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’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.
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.
Santa Monica & Venice Beach
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.
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.