Southern California beaches have a lot to offer the wandering traveler looking to find the perfect spot. If you’re touring the coast living your #vanlife dream, crashing luxury resorts, or glamping like a rock star, you won’t want to miss the best beaches of Southern California.
From vintage beach cottages to towering cliffs and pristine white-sand beaches, not to mention breathtaking ocean views, Southern California has a wide array of hidden gems off the beaten path any traveling gypsy would love. Pack your tote and read on to find the 10 best beaches off the beaten path for the influencer in all of us.
Imperial & Coronado Beach, CA
Just north of the US Mexico border, Imperial Beach is a sleepy surf town where you’ll find local shops, breweries, restaurants, and festivals. With over 4 miles of walking beach, Imperial beach is great for exploring, swimming, surfing, or just laying out. San Diego’s farthest south beach tends to draw few crowds and offers seclusion and privacy any girl would dream of on her beach vacation. The nearby tijuana estuary is home to a variety of native and endangered species with great walking trails for viewing local wildlife. Adventure awaits with the mexico border just minutes to the south and those looking to experience Mexico without crossing the border can visit Friendship Park in IB’s Borderfield State Beach. The annual Sun and Sea Festival is a great chance to see IB’s unique culture and history with local botique vendors, amazing food, late night parties, and much more.
Ride the bike path from Imperial Beach to Coronado and check out the beautiful views of San Diego bay.
Expert tip: check the water quality before making the trip via PlumeTracker to make sure the beaches are open.
Kellogg Beach, San Diego
Kellogg Beach is a perfect place for a late night swim, maybe even skinny dip, right in the heart of San Diego. A small stretch of sand on Point Loma’s south facing cliffs overlooks downtown lights reflecting off of San Diego bay. Kellogg beach is secluded among luxury homes that will inspire a dating profile zipcode update. Perfect for a sunrise yoga or stand-up paddleboarding session, Kellogg beach offers seclusion from ocean waves and crowds you’ll find on ocean-facing beaches. With nightlife in virtually every direction, head south to Downtown’s Gaslamp and Little Italy for a cosmopolitan look at San Diego’s nightlife.
Don’t miss Consortium Holdings boutique restaurants and bars like Born and Raised, Craft and Commerce, or Ironside If you’d prefer a mellow, and potentially 420 friendly, night out, head over the hill to Ocean Beach. Still not satisfied? Try Pacific Beach for a college scene or out east to North Park or Hillcrest for a boho vibe.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, Point Loma
Sunset Cliffs is arguably THE hidden treasure of San Diego. A long stretch of natural cliffs long Point Loma’s West facing side, south of Ocean Beach, is a great place to explore secluded canyons, surf some of San Diego’s best waves, or wade through vibrant tidepools. From a long stretch of newly restored native plant gardens, look down on some of San Diego’s most accessible kelp forests and sea caves. Follow the 8 west as far as you can to Ocean Beach. Continue along Sunset cliffs Boulevard and park at Ladera street for Garbage Beach stairs. This is the easiest way up and down from the beaches along the cliffs. Keep your eye out for low tides and late sunsets for a perfect evening at Sunset Cliffs. Typically oversight of these beaches is infrequent which may encourage a few glasses of wine. For the bold explorer in all of us, there are a few make-shift stairs, often aided by ropes, that offer access to the beaches below. A great place for a sunset yoga practice (free on Wednesday nights at Point Loma Ave) or early morning cup of coffee.
Marine Street, La Jolla
Marine Street is another hidden gem among La Jolla’s more popular beaches. Unlike the more popular La Jolla Shores, or Wind and Sea, you’re likely to find Marine Street relatively empty. There’s less surf here, which makes it great for swimming or snorkeling, but a short walk south offers great waves for boogie boarding or body surfing and a quick walk north offers tidepools at low tide. Bright orange Garibaldi, California’s state fish, patrol the nearby reef and dolphins or harbour seals often peruse the kelp patties. Marine Street is great for a lazy day on the beach, or your next adventure. If you’re feeling peckish after a long day at the beach, check out La Jolla’s Raised By Wolves for a vintage view of San Diego’s nightlife.
Blacks Beach, La Jolla
The only nude beach in San Diego County, Blacks Beach is located at the base of a series of canyons leading to the hills south of Torrey Pines and North of La Jolla shores. Not only great for laying out sans tan lines, but due to an abrupt shift in ocean depth via an entrenched ocean canyon, Blacks waves are reliably and consistently better than other waves in the area. Blacks is not only one of the best surf spots in the area, but one of the most difficult beaches to access in San Diego. There are a labyrinth of trails and slot canyons that lead down to the beach from the Torrey Pines gliderport. For the slightly less adventurous, there is a steep paved road, pedestrian only, via La Jolla Farms road. Blacks offers a secluded section of 2 miles of beach typically isolated by a combination of steep cliffs and high tides. Blacks isn’t necessarily recommended for beginner surfers so if you’re new to surfing consider paddling out at La Jolla Shores, a more accessible and easy to access wave.
Beacon’s Beach, Leucadia
Leucadia is a sleepy surf town just south of the more trendy Encinitas. Beacon’s Beach is accessible via a switchbacked dirt trail lined with wildflowers. The beach is a clean open stretch of white sand at high tide and a series of shallow tidepools to the north at low tide. Not to mention great surf on all tides for anyone from beginner ocean-go-ers to expert surfers. Framed by steep cliffs heavy with native plants, Beacon’s is one of the most picturesque beaches in San Diego county. Leucadia is home to a number of excellent restaurants, sophisticated yoga studios, vintage shops, and a thriving hippie scene. Somethings you won’t want to miss: Swami’s Meditation Gardens, the Taco Stand, and Lofty Coffee Encinitas Rosters.
San Onofre State Beach, Orange County
San Onofre State Beach, while off the beaten path, is one of the best surf breaks in Southern California. Trestles, Old Man’s and so much more are all located on this 4 mile strip of beach on the southern edge of Orange County. Great for a long walk on the beach, a night of beach camping, or a lazy day on the sand, San Onofre has a loyal and close knit community of surfers and ocean-go-ers who can regularly be seen, barbecuing, playing volleyball, surfing, or laying out. Reminiscent of a bygone era, you’ll regularly see makeshift beach cottages and shade structures patched together from driftwood and fallen palm fronds. Looking for the perfect place to grab a drink after a day at the beach? Check out The Cellar in neighboring San Clemente for great food and signature cocktails or Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar for seaside mimosas.
Crystal Cove State Beach, Newport Beach
Home to some of the most beautiful vintage boutique cottages, Crystal Cove carries visitors away to a hidden beach village from the 1920’s. California State Parks have updated beach cabins to comfortable accommodations available for overnight stays just steps from the ocean. Crystal Cove also offers a host of private tide pools, hiking trails, easy to access kelp forests, and family friendly surf. After a day at the beach, be sure to grab a drink and some food from the beachside Beachcomber cafe. Be sure to plan your trip well in advance as Crystal Cove’s beach cottages are in high demand. Great for families looking to unwind, romantic couples looking for some privacy, and wandering gypsies hoping to make the most of their Southern California adventure.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
While not necessarily as picturesque or secluded as some of the beaches on this list. Venice Beach in Los Angeles if a beautiful example of Southern California society. Crowded with street performers, vintage boutiques, and plenty of places to party, Venice definitely ranks top among places to people watch in LA. You’ll find everyone from young hippie’s in skirts and bikinis touting hoola hoops and dancing poi, to celebrities working on their beach bods. All in all, Venice should be on anyone’s Southern California bucket list.
El Matador State Beach, Malibu
It can be tough to feel connected to the earth in Los Angeles. Among the urban jungle that is LA, where’s the best place to reconnect and unwind? Look no farther than El Matador State Beach. Steep sandstone cliffs melt down into the ocean exposing towering rock spires, stone archways, and perfect sunsets. Great for a romantic night on the sand, crystal clear blue water washes up around hidden coves providing privacy even on the most crowded of nights. Great for a few glasses of wine, or a sunset picnic, El Matado State Beach is more than just a hidden gem nestled just north of the more popular Malibu. Two things to keep in mind: expect some naturally occurring beach tar from time to time and there are no facilities or drinking water available at El Matador State Beach so be sure to come prepared. A short drive from El Matador State Beach is Trancas Vineyards for wine tasting and boutique accomodation.