BEST BEACHES CALIFORNIA - California's Top Beaches

The Best California Beaches can be any beach you like for whatever reason. While so many publications and beach experts select a top 10 best beaches list, we've visited all the beaches below and want to alert you to a few considerations when visiting. First, the water quality in the world's oceans has seen considerable decline in recent decades. With that in mind, consider that the majority of visitors do not enter the water and recent surveys show that going into the water is not a high priority for many selecting the best California beach vacation. While the California water quality source,, has become a useful tool, it unfortunately has a lag time in alerting the public to potential dangers in water quality. 


Here's Dr. Beach's top choice for California -
Coronado Beach in San Diego


The Best Beaches chosen by a popular print guide that also publishes online:

Sonoma Coast State Beaches:  10 miles from Bodega Bay to Jenner, these beaches attract more than 300 bird species, as do many beaches and sloughs.  Look for osprey from December to September, seal pups from March to June, and gray whales from December to April. Comment: Sonoma Coast beaches are undeniably some of the most natural beaches in  California and feature some of the cleanest water. While we recommend them for their pristine beauty and the conservation orientation that Sonoma County has taken a lead to promote, don't look for sunbathing at these cool spots. Locals routinely giggle at the sight of tourists arriving at the beach in swim suits, then quickly scurrying back to cover up with warmer clothes. Also beware of sleeper waves that are common here. Experts advise you to never turn your back on the ocean as these giant waves arrive unexpectedly and can slam you into unconsciousness and even death if you don't see them coming. 

Hotel options on the Sonoma Coast are quite limited, as well. Bodega Bay is your best bet for lodgings. It is where Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" movie was filmed. On our last visit to Bodega Bay, Tippi Hedren, the movie's main character, signed autographs for a fee, hopefully to promote one of her environmental causes.

Santa Cruz's Beaches: Santa Cruz has 29 miles of beaches, varied enough to please surfers, swimmers, fishers, sailboarders, kids, sunbathers and beach buffs. For starters, walk down the steps from the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the mile-long Main Beach, complete with summer lifeguards and golden-oldie tunes drifting over the sand. Comment: The Santa Cruz beaches are a great choice for a variety of family-fun experiences. The Boardwalk and summertime beach train ride are awesome. The hotels a mixed bag during the warm summer months, however. We've tried to find reasonable hotel accommodations near the beach often end up staying somewhere Scotts Valley, Aptos or surrounding cities. Your best advice is to visit the beaches and enjoy one of the top California beach experiences, but don't limit yourself to staying at hotels at the beach in Santa Cruz. Expand your horizons and check out Capitola, as well.

Pismo Beach: Pismo's 23-mile stretch of prime beachfront has been an annual destination for generations of California families. Fishing, shopping, surfing, and renting dune buggies are just a few of the many outdoor activities here. Even dogs are welcome to play on the beach. Comment: Bingo! They got this one right. Pismo Beach is in the heart of Central Coast wine country. For overnight lodgings, you may also want to check out San Luis Obispo, Cambria or the affordable Santa Maria that's not far away. As for night life, it's a bit more subdued on the Central Coast. You'll probably spend more time at the beach around a bonfire at sunset. That's your best bet.

Santa Barbara's East Beach: This wide swath of white sand hosts beach umbrellas, sandcastle builders, and volleyball games. On Sundays, local artists display their wares beneath the palm trees. Comment: As beaches go, Santa Barbara East Beach is lovely to look at, but do check the water quality before diving end. There have been some issues with this beach area. Be sure to check before going and like all California beaches, stay out of the water after it rains. On the up side, this is a great area for hotel accommodations, shopping and dining. If you like volleyball, there often games in progress, and for the kiddies, there's a zoo not far from this beach. Also, there's a playground with swings for the kids, right on the beach.

Malibu's Legendary Beaches: Zuma and Surfrider beaches inspired the 1960s surf music that embodies the Southern California coast experience are located not far from Malibu Pier and L.A.'s best waves. Zuma is loaded with amenities, including snack bars, restrooms, and jungle gyms. The beach hosts some of the state's best sunbathing and allows you to stroll in front of the Malibu Colony, a star-studded enclave of multimillion-dollar homes. Comment:  Indeed these beaches do encapsulate the golden days of Gidget. But again, check water quality before plunging, just to be safe. Also, Malibu Colony residents are not widely recognized as the most welcoming people in the world. You may want to gaze at them, but they'd rather you not be there. So don't expect to be invited into the house of someone rich and famous. Down the road in Santa Monica, you'll have an equal chance of seeing celebrities, plus enjoy the amusements at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier. If you have to make a choice, choose Santa Monica State Beach for the whole, dining, amusements and beaches all in one place.

La Jolla's Beaches: The bluff-lined beaches are among the state's most beautiful. Each has a distinct personality: Surfers love Windansea's waves; harbor seals have adopted the Children's Pool; La Jolla Shores is popular for swimming, sunbathing, and kayaking; while the Cove is a top snorkeling spot -- and the best place to spot the electric-orange California state fish, the garibaldi. Comment: The media has always been especially attracted to La Jolla beaches. We've been asked to take pictures of La Jolla beaches for Sports Illustrated and a variety of publications. The beaches are great to look at, and there's a tucked away (and hard to get to) beach beneath the Glider Port that's known for nude sunbathing.  Mother's Beach often experiences water quality issues, so check the quality ratings before going. ( La Jolla beaches are great for watching the surf and vistas, but the most popular neighborhood beach that has somewhat of a cult following in San Diego is Ocean Beach (OB) where dogs are allowed.  By the numbers, Mission Bay and Mission Beach often have the greatest attendance because of the wide range of amenities.

Coronado Island Beaches: Shown in the photo on top is a picture of the beach on site at Hotel del Coronado. If a picture doesn't tell a story, then you'll just have to see it for yourself.






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