Carmel Beach, Monterey Peninsula
Set on gently rising headlands above a sculpted and largely untouched rocky shore, the village of Carmel fans out from a few neat rows of just-so shops along Ocean Avenue to reveal assorted posh mansions; think of it as the West Coast’s middle-aged answer to New York’s Hamptons. Inarguably its best feature is its largely untouched coastline, among the most beautiful in California. City-managed Carmel Beach, in particular, is a tranquil cove of emerald-blue water bordered by soft, blindingly white sand and cypress-covered cliffs.
photo credit: Spent a lovely day at Carmel Beach via photopin (license) / cropped
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
Boasting a strikingly rugged coastline and some of the state’s most stunning waterfalls, the sparsely populated region of Big Sur continues to retain its wild character. Its finest strand is Pfeiffer Beach, a white-sand, sometimes windy stretch that’s part of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is dominated by a charismatic hump of rock whose colour varies from brown to red to orange in the changing light.
photo credit: Portal of the Sun - Big Sur, California via photopin (license)
Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara County
If you drive west of Santa Barbara along US-101 before it veers north, several prime beaches beckon. Along this part of the Central Coast, the beaches face due south, making the surf lively and causing the sun to both rise and set over the Pacific in winter. Among the best is Refugio State Beach, one of the prettiest in California. Palm trees dot the sands next to a small creek, lending the beach a tropical feel.
photo credit: Palm Tree sunset via photopin (license)
Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Malibu
Modern surf culture really went mainstream in Malibu in the late 1950s, and the beaches have been immortalized in surfing movies ever since. Malibu Lagoon State Beach is the major surfing nexus and includes the celebrated Surfrider Beach, one of the first to be mastered by Southern Californian pioneers. The waves are best in late summer, when storms off Mexico cause them to reach upwards of eight feet – not huge for serious pros, but big enough for amateurs.
photo credit: Malibu Lagoon State Beach via photopin (license)
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
No list of the best beaches in California would be complete without mentioning Venice Beach. Nowhere else does LA parade itself quite so openly, colourfully and aggressively. Trawling the promenade between Santa Monica and Venice is an LA tradition, taking in the surfers, sand, muscle-men, skaters and assorted eccentrics.
photo credit: Venice Beach, CA via photopin (license)
Mission Beach, San Diego
The most free-spirited of San Diego’s surfing beaches, Mission Beach scenery extends to acres of bronzed flesh and bikini babes, chaotic bars and even carnival rides. It’s one of the most popular and entertaining of San Diego’s city beaches, with throngs of sun-seekers enjoying surfing, cycling and rollerblading down Ocean Front Walk, the concrete boardwalk running the length of the beach.
photo credit: Sunset_Mission Beach_2.4.2012-1 via photopin (license)
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