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5 of California’s Best & Most Diverse Beaches

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One of the things I love most about living in California is being in such close proximity to some of the most amazing beaches in the world. Even after 32 years of life near the coast, my breath is still taken away every time I round a bend and get that first glimpse of the ocean. As I have lived in and explored both Northern and Southern California, I have grown to especially love the diversity that our coast holds. Here are five very different but very spectacular California Beaches.

Ultimate Southern California Beach – Santa Monica Beach & Pier
This is the prototypical Southern California beach: palm trees swaying, wide expanses of sand, and surfers searching for the perfect wave. Santa Monica ups the ante and includes a picture perfect pier complete with Ferris wheel, surfside dining, and sunglass-sporting salesmen hawking photo opps with a cutout version of your favorite star. It’s the perfect beach to get active whether you rent a bike and go for a ride or bring a volley ball and hit the courts. Feeling lazy? Pick your preferred parcel of sand and catch some rays while the little ones perfect their castle-making skills.

Most Majestic Beach – Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
This scenic beach is not what comes to mind when people think of California. Way up in Humbolt County, California takes on a new identity. One of my favorite beaches here is Gold Bluffs. The beach itself is wide and sandy, but it is often shrouded by fog and its waters can be described as bone-chilling at best. Elk can be spotted on the beach and there is an amazing fern and Redwood filled hike right near the shore.

Best Beaches for Spotting Wildlife – Beaches of Point Reyes
The beaches on Point Reyes are so rugged and remote, it’s hard to believe they are less than thirty miles from San Francisco. Kayaking, hiking, and wildlife-viewing are just some of the activities families can enjoy while on this incredible stretch of beach. On our last visit we saw both elephant seals and Tule elk. On one side of the point, thunderous waves crash down onto the sandy shores while on the other, the calm water of Tomales Bay provide the perfect place to get out and paddle.

Best Old School Beach – Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove is a great place to get a glimpse of what Southern California beaches looked like nearly a century ago. Most of the park is still wild and there isn’t a single multi-million dollar home occupying the bluffs above the ocean. There are only a few beach bungalows on one section of the beach. These are historic properties from the 1930s and ‘40s, which are available for rent through the State Park system at a very reasonable rate. There is also a fun restaurant right on the sand and a shake shack at the top of the hill so you don’t have to leave the beach or pack a meal while you are there. There is no surfing at Crystal Cove but there is plenty of scuba diving, water play, and tide pooling. My kids love searching for sea stars and hermit crabs in the pools that gather around the rocks.

Best Beach for a Sunset Stroll – Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Magic happens on a point near where Monterey Bay ends and Big Sur begins. Cypress trees reveal their enchanting, twisted beauty as they cling to rocky cliffs above the sea. The ocean produces the most amazing blues and greens before it rears back and crashes into the shore. Children will love spotting the seals, sea lions, sea otters, and countless birds that call this area home. There are fantastic coastal walks that lead you along some of the most breathtaking coast California has to offer. It is said that Point Lobos is the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” After spending the day at this beach, it’s hard to disagree.

What is your favorite California beach? Let us know in the comments!

Sharlene Earnshaw is an Orange County, CA based writer who loves nothing more than to travel with her husband and three-year-old twins. She has written about everything from a three-week summer road trip across the Western U.S. and Canada to local hikes and day trips. You can find her on Trekaroo where she has recently taken on the role as Blog Editor in Chief. 

  1. Fantastic post! Love it! Now you’ve got me dreaming of beach day trips! 🙂 I’d love to take the kids to Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park — it looks beautiful & combines my love of Redwoods & my hubby’s love of the ocean.

  2. Anj (@anjwrites) says


    You’re spot n with the Best Old School Beach! Growing up in HB, my friends and I always preferred the laid back vibe there without the meat market feel. Helps that it’s gorgeous! BTW, the beachfront restaurant nearby is top notch and very kid friendly (sandy feet and all).

    Great post! 🙂

  3. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Sharlene – Thanks so much for writing a guest blog post for Travel Mamas! I am just going to have to go visit the Crystal Cove beach ~ I keep hearing wonderful things about it…and I looked at those rentable beach bungalows…sweet! Really, if this post doesn’t make a person long for a CA beach visit, nothing will!

  4. My family loves attending the summertime concerts in Santa Cruz. We also enjoy kayaking there to get up close to the otters, sea lions, etc.


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