Everyone should have a list of things to do before they “kick the bucket” and visiting the best beaches in California is a great example. There are so many special places to see in this world and having bucket lists is a perfect way to track which ones are the most important to you. If you love beaches, California is chock full of beaches that are hard to believe unless you see them in person. Below is our suggested bucket list beaches in California.
These are beaches that you’ll hear people talking about, but if you haven’t been there yourself, it will be difficult to understand why they are so significant. They are spread across Northern and Southern California and you’ll recognize many of them, but we’d be surprised if you’ve visited them all.
Visiting the Big Sur Coast should be high on anyone’s bucket list. The scenic drive on Highway 1 through this remote coastline is something to behold. There are so many beaches and viewpoints to stop at on this 90 mile drive from Carmel to San Simeon that the trip should be broken up into several days. Pfeiffer Beach is one of the best beaches in Big Sur and one of the most stunning places in all of California. It has an iconic rock arch and even purple sand if you know where to look.
Malibu has a plethora of epic beaches of all shapes and sizes. This one is so fun to explore as it has nooks and crannies that are hidden in the rocks and cliffs. On your next trip to the Los Angeles area, you’ll need to visit El Matador Beach if you haven’t already.
If you are on the Central Coast of California, you’ll want to see The Rock at the entrance to Morro Bay. This ancient volcanic plug is an icon of California and is beautiful from all angles. The sandy beach at the base of the rock is popular for everything from surfing and fishing to kite flying and beachcombing.
Known for it’s hidden Pirate Tower, Laguna Beach’s Victoria Beach is a magnificent beach and worthy of a best beaches of California label even without the famous landmark. Vic Beach is a busy place so during the summer, schedule your visit for mid-week and go early to get parking nearby.
Years of wave action on tiny pieces of glass at a former garbage dump have created a beach that is full of colorful sea glass. Northern California’s Glass Beach once had so much glass that it covered up the sand in places. There is less glass here now as the colorful pieces have been removed little by little by tourists wanting to save a piece of Glass Beach. It still has enough sea glass to be worthy of a bucket list, plus it’s a beautiful beach without the glass.
If you are in the San Diego area and want to see one of the finest beaches in the state, cross over the Coronado Bridge and head to Coronado Beach. It’s a massive white sand beach that’s perfect for sunbathing and swimming. Another way to get there is to take the Coronado Ferry from the San Diego waterfront and walk a little over a mile from the ferry landing to the beach.
One of just a few black sand beaches in California, Black Sands Beach is true to its name and rewards visitors with a getaway like no other. You’ll have to drive remote winding roads to get to Shelter Cove where this beach is located. This town is a portal to the famous Lost Coat Trail and worth the effort to get there even if you are not backpacking northward for many miles.
The beaches on Santa Monica Bay are all pretty amazing, but Santa Monica State Beach stands out. Santa Monica Pier at the center of this massive beach is a big attraction in the area and has something for everyone. Pacific Park Amusement Park, Heal The Bay Aquarium, and several restaurants and shops are on the pier. A 22-mile long paved bike path meanders through the sand and bike rentals are available on the pier.
The tiny resort town of Dillon Beach has become quite the destination. There are more cabins and cottages available now and it’s worthy of at least a weekend getaway if you can book a stay. If not, there are other towns nearby in Marin and Sonoma County and the scenic drive through rolling hills and farmlands on the way to Dillon Beach is pleasant.
This small cove in La Jolla has been described as the most photographed beach in California. While we don’t really believe this claim, La Jolla Cove is a unique and picturesque beach that deserves being on the best beaches in California list.
You’ve probably seen this beach before as photos of it frequently grace calendars and California tourism websites. The waterfall is called McWay Falls and it’s located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s a stunning location, but you might notice that the falls are not photographed from the beach. This is because the beach is closed to the public and it can only be seen from an overlook.
The Golden Gate Bridge can be photographed from many beaches, but Baker Beach is probably the best of them. It’s a spectacular beach and has a good perspective of the bridge silhouetted against the sky. Just be aware that if you wander northward to get a closer shot of the bridge you might also see folks without clothes as North Baker Beach is considered clothing optional.
Here’s another California beach with a picturesque rock arch that dominates the view. There are so many rock arches in California but only a few stand out like this one. The arch or “bridge” at Natural Bridges State Beach is gorgeous and unmistakable. This state park also has hiking trails, a butterfly grove, and good birdwatching.
If you are in the Laguna Beach or Newport Beach in Orange County and want to visit a beach in an undeveloped area, there are not a lot of options. Crystal Cove State Park is on the site of a former ranch and the bluffs are undeveloped, except in one special area. The Historic District of the park has buildings that are protected landmarks and can be rented if you get lucky to reserve one. The park has a three mile long beach that is ideal for beach walking and has tidepools too.
This off-the-beaten-path destination is so much more than just a beach. It’s a getaway worthy of an extended weekend or longer. This Santa Barbara County park is known for its campground and glamping cabins but it is excellent just for the day if you happen to be in the area. There’s a small store and cafe that’s semi-famous for its Jalama Burger, but serves much more for three meals a day. It’s easy to stay at Jalama Beach for quite a while and just enjoy this remote coastal setting.
You’ve probably heard of the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria. If you haven’t walked the walk yet, add it to your bucket list. Moonstone is a brown sand beach with unique moon-like rocks and it’s fun to explore. The town of Cambria is a friendly place with a walkable downtown too.