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Best California Beaches

U.S. News Best Vacations Badge

When first-time visitors imagine California, one of the first things that comes to mind is the beach. One might envision bathing suit-clad beachgoers sashaying down sunny Southern California boardwalks, or hikers traversing cliffs along the coast in the north. Either way, California has it all (more than 420 public beaches, to be exact). To help you decide which coast to travel to next, U.S. News considered factors such as aesthetics, atmosphere and convenience, in addition to traveler sentiment, to determine the Best California Beaches. Want to add your two cents? Vote for your favorite California vacation spot below. 

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#1 Laguna Beach

#1 in Best California Beaches

Laguna Beach is filled to the brim with so many beautiful beaches, it would be a disservice to visit just one. Crescent Bay Beach, Thousand Steps Beach, Main Beach and Crystal Cove State Park are just several of the many standout shorelines this Orange County town offers. The area is home to some top hotels, too.

Laguna Beach
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#2 Pfeiffer Beach

#2 in Best California Beaches

One of the few accessible beaches in Big Sur is also one of the most photogenic in all of California. Travel to this secluded gem to get a snap of its purple sands and dramatic rock formations, especially the iconic Keyhole Rock at sunset. 

Pfeiffer Beach
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#3 Coronado Beach

#3 in Best California Beaches

This expansive San Diego coastline is so dreamy, it starred alongside Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like it Hot." It's popular with families and couples for its calm ocean waters, clean sands and legendary sunsets. Plus, the ocean is only a short distance from the popular Gaslamp Quarter (with top hotels and restaurants) in downtown San Diego. 

Coronado Beach
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#4 Carmel Beach

#4 in Best California Beaches

Travel to Carmel Beach to experience central California beauty at its best. Its nearly white sands, rich blue waters and unspoiled cypress trees make it perfect for a long, romantic stroll, while its dog- and drink-friendly policies keep the atmosphere laid-back and fun. 

Carmel Beach
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#5 Crystal Cove State Park

#5 in Best California Beaches

Crystal Cove State Park is made up of multiple beaches, including the popular Moro Beach and Pelican Point. In addition to scenic shorelines, the park features 18 miles of hiking trails across 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness, giving travelers the opportunity to experience the best of Southern California’s gorgeous geography in one destination. 

Crystal Cove State Park
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#6 Newport Beach

#6 in Best California Beaches

Newport Beach has a similar vibe to Laguna Beach, though it has more going on. Home to thousands more residents, Newport Beach features miles of beaches as well as plenty more amenities, including the Lido Marina Village and Balboa Fun Zone amusement park. While here, hit up favorites such as Corona del Mar State Beach, Newport Municipal Beach and, for experienced surfers, The Wedge. 

Newport Beach
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#7 Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

#7 in Best California Beaches

Located about 16 miles north of downtown San Diego, Torrey Pines’ untouched wilderness feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of California’s second largest city. The reserve is famous for its rare Torrey Pine trees, but is more a point of interest for its scenic trails, incredible vistas and breathtaking beaches, which are backed by striking sky-high coastal cliffs.  

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
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#8 El Matador State Beach

#8 in Best California Beaches

Tucked between the mansions and luxury hotels of Malibu, El Matador's low-key location and craggy, coastal terrain will make you feel as if you've happened upon someplace special. This Pacific Coast Highway pit stop is a local favorite for its secluded feel, multiple tide pools and striking ocean caves. 

El Matador State Beach
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#9 Santa Monica Beach

#9 in Best California Beaches

Santa Monica is everything you'd imagine a Southern California beach to be. This 245-acre beach features its iconic amusement park pier, a boardwalk that stretches all the way to Venice and incredible views of the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. Splurge on an oceanfront hotel room for a luxury experience. 

Santa Monica Beach
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#10 Venice Beach

#10 in Best California Beaches

This iconic Los Angeles shoreline is unique in that it isn't famous for its actual beach, but rather the quirky inhabitants that congregate there. A stroll along the boardwalk will open you up to the sights and sounds of Venice's eccentric personality.

Venice Beach
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Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach

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Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach

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Dana Point

Dana Point

Dana Point

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Santa Cruz

Natural Bridges State Beach

Santa Cruz

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