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Catalina Island Harbor

The California coastline has no shortage of beaches (approximately 1,000 in fact). So choosing the ideal location for your beach getaway vacation is no trivial task. Not only do you need access to beautiful beaches, you also want the right mix of hotels, restaurants and attractions. Each travel destination in California offers something unique, so make sure you take the time to find the right fit for your ideal trip. To help, here are 10 California beach getaways that we highly recommend.

Dana Point

Dana Point Harbor

With its impressive high bluffs, as well as its secluded and sheltered coves, Dana Point provides not only a sought after surfing location, but also provides one of the area’s few harbors. From the fresh-water lagoon of Doheny State Beach, to the clean surroundings and fantastic views of Salt Creek Beach Park, there is much to offer. Capistrano Beach, or rather Capo Beach, is a true beach town, offering a small-town vibe for both visitors and the neighborhoods within. There are no shortage of hotels here and you can’t go wrong with the Blue Lantern Inn, Double Tree Guest Suites or Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (one of our top resorts of Southern California).

Avalon on Catalina Island

Descanso Beach Avalon Catalina Doug June2015 (8)

Perfectly situated along the eastern side of Catalina Island, Avalon is small in size but rich in tourist-friendly options. While some area beaches are only accessible by boat or kayak, Crescent Beach provides an untapped and spectacular setting for beachgoers looking for a secluded locale, while Descanso Beach (pictured above) offers pristine water, perfect for kayaking or snorkeling. Serving as the main drop-off site for the Catalina Express Ferry (service from LA, Long Beach & Dana Point), Avalon features prime locations for sailing and scuba diving, as well as serving up a number of unique restaurants and stores near the pier. There are many hotel options including the Pavilion Hotel, Hotel Vista Del Mar, The Edgewater Hotel & Snug Harbor Inn.

Malibu

Malibu Lagoon State Beach in Malibu, California

With nearly three-dozen beaches to choose from, Malibu is a beach-lovers dream. From the iconic Surfrider Beach, famous for world-class surfing and movies like “Gidget”, to one of the area’s cleanest beaches at Zuma Beach, to the cave-like rocks and cliffs of El Matador State Beach, there are plenty of options. Keep in mind, though, many of these beaches aren’t very well known, or easy to find. Some do not make it easy for the public to get to either. Learn more about the Hidden Beaches of Malibu. Before you go, stock up on supplies, food and beach equipment at Malibu Pier, which includes the famous Malibu Farm Pier Cafe & Restaurant. There aren’t many hotel options in Malibu, but the Malibu Beach Inn, The Malibu Country Inn & Malibu Motel are all good options.

Carpinteria

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Whether you are in search of gentle waters or the perfect surf, the City of Carpinteria has it all. This small community is a popular location for whale watching, as well as spotting sea lions and seals during certain months of the year. Two separate beaches run the length of the city. Carpinteria City Beach is both lovely and safe for swimmers with minimized undercurrents, while Carpinteria State Beach commands fantastic mountain views and is popular with campers. Just outside city limits, Rincon State Beach is known for its powerful surfing. Hotel options include Cliff House Inn on the Ocean, Best Western Plus and Carpinteria Shores.

Shell Beach

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With clean beaches and plenty of caves and coves to explore, Shell Beach is a neighborhood in the city of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County. Pirate’s Cove is a stunning, and well-known clothing optional, beach between Avila Beach and Shell Beach. This area is a prime location for kayakers in search of gentle waters, and those simply trying to beat the crowds. Do not miss a stop at one of the region’s most photographed landmarks, the Pismo Beach Pier.  Some of the areas best lodging options are in this neighborhood, including The Cliffs Resort, Dolphin Bay Resort (one of our top resorts in Central California) and Spyglass Inn.

Cambria

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Situated between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the small village of Cambria offers lovely beaches, as well as primitive and untouched views. Bask in the sun, along with sea lions, on the rocky shores of Moonstone Beach. One of California’s top attractions, Hearst Castle, is nearby. This dazzling location also provides a glorious site for watching the sunset. Travelers may also choose to set up camp at the San Simeon Creek Campgrounds, hike the trails of San Simeon or walk the coastal bluffs and rocky shores of Santa Rosa Creek. Hotel options include Pelican Inn and Suites, Castle InnFireside Inn.

Capitola

Scenic view of Capitola Village, California, as seen from the Capitola Wharf

With plenty of options for visitors, the town of Capitola brings in tourists to area beaches, and to take in the town. Just steps away from the downtown area is Capitola Beach. With clean sand and uncrowded beaches, this gem of a community offers families the chance to stroll through the village, grab a bite to eat, then relax the afternoon away. New Brighton State Beach also includes a campground perched high above the beach. Capitola hotel options include Capitola Venetian HotelCapitola Hotel & Capitola Suites.

Bodega Bay

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Bodega Bay is perhaps best known as the site of filming Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Some of its other recognizable sites are much more beautiful, though, making it a great Sonoma weekend getawayBodega Head offers unmatched scenery, from high on the bluffs to down on the shore. Many of the town’s beaches reside along the rugged Sonoma County coastline in Sonoma Coast State Beach State Park. They include Schoolhouse, Bodega Dunes and Salmon Creek. There are several great hotels including Bodega Harbor InnBodega Bay InnBodega Bay Lodge, which is one of the best resorts in Northern California. If you have the time, consider making Bodega Bay part of a larger Sonoma Roadtrip.

Mendocino

Mendocino Headlands Bryce June2015 (8)

Mendocino may be small, but visitors flock to this picturesque town for its art shops, small restaurants and small downtown. Not surprisingly, the town boasts a number of Bed and Breakfasts. Mendocino Headlands State Park is rugged with cliffside trails often captured by visiting painters and photographers. Russian Gulch State Park, meanwhile, is marked by the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” (one of California’s most unique beaches). It also includes a lovely waterfall, miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as plenty of tide pools to explore. For accommodations, check out the Brewery Gulch B&B Inn & Stanford Inn, both of which made our top hotels in Northern California list.

Trinidad

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Small by population, the City of Trinidad offers amazing coastline and nearly a dozen public beaches. Trinidad State Beach marks the location of some of the area’s biggest natural landmarks. Trinidad Head and Elk Head overlook the harbor, islands, and the cove. Take the hiking trails at Trinidad Head Park for the best viewpoints. Patrick’s Point State Park includes dense forests with dramatic cliffs and shorelines, while Big Lagoon County Park is a secluded spot for beachcombing. Hotel options include the Lost Whale Bed & Breakfast, Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn & Trinidad Bay Bed and Breakfast.

Let us know what your favorite beach getaway is in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Beaches on this list

  • Doheny State Beach – North Beach

    Doheny State Beach has two separate beaches and day-use areas – north and south. This North Beach is located north of the San Juan Creek mouth and has a large […]

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  • Doheny State Beach – South Beach

    The South Beach of Doheny State Beach is on the south side of San Juan Creek in Dana Point, CA. This southern area of the state park has a large […]

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  • Salt Creek Beach

    Salt Creek Beach Park is a popular Orange County park located in Dana Point, CA. This wide sandy beach is directly below the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel beach resort, the Ritz […]

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  • Capistrano Beach Park

    Capistrano Beach Park is the main beach in the community of Capistrano Beach (“Capo Beach”) in Dana Point, CA. Orange County operates this park, which has a parking lot with […]

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  • Crescent Beach on Catalina Island

    Crescent Beach is the main beach in the town of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. It is next to Green Pleasure Pier, a picturesque wooden pier in the protected boat […]

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  • Descanso Beach on Catalina Island

    Descanso Beach is walking-distance from the town of Avalon on Catalina Island. This private beach charges a small entrance fee and is located in front of a bar and restaurant. […]

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  • Malibu Surfrider Beach

    Malibu Surfrider Beach is the popular sandy beach and surfing spot between the Malibu Pier and the Malibu Lagoon. Surfrider Beach is part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach which has […]

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  • Zuma Beach

    Zuma Beach is a Los Angeles county park facility in Malibu. It’s a long wide beach with enough parking spaces for the Superbowl. The main beach at Zuma is about […]

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  • El Matador State Beach

    El Matador Beach is one of three beaches within Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. El Matador is the most popular of the three and the closest to Malibu. The […]

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  • Carpinteria City Beach

    Carpinteria City Beach starts where Linden Avenue (the main drag in Carpinteria) ends at the ocean. It runs north for three city blocks to Ash Avenue where the beach in […]

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  • Carpinteria State Beach

    Carpinteria State Beach is an excellent white sand beach right in the city of Carpinteria. The state beach starts at Linden Avenue and continues south to Tar Pits Beach at […]

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  • Rincon Point State Beach

    Rincon Point State Beach is a separate unit of Carpinteria State Beach located at the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. It’s a public beach right next to the […]

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  • Pirate’s Cove Beach

    Pirate’s Cove is a well-known clothing optional beach between Avila Beach and the Shell Beach area of Pismo Beach, CA. This south-facing cove is somewhat protected from the weather and […]

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  • Moonstone Beach

    Moonstone Beach is along Moonstone Beach Drive which parallels Highway 1 in northern Cambria, California. The shoreline here is made up of brown sandy coves separated by rocky bluffs. At […]

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  • Capitola Beach

    Capitola City Beach is a sandy beach at the north end of Monterey Bay in Capitola, CA. It’s a popular urban beach that can be jam packed on sunny days […]

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  • Bodega Head Beach

    Bodega Head is the prominent rocky point that protects Bodega Harbor from the west. This large point has a rugged coastline that is exposed to strong waves and cool damp […]

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  • Schoolhouse Beach

    Schoolhouse Beach is one of the widest beaches along this stretch of the Sonoma Coast between Bodega Bay and the Russian River. The beaches in this area are known for […]

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  • Bodega Dunes

    Bodega Dunes is a large state park campground and coastal dunes structure in the town of Bodega Bay. The beach at Bodega Dunes is vast and remote so beachcombers will […]

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  • North Salmon Creek Beach

    North Salmon Creek Beach is right off Coast Highway 1 just north of Bodega Bay. A large parking lot is available, but it can fill up in the summer so […]

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  • South Salmon Creek Beach

    South Salmon Creek Beach is between Bodega Dunes and Salmon Creek just north of the town of Bodega Bay. To get to the parking lot for South Salmon Creek Beach, […]

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  • Mendocino Headlands Beaches

    The Mendocino Headlands along Heeser Drive in Mendocino California has several stunning coves tucked below the bluff. Most are best photographed from above even though the eager adventurer could probably […]

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  • Russian Gulch State Park

    Russian Gulch State Park, north of Mendocino, has a sandy beach below the Highway 1 bridge where Russian Gulch Creek flows into a narrow cove. Kids can play in the safe […]

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  • Trinidad Head Beach

    Trinidad Head Beach, a.k.a. Pier Beach, is on Trinidad Bay below the huge rocky point called Trinidad Head in the town of Trinidad. It’s really two beaches in one with […]

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  • Trinidad State Beach

    Trinidad State Beach is on the waterfront in the small Humboldt County town of Trinidad. Two sandy beaches fill the gap between Trinidad Head and Elk Head in this park […]

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  • Palmer’s Point at Patrick’s Point State Park

    Palmer’s Point is the southern beach access at Patrick’s Point State Park north of the town of Trinidad. Government maps have labeled this beach as Cannonball Beach for years, but […]

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  • Agate Beach at Patrick’s Point State Park

    Agate Beach is the large main beach at the north end of Patrick’s Point State Park near Trinidad. It requires a twisty steep hike from the parking lot at the […]

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  • Wedding Rock at Patrick’s Point State Park

    Wedding Rock is a major landmark on the large rocky headland that makes up Patrick’s Point at Patrick’s Point State Park. The parking lot at Wedding Rock gives trail access […]

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  • Big Lagoon County Park Beach

    Big Lagoon and the beach are part of three different parks: Big Lagoon County Park, Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area, and Humboldt Lagoons State Park. The ocean beach is a long […]

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