy carnival games and an amusement park
- Explore the Santa Monica Mountains by hiking or biking
- Immerse yourself in the art and culture of the area by visiting one of the many museums, galleries, or cultural centers
- Shop at the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only shopping district that features dozens of boutiques, restaurants, and street performers
- Attend one of the many outdoor fitness events or take a yoga class on the beach
- Check out the Santa Monica Farmers Market, where you can sample fresh, local produce and artisanal goods
- Enjoy a night out on the town, taking in the live music and entertainment scene while dining at one of the many top-rated restaurants. Stop by the Bungalow for a popular Santa Monica bar!
Manhattan Beach is a lovely coastal city, a hidden gem located in the South Bay of Los Angeles. It has pristine beaches, year-round great weather, and a variety of activities for visitors of all ages. Plus, Manhattan Beach has some of the best hotels in the southern California beach towns.
One of the main attractions of Manhattan Beach is its long and wide sandy beach, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and playing beach volleyball. Another draw is the city's thriving food and dining scene, which features a variety of high-end restaurants, trendy cafes, and gourmet markets. The area is home to the other South Bay beach cities of Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach that are both worth checking out for their own unique blend of fantastic restaurants, night life, and activities.
Best activities in Manhattan Beach:
- Take a surf lesson at the Manhattan Beach Pier or El Porto beach
- Explore the pier and stop at the Roundhouse Aquarium, which houses a variety of marine life, located at the end of the pier
- Rent a bike or take a jog along the Strand, a paved walkway that runs parallel to the beach from Palos Verdes Peninsula up to Malibu
- Visit the Manhattan Beach Farmers Market, where you can sample fresh local produce and artisanal products
- Enjoy a round of beach volleyball at one of the many courts available on the sand
- Take a sunset stroll along the beach and admire the picturesque views and stunning beach mini-mansions
- Experience the lively nightlife scene, with a variety of bars and live music performances
8. Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, is a vibrant coastal city located in Orange County. Huntington Beach is renowned for its surf culture and has some of the best surf spots on the West Coast and often hosts big, global surf competitions. Visitors can enjoy a stroll along the Huntington Beach Pier, which offers stunning views of the coastline and is a popular spot for fishing and people-watching.
Best activities in Huntington Beach:
- Check out the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum
- Explore the downtown area and check out the many shops, restaurants, and bars
- Visit the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which offers hiking trails and birdwatching opportunities
- Attend one of the many events that take place in Huntington Beach throughout the year, such as the Surf City USA Marathon or the US Open of Surfing
- Rent a bike and explore the scenic Huntington Beach Bike Trail
- Learn to surf or take a surfing lesson from a local surf school
- Enjoy a night out on the town, taking in live music and entertainment at one of the many local bars and clubs.
Newport Beach is a picturesque coastal city located in Orange County, California. It’s known for its luxurious beachfront properties, beautiful beaches, and vibrant culture. Newport is a popular spot for spending a day on the water, cruising around the harbor.
One of the main attractions of Newport Beach is Balboa Island and the “Balboa Fun Zone”. Visitors can also take a stroll along the boardwalk or rent a bike to explore the scenic Newport Back Bay. The city's upscale fashion boutiques, art galleries, and high-end restaurants also make it a popular destination for those looking for a luxurious beach vacation.
Best activities in Newport Beach:
- Explore the Balboa Peninsula, which offers a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options
- Take a boat tour of the Newport Bay and spot sea lions, dolphins, and other marine life
- Visit the Newport Beach Pier and indulge in some local cuisine
- Rent a bike and explore the scenic bike trails of Newport Back Bay
- Go on a whale watching excursion and see these magnificent creatures up close
- Attend one of the many cultural events that take place in Newport Beach throughout the year, such as the Newport Beach Film Festival or the Newport Beach Jazz Festival
- Take a stroll along the picturesque Newport Harbor and admire the yachts and sailboats
La Jolla, located just north of the exciting downtown San Diego, is an incredible beach town that is renowned for its stunning beaches, dramatic coastline, and vibrant marine life. With its crystal-clear waters, golden sands, and rugged cliffs, La Jolla is a popular destination for beachgoers, surfers, and outdoor enthusiasts.
La Jolla's most famous beach is La Jolla Cove, which is nestled between towering cliffs and offers visitors the opportunity to snorkel, swim, and sunbathe in a protected cove. The town's other popular beaches, such as Windansea Beach and Black's Beach, offer visitors the opportunity to surf, kite-board, and kayak.
La Jolla also boasts a vibrant cultural scene, with world-class art galleries, museums, and theaters. The town's vibrant dining scene offers visitors a range of culinary experiences, from fresh seafood and Mexican cuisine to upscale farm-to-table restaurants.
Best activities in La Jolla:
- Go snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of La Jolla Cove and spot the sea lions
- Visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to learn about the area's marine life
- Take a scenic hike along the coastal trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
- Explore the town's galleries and museums, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the La Jolla Historical Society
- Go kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding in the ocean or in the La Jolla Cove
- Shop and dine in the upscale boutiques and restaurants along Prospect Street
- Visit the La Jolla Playhouse to see world-class theater productions
- Enjoy a sunset picnic or bonfire on the beach
CONCLUSION: Top California Beach Towns
California is home to some of the most picturesque beach towns in the world, each with its unique charm, beauty, and attractions. From the iconic Santa Cruz and the historic Avalon to the upscale La Jolla and the charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, each town has something special to offer visitors seeking an unforgettable beach experience.
Whether you're looking to relax on pristine beaches, explore vibrant marine life, indulge in fine dining, or enjoy outdoor activities, these beach towns have it all. With their breathtaking scenery, cultural offerings, and outdoor adventures, they make for perfect vacation destinations.