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The Central California Coast has many places where you can fish right from shore (scroll down to see a list). There are several ways to fish at these beaches including dropping a line from rocky areas, fly-fishing, and casting live bait right into the waves. The central coast is also great for fishing from piers or launching a boat or kayak to fish offshore.

To make it happen you need to do a few things first. Find a location you want to fish, pick the dates of your trip, get the required permits, and start packing. The information below will help you plan a beach fishing trip.

Fishing license / permit

Shore fishing anywhere in Central California counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz) requires a fishing license for those who are 16 or older. Start online by getting a “GO ID” and you can easily get a permit after that.

Remember that fishing from California’s public piers doesn’t require a permit.

When to fish

  • After low tide (best during an incoming tide)
  • Always check California tide tables
  • Early in the morning or an hour before dusk
  • Calm surf (avoid heavy surf)
  • Fish year-round

Species fished for in Central California

  • Rockfish
  • Salmon
  • Lingcod
  • Cabezon
  • Barred surfperch
  • Walleye surfperch
  • Calico surfperch
  • Silver surfperch
  • Redtail surfperch
  • Bocaccio
  • California halibut
  • Sand dabs
  • Starry flounder
  • Petrale sole
  • Red snapper
  • Yellowfin croaker
  • White croaker
  • Black croaker
  • California corbina
  • Shovelnose guitarfish
  • California scorpionfish
  • Pacific barracuda
  • Opaleye
  • Queenfish
  • Striped bass
  • Barred sand bass
  • White sea bass
  • Kelp bass (calico bass)
  • Pacific bonito
  • Sargo
  • Jacksmelt
  • Topsmelt
  • Surf smelt
  • Night smelt
  • Pacific chub mackerel
  • Pacific sardine
  • Leopard Sharks
  • Bat Rays

Tackle checklist

  • Bag or cooler for fish
  • Fish bonker
  • Tape measure
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Fish net (optional)
  • Stripping basket if fly-fishing
  • Rods and reels: In the Socal surf you can usually get by with a light to medium weight setup like a 9 foot rod and 6 to 12 lb test line. Go to a heavyweight setup if using larger baitfish lures and plugs.
  • Bait or lures: Use a sinker, small hooks, and try live bait (or frozen), small lures, sand worms & blood worms, green peas, and small chunks of shrimp or clams/shellfish. Using a Carolina rig is typical while trying things like worms and live sand crabs. Do some research for fishing tactics based on what you intend to catch.

Packing checklist

  • Fishing permit
  • Sunblock & sun hat
  • Jacket & extra layers
  • Polarized sunglasses (to see into the water better)
  • Water shoes or waders
  • PFD (personal floatation device) if wading
  • Water & snacks
  • Wallet & cell phone in a sealed bag/container (don’t leave valuables in the car)

Where to cast

  • Look for channels in the sand where fish move through.
  • Try flat sand bars and the edges of them
  • Try white wash areas for corbina
  • Cast into areas of feeding birds (areas with bait fish)
  • Cast off rocks and look for sand crab beds
  • Drop a line off of a fishing pier (try mid-pier first) to get into deeper water, shallow reefs, and even kelp beds

The best beach fishing spots in Central California

You can catch fish year-round just about anywhere in the surf along the Central California shoreline. The key is to avoid crowds and stay out of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). CaliforniaMPAs.org is a good source for locating these restricted areas. The map on this page is particularly useful. Note that some MPAs have restrictions, but still allow taking fish recreationally. The main places to avoid are Campus Point in Santa Barbara, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Piedras Blancas, parts of Big Sur (near Big Creek and Point Sur), Point Lobos, and Point Pinos (between Monterey and Carmel).

Check the California OEHHA fish advisory map for where you’ll be fishing to know what species can be eaten and which should not (or should be limited).

The beaches below are great for surf fishing and are legal. Now all you need to do is get out there and start casting.


Beaches on this list

  • Emma Wood State Beach

    Emma Wood State Beach is a linear state park that parallels Highway 101 west of the city of Ventura. The main day use area is at the south end of […]

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  • La Conchita Beach

    La Conchita Beach is between Mussel Shoals and Rincon Point at the Ventura and Santa Barbara County border. The housing community of La Conchita is across Highway 101 from the […]

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  • West Beach of Santa Barbara

    West Beach in Santa Barbara is a wide beach located west of and adjacent to Stearns Wharf Pier at State Street. Be sure to visit the pier for shops and […]

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  • Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area

    Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area is a California state park that is part of Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area. This park offers visitors a trip through several diverse natural […]

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  • Fishermans Beach

    Fisherman’s Beach is the last beach you come to along Avila Beach Drive as you drive farther away from the town of Avila Beach. Locals call it Dog Beach because […]

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  • Spooner’s Cove – Montana de Oro State Park

    Spooner’s Cove Beach sits in a cove where Islay Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean in Montana de Oro State Park. This beautiful cove has a pebbly beach, tide pools, […]

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  • Sandspit Beach – Montana de Oro State Park

    Sandspit Beach at Montana de Oro State Park is a long beach that starts south of Morro Bay and continues out onto the long sand spit barrier that protects the […]

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  • Morro Strand State Beach

    Morro Strand State Beach is divided into two parts that are in the cities of Morro Bay and Cayucos. The main southern portion of this state park is in Morro […]

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  • Cayucos Beach

    Cayucos Beach is the city-owned beach south of the state beach in Cayucos, CA. Cayucos Beach lies in front of the many beachfront homes along Pacific Avenue south of the […]

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  • Leffingwell Landing at Moonstone Beach

    Leffingwell Landing is a day-use area at the north end of Moonstone Beach in Cambria. This is a state-run facility that is part of Hearst San Simeon State Park. On site […]

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  • San Simeon City Beach

    San Simeon Beach is the sandy beach that spans the waterfront of the town of San Simeon. Here you’ll find a collection of hotels and resorts that support visitors to […]

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  • Arroyo Laguna Beach

    Arroyo Laguna Beach is a windsurfing and kiteboarding spot along the northern San Luis Obispo Coast. The beach is at the mouth of Oak Knoll Creek which is commonly called […]

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  • San Carpoforo Creek Beach

    The San Carpoforo Creek Beach Access is the northernmost portion of the state-owned properties in Hearst San Simeon State Park. A portion of this beach is also in Los Padres National […]

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  • Garrapata State Park – Soberanes Point Beach

    Soberanes Point is near the middle of the four miles of oceanfront property in Garrapata State Park south of Carmel. Other than sandy Garrapata Beach at the south end of […]

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  • Moss Landing City Beach

    At the end of Sandholdt Road on the peninsula that protects Moss Landing Harbor there is a parking area with beach access. On the harbor side next to the entrance […]

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  • Carmel River State Beach

    Carmel River State Beach is a large sandy beach just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. This state park protects a large chunk of land mostly made up of wetlands at the […]

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  • Marina State Beach – South Beach

    The southern part of Marina State Beach has a little-known separate entrance from the main state park. Marina South Beach is remote considering how close it is to the city […]

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  • New Brighton State Beach

    New Brighton State Beach is a wide sandy beach at the north end of Monterey Bay. This state park has a large hillside campground in a wooded area surrounded by […]

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