California Beaches, USA
Huntington Beach, Orange County, one of the best California beaches. Photo by Anthony Reyes.
Best California beaches
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.
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.
Will Rogers State Beach – Torrance Beach
They may not be America’s best beaches but we have to mention this 22-mile South Bay Bike Trail from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance County Beach which takes you along some of the most entertaining seashore in the world including Baywatch‘s Santa Monica Beach and pier and Venice beach.
Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation area
Carmel City Beach – near Monterey and just south of Santa Cruz – is coated with soft white sand and very popular for surfing, walking and sand castle construction, even hosting annual sand castle competitions, though swimming is not ideal due to a strong undertow and currents. The neighbouring Carmel River State Beach, with lagoon and marshland, is a great nature area for hiking and kayaking. The town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, glittering with celebrity second homes, is a worth a visit, as are local golf courses if you prefer greens to golds.
The most picturesque of all California beaches can be found at Point Lobos Natural Marine Reserve, offering superb coastal scenery, wildlife, walking trails and water sports including scuba diving. Point Lobos has been described as ‘the crown jewel of State Park System’.
Carmel is about 100 miles south of San Francisco and just a step south of Santa Cruz. From San Francisco and San Jose take Highway 101 south to Prunedale; then take Highway 156 west (see Monterey Peninsula sign). At Castroville, stay to the left. The road becomes Highway 1 heading south and gets you to Carmel.
Santa Cruz Beaches
Pretty little Santa Cruz is famed for its liberal, alternative cultures as well as its beach boardwalk (an extensive oceanfront amusement park) is near several good beaches, such as New Brighton SB, part of a 92 acre state park with soft beige sand and backed by a forested bluff, hiking trails, biking and camping in the trees overlooking Monterey Bay.
The beach is in the town of Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz and can be reached by taking the New Brighton/Park Avenue exit off Highway One.
In addition there’s long, sandy Twin Lakes Beach which is a terrific swimming location and Pleasure Point or Lighthouse Field Beaches if you are looking for surf action. Santa Cruz is 72 miles (115 kms) south of San Francisco.