California’s Best Beach Towns (& Where to Stay!)

Approximately a 4 minute read

California is known for its diverse terrain, including arid deserts, lush forests, and fine beaches. Here are some of California’s best beach towns, from north to south. You’ll find a couple of the characteristics that set each town apart as well as hotel recommendations for when you plan your trip. 

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Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz’s reputation precedes it as one of the premier surfing areas in America. 90 minutes south of San Francisco, the beach community retains a small-town feel despite its popularity. Set in one of the state’s most beautiful regions, visitors can explore both redwood forests and marine preserves. Santa Cruz’s historic boardwalk is home to the oldest amusement park in California. Or, you may have seen the iconic yellow and black bumpersticker advertising the curious Mystery Spot. Book your stay at Edgewater Beach Inn & Suites which has beachy suites with an ocean view. Or, Dream Inn is a larger hotel with a pool, big rooms, and a retro feel.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is sometimes called “the American Riviera” as a result of its pristine coastline and Mediterranean climate. It is one of California’s most popular vacation destinations. The area is known for wine tasting and has a rich Spanish history. This history is evident in some of California’s finest examples of Spanish colonial sites, including “The Queen of the Missions,” Mission Santa Barbara. I highly recommend chic, hip Hotel Indigo. Alternatively, try Cabrillo Inn at the Beach for a great location and lower price point.

More from The Voyageer: Your first time visiting San Diego (local’s favorites!) 

Santa Monica & Venice Beach

Photo by Annie M on Unsplash

If you only know California beach culture from TV and movies, you are almost certainly thinking of Santa Monica & Venice Beach. They certainly are a couple of California’s best beach towns. The two beaches are connected: Santa Monica’s iconic pier to the north, Muscle Beach below, and Venice Beach’s famous hippie culture to the south. The Santa Monica pier is famous for Pacific Park, an amusement park anchored by a roller coaster and Ferris wheel. Stay at the absolutely stunning art deco Georgian Hotel on the beach, or to save some coin, stay at colorful Days Inn Santa Monica to make the most of your budget.


Encinitas is tucked in the perfect spot halfway between Orange County and San Diego. The beaches there are long and expansive. The shoreline can be characterized by cliffs in places, creating secret alcoves. Stop in to the Self-Realization Fellowship for some introspection in a beautiful garden, then shop along Old Highway 101 which holds mom and pop shops local surf outfitters. Kids will certainly be begging to go to Legoland, as well. Check in to Best Western at Moonlight Beach, up the hill from the beach, which has a nice view.

Photo by Outsite Co on Unsplash


Coronado  certainly means “crowned” for a reason. This city is known as an island, but is located on a peninsula in the San Diego bay. Coronado’s beach is characterized by its soft, clean white sand, and has been recognized as one of the best beaches in the world. The unforgettable Hotel Del Coronado, instantly recognizable due to its gleaming white exterior and red roofs, has hosted Hollywood stars, and Presidents since its establishment in 1888. The main street, Orange Avenue, boasts upscale restaurants, shopping, and even theatres. If you want the movie star treatment, book at the Hotel Del Coronado. If you want the glitz without the cost, La Avenida Inn is quite nice with a great location.

Have you been to these California beach towns? Which one(s)? Or, tell me the nicest beach town you’ve ever visited in the comments! 😎

Photos are from Unsplash and photographers credited. 

Two Traveling Texans


Staci blogs about travel at


16 Responses

  1. Santa Monica/ Venice Beach are two of my favorite places in the whole world. I also love La Jolla near San Diego!

    Rachel ||

  2. Hard to choose a favorite! I do love the South Bay area in LA – Redondo, Hermosa, & Manhattan – and I love Coronado. I just wish the water was warmer. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  3. This a great guide for California beach towns. I live in Los Angeles but never had an opportunity to visit Encinitas. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  4. Yessssss, I went to Santa Cruz when I traveled west-USA and LOVED it. I had the best tex-mex in my life there 😉

  5. You know I cannot pass up an article about California’s beaches. I am trying to visit a different town every other weekend and am discovering some awesome places. I have been to all towns mentioned here except Coronado. I mean, I have taken the ferry to the island but have not explored enough (or visited the hotel). Hope to do that soon! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • You won’t be disappointed when you come visit Coronado’s white sand 😀 Thanks for reading, Ruth!

  6. Ah you’ve made me a bit homesick now by reminding me how amazing Encinitas is! I grew up in Vista, just right around the corner and we took family photos in front of the Coronado Hotel! I need to return!! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • Thanks for stopping by! Growing up I always went to Oceanside beach, but when I discovered Encinitas I never looked back 😉

  7. Of all of these, I’ve only been to Santa Cruz! I’ve driven past Santa Monica… but that doesn’t count. I LOVE Santa Cruz, it’s gorgeous. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Out of all of these, I *haven’t* been to Santa Cruz! Haha! Glad you are a fan of it 😀

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