What are the best beaches in Southern California? Trekaroo has done the hard research, spending hours on various stretches of sand up and down the coast. Our travels up and down Pacific Coast Highway have taken us from the sunny shores of San Diego to picture-perfect beaches in Santa Barbara. From the playgrounds of the rich and famous to our favorite off-the-beaten-path spots, here are the best family beaches in Southern California.
Don’t miss our Cheat Sheet to finding the best beaches for your interests in SoCal- located at the bottom of this article!
Best Beaches in Southern California
Santa Barbara County Beaches
It could hardly get more beautiful than cruising in a surrey on palm-lined East Beach. Known as the California Riviera, Santa Barbara soaks up the sun that shines on its sandy beaches most every day.
A nearby playground affectionately called “Shipwreck Playground” has creative spaces for kids to play, and a small play set on East Beach is a welcome site after playing in the gentle waves. Take a ride on the 50-cent Waterfront Shuttle that takes riders along East Beach or up and down State Street. Families should make time to stroll on Stearns Wharf to visit the educational exhibits at the Sea Center, souvenir shops, and restaurants – plus enjoy some great ice cream.
Explore more of the Golden State. Here are the best things to do in California with kids.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families near Santa Barbara:
- Refugio State Beach – Known for beach-front camping and launching spots for kayaking.
- Goleta Beach Park – Is often less crowded than beaches closer to Santa Barbara. Includes a playground, pier, and easy parking.
- Arroyo Burro (Hendry’s Beach) – This secluded beach has sand tucked under cliffs and off-leash dog access.
- Carpinteria State Beach – This charming beach has a small-town feel and offers great swimming for kids.
Ventura County Beaches
A wooden pier stretches out over the Pacific, beckoning visitors to enjoy the view from above at San Buenaventura State Beach. Grab crispy fried fish sticks from the Pier Beach Grill and snack on golden french fries while you watch kite fliers below. Rent bikes or ride scooters down to Marina Park to the south to enjoy a seaside playground complete with a zip-line. Be sure to stop at Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center to learn about the magical islands across the channel filled with foxes, wildlife, and sea caves.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families near Ventura:
- Oxnard Beach Park – This beach has sand dunes to explore and a seaside playground.
- Point Mugu State Park – On an mostly secluded section of Pacfic Coast highway. It is known for hiking trails, beachside camping, and boogie boarding.
- Emma Wood State Beach – Known for watching kitesurfing, bonfires, and RV camping.
The wide stretch of sand, crystal waters, and the chance to spot celebrities attract Angelinos and tourists to Zuma Beach. You might recognize this beach from a variety of movies and tv shows, including Baywatch. The lifeguard towers and snack bars make this popular spot an ideal summer beach for families to enjoy. Kids will love swimming, watching surfers, and flying kites.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in Malibu:
- Point Dume State Beach – Known for bluff trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean. During whale watching season, they are a good spot for shore viewing. There are some nice tide pools as well.
- Leo Carrillo State Park – This beach has great tide pools and camping.
Los Angeles County Beaches
The iconic pier of Santa Monica is home to an amusement park with a giant Ferris wheel and carnival rides. The miles of wide sand around Santa Monica Pier make this one of the best beaches for families visiting from out of state that are looking for that iconic Southern California experience. The cement boardwalk that runs along the beach is alive with walkers, strollers, bikes, scooters, and skaters cruising the palm-lined beach.
Just off the boardwalk is the famous Muscle Beach where historic movie stars went to train. These days you can find muscular men and women crossing the rings and climbing the ropes and kids are welcome to test their skills as well. Swing on the giant swings and walk on the balancing boards but don’t miss the slack lines to the south where you can test your ability to walk a flat tightrope.
Along the miles of beach are paid parking lots which offer plenty of spots. Famous restaurants such as the original Hot Dog on a Stick will be enticing to teens, and carnival food and rides, including a large roller coaster, make Paradise Pier an attractive place to spend the day.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in Los Angeles:
- Venice Beach – This classic LA beach destination is known for street performers, artists, and street vendors. It is also a great place to watch skateboarders at the beachfront skate park.
- Manhattan Beach– This ritzy beach town is a great place to play volleyball on the beach, go fishing off the pier, surf, swim, bike, or just take a stroll along the beach front. Parking can be a challenge during the high season.
- Hermosa Beach– The smallest of LA’s beach cities. It has it’s own beach and pier, and it connected to several other local beaches via a 22-mile bike path. There is also a nice 2-mile stroll you can take connecting Hermosa Beach Pier with Manhattan Beach Pier to the north or head two miles south to follow the same path to the Redondo Beach Pier.
- Redondo Beach– A smaller beach and pier with plenty of dining and entertainment options. Parking is usually available.
North Orange County Beaches
Huntington Beach , a.k.a. Surf City USA, is the premier Southern California beach destination to watch professional surfing and take a lesson yourself. Watching the waves from the pier or wading in the white surf is just as thrilling for kids. Visit the fun shops off of PCH or enjoy a 40s era diner at the end of the pier. Rent a surrey and cruise the beach boardwalk under miles of palm trees. Bring marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers when you secure a bonfire pit and taste the sweetness of summer at sunset. This is THE SoCal beach experience you have been looking for!
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in North Orange County:
- Seal Beach – This small, military town’s main street ends the pier. There is a seaside playground and great swimming.
- Bolsa Chica State Beach – The sprawling stretch of sand is known for RV camping, plentiful parking, and over 200 fire pits!
Visiting Huntington Beach? Check out 8 Great things to do in Surf City USA.
Central Orange County Beaches
The beaches of Newport Beach and Balboa are packed with miles of sand, perfect for swimming, boogie boarding, and surfing. Rent a bike and ride down the cement beach boardwalk for miles. Be sure to check out the rides and carnival games at the Balboa Fun Zone.
The small auto ferry takes cars and pedestrians across a narrow stretch of Newport Bay. On the other side is Balboa Island where the most beautiful homes sit on the quiet bay, bedecked in flowers and flags. Balboa Bars, chocolate-dipped ice cream cones, and frozen bananas (remember them on Arrested Development?) are a must-eat for a delicious treat.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in Central Orange County:
- Corona Del Mar State Beach – Known for a large fee parking lot, clean sand, and gentle waters. Families appreciate the easy parking and large restrooms.
- Little Corona Beach – This small beach tends to be less crowded than other area beaches because of the steep walk down to the shore and limited street parking. It is known for its fabulous tide pools.
Read about all the best California tide pools locations.
South Orange County Beaches
Cliffs, rocks, stretches of sand, and tide pools line the coves of Laguna Beach. Main Beach sits like a jewel at the end of Laguna Canyon, beckoning families to enjoy a stroll on the boardwalk, a swim in the aqua waters, or discovering sea life in the tide pools. Art galleries and restaurants line the streets of this small town and a free trolley makes it easy to discover them.
Just north of Main Beach lies several miles of wilderness preserved at Crystal Cove State Park. The beaches there are combed with tide pools and impressive beauty. Sea lions and dolphins can be seen frolicking in the coves because the water is nearly translucent. Grab an ice cream shake at Ruby’s Shake Shack overlooking the historic district of Crystal Cove and discover why this is a favorite beach for Orange County locals.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in South Orange County:
- Crescent Bay Beach – This is one the beautiful coves of Laguna. It has bathrooms and nice tide pools to the north and south.
- Salt Creek Beach Park – This beach has a good deal of parking. There is a large, grassy hill which overlooks the water and is popular for picnics. At the bottom of the steep hill is the beach which has a seasonal snack bar. The Ritz Carlton overlooks this beach.
- Doheny State Beach– This is a great beach for kids to learn how to surf because of the small waves with a slow break. The beach does have a large lot but it will up on weekends and busy summer days. Doheny is also a popular place to camp and has a seasonal snack bar.
- San Clemente Pier- This beach is a popular spot with surfers. There are designated areas for swimmers and surfers. A great trail runs along the beach and is popular with dog walkers and runners. Their is a restaurant on the pier and a seasonal snack bar. There are also plenty of dining options just across the street. Linda Lane to the north and T Street to the south are connected and great spots as well.
North San Diego Beaches
The beach in Oceanside is idyllic with long, shallow waves and smooth sand. The pier stretches far into the ocean with Ruby’s Diner at the end creating delicious ice cream shakes and burgers. Stake out a fire pit for roasting hot dogs at sunset and enjoy the seaside playground.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in North San Diego :
- San Onofre State Beach- This beach is just south of San Clemente on the San Diego County/Orange County border. It is a legendary spot for surfers with several famous surf breaks. Arrive early to secure a spot and enjoy the day in this wild stretch of the California coast. It is one of the top five most visiting California state parks.
- Carlsbad State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach – These beaches are conveniently located a short drive from LEGOLAND and offer a great place to enjoy the sand, surf, and sun. There is camping available on South Carlsbad State Beach.
- Del Mar North Beach – Are you traveling with your pooch? This beach is actually a dog beach, one the few in Southern California where dogs can play in the sand and surf.
- Del Mar City Beach-This is a great beach for swimming and surfing. It is also a nice place to enjoy a meal at one of the beachfront restaurants and stroll along the shore.
- Torrey Pines State Beach – Known for a long stretch of sand topped with a State Reserve which protects the rare Torrey pine trees. Make time to enjoy the hiking trails and sweeping ocean views.
San Diego Beaches
It’s no surprise that Coronado Beach is one of the best beaches in Southern California for families. The sand glistens with golden mica and the gentle waves are ideal for families. The red peaked roofs of Hotel del Coronado sit just off of the sand and create a beautiful backdrop for a day at the beach. The sun sets just behind Point Loma across the San Diego Bay creating a gorgeous sunset vista. Enjoy ice skating in season at the Del, surrey bikes to rent, and amazing ice cream at Moo Time Creamery.
More of the best Southern California beaches for families in San Diego:
- La Jolla Shores – Known for its gorgeous cliffs, sea life watching, kayaking to sea caves, and wide stretches of sand with gentle waves.
- Mission Beach – This is the closest beach to SeaWorld. It offers perfect sunset views, a cement boardwalk, and miles of sand. It is a hip area with tons of restaurants and home to Belmont Park, a historic oceanfront amusement park.
- Ocean Beach – Known for a very long pier, beautiful sand, and perfect sunsets. The community here has a laid back, bohemian vibe.
- Silver Strand – This San Diego South Bay beach is popular with RVers. The beach is named for the silvery oyster shells that are found here.
- Imperial Beach – The the southernmost beach in California, with a great beach town vibe.
Cheat Sheet: Guide to the Best Southern California Beaches for Families
Whether you want to learn to surf, pack a picnic lunch, kayak, play volleyball, or explore tide pools, our reference helps you determine which beach to visit for your family’s wants & needs.
Check out the Best beach for…
- Watching surfers – Huntington Beach
- Tide pooling – Little Corona Beach
- Learning to surf -Doheny State Beach
- Taking a dog off leash – Rincon, Huntington Beach, and Del Mar
- Picnicking with amazing views – Laguna Beach and Salt Creek
- Boardwalk – Santa Monica and Balboa
- Cruising on bikes or surreys – East Beach, Santa Barbara, and Huntington Beach
- Beautiful sand and perfect swimming waves – Coronado Island
- Camping – Refugio or San Elijo
- Hiking – Torrey Pines and Crystal Cove
- Aquarium – Sea Center on Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara
- Play or watch beach volleyball – Manhattan Beach
- Street performers – Venice Beach
- Beach bonfire – Balboa Beach, Dockweiler, Corona Del Mar, and Aliso Creek Beach
- Ocean kayaking – La Jolla Shores
Explore more of California! Read about the Top 10 Things to do in California with Kids!
Featured photo by: Shutterstock