People are routinely drawn to Southern California because of the area’s perfect weather, laid-back lifestyle, and beautiful beaches galore, and year-round, its top attractions are filled with tourists and locals alike. Luckily for intrepid explorers (and natives who prefer not to mingle with clueless out-of-towners), some of the best beaches in California still remain a well-kept secret waiting to be unlocked. Here, we take a closer look at several spots that locals love, but aren’t always on the national radar – and how you can enjoy them in style.
One of California’s most beloved hotels, Hotel del Coronado, is home to San Diego’s favorite beach. Referred to as “California’s beachfront legend,” its 1.5 miles of sandy seashore and grounds offer a multitude of Instagram-ready spots by the water and a restaurant that overlooks the Pacific. This beach tends to get pretty busy with hotel guests, but California natives can’t help but pay a visit several times a year – it’s that picturesque.
One of the first official off-leash beaches, Dog Beach (located in the heart of San Diego) is family friendly, pet-friendly, and enjoyable to all beach-goers. A great place to surf and meet locals in the community, people from all over the coast come here to bring their furry friends for a day of waterfront fun. Be sure to keep it on your list if you’re traveling with pets (or pet lovers).
Located in the small town of La Jolla, this beach is a local San Diego favorite. Featuring gentler waves than the rest of the beaches in this area, this is also a great place to take children to who want to brush up on their boogie boarding skills, learn to stand up paddleboard, or take scuba diving lessons. The city of La Jolla is home to great cuisine and exciting nightlife as well, so after a day at the beach, be sure to check out the town and have some fun like the locals do.
A couple miles up north from the San Diego coast lies one of the most popular beaches in California. San Onofre State Beach, or as some like to call it “San O,” is where professional surfers, avid beach-campers, and native Californian families call home. More than 2.5 million visitors come to San O each year, making it the most visited beach in the Orange County area. California natives love this beach because of the great waves to surf on and the variety of new visitors. Camping here is also a big hit – be sure to reserve a spot early.
Situated right in-between San Diego and Los Angeles is a town that many non-native Californians have never heard of: San Clemente. The Spanish Village by the Sea is quaint, quiet, and home to one of the most beautiful California beaches. Located in the heart of the coast, Lasuens beach is an ideal place from which to watch local surfers and feel like one with the San Clemente community. With a secret sand trail leading down from Los Alamos Street, this beach is easily accessible and a little bit intimate. There are also public volleyball courts located on its sands, which are open to anyone who wants to play. A quintessential SoCal hangout, you won’t want to miss it.
An Orange County native’s personal favorite, Salt Creek Beach will prove a great fit for kinds of beach-goers. It’s a fine spot for surfers to catch waves at, families to have picnics on the grass park above, and for destination beach-goers staying at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel to pop down to. You’ll also find picnic tables, BBQs, basketball courts, and a fully stocked snack bar on-site. Be certain to bring a picnic along for your adventures, because this is one of the best spots to watch the sunset from after your day at the beach.
The beach belonging to Crystal Cove State Park is a place locals can be spotted all year long. With tide pools, rolling surf, and miles of beachfront area to walk along, this the state park is filled with not only beauty, but also history. The Crystal Cove Historic District is home to 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages that were originally built in the 1930s as part of a seaside colony. They are located right on the sand and are among the most picturesque places to stay on a vacation to California. Don’t forget to check out the Crystal Cove Shake Shack that overlooks the beach—their milkshakes are one of a kind.
Manhattan Beach is a fun and lively seaside town that is complete with a two-mile long beach that’s situated along the Pacific. Not only is it long, but also very wide, giving beach-goers more than enough room to play volleyball, pitch umbrellas, and make sandcastles. The Manhattan Beach Pier is also home to the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab & Aquarium, which has all kinds of sea creatures and native wildlife. At the top of the sand lies the 22-mile long bike trail that connects Santa Monica and Torrance, full of ocean views and room to ride. Grab your bike and get going!
With an array of amusement park rides and attractions to enjoy on the pier, this is one of the most fun beaches in California! Street food, performers, and—on occasion—professional sandcastle makers fill this beach with entertainment for all. Up the street from the shore, hotels and boutique restaurants line the roads of Santa Monica. It’s a great spot to go to and explore the beachy side of (the usually urban) Los Angeles.
Located in the heart of Malibu, this beach still holds a special spot in the hearts of most L.A. locals. From waves that are made for swimming to the clear ocean water, you won’t be disappointed. People come here to picnic, soak up the sun, and enjoy a break from the bustle of one of America’s largest metropolises. Be sure to bring your paddleboard because this is one of the best beaches to learn how to stand up paddle. Pro tip: If you visit during cooler months, you may even catch a sight of grey whales making their winter migration.
Lauren Harano is a sun-kissed Californian living in New York City. The Editorial and Marketing Assistant for VINAZINE, she's also written for Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines. In her free time, she enjoys finding the best Mexican restaurants in the city and reading in Central Park. Most importantly, she believes that every day is a good day to have a good day.