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Best Beach Towns in Southern California

California is famously known for its striking beaches, warm weather, great surfing, and diverse landscape.

With over 800 miles of California coastline, there are many beaches and beach towns to choose from.

However, not all are created equally. Some of the beach towns in Southern California are crowded, and others have a more local culture.

Some are better for surfing, and some have better nightlife or a better food scene.

The list below has a mix of the best beach towns in Southern California, so depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll find it.

Whether you want the best surfing conditions or you want the local experience, youll find a beach in Southern California that best suits your interests.

Here is a sneak peek at the list of Southern California’s 11 best beach towns. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

  1. Redondo Beach
  2. Coronado
  3. Encinitas
  4. Malibu
  5. Huntington Beach
  6. San Clemente
  7. Carlsbad
  8. Hermosa
  9. Santa Barbara
  10. Laguna Beach
  11. Oceanside

Top 11 Best Beach Towns in Southern California

Keep reading for a list of the best beach towns in Southern California to help you narrow your options.

With so many great beaches to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to visit.

California is well-known and famous for its beautiful, pristine beaches.

There is no shortage of beach towns in Southern California, so weve narrowed down the list to some of the best ones.

Redondo Pier at night

1. Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach has a thriving pier with oceanfront restaurants, bars, shops, and nightlife to check out while visiting this gorgeous beach town.

It has a small-town feel to it and it is located in the South Bay area of California. It has a carefree, beach-oriented attitude that will put all visitors in a relaxing mood.

Like many southern California beaches, surfing is the main attraction.

Besides that, you can try your hand at other water sports, swim, relax on the beach or explore it by foot along the paved path that runs parallel to the water.

The path is great for biking, walking, jogging, or skating while enjoying the views.

Redondo is an all-around great place to visit next time youre in Southern California.

Be sure to remember these import items for your California Vacation packing list.

Coronado Beach with famous hotel del Coronado in background

2. Coronado Island 

Coronado is an island at the southern end of San Diego, nicknamed the Crown City. Its home to Hotel del Coronado, a victorian style historic hotel where some of the most famous people in the world have stayed for over 130 years.

Guests include presidents, royals, and A-list celebrities. Besides the famous hotel, visitors are drawn to Coronado Island because of the views of the San Diego skyline and the powdery, white beaches.

The island has a laid-back and quiet atmosphere that attracts people from all over.

Its fun to walk around, look at the mansions, and grab a bite to eat.

Coronado has excellent waves for beginner surfers, so if youre new to the sport, this would be a great place to learn without the intimidation from some of the other beach towns in the area where there are more advanced surfers. 

Sunset over Encinitas Beach in California

3. Encinitas

Encinitas is one of the best-surfing destinations and is filled with surfers, hippies, and outdoor lovers.

It has an eclectic atmosphere with many great shops and restaurants near the beaches. It has an authentic vibe to it and doesnt feel like it’s trying too hard, which is very refreshing.

The quirky beach town is surely a favorite, and youll never forget it once you visit.

Its often overlooked by other brand-name beach towns in Southern California, but you should give it a chance.

You may fall in love with this town and you wont have to worry about all the crowds and tourists because theyre non-existent compared to some of the more well-known beach towns in the area.

Coastal Picture of Malibu, California

4. Malibu

Malibu is one of California’s most famous and well-known beaches, but it still manages to hold on tightly to its small-town charm.

Stroll along the wooden pier, visit the little shops, and relax on the beach. The small town of Malibu might be mighty in name, but there are still spots that maintain its small-town beach feel.

Malibu is also a great place for surfing, and once youve tired out from being on the water, you can visit the Malibu Pier and the Malibu Lagoon State Beach.

If youre a huge fan of celebrities, Malibu is also a great place for celebrity sightings. Many famous people call Malibu home, and youll find large mansions all along Pacific Coast Highway, which runs right through Malibu.

Be on the lookout, you never know who youll run into. Malibu has an upscale vibe, and if youre looking for a more luxurious beach vacation, this is the place to be.

On one side of the PCH, youll find natural beaches and large mansions, and on the other side are the Santa Monica Mountains, which are home to residential neighborhoods and lots of trails for exploration with unmatched views.

Guy getting out of the ocean with Huntington pier in the background

5. Huntington Beach

This beach is known for being very chill and is mainly a surfer’s hub. Huntington Beach is home to the International Surfing Museum and is nicknamed Surf City USA.

For any surfers in SoCal, this is the place to be.

Each year, the U.S. Open Surf Competition is held here and brings in thousands of people.

Besides being a hotspot for water sports, Huntington Beach is a popular nightlife destination with great bars, clubs downtown and home to some of Southern California’s best beaches. 

The Huntington Beach Pier is one of the longest in California, ringing in at 1,850 feet long. You must walk on it and explore the expansive ocean views. It is a beach town you don’t want to miss.

You also might want to be sure to not forget any of these items when packing for California.

San Clemente, California at sunset

6. San Clemente

Known as the Spanish Village by the Sea, San Clemente has gorgeous Spanish architecture that you dont find everywhere in California anymore.

A lot of the historic architecture in California has been torn down to make way for larger, more modern buildings.

Its refreshing to see the Spanish architecture in San Clemente. You can enjoy beautiful beaches, high-end stores and restaurants, and lots of things to do.

While a lot of the area around San Clemente is very city-like, San Clemente itself manages to stay simple, slow, and small.

The three Ss. Youll find mountain views and excellent surfing conditions at your disposal. Trestles Beach is one of the best surfing locations in all of California and a hotspot for surfers around the world.

The San Clemente Pier is a whopping 1,300 feet long and juts right into the ocean. It is a great spot to go on a relaxing walk and watch the sunset.

You can also find fresh seafood on the pier or search for it yourself by fishing right off the boardwalk.

Avenida del Mar is a shopping square in town with lots of places to eat, wine taste, and shop just minutes from the pier.

Coastal View of Carlsbad in Southern California

7. Carlsbad

Life isnbad in Carlsbad. This is a great place for families.

Youll find lots of retirees and young families in this coastal town. Its popular for being home to Legoland theme park, which has over 60 attractions and brings in a lot of visitors each year.

Carlsbad is a safe town with lots of outdoor activities, making it a great place to visit in Southern California.

Its also home to some of the best craft beer in Southern California and has many breweries you can check out.

Carlsbad also has a great local restaurant scene and lots of shops. And, of course, Carlsbad is a great year-round surfing destination. Its an all-around great place to visit in SoCal.

Sunsetting over Pier in Hermosa Beach a great coastal town in Southern California

8. Hermosa

Hermosa has that local feel to it. If thats what youre looking for, this is the perfect beach for you. The no-frills beach town is not touristy, which appeals to many travelers.

It has a lively community that hosts music festivals and special events on weeknights and weekends, which is a great way to get out, explore, and meet new people.

Explore the Hermosa Beach Pier, visit the Farmers Market, and hike the Hermosa Valley Greenbelt; there is no shortage of outdoor fun to be had.

Surfing is also a popular activity in Hermosa. Youll find pristine beaches lined with volleyball courts and surfers everywhere.

Hermosa Beach is super laid back and great for those seeking water sport adventures. 

A highlight of this beach town is The Strand, a paved trail that runs 22 miles and takes you through Redondo Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach skate Park, and many other places in Southern California.

The trail is great for joggers, bikers, skaters, and more. It’s also a great way to easily explore other beach areas. 

Palm Trees of Santa Barbara

9. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a thriving college town, but its so much more than just a home for students. This is also a great place to surf, lounge on the beach, or go on an outdoor adventure.

If you enjoy history, you can visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and learn about the local history, as well as visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara, which was founded in 1786.

The living national historic landmark is home to the Franciscan Friars.

Laguna Beach, California

10. Laguna Beach

This beach town is one of the most picturesque in Southern California, though its easy to say that about all of them.

In a way, Laguna Beach resembles the French Riviera. The artistic town is located along the Pacific Coast Highway with a large main beach right off PCH.

Besides the main beach, there are many smaller coves to choose from. If you love art, youll enjoy visiting all the art galleries, museums, craft fairs, and art festivals that occur throughout the year.

Crystal Cove State Park is a great outdoor space for hiking, checking out tide pools, and exploring more than three miles of beach and thousands of acres of woods.

Water sports are popular in Laguna Beach, including scuba diving, surfing, and skimboarding.

If you plan on surfing, don’t forget these essential surfing items.

Downtown Oceanside with lighthouse in background.

11. Oceanside

As the name suggests, this little beach town is right on the ocean. Its more low-key and less well-known than other beach towns in Southern California.

Oceanside has a harbor home to a marina where youll also find some shopping.

The Oceanside Pier juts right into the Pacific Ocean for great water views. The California Surf Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the hang ten sport.

Its a popular surfing location in California that welcomes both advanced and beginner riders. Its a great place to check out next time youre in Southern California.

As you can see, there are many fantastic beaches in Southern California.

Hopefully, there is one on this list that sparked your interest. There are many to choose from, but they all have unique characteristics that make them special and different.

No matter what kind of experience youre looking for, you can find it at one of the best beach towns in southern California.

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