Southern California is home to some of the most iconic west coast beaches in the United States. Movies and TV shows are often filmed on these beaches, so people all over the world know what they look like. Families planning a trip to Southern California may wonder which of these beaches to visit during their vacation.
Santa Monica State Beach is every family’s favorite beach with plenty of fun, excitement, thrills, sand, and waves. Huntington Beach was named the best Southern California beach for families with teenagers. Families that want to check out some fun wildlife may choose to visit La Jolla Cove to view the resident seals and sea lions that call this area home.
Families with dogs enjoy the Arroyo Burro Beach, while families with younger children enjoy the tide pools at Coronado Beach. Whatever flavor of beach vacation a family wants, there is a beach perfect for them. The following list of 15 beaches provides a quick look at some of the favorite beaches for families in Southern California.
1. La Jolla Cove
Credit: La Jolla Cove View / Wikimedia
La Jolla Cove Beach in San Diego County provides an amazing, family-friendly beach experience appropriate for kids of all ages. This beach is one of the best places to take kids during low tide to explore the many tide pools dotted along the shoreline.
One never knows what might be lurking in those pools. Children love the excitement and awe that accompanies the discovery of something new and unknown, especially if it looks weird.
In addition to the interesting sea life in tide pools, sea lions and seals can also be found along this beach. Children of all ages enjoy watching the antics of these mammals and listening to their noisy calls as they sun themselves on the sand.
2. Arroyo Burro Beach Park
Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara County is a fantastic place for families with dogs to enjoy a day on the sand. Few beaches in Southern California permit dogs, which makes Arroyo Burro a great place to hang out.
Dogs may be on-leash or off-leash, depending on how well-behaved they are. Parking at this beach is free. Amenities offered include barbecue grills and picnic tables on the grass.
Because this beach is popular with surfers, an outdoor shower is available. This peaceful sandy beach provides families with children, especially the furry ones, a place to relax and spend time together.
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3. Mission Beach
Credit: Ben Rinenbach / Flickr
Mission Beach in San Diego County is an excellent place for older children and teenagers to chill with their parents. This beach is perfect for enjoying some outdoor activities. The boardwalk along this two-mile stretch of coast offers a scenic place to roller skate, roller blade, bike, or go for a walk.
The amusement park, Belmont Park, is located on the boardwalk and provides hours of fun for kids. Teenagers and older children can work on their surfing moves in the waves, try kiteboarding, or simply go boogie boarding.
Local rental shops on the beach have equipment ready to rent. Pickup games of beach volleyball and soccer are easy to organize here. Families often challenge each other for a little competition in the California sun.
4. Coronado Beach
Credit: Coronado Shores / Facebook
Coronado Beach in San Diego County offers some of the best facilities for families with children with picnic tables, clean restrooms, and bonfires perfect for making s’mores. In addition to the excellent facilities, this beach has clean, clear waters, waves are gentle enough for even timid swimmers.
Plenty of tide pools at Coronado Beach offer children places to explore at low tide. Older kids enjoy boogie boarding, stand-up paddleboarding, and surfing in these non-threatening waves. Plenty of lifeguards also patrol this beach, so parents know that their children are being watched.
Chairs can be rented at this beach and the Hotel del Coronado offers food and beverage service to guests that rent chairs or stay at their hotel perched right on the beach.
5. Corona del Mar State Beach
Credit: Corona del Mar / Facebook
The Corona del Mar State Beach in Orange County is a picturesque place that families enjoy in Southern California. Its wide stretch of flat sand provides plenty of space to accommodate the people that flock here to take advantage of the clean restrooms and showers, the picnic tables and grills, and the fire pits scattered around the area.
The sand gently slopes into the water and contains few rocks, making this an easy beach to walk on. Lifeguards patrol this beach, so someone is available to help if visitors need it.
When the gentle tide retreats, tide pools are ready to be explored by children. Many families enjoy this beach and the nearby restaurants make this an easy place to spend the day.
6. East Beach
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East Beach is located in Santa Barbara and families visit this beach for the relaxed, friendly vibe and uncrowded sand. Many visitors prefer this beach to others in the area because the sand stays clean and the public restrooms are cleaned regularly.
Sunset strolls with family members, including dogs, are a favorite activity at East Beach. Younger children enjoy playing on the “Shipwreck Playground” and eating ice cream at the nearby ice cream stand.
Lifeguards patrol this beach for several months during the summer. While the gentle waves found here are not great for surfing, they are ideal for young children who want to play in the surf.
7. San Buenaventura State Beach
San Buenaventura State Beach, in Ventura County, has an easy, retro vibe that draws families to its golden sands. Parents relax in the sun while kids throw frisbees, fly kites, build sandcastles, and play volleyball.
A different part of the shoreline south of the pier contains rounded stones, driftwood, and seaweed where people have created some beach sculptures. The wooden pier juts out into the ocean and people can walk along, eating fish tacos from a nearby restaurant.
Lifeguards patrol this beach year-round so swimmers and surfers can enjoy this beach all year. On weekends and holidays, bikes can be rented and families enjoy exploring the trails that connect this beach to many others.
8. Zuma Beach
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Zuma Beach is located in Los Angeles County, off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. This wide beach has 1.8 miles of sand, and people flock to this shore to swim, surf, bodysurf, and windsurf, despite the occasional riptides and rough waves that occur.
Around 2,000 parking spaces are spread out between the eight parking lots for Zuma Beach, and during the peak season on weekends and holidays, the lots can be crowded.
Ranked as one of the healthiest beaches with some of the cleanest waters in California, it is obvious why families choose this beach over many others. In addition, the lifeguards, clean restrooms, showers, and nearby restaurants offer amenities that families enjoy.
Beach wheelchairs are available for families who need them. Kids and adults enjoy watching dolphins play just offshore, and in the winter, whales can be observed from Zuma Beach during their annual migration.
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9. Santa Monica State Beach
Credit: Santa Monica / Facebook
Santa Monica State Beach in Los Angeles County is consistently ranked as the cleanest beach in Southern California. There is plenty of room to spread out a blanket and spend the day swimming in the waves and playing in the sand.
Families, especially those with young children, love visiting the north side of the Santa Monica Pier because of its universally accessible playground.
The equipment at this playground was constructed to engage all children in creative play using accessible pathways and sensory play elements that capture their interest and allow them to freely interact.
On the south side of the pier, the “Muscle Beach” area with its gym equipment, the Carousel Park, volleyball courts, and the International Chess Park can be found.
The Santa Monica Pier itself houses an amusement park, aquarium, restaurants, and more that are sure to capture the attention of children of all ages. Everyone loves this beach and even when it is crowded, it is a fun place for families to spend the day.
10. Oxnard Beach Park
Oxnard Beach Park is located in Ventura County and has a lot to offer families. Dogs are permitted on a leash at the beach and in the park. This wide sandy beach provides plenty of space to spread out, no matter the group size.
Children enjoy surfing and bodyboarding in the waves at this beach and playing beach volleyball on the sand. In the park, a pirate-themed playground provides a fun place for younger children to play and a basketball court is a great place for older children and adults to play.
Ample parking is provided at this beach and walking paths cut through the dunes to make it easy to access the beach area. Picnic tables and barbecue grills are available for families who stay all day to grill and hang out at this chill and uncrowded beach location.
11. Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach, located in Orange County, is famous for being Surf City USA. This casual, laid-back beach boasts miles of clean, soft sand beaches and waves perfect for swimming and surfing.
Miles of trails along the beach are available for biking and inline skating. Hiking through a wildlife preserve and visiting one of the longest recreational piers in the world are also popular pastimes for tourists.
Families who enjoy surfing together find Huntington Beach to be the perfect vacation spot, and in 2004, was named “One of the Top 5 Destinations for Teenagers and Their Parents.”
Because Huntington Beach is close to both luxury resorts and budget motels, hundreds of restaurants, and tons of shopping, there is something for everyone at this beach destination.
In addition, Huntington Beach is close to the Disney Resorts and the Long Beach Aquarium. Many visitors flock to this beach to watch one of many sporting events that occur here, including the U.S. Open of Surfing and the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tournament.
Related Read: 35 Best Camping Spots in San Diego
12. Newport Beach
Credit: Balboa Village / Facebook
Newport Beach is located in Orange County on the Balboa Peninsula. This beach has been called the ultimate family playground, with miles of pristine beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, bodysurfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding all year-round.
The “Wedge” is a small portion of the beach famous for its monster-sized waves perfect for expert surfers.
The chill vibe of the pier attracts people who enjoy watching the fishermen to see what they’ve caught, watching dolphins swim by, and eating at the restaurant at the end of the pier, overlooking the ocean.
In addition to the pier and beach, Balboa Fun Zone offers families tons of fun with the Ferris wheel, arcade games, and a tour of the nautical museum.
Many families rent bikes here and explore the boardwalk on wheels, or book a boat tour to the nearby Catalina Island. Newport Beach has something fun to offer families with children of all ages.
13. Point Dume State Beach
Point Dume State Beach is in Los Angeles County and operated by California’s State Parks. This beach is different from others on this list because it is not a beach for swimming.
The reason Point Dume is so popular is because of the beautiful hike to see this pristine beach, surrounded by cliffs.
The parking area for this beach fills up fast, so families should arrive early to find a spot. People often take a picnic on their hike and spend time wading in the waves and beachcombing. Kids especially enjoy clambering over rocks and exploring.
During the winter, Point Dume provides an excellent place from which to watch whales as they conduct their annual migration. This is easily one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California, and well worth making a trip to visit.
14. Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County is one of Southern California’s few remaining natural shorelines. Families with children of all ages visit the beach at this state park because of its amazing tidepools.
They often contain organisms such as snails, hermit crabs, sea stars, sea urchins, anemones, fish, octopi, and sea cucumbers. Because of the park's location within a marine protected area, it is illegal to handle or remove any organisms from the tidepools.
Families love the laid-back, small-town vibe when visiting this park. The rangers are friendly and helpful to visitors. The Reef Point area is more accessible to people in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, and visitors to this beach usually enjoy body surfing.
The Moro Beach area is popular with surf fishermen, kayakers, bodyboarders, and stand-up paddleboarders. With so much hiking to do and beaches to visit, families can easily spend a day hanging out at Crystal Cove State Park.
Related Read: 70 Things To Do in Orange County, CA
15. South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach in San Diego County is a popular place for families to camp and hang out. The campground sits on top of a bluff overlooking the ocean, and reservations must be made far in advance.
The campsites are well maintained and the bathrooms and showers are kept clean. The beach below the campground has soft sand and small waves, perfect for a variety of activities such as swimming, surfing, body boarding, and fishing.
The proximity of this state beach to Legoland makes this an easy place for families to vacation. Families on a budget or wanting to experience some beach time with their Legoland visit enjoy staying at this state park. Hiking and birdwatching are popular activities on the trails through the park.
Dogs are permitted on the trails and in the campground, but not allowed on the beach. Families looking for a quieter, more relaxing beach vacation with fewer crowds prefer to visit South Carlsbad State Beach.