Huntington Beach, Orange County. Photo by Anthony Reyes.
Best beaches in California
California, America’s 3rd largest state, is one of nation’s most popular holiday destinations, known for its countless outdoor activity options and home to many great Pacific shore beaches including some frequently featured in Hollywood movies and TV series such as Venice Beach and Coronado Beach.
Since more than half of the state’s inhabitants lives within 100 km of the coast, traffic in the high holiday season can be a smoking, steel-belted nightmare; if you value your elbow-room, both on beaches and roads, it’s wise to visit in low season. See our Pacific Coast Highway Map.
California‘s southern end beaches are wide, warm, sunny and sandy while those on the northern coast tend to be windy and rocky but curvaceous, tree-hugged and more scenically attractive.
Pacific Ocean water is nothing like clear Caribbean blue, more of a dark green while sand quality is not as fine as that on the east coast, usually beige or golden colour with coarse grains, and often unmanicured so if you’re looking for isolation then seaweed, flotsam and jetsam is part of the deal, especially on state park shores.
Best sunbathing and swimming beach months
In the north of the state the best season is mainly July-August except around San Francisco where fog can arrive anytime and spoil the party anytime.
In the south the season stretches from May-October though San Diego suffers frequent ‘June Gloom’ when a sea mist covers the coast until midday and the Pacific waters are pretty much always chilly.
Most Californian beaches experience strong rip currents due to the Pacific wave backlash, but provide brilliant surfing conditions and an immense contribution to the state’s multi-billion dollar surfing industry.
The downside is non-surfing smaller kids need to be constantly monitored unless there’s a lifeguard nearby – so families, pick a guarded beach and park yourselves within sniffing distance of the lifeguard’s tanning lotion.
A beach-side mansion in California. Photo by Brendel.
Storming the beaches
There’s a war on in California and it doesn’t involve Islamic mentalists, rather the right-of-access to beaches fronting the mansions of the super-rich, especially those on the 21 mile stretch of picturesque Malibu coastline beside Highway 1, where signs have been planted stating that the beaches are ‘private’, ‘no entry’ or ‘trespassers will be eaten by attack dogs’ (OK, I made the last one up), along with public access paths cunningly disguised or apparently unusable.
These statements and defensive measures are untrue and illegal, simply a tactic employed by rich residents to keep the sweating proletariat off the precious strips of dazzling sand in front of their properties.
According to the California state Coastal Act of 1976 the strip between the sea and the high tide line should be fully accessible by the public at all times.
The difficult situation has been turned around recently by a new app, Our Malibu Beaches (for iPhone and Android), which is directing Californians on how to get to the best stretches of sand along the Malibu coast , even if there is a Silicon billionaire standing in the way.
The app shows sandalistas exactly where each public access point is, helps them park and even walks them down each beach, house-by-house, to find the best spot for a towel on the dry sand. Power to the Sandalistas!