When people think of beach vacations, few places provide as many unforgettable destinations as the state of California. With 840 miles of gorgeous coastline, the best beach towns in California offer unparalleled scenic beauty. That’s not all they have to offer, though. Whether you’re planning a family holiday full of sandcastles and ice cream or a romantic escape involving candlelit dinners overlooking the ocean, look no further than California’s best beach towns!
For those seeking fun in the sun, California truly lives up to its nickname as “The Golden State.” There’s no shortage of peaceful small towns and vibrant coastal cities in California. Best of all, flying into California is affordable, too! With all that in mind, there’s no reason to not make the Golden State your destination for a memorable beach getaway.
There are so many cool places to stay and things to do in Northern California and Southern California that it can be hard to know where to start. In the blog post below, I’m going to bring you through the ten best California beach towns that should be on your radar. By the end, you’ll be fully prepared to pick the perfect spot for a sun-kissed vacation like no other. So go ahead, grab your sunglasses and flip-flops. A coastline of endless possibilities is waiting for you!
How to score airline discounts for cheap California vacations
Are you looking for cheap airline tickets for an affordable California vacation? Before going in-depth on the best places for a California vacation, I want to share a quick tip on how to save on airfare.
For the past 3 years, I’ve used Scott’s Cheap Flights (now called Going) to get amazing flight deals. Every week, they send insanely cheap flight deals directly to my inbox. And the best part? It’s 100% FREE!
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However, if you want to be a global wanderer, it’s worth upgrading to the paid version. It only costs $49 per year, and it’ll pay for itself after only a couple of flights. Not sure if the premium is right for you? I recommend trying the free trial. Then, if you find value in it, use my special discount code (JON20) to save 20%!
10 best California beach towns for a weekend getaway
Are you looking to explore historic sites and spots for adventure? Or would you prefer indulging in fresh seafood delights along a captivating waterfront? Whatever you’re planning, these must-see California beach towns can accommodate your needs. Here are ten of the best coastal cities in California that you should know about.
1. Santa Monica
Standing out as a beacon of California’s vibrant beach culture, Santa Monica is an all-ages paradise. The Santa Monica Pier, with its carousel and Ferris wheel, appeals to both the young and the young-at-heart, making it one of the most beautiful places near Los Angeles to visit. In Santa Monica, you can rent a bike for a ride down the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, or indulge in some retail therapy and street performances at the Third Street Promenade.
Additionally, the culinary landscape here is as varied as it is delicious, from gourmet eateries to funky cafes. Before you leave, make sure to witness one of the awe-inspiring Pacific sunsets. Coupled with the numerous shopping venues, Santa Monica serves as a well-rounded California vacation destination.
Away from the hustle and bustle lies family-friendly Malibu, one of the best beach towns in California, renowned for its opulent homes and pristine shores. The town offers a peaceful respite, making it an ideal locale for romance and solitude. So, whether you’re an experienced surfer or a hiking enthusiast, Malibu won’t disappoint. Zuma Beach is the go-to for surfing, while Malibu Creek State Park offers hiking trails amid scenic beauty.
From oceanfront restaurants serving the freshest seafood to intimate dining settings, Malibu offers an array of gastronomic experiences. Similarly, for those interested in culture and history, the Getty Villa provides an enriching experience, adding a layer of depth to the natural allure of Malibu. Is this one of the best towns in California by the beach? You bet!
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3. Venice Beach
More than just one of the best California beach towns, Venice Beach is a veritable mecca for bohemian culture and artistic flair. From street performers to an eclectic local populace, the area is a living tapestry of creativity and freedom of expression.
Additionally, what sets Venice Beach apart is its diversity of experiences. Skateboarders show off their tricks, Muscle Beach gym-goers pump iron outdoors, and the vibrant Venice Murals make for perfect Instagram moments. When it comes to food and drink, Venice Beach offers a myriad of choices. Whether it’s sipping on craft beers or enjoying a vegan smoothie at a hipster café, you’re sure to find your scene.
Lastly, amidst the hustle and bustle, don’t miss out on the Venice Canals. Modeled after those in Venice, Italy, they offer a tranquil and picturesque escape, showing off a softer side to this lively beach town. It’s truly one of those California coastal cities that you’ll want to visit again and again.
If Venice Beach is for the free-spirited, Carmel-by-the-Sea, then, is among the best beach towns in California for romantics. This quaint, fairytale-like village is the epitome of comfort, with luxury hotels providing a serene backdrop for any intimate getaway.
Moreover, Carmel is more than just a pretty face; it’s a hub for various activities. Explore art galleries, take scenic drives along the world-famous 17-Mile Drive, or wander through the cobblestone streets hand-in-hand with your loved one.
The town offers a romantic dining experience unlike any other. From fine dining establishments to cozy wine bars, Carmel sets the scene for an intimate evening. To add a touch of culture to your beach vacation, make time for a performance at the Sunset Center. It’s the perfect way to wrap up your day in this charming town.
5. Laguna Beach
A breathtaking coastal city in California, Lugana Beach caters to both nature lovers and art enthusiasts. With its stunning ocean views and rugged landscapes, it’s a peaceful respite from the more touristy California vacation destinations.
Moreover, outdoor lovers can revel in Laguna Beach’s many hiking trails, tide pools, and hidden coves. Art aficionados will also find a haven here, with numerous art galleries and the annual Pageant of the Masters event.
Additionally, whether you’re in the mood for gourmet seafood or a casual taco stand, Laguna Beach offers a range of dining options to suit any taste. And as the sun sets, choose from a myriad of bars and lounges for a nightcap. The Montage Public Art Walk offers a blend of public art and serene ocean views, making it a must-visit for a quiet, enriching afternoon.
6. Santa Cruz
One of the most classic and overall best beach towns in California, Santa Cruz offers a distinctive mix of nostalgia and modern beach culture. With its iconic boardwalk and amusement park, it’s been an enduring family favorite for generations.
Families can’t miss the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, home to vintage roller coasters and classic arcade games. For nature enthusiasts, the nearby Redwood Forests provide a scenic change of pace. From old-fashioned ice cream parlors to contemporary farm-to-table restaurants, Santa Cruz delivers on the culinary front. Additionally, a range of pubs and beachfront bars also offer the perfect way to end a day. Moreover, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum adds a dose of local culture and history to your beach vacation, giving you a full picture of this iconic Californian beach town.
Unique among the best beach towns in California, Encinitas captures the soul of Southern California’s surf culture. This laid-back town is perfect for those looking to catch some waves, practice yoga, or just enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Encinitas offers some of the best surf spots in California, including Swami’s Beach. However, if surfing isn’t your thing, the San Diego Botanic Garden offers a tranquil escape with flora from around the world.
From organic eateries to charming beachside cafes, Encinitas presents a culinary journey that matches its relaxed vibe. Additionally, the nightlife is equally low-key, with several cozy bars perfect for a leisurely evening. The Self-Realization Fellowship Hermitage & Meditation Gardens provide a peaceful space for self-reflection, adding a unique, spiritual aspect to your beach vacation. With so much charm and personality, this is easily among the best beach towns in CA.
8. Pismo Beach
A veritable paradise for adventurers, Pismo Beach offers the quintessential California beach resort experience coupled with thrilling activities and breathtaking nature spots for outdoor enthusiasts. From ATV rides on the dunes to kayaking through sea caves, Pismo Beach is filled with adrenaline-pumping activities. However, if you prefer a more relaxed pace, the Oceano Dunes are perfect for a sunset stroll.
Pismo Beach specializes in seafood. Indulge in clam chowder at a range of restaurants overlooking the ocean, and later, enjoy some local wine at nearby vineyards or oceanfront bars. Moreover, don’t miss the Monarch Butterfly Grove where tens of thousands of butterflies migrate each winter. It’s an awe-inspiring spectacle that adds an unexpected twist to your beach getaway.
9. Half Moon Bay
A hidden gem among California’s best beach towns, Half Moon Bay offers a unique blend of rugged Northern California beauty and quaint small-town charm. It’s a perfect escape for those looking to unwind and explore unspoiled landscapes. Hiking trails abound, offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, for those interested in marine life, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve offers tidal pools filled with sea anemones, crabs, and other creatures.
The culinary scene is rich with farm-to-table restaurants and local breweries. Seafood, unsurprisingly, is a highlight, often caught fresh by local fishermen. Additionally, the annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is a delightful event that brings in artisans from around the area, offering a local touch to your beach holiday. It’s easy to see why HMB is among the top CA coastal towns.
10. Manhattan Beach
Don’t let the name fool you; Manhattan Beach is one of the best beach towns in California, not New York! Proving a polished, upscale experience without losing its easygoing surfer vibe, it’s ideal for those looking for a chic yet relaxed getaway. Additionally, Manhattan Beach is well-known for its clean beaches and volleyball culture. Take a stroll down the Manhattan Beach Pier for spectacular ocean views and a small but informative aquarium at the end.
Upscale restaurants and trendy bars dominate the culinary landscape here. Whether it’s enjoying a cocktail at a rooftop bar or dining in an elegant ocean-view restaurant, you’ll find plenty of ways to indulge. Additionally, the town is home to several boutique shops, offering a different kind of retail therapy for those interested in high-end fashion or unique souvenirs.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the best coastal cities in California
Looking to expand your knowledge about the best California beach towns to visit? In the section below, I’ve collected some of the most common questions I get about the best beach towns in California. Hopefully, my answers will help you ensure an unforgettable vacation!
What is the most beautiful beach town in California?
Obviously, “beautiful” is subjective, but I personally consider Carmel-by-the-Sea to be one of the most beautiful beach towns in California. Nestled along the rugged coastline of Central California, Carmel boasts scenic white sand beaches, historic architecture, and a charming downtown area. It’s particularly known for its fairytale-like cottages and the absence of streetlights, which make the town feel timeless and romantic.
In addition to its natural beauty, Carmel is rich in arts and culture, featuring numerous galleries and theatres. The coastline offers breathtaking views, particularly at sunset, and the nearby 17-Mile Drive provides one of the most scenic routes in the state. Whether you’re into photography, nature walks, or simply soaking in the views, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a picturesque setting that’s hard to match.
What is the warmest beach town in California?
Southern California is known for its warm weather, and among its beach towns, Huntington Beach is often cited as having some of the warmest temperatures year-round. Located in Orange County, Huntington Beach enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.
The beach stretches for miles, offering plenty of space for sunbathing, surfing, and other beach activities. The town itself has a lively atmosphere with a range of dining and shopping options. Moreover, if you’re a surfer or a fan of surf culture, you’ll find Huntington Beach particularly appealing; it’s often referred to as “Surf City USA” due to its high-quality waves and surfing culture.
What city in California has perfect weather?
San Diego is frequently touted as the city with “perfect” weather in California. It enjoys a Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Average temperatures in San Diego typically range from the high 40s to the high 70s Fahrenheit, making it comfortable for outdoor activities year-round.
Its consistency in temperature, combined with over 260 sunny days per year, makes it a popular destination for those who value stable, sunny weather. So, whether you’re exploring the historic Gaslamp Quarter, touring the famous San Diego Zoo, or lounging on one of its many beaches, the climate often feels just right.
Are there any small beach towns left in California?
Absolutely! California still boasts a number of charming small beach towns that offer a more laid-back vibe compared to bustling cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. These towns provide a quintessential California beach experience without the crowds. Here are some to consider:
- Capitola: Located in Santa Cruz County, this town is known for its colorful seaside homes and a relaxed atmosphere. The downtown area is small but vibrant, offering a range of boutiques and eateries.
- Cayucos: Situated along California’s Central Coast, Cayucos offers a vintage beach town experience. It’s ideal for surfing, fishing, or simply soaking up the sun on the beach.
- Mendocino: While not a traditional “beach town,” Mendocino offers stunning coastal views and a small-town atmosphere. It’s more cliffside than beachside but provides access to several beautiful beaches.
- Carpinteria: Just south of Santa Barbara, this small oceanfront town is known for its excellent beaches and a variety of outdoor activities, from hiking to paddleboarding.
- Pismo Beach: Located on the Central Coast, Pismo Beach offers a classic California beach town experience, complete with a pier, sandy beaches, and surf-friendly waves.
- Encinitas: In San Diego County, Encinitas has a laid-back vibe and is home to beautiful beaches like Moonlight Beach and Swami’s, a popular surf spot.
- Half Moon Bay: A short drive from San Francisco, this town offers a peaceful coastal retreat with scenic views, artisan shops, and local seafood.
What part of California stays warm all year?
Southern California generally stays warm throughout the year, especially areas closer to the desert, like Palm Springs and the Inland Empire. These regions experience a hot desert or semi-arid climate with very mild winters and extremely warm summers. In Palm Springs, for example, winter temperatures rarely dip below 60°F, while summer highs can exceed 100°F.
Therefore, if you’re someone who loves hot, sunny weather, these regions are ideal for year-round warmth. It’s worth noting, however, that the warmth in desert areas is a dry heat, which some find more comfortable than the humidity often found in coastal regions. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, poolside relaxation, or winter sun, Southern California offers regions that stay toasty all year long.
What cities in California have a beach?
California is blessed with a long coastline that stretches for more than 800 miles. As such, many cities along this coast have access to beautiful beaches. Here’s a list of some notable California cities with beaches:
Southern California cities with beaches:
- San Diego: Known for its beautiful beaches like La Jolla Cove, Mission Beach, and Coronado Beach.
- Oceanside: Offers a long stretch of sandy beaches and a pier.
- Laguna Beach: Famous for its coves and artistic community.
- Newport Beach: Known for its surfing and upscale living.
- Huntington Beach: Also known as “Surf City, USA.”
- Long Beach: Offers both beach and harbor areas, close to Los Angeles.
- Santa Monica: Features a famous pier and a wide beach.
- Malibu: Known for its scenic beaches like Zuma and Point Dume.
Central California cities with beaches:
- Santa Barbara: Offers beautiful beaches and a Mediterranean climate.
- Ventura: Known for its harbor and Surfers Point.
- Pismo Beach: Popular for surfing and its classic pier.
- Santa Cruz: Home to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Northern California cities with beaches:
- Half Moon Bay: Known for its rugged coastline and beaches like Mavericks.
- Santa Cruz: Offers a variety of beaches and is home to the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
- Monterey: Famous for its scenic coastline and Cannery Row.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: Known for its white sand beach and artistic community.
Where is the cheapest place to live on the California coast?
Living on the California coast is often associated with a high cost of living, especially in cities like Malibu, Santa Monica, and San Francisco. However, there are some California coastal towns and cities where the cost of living is relatively more affordable. Here are some options:
- Eureka: Located in Northern California, Eureka offers a lower cost of living compared to other coastal cities. It’s known for its Victorian architecture and proximity to outdoor activities.
- Oxnard: Situated between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Oxnard is relatively more affordable and offers beautiful beaches like Silver Strand Beach.
- Ventura: Close to Oxnard, Ventura offers a slightly higher but still relatively affordable cost of living. It’s known for its harbor and Surfers Point.
- San Pedro: This is a community within the city of Los Angeles and offers a more affordable lifestyle while still providing access to the amenities of a big city.
- Imperial Beach: Located near the Mexican border in San Diego County, this town offers a more affordable lifestyle with the benefit of a beautiful beach.
- Morro Bay: Located on the Central Coast, Morro Bay is known for its large volcanic rock that sits in the harbor. It’s a fishing town with a more laid-back lifestyle.
What beach town in California has colorful houses?
The beach town in California known for its colorful houses is Capitola. Located in Santa Cruz County, Capitola is a charming small town that features a row of brightly colored homes known as the “Capitola Venetians” right along the beachfront. These iconic houses are one of the most photographed spots in the area and add a unique, whimsical charm to the town.
Capitola’s Venetian Court, as it’s officially known, was built in the 1920s and was inspired by the architectural styles of the Mediterranean. The colorful homes overlook Soquel Creek and Capitola Beach, offering a picturesque setting that’s popular for both tourists and photographers.
In addition to its colorful houses, Capitola offers a relaxed atmosphere with a quaint village setting, featuring boutique shops, restaurants, and of course, a beautiful beach. It’s a great place for a day trip or a weekend getaway, offering activities like paddleboarding, fishing, and simply enjoying the sun and surf.
What is the safest beach town in California?
Here are a few of the safest California beach towns that offer low crime rates and high-quality beachside amenities:
- Manhattan Beach: Located in Los Angeles County, Manhattan Beach has low crime rates and is known for its clean, well-patrolled beaches. The community is family-friendly and offers various amenities.
- Laguna Beach: This Orange County town is not only picturesque but also has a reputation for being safe and family-friendly. The beaches are clean, and lifeguards are usually present.
- Coronado: Located in San Diego County, Coronado is often cited as one of the safest beach towns in California. It has low crime rates and offers well-maintained beaches with lifeguards.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: Known for its scenic beauty and artistic community, Carmel also boasts low crime rates. The beach area is clean and usually less crowded, offering a peaceful environment.
- Seal Beach: Situated in Orange County, Seal Beach is a small, quaint town with low crime rates. The beach is well-maintained and is generally considered safe for families.