Top 10 Best Destinations In California With The Best Beaches

The list of the top Destinations In California With The Best Beaches is not a ranking list but just a highlight based on travelers visits and local insights. California, a western U.S. state, stretches from the Mexican border along the Pacific for nearly 900 miles. Its terrain includes cliff-lined beaches, redwood forest, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central Valley farmland and the Mojave Desert. The city of Los Angeles is the seat of the Hollywood entertainment industry. Hilly San Francisco is known for the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and cable cars.

Just north of Mexico, San Diego is renowned for its zoo and surfing spots. In the north is Redwood National Park, with its towering trees, and the famed vineyards of Napa and Sonoma valleys. Inland are the capital, Sacramento, skiing and boating destination Lake Tahoe and iconic Yosemite National Park. Outside San Francisco is the nation’s technology hub, Silicon Valley. The central coast is site of Monterey’s renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, the scenic wilderness of Big Sur and extravagant Hearst Castle in the town of San Simeon. Disneyland is in Orange County, and Joshua Tree National Park straddles 2 deserts.

1. Santa Monica

Top 10 Best Destinations In California With The Best Beaches

Santa Monica is a coastal city west of downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica Beach is fringed by Palisades Park, with views over the Pacific Ocean. Santa Monica Pier is home to the Pacific Park amusement park, historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel and Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Next to the pier is Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym established in the 1930s. In the city center, Bergamot Station houses several art galleries.

2. Malibu


Malibu is a city west of Los Angeles, California. It’s known for its celebrity homes and beaches, including wide and sandy Zuma Beach. To the east is Malibu Lagoon State Beach, known as Surfrider Beach for its waves. Nearby is the Spanish Revival–style Adamson House, with local history displays in its Malibu Lagoon Museum. Inland, trails weave through canyons, waterfalls and grasslands in the Santa Monica Mountains.

3. San Diego

San Diego

San Diego is a city on the Pacific coast of California known for its beaches, parks and warm climate. Immense Balboa Park is the site of the renowned San Diego Zoo, as well as numerous art galleries, artist studios, museums and gardens. A deep harbor is home to a large active naval fleet, with the USS Midway, an aircraft-carrier-turned-museum, open to the public.

Old Town San Diego, known as "the birthplace of California," is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement, in 1769. Today, it features a state park, with museums in original adobe buildings, costumed staff and Mexican restaurants. In the Gaslamp Quarter, Victorian buildings stand among dance clubs, swanky cocktail lounges and dive bars. Across the bay, over a soaring bridge, lies the resort city of Coronado, featuring the iconic, luxurious red-roofed Hotel del Coronado, along with upscale shops and restaurants.

4. Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a sprawling Southern California city and the center of the nation’s film and television industry. Near its iconic Hollywood sign, studios such as Paramount Pictures, Universal and Warner Brothers offer behind-the-scenes tours. On Hollywood Boulevard, TCL Chinese Theatre displays celebrities’ hand- and footprints, the Walk of Fame honors thousands of luminaries and vendors sell maps to stars’ homes.

Highlights of LA beyond the entertainment industry include the Getty Center, home to European and American art and extensive gardens. Griffith Observatory has panoramic skyline views, while the Lakers and Clippers basketball teams play at Staples Center. In and around the city are notable beaches including Venice, complete with funky shops on a colorful boardwalk, and Santa Monica, whose pier offers rides and games. Live music venues dot the billboard-lined Strip, a stretch of Sunset Boulevard running through the West Hollywood area. Beverly Hills is the site of the famously upscale shopping street Rodeo Drive.

5. San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco, in northern California, is a hilly city on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It's known for its year-round fog, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and colorful Victorian houses. The Financial District's Transamerica Pyramid is its most distinctive skyscraper. In the bay sits Alcatraz Island, site of the notorious former prison.

Fisherman’s Wharf features souvenir shops, seafood and a colony of sea lions. Russian Hill is home to Lombard Street, made up of 8 sharp, steep downhill turns. Sprawling green spaces include the Presidio, a onetime military base-turned-national park. Golden Gate Park has fine-arts on display at the de Young Museum, plus natural history exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences. The Castro neighborhood is a historic hub of gay culture, while Chinatown is the oldest community of its kind in North America. The gritty, artistic Mission District hosts taquerias alongside colorful murals.

6. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is a small coastal city in Orange County, California. It’s known for its many art galleries, coves and beaches. Main Beach features tide pools and a boardwalk leading to the paths and gardens of nearby Heisler Park. Aliso Beach Park is a popular surf spot. The waters off Crystal Cove State Park are designated as an underwater park. Trails meander through coastal canyons in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

7. Long Beach

Long Beach

Long Beach is a coastal city and port in Southern California. Moored in its Queensway Bay, RMS Queen Mary is a retired ocean liner and museum ship. The waterfront Aquarium of the Pacific features touch tanks and a shark lagoon. Modern and contemporary works are on display at the Museum of Latin American Art. Rancho Los Cerritos is a 19th-century adobe home and museum set in expansive gardens.

8. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a city on the central California coast, with the Santa Ynez Mountains as dramatic backdrop. Downtown, Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs reflect the city’s Spanish colonial heritage. Upscale boutiques and restaurants offering local wines and seasonal fare line State Street. On a nearby hill, Mission Santa Barbara, founded in 1786, houses Franciscan friars and a museum.

The 1929 courthouse features elaborate Moorish-style tiles and murals depicting local history. Its 85-ft. clock tower offers ocean views. Opulent Granada Theater hosts the local symphony, ballet and opera. Santa Barbara Museum of Art specializes in works by 19th- and 20th-century American and French painters, including Monet. Stearns Wharf, a bustling waterfront shopping and dining area, has a palm-lined bike path leading to volleyball courts at East Beach. Leadbetter and Hendry’s beaches are popular surf spots. At Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, miles of trails wind through native California plants.

9. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a city on central California’s coast. Its long wharf, with eateries and shops, stretches into Monterey Bay. Nearby, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s vintage rides include the 1911 Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster. Downtown, Pacific Avenue has vintage clothing stores, cafes and galleries. Along West Cliff Drive, Natural Bridges State Beach is known for its bridge-shaped rock formation.

In the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum details the area’s history as a surfing hub. It overlooks famed surf site Steamer Lane. The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History focuses on local plants and animals. On Mission Hill, Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park features an early-1800s adobe building and city views. Northwest, the University of California Santa Cruz has an arboretum. A blue whale skeleton is on show at its off-site, seaside Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Nearby are Wilder Ranch State Park’s dairy farm and trails. To the north, giant redwoods tower in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

10. Coronado


Coronado is a California resort city on a peninsula in San Diego Bay. It’s known for the grand Victorian Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888. Across from the hotel, the wide, flat Coronado Beach draws surfers and sunbathers. Its western stretch includes the leash-free Coronado Dog Beach. The Coronado Ferry Landing has shops, restaurants and a small beach. Nearby, Centennial Park offers San Diego skyline views.

In the center of the peninsula, Spreckels Park has picnic tables and a gazebo that hosts summer concerts. Dramas and musicals take the stage at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in the stately Spreckels Building. The Coronado Visitor Center includes a small museum with exhibits on the city’s naval history. On Glorietta Bay, the Coronado Community Center is a complex with an outdoor pool and a climbing wall. South of the city, Silver Strand State Beach comprises sandy stretches on both the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay.


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