There are few destinations as well known as California for thick stretches of tan, sandy beaches. This California dream attracts travelers from far and wide. But you might be surprised to learn that certain western shorelines have unique features from jagged rock formations, purple sands, protected coves, and towering bluffs. Whatever type of beach experience you seek, California has it all.
Here are five top beaches in California, North and South, with unique features and draws.
Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
In the heart of Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is known for its stunning rock formations and sea caves. The most iconic of these is a graceful, natural archway that rises out of the water, and catches the sun as it sets. The gentle slopes that form the coastline are lush with flowers and easy to climb, and make for stunning views across the Pacific. Thanks to the manganese garnet that washes up on the beach from the surrounding hills, the sand at Pfeiffer is unlike any other. At times in glows with a purple hue.
Draws: adventure, dog friendly, unique
La Jolla Cove in San Diego
Surrounded by sandstone cliffs, with calm waters protected by San Diego’s Ecological Reserve, La Jolla Cove evokes a tropical experience. Teeming with vibrant and diverse sea life, and with visibility of up to 30 feet, it is quite popular with snorkelers and divers. Above the white sand beach is a grassy park dotted with palm trees perfect for picnicking. Visiting during the week is suggested as weekends and holidays can get busy on this petite patch of paradise.
Draws: snorkeling, swimming, kids, clear waters
Viewfinder Tip: When visiting beaches in California, don’t forget your towels, sunscreen, and snacks.
Sonoma Coast Beach north of San Francisco
The 17 miles of shoreline of the Sonoma Coast State Beach are made up of small beaches, dark sandy coves, and tide pools rich with wildlife. Easily accessible at more than a dozen points along Highway 1, the variety of highlights that make up the park can be explored separately or by foot. Beachcombers love the stretch of Shell Beach full of rocks and tide pools teeming with sea life. At Goat Rock, you might encounter a colony of seals. Just stay a good distance away for your safety and theirs. And from the high cliffs at Bodega Head, you might even spot a grey whale.
Draws: walking, exploring, whale watching
Huntington Beach just south of Los Angeles
Known as “Surf City USA,” Huntington Beach has been synonymous with surfing since the 1920s. If you’re an enthusiast, head south of the pier to Huntington State Beach, with its wide stretches of sand and almost year round favorable surf conditions. If you’re looking to take in a bit of history and soak in the culture, stick to the area around the iconic pier, where you’ll see nostalgic kites soaring above and fishermen with their eyes on the waters below. There are also art fairs, farmer’s markets, and other community events to give you a taste of the city.
Draws: beachtown, surfing, history
Coronado Beach in San Diego
Connected to San Diego by a 2-mile bridge, Coronado Island has been attracting sweethearts with its fiery sunsets and cool waters for decades. The island’s central beach is more than a mile of white sands, tide pools, and fire pits perfect for a cozy romantic evening. Among the island’s pristine mansions is the Hotel del Coronado, a hideaway for couples since the 1800s and the setting for many a Hollywood romance—and maybe yours.
Draws: romantic, historic, secluded
What are features you look for in your perfect beach?