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Beach fishing is a fun experience and Southern California has many locations to choose from (see our list at the bottom of this page). There are several ways to fish from shore including casting from rocky areas, fly-fishing, and using live bait right in the crashing surf.

To make it happen you need to do a few things first. Find a location near you, determine when you can go, get the permits needed, and start packing. The information below will help you prepare your beach fishing trip.

Photo by moonjazz

Fishing license / permit

Fishing in the ocean from the beach anywhere in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County requires a fishing license if you are aged 16 or older. Start by getting a “GO ID” online and it is pretty easy from there.

Note that fishing from a public pier in California does not require a permit.

When to fish

  • After low tide (best during an incoming tide)
  • Refer to California tide charts
  • Early morning or before dusk
  • Avoid heavy surf
  • All of the species below can be caught year-round, but they have peak seasons (which are debated of course).

Species commonly fished for in Southern California

  • Grunion (hand caught)
  • Walleye surfperch
  • Barred surfperch
  • Rainbow surfperch
  • California halibut
  • Yellowfin croaker
  • Spotfin croaker
  • Black croaker
  • California corbina
  • Spotted turbot
  • Diamond turbot
  • Guitarfish
  • Shiner perch
  • Black perch
  • Pile perch
  • California scorpionfish
  • Rockfish
  • Opaleye
  • Queenfish
  • Kelp bass
  • Sargo
  • Jacksmelt
  • Pacific chub mackerel
  • Pacific sardine
  • Striped mullet
  • 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, flies on a Carolina rig, sand crabs, sand & blood worms, green peas, and small chunks of shrimp or clams/shellfish. Do some research for fishing tactics based on what you intend to catch.

Packing checklist

  • Fishing permit
  • Sunblock & sun hat
  • Polarized sunglasses (to see into the water better)
  • Water shoes or waders
  • PFD (personal floatation device) if wading
  • Water & food
  • 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 Southern California

You can catch fish year-round just about anywhere in the surf along the Southern 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 for recreation. The main places to avoid are Point Loma, parts of La Jolla, all of Laguna Beach, Point Vicente is Palos Verdes, and Point Dume in Malibu.

Always check the California OEHHA fish advisory map for the area you will be fishing so you know what species can be eaten and which can not.

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

  • Imperial Beach City Beach

    Imperial Beach, California has an impressive beach running the length of its waterfront called Imperial Beach City Beach. This beach is generally located between Palm Avenue and Imperial Beach Boulevard […]

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  • Silver Strand State Beach

    Silver Strand State Beach gives day-use visitors and campers access to great beaches on both sides of the Coronado Island Peninsula. The ocean beach at Silver Strand State Beach offers […]

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  • South Mission Beach

    South Mission Beach is at the extreme south end of the Mission Beach Peninsula at the Mission Bay Channel Entrance. There is a grass park there with picnic tables, restrooms, […]

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  • Fiesta Island Beaches on Mission Bay

    Fiesta Island on San Diego’s Mission Bay has a continuous beach around its perimeter. Just follow the one-way loop road and park where you can. In most places you can […]

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  • Pacific Beach

    Pacific Beach (the beach) is located between Pacific Beach Drive and the Crystal Pier in the Pacific Beach District of San Diego, CA. North of the pier is North Pacific […]

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  • Black’s Beach

    Black’s Beach is a famous clothing-optional beach below a “gliderport” parking area on Torrey Pines Mesa. Blacks is a combo of Torrey Pines City Beach and Torrey Pines State Beach […]

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  • Torrey Pines State Beach – South Beach

    South Beach at Torrey Pines State Beach is just south of the creek mouth that flows from Los Penasquitos Marsh Natural Preserve in north La Jolla. There is a large […]

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  • South Carlsbad State Beach

    South Carlsbad State Beach is a three-mile long beach on the waterfront of Carlsbad, California. Most of this state beach is in front of the linear South Carlsbad Campground that […]

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  • Oceanside Harbor Beach

    Oceanside Harbor Beach is a wide sandy beach in front of Oceanside’s harbor. The beach is boxed in by two rock jetties at both ends which seems to hold in […]

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  • San Onofre State Beach – Surfing Beach (Old Man’s)

    San Onofre Surfing Beach (the official state park name) is located next to Camp Pendleton in North San Diego County. Access to this public beach is via the Old Pacific […]

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  • Huntington State Beach

    Huntington State Beach is a two mile long wide sandy beach that starts at Beach Boulevard and runs south to the Santa Ana River Channel. This state beach has volleyball […]

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  • Bolsa Chica State Beach

    Bolsa Chica State Beach is a three mile long wide sandy beach in Huntington Beach, CA. Due to its location and size this is a popular beach for sunbathing. With […]

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  • Playa Del Rey Beach

    Playa Del Rey Beach is the wide sandy beach in front of the Playa Del Rey neighborhood of Los Angeles. The beach is northwest of LAX Airport on state land […]

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  • Will Rogers State Beach

    Will Rogers State Beach is a state park operated by Los Angeles County that occupies the entire waterfront of the Pacific Palisades District of Los Angeles. The southern section of […]

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  • Mugu Beach

    Mugu Beach is just north of Mugu Rock in along Pacific Coast Highway in southern Ventura County. This is one of several beaches along a five-mile stretch of coastline in […]

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