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After years of exhaustive research visiting beaches up and down the California coast (we know it sounds tough) the team at California Beaches has come up with its top ten list. This list is a compilation of the best ten beaches we visited over the past few years. Below are the beaches that we think Californians and tourists alike should seek out if they haven’t seen them before. After you are done with this list, see our 10 More Best Beaches list!

There is a long list of criteria that we use to evaluate beaches, but in some cases they just stand out due to their wow factor. We consider the views, scenery, people that frequent the beach, natural features to discover, walkability, and more. For this list we selected the top ten by using this breakdown:

  • 3 well-known beaches (very popular and recognized state-wide)
  • 3 locally-known beaches (renowned in their region)
  • 3 hidden gem beaches (much less known, but should be discovered)
  • 1 best overall beach (could be a popular, local, or hidden gem beach)

Here are the best beaches. The best beach in California is at the bottom of the list!

La Jolla Shores Beach

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The San Diego area has many wonderful beaches and La Jolla Shores is near the top. It’s a popular spot that can be jam-packed at times. We like this beach because you can shove off and explore the La Jolla Shore in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard. Surfers ride the waves here and little-ones can enjoy the waves on bodyboards too. If you want some solitude just walk north on the beach toward the Scripps Pier. If you go too far beyond the pier you’ll run into a clothing-optional area known as South Black’s Beach.

Santa Monica State Beach


With an amazing pier sporting amusement rides and great shops and a huge beach that can accommodate thousands of visitors daily, Santa Monica State Beach easily made the list this year. The parks south of the pier are clean and diverse. Parking is abundant. Nearby are many restaurants and hotels making it easy to stay here for a weekend or even a week.

Coronado Beach

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Another popular San Diego area beach made the list this year. Coronado Beach is tops for kids, families, couples, and even dogs. It’s a walkable beach and typically doesn’t have large waves as it gets protection from Point Loma. A sidewalk and boardwalks back all the beaches along this shoreline. The famous Hotel Del Coronado and its various restaurants are nearby. At the north end of the beach is Coronado Dog Beach where many friendly pooches roam freely.

Carmel City Beach


Carmel-By-The-Sea is a seemingly pretentious city with a median home sales price well over one million dollars. The people are very friendly however and it’s a great place to visit. Some of our favorite beaches are in or nearby Carmel. One of the best is Carmel City Beach which offers bright white sand and lots of space to spread out on. It’s a great spot to watch sunsets from and small beach fires are allowed on the south end.

Moonstone Beach

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In contrast to Carmel’s white beaches, Cambria has beautiful brown sand beaches. Moonstone Beach made the list this year even though the beach is narrow at high tide. It parallels Moonstone Beach Drive where many comfortable motels and a couple tasty restaurants can be found in this northern part of town. A wooden boardwalk meanders on the bluff above the beach between two other beaches at Santa Rosa Creek and Leffingwell Landing. This walk has several access points to Moonstone Beach. It’s a picturesque shoreline to say the least.

Salt Creek Beach

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This is one of our favorite beaches in Orange County. Dana Point’s huge Salt Creek Beach Park is a Mecca for OC families. Have a picnic on the large grass lawns or down on the beach if the wind isn’t blowing. Surfers love it here. Lifeguards are on hand to watch for swimmers and bodyboarders that drift out too far. Tide pools can be found at the south end of the beach at low tides. South of that is another walkable beach called Dana Strand Beach.

Sand Dollar Beach

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Sand Dollar Beach is our first hidden gem on the list. It’s not really that hidden, but many people driving Highway 1 in Big Sur cruise right on by it. It’s a day-use area, but Plaskett Creek Campground is across the highway if you want to camp. This beach is a gorgeous spot with large rocks off-shore in the surf. While you are walking the beach looking for sand dollars, keep your eyes open next to the cliff where green jade stones can be discovered. If you are adventurous, Jade Cove is nearby even though most of the valuable jade stones have been stolen by profit-seeking rockhounders.

McClures Beach

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This is the most “hidden” beach on our list. It’s a long drive out to the northwestern shoreline of Point Reyes National Seashore to get to the parking lot. Then it’s a mild half-mile walk downhill on a trail to the sand. McClures Beach has a wild and remote feel like its neighboring Point Reyes strands (Kehoe is another one of our favorites). McClures has colorful crumbling bluffs behind the beach and is large enough to explore around.

Pebble Beach of Crescent City

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While there are several beaches named Pebble Beach in California, this one is probably the best of them. It’s not very hidden from the lucky residents of Crescent City in Northern California, but few others know about it. The beach slopes gradually so at low tide it’s super wide and at high tide it’s quite narrow. Offshore is a huge rocky island called Castle Rock. It’s part of  national wildlife refuge that protects other rocks nearby that are home to seabirds, seals, and sea lions. Bring a camera because there are things to shoot in all directions.

And the best beach in California is…

San Gregorio State Beach

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San Mateo County has a gazillion amazing beaches so for this one to stand out as the best is really saying something. Simply put, we love this beach. San Gregorio State Beach has trails to explore on the bluff next to the large picnic area, but make your way down to the beach to start exploring. Behind the beach is a creek and lagoon where birds show off for the camera lens. This is one of the most walkable beaches on this year’s list. From the creek it’s possible to walk south all the way to Pomponio State Beach and much farther (except at high tide). North of the creek there are caves in the cliff to check out. Don’t go too far north as that is a private clothing-optional beach. Also you should look for unique rocks and fossils in the cliffs around San Gregorio State Beach.

See also The 20 Most Popular Beaches in California

Beaches on this list

  • La Jolla Shores Beach

    La Jolla Shores Beach is a long, wide, and very popular beach in northern La Jolla. Compared to most of the La Jolla beaches which are tucked into gaps between […]

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  • Santa Monica State Beach – South Beach

    The south part of Santa Monica State Beach is located south of the Santa Monica Pier and north of Venice Beach. On the other side of the pier you’ll find […]

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  • Coronado Beach

    Coronado Beach, aka Central Beach, starts at the famous Hotel del Coronado and continues north to Sunset Park. At the north end of the beach in front of Sunset Park […]

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  • Carmel City Beach

    Carmel City Beach is a long, wide, white sand beach that is hard to beat anywhere on the California Central Coast. It can be packed here on sunny days, but […]

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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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  • 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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  • Sand Dollar Beach

    Sand Dollar Day-Use Picnic Area is along the southern Big Sur coast about half-way between Cambria and Big Sur Station. The picnic area and Sand Dollar Beach are popular in […]

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  • McClures Beach

    McClures Beach is a remote beach on the northwest coastline of Point Reyes National Seashore. It is the last easy access beach on the western side of Tomales Point (Driftwood […]

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  • Pebble Beach

    Pebble Beach is a long string of connected coves in Crescent City in Northern California. The beach has numerous parking areas all along South and North Pebble Beach Drive between […]

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  • San Gregorio State Beach

    San Gregorio State Beach is a stunning beach in a valley about 10 miles south of Half Moon Bay and a short drive from Silicon Valley in the South Bay […]

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