Five Best Beaches in Southern California

I will admit it, I’m a Southern California snob. Even after seeing the beautiful cliffs of Monterey and the sandy clear beaches in the Caribbean my heart will always be with the Southern California beaches.

In Southern California the best beaches have long sandy beaches you can walk for hours, still breathtaking views, water that while chilly still very easy to jump into and waves the perfect size for the average person to ride and play in. I’ve been lucky enough to spend years traveling around the area and finding my favorites.

Each of these beaches offers you something a little different, but they all have beautiful beaches you can swim in, delicious views and cute places to explore off the sand.

Note: You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article is useful for you. 

La Jolla Shores

My newest discovery is La Jolla Shores. While I enjoy the food, shops, and the cove, for me, the main section of La Jolla doesn’t have the same laid back beach spirit I crave. We stayed a night at the La Jolla Riviera Inn which was a perfect place for the family to crash and visit.

La Jolla Shores Beach BoyThe beach itself is long enough to walk a couple miles and has beautiful views from Torrey Pines and the parasailers, to the La Jolla Cove and, of course, the ocean itself. The beach has a variety of activities including kayaking or paddle boarding, surfing, tide pools and a variety of scuba tours. Surfers have their own designated area making them both fun to watch and keeping swimmers safe. The waves were perfect for a little body surfing as well.

Up from the beach you will find a strip of tasty restaurants and shops. We loved stopping into the Cheese Shop, where I eat one of the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had. For coffee, the family made at least four stops into Brick & Bell Cafe, perfect for getting some work done or great for grabbing a coffee on the way back from a morning dip in the ocean. The only thing we didn’t like about La Jolla Shores was how short we visited.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach Under the Pier ocean californiaThe perfect spot for a quick getaway with its proximity to the Los Angeles Airport but far enough removed that you feel like you’ve escaped. Long beaches, boardwalks and piers to walk. You can enjoy views of the ocean, the Los Angeles coast and the breathtaking mansions along the boardwalk.

You will find cute shops, including one of my favorite bookstores Pages, and some of my favorite restaurants for every meal you can think of. It is an easy place to spend days wandering around relaxing and indulging.  For a little more Manhattan Beach and why I love it, take a look at my post on a weekend getaway and my to-do list.

Laguna Beach

Why Laguna Beach is the Perfect Beach, If You Don't Like the Beach. From the food to the views to the art.If you are looking for a unique beach experience Laguna has it for you. The city may have breathtaking beaches and cliffs, delicious restaurants, and cute boutiques, but what it brings that others don’t is an interesting art scene.

Whether you’re inspired by wandering casually through the galleries or heading to one of the major events they hold over the summer. This beach is filled with childhood memories of sandwiches on the beach and finishing a great day with a Pizookie from B.Js. Two of my favorite ways to spend a day in Laguna Beach are like I did as a kid, and enjoying everything the city offers other than the beach.

Newport Beach

A winter afternoon enjoying the view from the Balboa Beach Pier in Newport Beach, California. This is the beach I spent my teens at and with it comes amazing memories. It was the perfect beach for running around with friends. We’d rent cruisers and head up and down the boardwalk. Eat out at Ruby’s on the pier or one of the food stands. Then we’d head over to Balboa Island, taking the ferry and play some arcade games.

Nowadays, I enjoy watching the surfers of Balboa Pier, enjoying tasty pubs and restaurants. Renting a paddle board and make your way around the bay. Finishing the a day at the beach with a bonfire is about as close to a perfect day at the beach as you can get. But make sure to show up early and grab your firepit before they are all taken.

San Clemente Beach

San Clemente PierAnother low-key beach tucked a little away. There are very few beaches in Southern California where you still get a feeling that you’ve escaped the rest of the world and made it to a slowed down, casual spot. But San Clemente is just that. Laid back and without some of the stuffiness, you find at some other beaches.

Head down to San Clemente to relax for the day, or enjoy dinner on the pier. Rent a bike and ride down the boardwalk. Grab a bite for either breakfast or lunch at the Beach Garden Cafe right across from the pier. If it’s a busy day there will be a wait but it is worth it, so just get there before you’re already hungry.

Give Me the Sand, Sun, and Splash

Now these spots might be my favorite, but if you give me the ocean, some sand and the sun I am absolutely in love. I don’t know about you, but for me there is no place I am at more peace than sitting near or on a large body of water, and nothing beats the ocean.

What spots in Southern California did I overlook? Where should I try next? Or would you like to challenge my love for Southern California beaches? Let me know what you think.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.