This vacation travel guide covers the best Southern California beaches, hotels, campgrounds and lots of fun things to see and do in each coastal beach town.
From Santa Barbara to San Diego, each beach area has its own distinct charms and attractions. What they all share in common besides the natural beauty of the Pacific Ocean is a delightfully sunny, mild climate throughout most of the year.
Let's explore some of the options for a beach vacation in So Cal:
There’s Santa Barbara with it’s rich, early Californian history and prime geographic location, nestled between the coast and the mountains. Ventura has a laid back old town atmosphere and lovely harbor, not as crowded as some other beach destinations.
There’s Malibu with its beach houses literally inches from the crashing surf, and hilltop mansions with spectacular views. Santa Monica has its amusement pier, great shopping, beach cottages and proximity to UCLA, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and LAX.
Long Beach has the Queen Mary, Little Naples with its gondolas, and many boating opportunities in Queens Bay and Alamitos Bay. You can catch a ferry to Catalina Island from here as well, where you can do some skin diving or view the undersea life on a glass bottom boat tour.
Then there’s Huntington Beach, or “Surf City” as it’s otherwise known. A great place to take the family or large group, where there is plenty of sand to spread out on.
Newport Beach is a haven for boating enthusiasts and beach lovers alike. For those wanting to find a vacation rental, Newport Beach has a whole peninsula full of charming beach cottages.
Balboa Island is a short ferry ride from the Newport Peninsula and also has tons of vacation rentals, from grandiose waterfront homes to cute cottages. Nearby Corona del Mar is a delightful small community with blufftop homes in a neighborhood above the beach.
Further south in Laguna Beach, there is a multitude of beautiful beach coves. Laguna is also full of excellent and varied restaurants and art galleries. The annual art festivals draw art lovers from all over every summer.
Dana Point has a wonderful marina and Doheny State Beach is nearby. San Clemente is a small beach town with adorable houses and neighborhoods. San Clemente and neighboring San Onofre have popular beach campgrounds on the bluffs.
On down the coast is North County San Diego, which includes Oceanside, with its miles of sandy beaches, Carlsbad, a lovely town near Legoland, Encinitas, which has the Quail Botanical Gardens, and posh Del Mar, with its famous racetrack. La Jolla is gorgeously elegant and visited by tourists from all over the world. It's famous cove is frequented by snorkelers and kayakers.
Neighboring San Diego has vacation homes all along the isthmus between Pacific Beach and Mission Bay. The weather is superb, as is the water temperature in summer and fall. Plus, the beach is only one of San Diego's many attractions, which include the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park and Sea World.
There are many other Southern California beaches all along the coast, each with its own distinct flavor.
Amongst the beach campgrounds along the coast, you'll find some for RVs, some for tents and some for both. There is beach camping available at state beaches, private campgrounds and county parks. Some require advanced reservations and others are first come first served. Learn more...
Do you prefer a beach front hotel just steps from the sand or a less expensive one (maybe) across the highway or within walking distance? A family resort or a small boutique hotel? San Diego or Santa Barbara? Start searching here...
The beach isn't the only attraction in So Cal and while you're here, you may want to check out one or more of the many theme parks. Find out more...
If you want to find out what cruises leave from Southern California, where they go, and what the ports are, click here...
There are over 200 beaches in Southern California and we have a page that offers an interactive Google map, PDF printable maps by county, and best of all, a free downloadable list of all the beaches, including maps. Perfect to print or take along on your smart phone or tablet. Go see the beach maps here...
Bikinis, trunks, board shorts, rash guards, sarongs, cover ups, hats, sunglasses, flip flops...?? What clothing to pack or buy for your So Cal beach vacation. Take a look...
Whether you like to play in the water or on the sand, there are beach toys for all ages. Certain beaches are better for certain beach activities than others, but can include: body boarding, surfing, snorkeling, kite surfing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, skim boarding, playing paddle ball, volleyball, tossing a nerf football, flying a kite, building sand castles, or bicycling on the boardwalk.
Whatever you're into, or want to try out, may involve some sort of gear which can be rented at beach shacks or shops at some beaches, or can be bought in advance and brought along.
Other beach gear to consider include foldable beach chairs, umbrellas, shades, canopies, coolers, towels, mats and oversized beach blankets.
(My favorite beach gear is a towel, a chair, an umbrella, a water bottle and a good book.)
Our Southern California Beaches mini blog shows new pages on the site, newly edited pages, or topics of interest to beach goers and those planning a beach vacation. Go check it out here...
The Southern California beaches and their communities are varied enough to have appeal for just about everyone. Most of these coastal beach towns are still within driving distance of many major attractions and urban business centers, which is an ideal situation for any beach lover, from families on vacation, to couples on romantic getaways to business travelers who want to unwind near the water.
Wishing you great times and have fun at the beach!
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