Top Ten Beach Towns In California

Ready to take a weekend vacation? These hidden gems are among California’s top beach towns.

El Capitan State Beach

There is no denying that California is home to some incredible treasures. From Yosemite to Joshua Tree, its national parks are the stuff of legends, and its cities are home to some of the best dining and entertainment options in the world. 

Beach life is another thing California excels at, so don’t forget about it. There are charming small towns and cultural hotspots in these beach towns in addition to gleaming white sands and rugged coastlines ideal for hiking. In essence, California’s beach towns offer everything. These are some of our favorites. 

Best beach towns in California

Playa del Rey

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1. Playa del Rey

Playa del Rey has an old-fashioned beach town vibe that makes you forget Los Angeles is nearby even though it is only 15 minutes from LAX. Residents frequently say hello to one another on the street or at one of the many undiscovered gem eateries. This tiny area to the south of Marina del Rey is sandwiched between the Ballona Wetlands, which are home to numerous bird species, and the ocean. For surfing and to see commercial airplanes taking off above you, head to Toes Beach at the northernmost part of Dockweiler State Beach.

Dana Point

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2. Dana Point

Dana Point, a perfect getaway between Los Angeles and San Diego, is located right in the middle of Southern California’s beach region. Beginners should visit Doheny State Beach because it has ideal surfing conditions and offers simple waves for instruction.

Do you prefer to sail the waves to ride them? The best places in the world to see dolphins and whales are in Dana Point, where there are numerous boat tours available. Spend some time at the lovely harbor eating seafood that was caught there and some time on the cliffs above it admiring the harbor lights against the vast ocean.

Fort Bragg

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3. Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg is a historical treasure of California that can be explored up north on the magnificent Mendocino Coast. The first stop should be Glass Beach, where pieces of sea glass mix with rocks in the hidden coves, despite the fact that it may not be a traditional beach town. MacKerricher State Park includes Glass Beach, where beaches, dunes, headlands, bluffs, and wetlands come together to create a singular experience. The bustling Noyo Harbor offers opportunities for kayaking and boating excursions that let you take in the scenery.


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4. Cayucos

San Luis Obispo County in Central California’s Cayucos is home to this tiny, unincorporated beach community on Estero Bay. Visit the Cayucos Pier, which is lit for night fishing, to take advantage of the license-free fishing. Try surfing or paddle boarding at the pier, which offers excellent conditions for both activities, to take it a step further. Between strolls on Cayucos State Beach, the town embraces its past by offering a variety of antique stores and interesting historical structures.


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5. Capitola

Capitola, the oldest beachfront resort on the West Coast, is located five miles south of Santa Cruz on the shores of Monterey Bay. Local shops abound on the hillside above the water, and the Capitola Venetian Hotel’s brightly painted Mediterranean-style buildings welcome you from the water’s edge. Spend some time at Capitola Beach before going for a stroll to the Capitola Wharf to go fishing or to enjoy live music on summer evenings. Choose one of the beachfront eateries for a sunset dinner with views of the Bay at the end of the day.


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6. Cambria

Cambria, a quaint town on the Central Coast, is halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Explore the mile-long boardwalk to spot marine life and observe the water crashing against Moonstone Beach’s rocky shoreline. Visit the Piedras Blancas Rookery, where there is a colony of up to 25,000 elephant seals, for a closer encounter. To go shopping and wine tasting, rent a bike; alternatively, drive to the nearby, infamous Hearst Castle.

Pacific Grove

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7. Pacific Grove

Pacific Grove, which is located at the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, is perhaps a more laid-back cousin to the nearby towns of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey. Visit the Point Pinos Lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1855, and take a tour.

Spend some time at Lover Point Beach if you’re in the mood for romance. There, you can surf some very dependable waves while pleasantly observing the sun rise over the water. Come see why Pacific Grove is dubbed “Butterfly Town USA” in October when tens of thousands of monarch butterflies move to the Monarch Sanctuary.


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8. Mendocino

The small, artistic beach town of Mendocino breathes romance. One of the most picturesque places in California is frequently referred to as the “Victorian Village by the Sea.”

Along Mendocino’s coastline, adorable saltbox cottages and charming Victorian inns can be found. Sharp, rocky bluffs project into the sea. Pull off of Highway 1 at Big River Beach for a picnic and some sunbathing in the breathtaking Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, which combines ocean, forest, and a lovely sandy beach.


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9. Carpinteria

The laid-back community of Carpinteria, which is home to the “World’s Safest Beach,” is located east of Santa Barbara. The Channel Islands protect Carpinteria State Beach, which has a southerly-facing slope and few rip tides.

Visit the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve by bike or on foot to observe where seals give birth to pups on the shore. Plan ahead and schedule your trip for the California Avocado Festival, when 100,000 people will be in town for food and entertainment.

Morro Bay

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10. Morro Bay

It is impossible to miss the distinctive view from the town of Morro Bay, where the volcanic Morro Rock rises nearly 600 feet above the surface of the ocean. Numerous hours and vantage points of the breathtaking scenery can be enjoyed along the six miles of beaches, including watching the sunset on Morro Beach and the light slanting against Morro Rock. In this charming coastal town, where visitors can spot sea otters in the Morro Bay Natural Estuary and bird watchers attend the annual Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, nature reigns supreme.