Beach, Please! Where to Enjoy the Southern California Coast

We’ve never considered ourselves beach bums, but the stunning Southern California coast may have just changed our minds.

Though calculations vary, California boasts an estimated 3,427 miles of shoreline – that’s more than 60,300 football fields and nearly 12,450 Empire State Buildings.

With so much shoreline, it’s not surprising that there are 420 public beaches lining the California coast. Among the top locales are:

  • Huntington Beach
  • Laguna Beach
  • El Matador State Beach
  • Santa Monica State Beach

We checked out these beautiful beaches during our trip to California in February – and we may or may not be low-key scouting for another coastal getaway.

Each SoCal beach had its own unique vibe – from Huntington Beach’s chill surf culture and Laguna Beach’s posh locale to El Matador’s exclusivity and Santa Monica’s tourist-friendly pier.

Learn more about the locales below and be sure to watch our video above to see the beaches in action!

Huntington Beach

Why go: Enjoy 10 miles of uninterrupted beaches, breathtaking views, perfect surf conditions and a 1,850-foot-long pier.

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We witnessed something incredible in Southern California: rain. After years of drought conditions, the area was surprised by more rainy days than it had seen in decades (in some areas).

Although that meant there weren’t any surfers in Surf City, USA, we considered ourselves lucky to have witnessed this rare weather and reaped the benefits of its beautiful sunsets, crowdless beaches and stunning photo ops.

Incorporated 110 years ago in 1909, Huntington Beach has earned a number of awards, but it didn’t become widely popular until Duke Kahanamoku brought the sport of surfing to the area in the 1920s. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Huntington Beach’s popularity soared with TV coverage of the U.S. Surfing Championships.

Now, Huntington Beach is the official home of the USA Surf Team and was dubbed “Surf City, USA” in 2008.

Laguna Beach

Why go: Laguna Beach offers gorgeous oceanfront views; its coast is home to more dolphins than the coasts of Florida, Hawaii and the Caribbean combined; and it has been named a top Instagrammable location in the U.S.

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Popularized by the reality TV show by the same name, Laguna Beach is in the heart of Orange County and features 8 miles of coastline and more than 30 coves, beaches and parks.

Many Hollywood stars call Laguna Beach home – we could’ve sworn we saw Joaquin Phoenix (or a celeb lookalike) at Main Beach Park during our visit!

At Laguna Beach, you can play volleyball, bask in the sun, splash in the waves or eat at one of the many cafes that offer ocean views.

El Matador State Beach

Why go: With its massive rock formations, gorgeous coastal views and Instagrammable backdrop, El Matador State Beach in Malibu is a real treat for anyone lucky enough to snag one of the 20 parking spots in the lot.

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Hands down, El Matador was our favorite beach in the SoCal area. When you arrive at the parking lot, head to the cliff’s overlook and you’ll instantly understand why.

You’ll be greeted by towering rocks and, if you go in the evening, the most beautiful golden hour and sunset you’ve ever seen.

The hike down the clay path is a bit dangerous – there are only steps and handrails at the steepest parts of the cliff – so be careful as you make your way down. Mike actually fell while he was filming and scared me half to death! We look back on the video footage now and laugh, but it definitely could have ended badly.

It was all worth it in the end. Just look at that stunning sunset!

Santa Monica State Beach

Why go: This iconic Southern California beach features one of the world’s most well-known piers, which offers visitors a high-energy experience that’s fun for couples and families alike.

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We spent most of our time here exploring the 1,600-foot-long Santa Monica Pier – listening to live music, watching the waves roll in and enjoying the warmth of the sun.

The pier has such a fun and vibrant energy. It’s packed with tourists, musicians and artists – and while this might sound like a nightmare to some travelers, the hustle and bustle is what makes Santa Monica Pier so fun.

One of our favorite experiences was listening to Kiev Morales, a phenomenal pop violinist, play music while we strolled along the pier. It was so romantic to walk hand in hand, listening to his beautiful music playing in the background, gazing out at the sailboats dotting the horizon and watching the dolphins swim along the shore.

What’s your favorite SoCal beach? Tell us in the comments below!

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