In a state packed with natural beauty, iconic cities, and amazing things to do, it’s hard to find any fault with California. It boasts nine national parks, epic road trips, and some of the best quality of city living anywhere in the world. It’s no wonder California is the most visited state in the United States!

Yet another top attraction – the beaches in California! From epic stretches of sand in the cities of LA and San Diego to quiet secluded beaches along the stunning Big Sur seaside drive, California’s beaches will delight, surprise, and most likely take your breath away.

In this post, we’ll look at the best beaches in California. We’ll also show you some of the best places to stay nearby, whatever your budget and travel style. If all that doesn’t sound like enough, we’ve also picked out some of the best things to do and see nearby. So, let’s hit the sand, dude!

Unlock Our GREATEST Travel Secrets!

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best travel tips delivered right to your inbox.

    When to Go to Beaches in California

    Beaches in California
    Sunset’s like these make the California Beaches some of the best in the world!

    The Broke Backpacker is supported by you. Clicking through our links may earn us a small affiliate commission, and that's what allows us to keep producing free content 🙂 Learn more.

    The best time to visit California depends on what you want to do during your stay. The great thing about the state is that it’s a year-round destination. However, for visiting the beaches in California, it’s not recommended to come between November and April, even if you’re visiting the warmer climate of Southern California.

    The best time to head to California for a beach vacation is from May to October. August and September are the warmest months, although July and August can be very crowded and expensive. If you visit in September, the crowds will have thinned, and you’ll be able to swim in tepid waters and sunbathe to your heart’s content, especially in the south of the state.

    Since California is such a large state, there are some regional factors to take into consideration. San Diego can be very foggy during May and June, meaning that the beaches might be a bit colder than you like. It can get foggy in July and August in San Francisco, too.

    Taking everything into consideration, the best month to travel to California is September. Visiting at any other time of the year won’t be too big of an issue, though – if you can’t go to the beach, there are plenty of other things to do on your backpacking trip to California!

    Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles, California
    Santa Monica Beach is our favorite beach in California.
    • Who It’s For: Families who aren’t content with just chilling on the sand. There’s so much to do here!
    • Don’t Miss: Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier. This classic theme park is fun for everyone.

    One of the most popular beaches in California, Santa Monica is not just a great base for beach holidays, but also for visiting LA. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in the area, places to eat, and hotels to stay in. The only criticism you could make is that this place gets a bit crowded. But if you can deal with that, then no worries! It is, after all, one of the best beaches in the United States.

    Another cool spot to stay is Long Beach, just down the coast from here. A great spot for a road trip if you’re staying in Santa Monica.

    Private room with parking included, Santa MonicaBest Airbnb – Private room with parking included

    This comfy private room is just 12 blocks from the beach – easy walking distance. If you want to cruise along the ocean front, you’ve also got somewhere to park your car for free!

    HI Los Angeles - Santa MonicaBest Hostel – HI Los Angeles – Santa Monica

    This hostel should be the first port of call for solo travellers in Santa Monica. There’s always something happening, and the friendly staff can help you organise tours of nearby attractions.

    Hampton Inn and Suites Santa MonicaBest Hotel – Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Monica

    Right on the beachfront, this affordable hotel is an excellent base for your Santa Monica beach break. You’re welcome to enjoy a free hot breakfast and a dip in the pool too!

    Large premium studio by the beach, Santa Monica BeachBest Studio – Large premium studio by the beach

    This cosy studio apartment boasts a fully equipped kitchen for those beach days when you’re wiped out and can’t even be bothered to head to one of the awesome local restaurants!

    Pacific Park, Santa Monica BeachPacific Park

    One of the most recognisable theme parks in the world, stroll down the midway with some candy floss as you search for the next thrilling ride to go on! [image credit]


    Heal the Bay Aquarium, Santa Monica BeachHeal the Bay Aquarium

    Just moments away from the Pacific Ocean, this aquarium has more than 100 species of marine life. Perfect for kids – especially in the unlikely event the weather isn’t perfect. [image credit]


    Rusty's Surf Ranch, Santa Monica BeachRusty’s Surf Ranch

    Serving casual food during the day and welcoming bands during the evening, this relaxed restaurant boasts good food and an even better atmosphere. [image credit]

    introductory volleyball class

    Play Volleyball

    Learn the ropes of one of the most fun beach sports at this introductory volleyball class.



    bike ride

    Take a Ride

    Stretch your legs and see the best that Santa Monica and nearby Venice Beach have to offer on a bike ride.



    bar crawl

    Go Bar-Hopping

    Find out more about the best bars and nightlife in Sant

    Best Beach for Swimming in California | El Matador State Beach, Malibu

    El Matador State Beach
    • Who It’s For: Those who want to get off the beaten track and fully appreciate California’s natural beauty.
    • Don’t Miss: Tacos and Seafood at nearby Malibu Seafood.

    This beautiful beach is made up of three small coves with stunning rock formations. Your first introduction will be from the rugged cliff tops. Want to swim? You’ll need to head down a steep dirt trail to do so, but it’s so worth it to get into that water. If you come here outside of summer, you might even have the whole beach to yourself. What more could you want?! This is an easy sell as one of the top beaches in California.

    Fabulous Ocean Views, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Airbnb – Fabulous Ocean Views

    This gorgeous apartment allows you to make the most of the stunning ocean views. Perfect for a couple or a small group of friends/family.

    There are so many beautiful Airbnbs in Malibu!

    Freehand Los Angeles, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Hostel – Freehand Los Angeles

    Since El Matador is on the Pacific Highway, it’s tricky to find somewhere to stay nearby. However, the Freehand is one of the best hostels in Los Angeles, so why not stay there?!

    Residence Inn Los Angeles Westlake Village, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Hotel – Residence Inn Los Angeles Westlake Village

    In nearby Westlake Village, you can make use of a hot tub and indoor and outdoor pool if swimming at the beach isn’t quite enough for you!


    Six Acre estate with infinity pool, Malibu, CaliforniaBest Villa – Six Acre estate with infinity pool

    Meet the “if money were no object” Malibu mansion! If there are any Hollywood A-lister’s or premier league footballers reading this, you know where to stay!

    Malibu Wine SafarisMalibu Wine Safaris

    Head a little inland to try some of the fine wines grown in the area and meet some wild animals!


    Malibu Seafood

    When it comes to fresh fish, you won’t find anywhere better than this. BYOB and settle down with your favourite seafood dish.


    Charmlee Wilderness Park

    Set on a bluff above the coast, Charmlee is the perfect spot for a picnic with views over some of the best beaches in California. There are more than eight miles of hiking trails too.

    Visit an Animal Sanctuary

    Alpacas and goats are just some of the cast that you’ll meet at one of the best-loved animal sanctuaries in California.




    Go Hiking and Surfing

    This will be a tiring but rewarding day for your legs as you combine surfing and hiking. It’s okay though; there’s wine at the end!


    Make Cheese

    Want to get a taste of Malibu before you visit? Why not make cheese with the help of a mama goat in the comfort of your own home!

    Small Pack Problems? 😉

    Wanna know how to pack like a pro? Well for a start you need the right gear….

    These are packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise volume too so you can pack MORE.

    Or, y’know… you can stick to just chucking it all in your backpack…

    Get Yours Here Read Our Review

    Most Beautiful Beach in California | Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

    Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
    How beautiful is Pfeiffer Beach?
    • Who It’s For: Anyone looking to see one of the most awe-inspiring sights in California. Don’t forget your camera!
    • Don’t Miss: Keyhole Rock – the main focus of the beach. It’s an enormous natural arch that looks especially spectacular at sunset!

    Hidden away in the Big Sur State Park, chances are you’ll need your own transport to get to this epic beach in California. But this spot is well worth the hassle of renting a car on your travels! You could be forgiven for thinking that the purple sand found here has transported you to the Mediterranean. And those rock formations with the waves crashing against them are just something else. Pfeiffer Beach is sure to boost your popularity on the Gram!

    Goat farm with Ocean Views, CaliforniaBest Airbnb – Goat farm with Ocean Views

    Want to stay on a working farm and wake up to the sounds of cows lowing and roosters crowing? This friendly farm welcomes guests, who leave as friends!

    America's Best Value Presidents Inn, Pfeifer Beach, CaliforniaBest Hostel – America’s Best Value Presidents Inn

    While there aren’t any hostels in Big Sur, this budget hotel is a superb alternative. Although it’s inexpensive, it boasts an outdoor pool!

    Big Sur Lodge, CaliforniaBest Hotel – Big Sur Lodge

    Get into Big Sur’s state park and stay in a lodge of the same name. You have a restaurant, pool, and bar on-site! This is one of the best places to stay in Big Sur.

    Ocean view Sanctuary, CaliforniaBest Cabin – Ocean view Sanctuary

    For somewhere to completely escape and disconnect from day to day life, you won’t do much better than this cabin. Ideal for a couple who want to create everlasting memories!

    The Village Big Sur, CaliforniaThe Village Big Sur

    There’s not a lot surrounding Pfeiffer Beach, but this restaurant does exquisite food in nearby Big Sur Village. [image credit]


    Big Sur Tap House, CaliforniaBig Sur Tap House

    Fancy a beer? Grab one at this tap house – either at the bar or in the outdoor seating area. [image credit]


    Redwood Deck

    If you’re driving to Pfeiffer Beach, you may as well explore what else Big Sur has to offer. Redwood Deck is where you can view the tallest trees in the world!

    Go biking

    A car isn’t the only method of getting along Big Sur’s coastal road. Why not try it on a phat bike instead?


    Meet honeybees, California

    Watch How Honeybees Work

    Meet honeybees at nearby Carmel By The Sea. You’ll be able to taste their honey too!




    what's in the tidepools, California

    Explore The Marine Life

    Nearby Carmel is a great place to go wildlife watching. See what’s in the tidepools near town.

    Best Beach for People Watching in California | Venice Beach, Los Angeles

    Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
    • Who It’s For: Looking for a boho vibe where anything goes? Venice Beach in California is the one for you!
    • Don’t Miss: Take some time away from the beach to stroll along Venice’s canals, which give the neighbourhood its name.

    Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the earlier mentioned Santa Monica Beach in LA, Venice is another of California’s most popular beaches. It’s also one of the most famous in the world! Check out the street art or just watch the locals running and biking along the promenade. It’s mad how quickly the time passes when you’re doing this! You’ll see crazy sights like rollerblading guitarists and chainsaw jugglers – to name a few.

    Venice Beach Walkstreet Getaway, CaliforniaBest Airbnb – Venice Beach Walkstreet Getaway

    Within walking distance of the bars of Venice Beach, this cool suite is everything you need for a short break away. If you fancy a night in, there’s a comfy sofa, TV, and books for guests to use.

    Samesun Venice Beach, CaliforniaBest Hostel – Samesun Venice Beach

    Right on the boardwalk with views of the Pacific Ocean, can you think of a better hostel in Venice Beach than this? If the location doesn’t sell it, the hospitality of the staff will!


    The Kinney – Venice Beach, CaliforniaBest Hotel – The Kinney – Venice Beach

    One of the coolest hotels on Venice Beach, the three-star Kinney is covered in street art. There’s also a fire pit, ping pong tables, and a heated pool where you can meet fellow travellers.

    Hip Venice Experience, CaliforniaBest Tiny House – Hip Venice Experience

    Modelled on an Airstream caravan, this tiny house has a garden and a private entrance. An unusual but romantic Venice Beach Airbnb.

    Moon Juice

    Take care of yourself with the help of Moon Juice’s alchemists. They do some awesome cold-pressed juices!


    Small World Books, CaliforniaSmall World Books

    Find a mixture of independent prints with classic literature at this much-loved bookshop. Your next beach read is here! [image credit]


    Venice Skate Park, CaliforniaVenice Skate Park

    Watch the locals pull off some incredible moves on their skateboards. If you consider yourself a pro, why not have a go yourself?!

    Go Surfing

    Learn to surf with the help of a professional instructor on one of the most iconic beaches in California!




    scavenger hunt, California

    Do a Scavenger Hunt

    Stuck for ideas for your bachelorette party? Leave it in the hands of the professionals with a scavenger hunt!




    limo ride, California

    Arrive in Style

    Feel like a superstar by taking a limo ride to some of the coolest clubs in Hollywood!

    Quietest Beach in California | Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel by the Sea

    Point Lobos State Reserve Carmel by the Sea, California
    We love how remote some of the beaches in California are.
    • Who It’s For: Those who want several options for their beach break in terms of activities.
    • Don’t Miss: Taking a hike along the coast and spotting all the seals.

    Point Lobos State Reserve’s waters are quite cool and can be rough depending on the season, so it’s not ideal for swimming. However, for everything else, it gets a big tick! Hiking in the national park and watching wildlife are incomparable, and outdoor enthusiasts will love using this beach as the base for a day trip.

    Cozy Carmel Cabin, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Airbnb – Cozy Carmel Cabin

    This cute and cosy cabin makes for a heavenly base for couples. It’s just off highway one and is within walking distance of restaurants, galleries, and shops.

    HI Monterey, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Hostel – HI Monterey

    This popular hostel in nearby Monterey is ideal for visiting Point Lobos State Park. It’s just five minutes from all the attractions in town, too!


    Candle Light Inn, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Hotel – Candle Light Inn

    This downtown Carmel hotel is within ten minutes of Point Lobos State Reserve. It’s an excellent option for digital nomads, as there’s a work desk and a small fridge.


    Cathedral Redwood Studio with Loft, Point Lobos, CaliforniaBest Cottage – Cathedral Redwood Studio with Loft

    This cottage is ideal if you want privacy. It’s on the edge of the state park at the end of a lane off Highway One. The views from the floor to ceiling windows are to die for!

    Whaler’s Museum

    Once the whaling station in the 19th century, this building has a whole lot of history, which you can learn about with a visit.

    South Shore Trail, CaliforniaSouth Shore Trail

    One of the many hiking trails in the state reserve, this one takes you along to the gorgeous Hidden Beach in California. [source: Serj Malomuzh (Shutterstock)]

    Bird Island Lookout, CaliforniaBird Island Lookout

    This overlook has views of two sandy beaches. You may even see seal pups here during the spring. [image credit]

    golf experience

    Play Golf

    Want to practice your swing? Take this Nocal VIP golf experience!


    scavenger hunt, Point Lobos, california

    Do a Team Activity

    See the sights of nearby Monterey in a fun and interactive way on a scavenger hunt!




    food tourTake a Food Tour

    Find the best places to eat in Monterey on a food tour through the old town.

    Family Friendly Beach in California | Coronado Beach, San Diego

    Coronado Beach San Diego
    We bet your kids will love Coronado Beach in California.
    • Who It’s For: Families looking to spend time paddling in the waves and having lots of space on the sand will be delighted with Coronado Beach.
    • Don’t Miss: Hotel del Coronado. The historic beachfront hotel is part of a very special group: it’s one of the only surviving examples of the American Victorian beach resort-style architecture.

    Coronado Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego, California, and sits in the shadow of the second-largest wooden structure in the US – the Hotel Coronado. The supposedly haunted hotel has to have a spot on your San Diego itinerary! The beach is wider than most in California, and at 1.5 miles long, you’ll never have trouble finding a spot on the sand. If that’s not enough, there are a plethora of activities on offer here, including boogie boarding, volleyball, and tide-pooling!

    Private room with garden entranceBest Airbnb – Private room with garden entrance

    Solo travellers looking for a homestay near Coronado Beach will not be disappointed with this private room. Enter through the garden into a 20s style Spanish home.

    Best Hostel – HI San Diego – Downtown

    Right in the heart of downtown San Diego, there are regularly free or cheap tours and activities on offer here. There’s also a games room where you can make the most of arcade games and a pool table!

    El Cordova, CaliforniaBest Hotel – El Cordova

    This Spanish village-style resort has four restaurants on-site, as well as gardens and boutique shops. Couples love this place!

    Beautiful Beach Cottage in CoronadoBest Beach Cottage – Beautiful Beach Cottage in Coronado

    This beautiful green cottage is the ideal base for a relaxing stay at Coronado Beach. The traditional Spanish architecture is a nice touch!

    MooTime CreameryMooTime Creamery

    What says beach more than ice cream? Exactly. MooTime Creamery is probably the best in Coronado! [image credit]


    Glorietta Bay Park Promenade

    Take a walk along this promenade and see more of the San Diego Bay.


    Coronado Ferry Center

    This market gives you the chance to sample some delicious local seafood before shopping to your heart’s content.

    bike, California

    Take a Bike Tour

    Want to cover the whole of Coronado Island in a day? A bike is the best way to do so!




    trike, California

    Explore on an Electric Trike

    If you want a different kind of workout and some more stability, choose an electric trike tour instead!




    Gaslamp Quarter, California

    Take a Crime Tour

    Learn about the grisly goings-on of the nearby Gaslamp Quarter on a true crime tour.

    Best Beach for Surfers in California | Huntington Beach, Orange County

    Huntington Beach, Orange County, California
    Check out those waves!
    • Who It’s For: Surfers will be delighted with the challenging waves and the gorgeous evening sunsets.
    • Don’t Miss: The International Surfing Museum – it’s one of the coolest places to go on a rainy day.

    In a state packed with great surfing spots, it’s hard to pick a favourite beach in California. However, since it’s also known as Surf City USA, we guess it will have to go to Huntington in Orange County. It’s where the US Open for surfing takes place annually, and it’s home to the International Surfing Museum. There’s more to the beach than surfing, though. It’s also a wonderful place to watch the sunset or bring the family – since there are lots of other activities on offer too!

    Surf City Studio, CaliforniaBest Airbnb – Surf City Studio

    Looking for privacy just a block from the beach? This studio boasts a sun deck, patio and entrance – all of which no-one else has access to.

    Sea Rock Inn – Long Beach, CaliforniaBest Hostel – Sea Rock Inn – Long Beach

    This motel doesn’t quite fit into the hostel category. However, it’s cheap, and there’s plenty of space to park your VW Camper. (Other vehicles to transport surfboards are available).

    Huntington Surf Inn, California

    Best Hotel – Huntington Surf Inn

    You’ve got the surf beach, the surfing museum, and now the surfing hotel. Rooms come with a private bathroom and extra-large beds. Great for couples!

    Private Cottage Downtown, CaliforniaBest Cottage – Private Cottage Downtown

    Originally an early 20th-century carriage house, this comfortable California Airbnb has been repurposed with you in mind. There are two beach cruiser bikes at your disposal should you want to cover more distance in the neighbourhood.

    Huntington Beach International Surfing MuseumHuntington Beach International Surfing Museum

    This fun museum shows you the history of surfing and muses on its future. Its coolest attraction is the world’s largest surfboard! [image credit]


    Huntington Beach PierHuntington Beach Pier

    Looking for somewhere to eat or drink after a day of surfing? You have plenty of options on the pier!


    Huntington Beach Symphony Orchestra

    Musicians will be bowled over by the sheer amount of genres this orchestra performs. Check out a gig when you’re in town!

    Huntington Beach surf lesson

    Learn to Surf

    Take your first steps out into the water with a Huntington Beach surf lesson.


    history and culinary scene

    Take a City Tour

    Get to know the city’s history and culinary scene a little more intimately!



    drum meditation session

    Explore Meditation

    Find a tune with your body’s rhy

    Don’t Forget Travel Insurance for California

    ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

    They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

    SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

    Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

    California Packing List

    camping stove for backpackers

    1. Backpacking StoveIf you want to cook your own food, either because you’re sick of takeout or want to save money, then you’ll need a cooking stove. Some campgrounds have fire pits with grills but I find these very inefficient. Campfires also may be outright banned as well if the fire season has been particularly bad that year, in which case you’ll definitely need your own stove.

    I like the MSR Pocketrocket because it’s affordable, reliable, and very convenient.

    Thermarest Prolite Plus Sleeping Pad for camping

    2. Sleeping PadI really cannot sleep without some sort of camping pad. I’ve slept in some pretty rough campgrounds, full of rocks and roots, and my sleeping pad saved my life many times. The self-inflating sleeping mats, like the Thermarest Prolite, are my favorite, though people often settle for the foam ones.

    Eno Hammock

    3. HammockTaking a tent and pad on a road trip are not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy, and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Eno parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.

    Matador NanoDry Packable Shower Towel

    4. Microfibre TowelIt’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.


    5. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.

    Grayls Geopress Water Bottle

    6. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl geopress is a true behemoth amongst water bottles acting as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.

    AR Toiletry Bag

    7. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.

    Final Thoughts on the Best Beaches in California

    Now that you’ve seen the best beaches in California, you’ll probably have a better idea of how to plan your trip. Whether you want to catch some waves on Huntington, enjoy Santa Monica with the family, or just soak up the coolness of Venice, there’s a California beach for you.

    Make sure you set some time aside in California to visit more than just the beaches, though. Cross San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on your bike, see the wonders of Yosemite National Park, and be sure to take a drive along the coastline – perhaps you’ll stop off at some deserted beaches, too!

    However you choose to spend your trip to California, we hope you have an amazing time. And remember to keep this post bookmarked so that you can find the best places to stay and things to do near your chosen California beach!