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Scripps Pier, photo by slworking2

California is a land full of amazing natural wonders and curious events. I mean, where else can you witness thousands of tiny fish beaching themselves in a mating ritual that only happens at night during a full moon? Or how about when a waterfall appears to flow with molten lava as the sun sets in late February every year.

But perhaps the most spectacular event of them all happens when the waters along the California coastline glow neon blue. It’s a phenomenon known as bioluminescence and it is caused by tiny organisms in the water that produce a chemical reaction that gives off a neon blue light when agitated.

Manhattan Beach

These light shows typically happen during the spring and early summer months and are most common on California’s southern coastline, such as Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego, and the beaches on Santa Monica Bay. But they can also be seen north of San Francisco at places like Point Reyes.

Swamis Beach in Encinitas

While it’s difficult to predict when and where these events will happen, the best way to witness one for yourself is to monitor social media by following local news outlets and aquariums such as the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and the Monterey Bay Aquarium (check out our complete list of aquariums in California). When an event is happening, try to find a dark section of coastline for the maximum effect.

The spring of 2020 was a particularly good year when this event lasted for nearly six weeks and stretched from the Baja Peninsula all the way to Los Angeles. And it has already happened multiple times in 2021. So stay alert and you may be able to see one for yourself.

Beaches on this list

  • Newport Municipal Beach

    Newport Municipal Beach is located on both sides of the Newport Beach Pier. The beaches are continuous here and the city beach stretches from Balboa Pier Beach to the south […]

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  • Main Beach in Laguna Beach

    Main Beach is the simple name given to the main centrally-located city beach in Laguna Beach, California. Main Beach is a nice sandy beach in a broad cove that faces […]

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  • Windansea Beach

    Windansea Beach is below Neptune Place in La Jolla at the west end of Westbourne, Nautilus, and Bonair Streets. The name is a shortened version of “Wind-and-Sea” and comes from […]

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  • Point Reyes North Beach

    North Beach at Point Reyes Beach is the northern access point to an 11-mile long beach on the west side of Point Reyes National Seashore. Beachcombing is probably the biggest […]

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  • Point Reyes South Beach

    South Beach is the southern access to Point Reyes Beach, an 11-mile long strand nicknamed “The Great Beach” in Point Reyes National Seashore. This vast expanse of shoreline is excellent for beachcombing. Walk […]

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  • Manhattan County Beach

    Manhattan Beach (the beach) is the main beach of the city of Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County. It’s a popular beach that becomes a madhouse on weekends especially near […]

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  • Swami’s Beach

    Swami’s Surf Beach is a famous surfing mecca at the south end of Encinitas, CA. The park at Swami’s Beach is a great vantage point for watching surfers and has […]

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  • San Clemente Pier City Beach

    San Clemente Pier Beach is the main city beach of San Clemente, California. The beach is a wide sandy spot on both sides of the pier between T-Street Beach and […]

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  • San Clemente State Beach

    San Clemente State Beach has a large campground and day-use parking area on a prime piece of San Clemente California real estate. The state park was built from 1934 to […]

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  • El Portal Beach

    This beach goes by two names, El Portal Beach and Buena Vista Beach. That’s because the public access entrance is at the intersection of Buena Vista and El Portal streets. […]

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Related Attractions

  • Aquarium of the Pacific

    Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, is one of the largest aquariums in the United States with more than 12,000 ocean animals and nearly 50 exhibits requiring more […]

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  • Birch Aquarium at Scripps

    Located atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the college campus, Birch Aquarium at Scripps opened its doors and started greeting guests in 1992. Designed around a central lobby, […]

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  • Monterey Bay Aquarium

    This award-winning aquarium offers families an enriching, educational and entertaining visitor experience in its nearly 200 galleries and exhibits devoted to the diverse habitats of Monterey Bay. The aquarium is […]

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