Travel Experts Share Their 25 Favorite Beaches In California For Families! (And An Insider Tip For Each One)

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Day Trips From Los Angeles, Destinations, Family Adventures, Travel Tips, USA, West Coast

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Family travelers can’t think of California without imagining its glorious weather and beautiful beaches. With 840 miles of coastline, 420 beaches stretch out under the golden sun, perfect for family vacations. The greatest thing is that all California beaches are open to the public for all family ocean lovers to enjoy. With so many options, parents will appreciate the travel experts who share their favorite ones in Southern, Central, and Northern California. Plus, they tell us one (secret!) kid-friendly activity family travelers cannot miss when visiting! Unless otherwise noted, each photo is also taken by our expert.

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1 Best Southern California Beaches For Families




Best Southern California Beaches For Families

Ocean Beach – San Diego

San Diego’s Ocean Beach is the ideal beach destination to take your family on a weekend getaway in California

Located just north of Point Loma, this laid-back approximately mile-long beach with a charming hippie vibe offers families a unique throw-back to the California of olden days. Its pier is the longest of its kind on the West Coast that splits into an iconic T-shape.

One of the great things about Ocean Beach is that there are many activities available for families with children. Whether it’s swimming or surfing at one of their designated beaches or simply going out for ice cream after dinner, there’s something each family can enjoy here.

There’s even a playground equipped with swings and slides located near the pier where kids can have fun while parents relax.

Taking a stroll down Newport Avenue provides opportunities to do window shopping and gives kids a chance to see all sorts of colorful street performers who frequently visit throughout summer months.

One must-do activity for any visit to Ocean Beach is a walk along the Ocean Beach Pier. It’s a great spot to take in the views, watch surfers catch waves, or simply relax and enjoy the sound of those crashing waves. Adventurous can try their surfing skills at the designated surfer-only beach at the end of Newport Avenue.


Insider Tip

No trip to Ocean Beach would be complete without trying out Hodad’s on Newport Avenue. This is a great spot for grabbing some of the best burgers in San Diego, which can be enjoyed outdoors with views of the beach.


Where To Stay In Ocean Beach

There are no chain hotels in Ocean Beach, which make it more special. For those looking for upscale lodging, the Inn at Sunset Cliffs is terrific. But those seeking something more affordable, Ocean Beach Hotel has more budget-friendly rates.

Ocean Beach is the perfect spot to bring the whole family!

By Sara Rodriguez from Mindful Travel


sunset over beach and pier - best California beaches for families

View from Coronado Island into San Diego, California


Torrey Pines – San Diego

Torrey Pines is located just outside of San Diego. It’s a great beach for families visiting the city looking for an escape. The park’s landscape is breathtaking, and it’s an outdoor adventurer’s dream.

Visitors can spend the day sunbathing, playing in the sand, surfing, or swimming. Beach fishing is an option here too! The beach is clean, and it’s a wonderful spot to spend time outdoors or enjoy a picnic as a family.

Hiking is also a popular activity at this state park. Most Torrey Pines hikes are easy routes, making them enjoyable for hikers of all ages and abilities. Some of the top hikes include Torrey Pines Beach Loop, Yucca Point Trail, and Guy Fleming Trail.

These trails offer some of the most stunning views in all of southern California. The famed Torrey Pine trees and weathered sandstone bluffs make for a dramatic backdrop to an afternoon’s adventure in this park.

Insider Tip

On the weekends, the Visitor Center has a free one-hour guided walk at 10:00 am.


Where To Stay At Torrey Pines

After spending a long day soaking up the California sun, relax and unwind at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. The hotel has an awesome location, just a few miles outside of the park. This 4-star hotel delivers when it comes to comforts and accommodations.

Enjoy the beach and all the wonders of Torrey Pines!

By Candice, GS Ginger


Torrey Pines State Beach - Best CA Beaches For Families


Coronado Beach – San Diego

There is no denying that California is home to some of the best beaches in the US, but families spending a weekend in San Diego must visit Coronado Beach.

Found on the island of Coronado in San Diego, this 1.75-mile-long beach sees thousands of visitors each year. Alongside the gorgeous California views, family travelers will find this beach buzzing with life. Spend time surfing in the designated areas, swimming in the sea, playing volleyball, and sunbathing on the white sandy shore. There are picnic tables and a playground just a short distance away from Sunset Park. There are also full-time lifeguards at this beach.

As the sun starts to set, head to their fire rings and cozy up in front of the fire, roast marshmallows, and catch up with friends.

Insider Tip

While dogs are not allowed on the main beach, furry friends can still join in on all the fun at the designated “Dog Beach” located at the north end.

Where To Stay In Coronado Beach

Keep in mind, it is best to get here early as parking can be limited unless families are staying at a hotel nearby – most famously, Hotel del Coronado. In that case, they should enjoy the beautiful walk. When looking for a place to stay, Hotel del Coronado is an incredible choice, and it is located right on Coronado Beach. Even if families decide not to stay here, it is an excellent place for lunch and very popular.

By Sam Opp of Find Love and Travel

ocean and palm trees - Best California Beaches for Families

La Jolla Shores – San Diego

Another beach that’s a crowd favorite is La Jolla Shores! This beach is located in one of the most scenic neighborhoods in all of San Diego and is perfect for those traveling with little ones!

Compared to other beaches in the area, La Jolla Shores is known to have relatively calm and gentle waves. This makes the beach ideal for swimming, boogie boarding, and even surfing for younger kids! Plus, there are lifeguards on duty throughout the day to ensure everyone is staying safe.

Alternatively, if little ones need a break from the sand and water, there are fun playgrounds and a couple of big grassy areas nearby on which to run them. You’ll find fire pits scattered around the shoreline that are great for gathering around to make s’mores and enjoy the local cuisine!


Insider Tip

Just make sure to claim your fire pit before sunset, as this is when the local university students usually show up!


Where To Stay At La Jolla Shores

So, if you’re looking for a family-friendly beach, La Jolla Shores is definitely worth checking out. And for places to stay, check out La Jolla Shores Hotel. It’s located directly on the beach and provides easy access to several nearby attractions and places with its free shuttle service!

By Kristin of Global Travel Escapades
Sunset at beach - best beaches in california for families

Newport Beach Pier – Newport Beach

A great family fun beach day can be found at Newport Beach Pier. This location has to be one of the best beaches in Southern California. The beaches are pristine and consistently cleaned of trash and other items. Families will find plenty of open space, so they won’t feel like they are being crowded by all the other people enjoying the beach. And it just gives off that relaxed vibe that makes it so close to a paradise.

It also helps that the locals are extremely friendly, and there are plenty of things to do at Newport Beach Pier.

One of the top things we recommend is heading to the Newport Beach Pier on a Sunday for a lovely farmers market. Families will find plenty of artisanal foods and crafts here, and after can spend time walking along the boardwalk with all the fantastic boutique shops and food places. Rent an e-bike or scooter to get around and see more. An extra fun activity is taking a boat tour for whale watching or just for sightseeing. It’s a relaxing trip around the coast with the ocean breeze, trying to spot these friendly mammals and get wonderful panoramic views of the land.


Insider Tip

Plan on coming early to get a decent parking spot close to the beach. After 10 am, visitors might have to park a few blocks away.


Where To Stay In Newport Beach

Instead of a hotel, we highly recommend spending a little extra and renting one of the many VRBO beach properties right next to the sand. Nothing beats waking up and stepping outside with a morning coffee to view the ocean at your door. It’s well worth the extra cost just to get that experience.

Nick of The World Overload


Newport Pier Beach With child boogie boarding - Best California Beaches for Families

Photo courtesy of Visit Newport taken by Carol Highsmith


San Clemente Pier City Beach – San Clemente

San Clemente, in Orange County, is the final town on the mythical Pacific Coast Highway and is often described as ‘The Spanish village by the sea”. Within its boundaries are the beaches that make up the “Endless Summer” of California beach fame.

Just south of the San Clemente pier, between T-Street Beach and Linda Lane Beach, San Clemente Pier City Beach is a great family beach spot to kick back, enjoy sunsets and watch surfers shooting through the pier. Restaurants are plentiful in the area, so no need to rush away when hunger strikes.

Unlike many OC beach towns, San Clemente is set back from PCH, so has more of a small-town, quiet vibe away from busy traffic. San Clemente is a popular place for families to both live and vacation, so is well set up for family travel, and there are plenty of fun things to do in San Clemente.

San Clemente is a great place for a laidback beach vacation, and families will appreciate the playgrounds. Our favorite is Linda Lane, a grassy playground that leads straight to another great beach right next to Lifeguard Tower 6.


Insider Tip

One of the biggest bonuses is that the village of San Clemente is walkable and well-connected by public transport, so it’s a place families can visit without a car. The San Clemente Coastal Trail runs through this beach, a 2.5-mile trail that skirts the ocean between North Beach and San Clemente State Beach. The Surfliner Amtrak train stops right beside the San Clemente Pier. There’s also a free trolley that takes visitors around the village and connects to neighboring Orange County beach towns.


Don’t miss San Onofre State Beach, the perfect spot for families to begin their surfing journey. Warm water combines with sunny skies and long, slow waves that give novice surfers the perfect amount of time to get up on that board!


Where To Stay In San Clemente

We recommend staying at a beach house or condo through VRBO, which is perfect for families. Many provide all sorts of free equipment, including bikes, a beach trailer, and beach toys. They’re also either on within walking distance of the beach and pier.

By Victoria Watts of Bridges and Balloons


families at beach with pier - best ca beaches for families


Aliso Beach – Laguna Beach

Nestled along the picturesque coastline of Orange County, Aliso Beach is the perfect beach destination for an unforgettable family vacation in California.  What sets Aliso Beach apart from other sandy stretches in California is its mesmerizing tide pools, making it an ideal spot for families with curious kids eager to discover the wonders of marine life.

Aliso Beach has a spacious range of activities suitable for all ages. Young children and even older kids can spend hours wading in the shallow waters and searching for fascinating creatures amidst the vibrant tide pools. From small crabs scurrying across the rocks to colorful sea anemones gently swaying with the current, the tide pools provide a captivating hands-on educational experience for young ones.

Aliso Beach’s pristine sandy shores provide ample space for building sandcastles, playing beach volleyball, or soaking up the sun while enjoying a leisurely picnic. The gentle waves at Aliso Beach make it a great spot for beginner surfers, and there are even surf schools nearby that offer lessons for the whole family to enjoy.


Insider Tip

While Aliso Beach is popular among locals, not many people are aware that during low tide, a hidden sea cave is revealed along the northern end of the beach. Venture into this secret cave with caution, and you’ll be rewarded with a magical experience as the sunlight filters through the cracks, casting ethereal rays on the surrounding rock formations. It’s a moment of serenity and awe for families to cherish forever.


Where To Stay In Aliso Beach

When it comes to accommodations, the Pacific Edge Hotel is an excellent choice for families. Located just a stone’s throw away from Aliso Beach, this beachfront hotel offers comfortable and spacious rooms with stunning ocean views.

By Trijit Mallick from Budget Travel Buff



Main Beach – Laguna Beach

Of all the most lively and colorful beaches to visit in Southern California, Laguna Beach hits all the right spots and more to visiting this iconic beach. The Main Beach at Laguna Strip has lifeguards stationed at various points on the shoreline, along with a variety of amenities to enjoy around the beach area.
The gorgeous beach area and beautiful water make it ideal for active families to enjoy a beach day with convenient basketball courts, volleyball courts, and a playground to enjoy. Afterward, walk along the many shoreline trails for fantastic views, hidden coves, and even more natural coastline settings that are easily accessed by an easy hike on the paved trails.
Downtown Laguna Beach exudes that perfect beach town vibe with bars, restaurants, cool shops, and many art galleries representing the famous artists who live in the area. Walk down the main drag to enjoy the street scenes, window shopping, and find a cool spot for a drink, snack, or hearty meal.

Insider Tip

Laguna Beach is made of a string of many beach areas to explore and enjoy that special beach day that delivers on the SoCal experience. The tricky part is finding parking with mostly 2-hour street-side parking, so consider going to a parking lot or staying at a local hotel.

Where To Stay Near Laguna’s Main Beach

We recommend staying right at the fabulous Pacific Edge with its hip and cool vibe oceanside and very affordable prices for this scenic area.
By Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discovery
Ocean and palm trees - Best California Beaches for families

Huntington Beach – Huntington Beach

One of the best beaches in California for families is, without a doubt, Huntington Beach.  Huntington Beach is located along the coast in Orange County.  It consists of 8.5 miles of beach known for comfortable temperatures and great surfing.  And this is where its “Surf City” nickname comes from.

As great as the surfing may be at Huntington, there’s more to see and do there.  The Huntington Beach Pier is an iconic feature of the city and beach.  Enjoy a stroll to the end of the pier to see fisherman fishing and views of surfers catching waves.  In the exact opposite direction of the pier, you’ll find downtown Huntington Beach.  There are shops to explore and restaurants to eat at, but it’s also where you’ll find the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum.  Be sure to go inside and see the way the history of surfing is preserved.

Along the beach itself, you’ll find bonfire pits, an excellent bike path, and plenty of shops to rent bikes from.  If you’re traveling with a pup (or would like to see some), there’s an excellent dog-friendly section of the beach.  The dog-watching here is just as much, if not more, fun than the people-watching!


Insider Tip

Families who ride a bike in the area should note that they’re not allowed to be ridden on the pier itself. They need to be walked on the pier. It’s important to know because those who try to ride a bike on the pier will be called out over a loudspeaker and told to walk it along. This can be embarrassing!


Where To Stay In Huntington Beach

For a great place to stay on your visit to Huntington Beach, consider booking at Huntington Surf Inn.  This hotel offers clean rooms in a great location that’s within walking distance from the beach.  It’s the perfect place to stay for a family beach vacation.

Enjoy your time at beautiful Huntington Beach!

Contributed by Chelsea from Adventures of Chels.


Huntington Beach - Best Beaches in California For Families


Oceanside City Beach – Oceanside

Oceanside is a small-town beach away from the big city hubub. There is a beachfront along the entire town and a nice harbor for families looking for boating activities.

Oceanside City Beach is right in the middle of town and is located to the right and left of the Oceanside Pier, the second-longest pier in California! The four-mile-long beach is sandwiched between the ocean and The Strand, a boardwalk used for walking, rollerblading, and biking. Along the beach, there is a playground and a shop to rent or buy beach toys, umbrellas, and everything a family needs for a beach day. There are also surf lessons for adults, children, or families who want to learn together.

Within a few blocks of the pier, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in town. Check out High/Low for great brunch offerings. Their coffees and sandwiches and open-air dining area are a great way to take a break from the sun.


Inside Tip

Don’t forget to visit the house from the original Top Gun movie right across the street from the pier!


Where To Stay In Oceanside

The harbor is a little further down the Coast Highway, where our hotel pick is. Oceanside Marina Suites is a bit dated, but its roomy suites and harbor views with long patios make it a pleasant place to rest if you don’t mind the musical song of the sea lions serenading you at night.

Oceanside has a little something for everyone, without all the traffic and hustle and bustle of the beaches in the bigger cities.

By Andrew from Flights and Footsteps


beach from ocean view - best california beaches for families


Alamitos Beach – Long Beach

A day trip to Long Beach is one of the best things to do in Southern California. Alamitos Beach is a wide and fun beach. Alamitos Beach has a food concession stand that rents everything a family needs to enjoy a perfect beach day, bikes, surreys, beach chairs and even volleyballs for the free court. Alamito Beach has a bike path for all things wheely like rollerblades and surreys. The water is perfectly calm at Alamitos Beach because it’s shielded by the Port of Long Beach and the breakwater.

Alamitos Beach is right next to Shoreline Village, one of the most popular areas in Long Beach with colorful shops and a waterfront promenade. The wide concrete boardwalk along the marina at Shoreline Village is great for biking, skateboarding, and riding the Surrey family bikes.

The historic Queen Mary docked at the pier is a sight to see. The Shoreline Village also has an arcade with excellent games for all ages. There are many souvenir shops along the harbor and restaurants with water views.


Insider Tip

The famous Aquarium of the Pacific near Shoreline Village is a favorite attraction among families. There are touch pools at the Aquarium of the Pacific which are a hit among kids as they can feel various sea creatures.

Where To Stay In Long Beach

The best place to stay at the Long Beach waterfront is the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, as it is within walking distance to Shoreline Village and all its attractions.

By Anu Agarwal of Destination Checkoff
boat in harbor of shoreline village -

South of the Pier – Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach, nestled in the charming South Bay LA, stands out as one of the best beaches in California for families due to its wide array of family-friendly attractions and activities. Additionally, the beach in Redondo (especially south of the Pier, towards Torrance Beach) is one of the quietest, most kid-friendly beaches near Los Angeles.

The iconic Redondo Beach Pier is a major draw for all ages, offering a quaint place to spend an afternoon browsing the delectable eateries, grabbing a scoop of ice cream, and enjoying the views and ambiance. Families can take leisurely walks along the pier, enjoy the cool sea breeze, and even spot local marine life.

For older kids, Redondo Beach provides thrilling opportunities for kayaking/SUPing (in the harbor), surfing (Sapphire St. is the most kid-friendly), or biking (along the Strand).

Beyond the beach, Redondo Beach and the surrounding South Bay Area boast numerous family-oriented activities, such as the Veteran’s Park or whale watching tours, where families can embark on unforgettable marine adventures together.


Insider Tip

Younger kids will delight in the Seaside Lagoon, a haven of family-friendly fun. The lagoon features a calm and shallow saltwater swimming area, making it a safe and enjoyable spot for children to splash and play. Families can relax on the sandy shore, indulge in the snack bar, play a game of volleyball, and enjoy the children’s play structures.


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Where To Stay In Redondo Beach

There are many affordable hotels in Redondo Beach for families that are near the ocean. One of the best all-around hotels to check out is the Redondo Beach Hotel, Tapestry Collection, located right by the harbor for easy access to activities and restaurants. Whether your family is adventure-oriented or simply looking to relax on a lovely beach, Redondo Beach is an excellent choice for your next family vacation!

By Janelle Axton of Make the Trip Matter


lifeguard tower - best california beaches for families

Muscle Beach – Venice Beach

Muscle Beach is a couple of miles south of the Santa Monica Pier. Although the iconic Muscle Beach is located on Ocean Front Walk, better known as the Venice Boardwalk, the beach by the water is great for surfing, and families can swim in designated areas. It might not be as pretty as some of the other beaches in the area, but what makes it such a fun place to visit are all the things to see and do close by.

For people of a certain age, Muscle Beach is best known for the time Gold’s Gym occupied the space and is the place where Arnold Schwarzenegger used to train in the outdoor gym. For anyone who lived through the 80s and early 90s, these are nostalgic sights. Visitors can still see bronzed bodybuilders pumping iron in the sun.


Muscle beach - best california beaches for families

Muscle Beach is open to all….even potential Presidents! Via Twitter screengrabs from @sovereignbrah/Twitter


For younger family members, it is the skatepark, the 2-mile-long Venice Boardwalk, street performers, and the colorful murals that make Venice Beach special. Rent a bike to explore the many outdoor shops, but it can get busy on the boardwalk. Instead, put on walking shoes and explore on foot.

To escape the bustle of the boardwalk, visit the Venice Canals. It is a little further south and has small walkways along the canals where kids will love watching ducks swimming past and admire the different styles of buildings.


Insider Tip

Close to the canals, and only two minutes from the beach, is Bellissimo Venice, a small deli with a couple of tables outside. This is a local favorite.


Where To Stay In Venice Beach

Most of the places to stay close to the beach can be a bit noisy. Families who want a beach view, a rooftop deck, and proximity to the skatepark can stay at The Hotel Erwin. A quieter option is The Kinney Venice Beach, which is further from the beach. This is a good option for families because it has ping-pong tables, hammocks, and a small pool.

By Kristin of Scotland Less Explored 


Beach In Front of Muscle Beach - Best California Beach For Families.


Santa Monica Pier – Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a city about 15 miles west of downtown Los Angeles that boasts one of the most family-friendly beaches in the United States, with many activities and cultural attractions.

Many people flock to the iconic Santa Monica Pier which extends from the intersection of Colorado Avenue and Ocean Avenue and stretches out into the Pacific Ocean.

Some of the most popular activities here are sunset watching, exercising and enjoying a ride on the iconic Ferris Wheel also known as the Pacific Wheel.

There are also carnival games, a roller coaster called the West Coaster, a carousel, and various shops and restaurants along the pier. The pier also serves as a hub for fishing enthusiasts, with designated areas for casting a line into the ocean.

The pier is not only a recreational spot but also hosts events and concerts throughout the year. Its lively atmosphere, stunning ocean views, and range of entertainment options make it a must-visit attraction for families visiting Santa Monica.

Santa Monica has several cultural and artistic attractions that make for a fun and educational family trip. The Annenberg Community Beach House, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and the Bergamot Station arts complex are just a few examples of the city’s artistic offerings.

Third Street Promenade is a pedestrian-only shopping street lined with shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It’s a great place to shop, dine, or catch a street performance.


Insider Tip

Arrive at the beach early morning as opposed to later, as it can be difficult to find parking, and spots fill up quickly, especially on weekends.


Where To Stay In Santa Monica

There are several family-friendly hotels in Santa Monica, but our favorite is the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, right across the street from the bluffs of Palisades Park, overlooking the ocean. There is poolside service and a pool area surrounded by tropical foliage. Rooms are spacious and bright, and more private bungalows are available for a beachside special treat.

By Daria from Explore Baja California


Santa Monica Pier - Best Beaches in California for Families

Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash


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Surfrider Beach – Malibu

Families looking for a quintessential Southern California surfing experience have to visit picturesque Surfrider Beach in Malibu, which became popular after it appeared in several movies during the 1950s.

Part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach, which also includes the Malibu Pier and the Malibu Lagoon, this beach is a must for any aspiring surfer. While surfing is great at this beach, swimming opportunities are a bit limited due to rip currents in some parts of the area. Other popular activities at Surfrider Beach include diving and volleyball. The beach has a soft golden sand, which is perfect for sunbathing. On a calm day with no wind, you can also enjoy kayaking and paddle boarding.

This beach provides 90 parking spaces, which isn’t that many considering how many people come here. There are also restrooms and picnic facilities in the area.

The beach has showers and restrooms. There are no snack bars or restaurants, so bring snacks or a lunch. However, the adjacent Malibu Pier has a few food options.

Parking is accessible via bus 534 at Pacific Coast Highway and is open from sunrise to sunset.

Insider Tip

There is parking in a paved lot at the entrance to the lagoon. On weekends, parking spots fill up quickly, so it’s best to arrive early and wrap up before it gets busy and the area runs out of parking.

Where To Stay In Malibu

If you want to spend a night in the area, book your stay at the Surfrider Malibu, a popular beachfront hotel.

By Daria from Explore Baja California.

Zuma Beach – Malibu

Malibu’s beaches are the stuff of Los Angeles legend and one of California’s best beach towns for families! The celebrity-studded city of Malibu, located within the Santa Monica Mountain range, is about 3o miles west of Downtown Los Angeles. Malibu has about 30 miles of coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Zuma Beach is located in the northern part of Malibu, past its famous pier and Surfrider Beach. Past the quaint yet sophisticated shopping villages of the Malibu Country Mart and Malibu Lumber Yard.
The Zuma Lagoon separates the two sections of Zuma Beach. The north side has eight connecting lots with 2,000 spots managed by Los Angeles County. The south side is called Westward Beach (still Zuma) and is flanked by the beautiful Point Dume Natural Preserve (more on that later).
Enter the Zuma Beach parking lots from an access road off PCH. Use 30000 Pacific Coast Highway for GPS purposes. Look for the little green Zuma Beach sign pointing left after the Zuma Beach Plaza shops.
Fees vary by season and weekday/end but range between $8-$15. There is also plenty of free parking along PCH, but be careful to read posted signs as some spots are (oddly) restricted, and if families choose to park on the opposite side of the highway, they must be super careful as PCH traffic runs fast. We wouldn’t recommend doing this with young kids.
The lifeguard headquarters are in the middle of the eight parking lots, which is reassuring. There are also beach wheelchairs available there. Surfing all along the beach is allowed until it gets busy, then it’s restricted to Station 14, the last lifeguard tower in Zuma.
Everywhere else, families can boogie board or swim but be aware of riptides. Lifeguards are good about coming out of their towers to supervise when they observe a particularly pesky current. Be sure to look for migrating Gray Whales and pods of dolphins that regularly bob through the water.
Walk along the 1.8 miles of beautiful coastline or play on the generous 105-acre sand beach. Summers find the north side of Zuma packed with blankets and even tents. Families will bring their own bbq grills, and some might even bring their RV into the parking lot. In the winter, things are quieter, and the city piles dunes of sand across the beach to prevent powerful waves from eroding the landscape. When it’s calm, it’s the perfect time to bring boogie boards and sled down the impressive sand formations.
Overall, Zuma is a very clean and well-maintained beach. Food is available from Vintage Grocers or Starbucks across the street from Station 14.

Westward Beach (South Zuma)

Enter the south side of Zuma from PCH onto Westward Beach Road, a small road with minimal traffic that lends Westward Beach its name. Here, lucky families can try and snag free parking before hitting the paid lot past the sheer cliffs.
This is where we went when the kids were super little because it’s less crowded and it felt easier to keep track of two new walkers. However, the waves here are more brutal, gathering at the edge of the sand and hurling themselves with vicious force. Beachgoers pretty much have to throw themselves through the wall of water to get to the calmer other side, but obviously, kids aren’t going to do that. Or at least young kids. Pro-surfers will, however, and visitors will occasionally observe local ones, like Kelly Slater, practicing their quick bails as the finicky waves combust.

Insider Tip

Bordering Westward Beach, on its south side, is Point Dume Beach in Point Dume Natural Preserve. Dramatic piles of boulders and cliffs hide small beaches. Visitors will often see rock climbers attempting to scale the craggy formations, and the area’s beauty often attracts wedding parties.

There is a hiking trail that starts at the end of Westward Beach, inside the parking lot. An out and back trail, young families can stop at any plateau and call it a victory after ascending to a glorious view of the ocean and a secret beach. Pirate’s Cove is just past the rocky outcrop blocking it from the rest of the contiguous sand. The trail leads adventurers to the top of the bluff and also leads to another trail leading to another favorite beach, Little Dume.


Where To Stay In Zuma Beach

The Malibu Country Inn is a boutique hotel located right next to Westward Beach. The throwback hotel has rooms with patios and ocean, mountain, and garden views. Kids will love its proximity to the ocean, and parents will love their reasonable rates! A heated pool is an alternative to the cool ocean. Play available board games or throw a stick to Fido because he’s welcome to join too.

Rina Nehdar of


family of four on beach - best california beaches for families


El Matador State Beach – Mailbu

El Matador State Beach in Malibu is a picturesque spot for a family beach day. The stunning rock formations lining the beach present a dramatic ocean atmosphere, making it a popular spot for families and photographers capturing their milestones.

The beach is popular because it’s great for a variety of activities. Families can swim in the water, sunbathe on the sand, and hike to the top of the rocks.

One of the best activities to do is to explore the impressive rock formations. During low tide, visitors can walk through several cave-like openings in the rocks, going beach to beach through narrow passageways. Be sure to check the tide, though – when it rolls in, access back to where you came from can become submerged underwater at high tide.

Some of the rocks have small tidepools formed on their surface. These tidepools are sometimes filled with small sea anemones and starfish.


Insider Tip

For those visiting for the first time, know that the small parking area is often busy or full. However, parking along Pacific Coast Highway is free.


Where To Stay At El Matador State Beach

Near El Matador State Beach, the Malibu Beach Inn is a great hotel with rooms that offer stunning views of the Pacific. The hotel has high-quality amenities that make every stay feel comfortable and luxurious.

By Monica from This Rare Earth


opening through rocks on the beach -


Central California Beaches

Miramar Beach – Santa Barbara

This will sound like a cop-out, but any beach in Santa Barbara will be amazing. However, after living there for a year, Miramar Beach is my favorite.

Because of its positioning in a small cove, it’s perfect for families as you won’t have large waves, it’s slightly less crowded, and it offers over a mile of beach, allowing families to take long walks. Plus, if they stay at the hotel, they’ll have almost everything they need on-site.

As for things to do in Santa Barbara (there’s a lot!), here are some of our favorites. Hit the trails and go hiking. With most popular hikes less than 20 minutes from downtown SB, it’s so easy to get active in the area. The top hikes are Cold Springs Loop, Santa Barbara Hot Springs, or Inspiration Point. Furthermore, spending time at the Santa Barbara Zoo is a family favorite, along with watching surfers at any of the numerous beaches in addition to Miramar Beach.

Now, let’s talk about food! Everything in Santa Barbara is delicious, but the sushi really hits the spot. Our two favorites were Oku and Arigato. Plus, no trip to SB is complete without a trip to McConnell’s Ice Cream, which is absolutely amazing, and the kids will love you for it!


Insider Tip

If you’re going to the hot springs, the parking lot is very small (only a handful of cars), so make sure to get there early or go for sunset.


Where To Stay In Santa Barbara

Miramar Beach is tucked away and right in front of the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel, but you don’t have to be a guest to use it. Though we recommend it for its coastal elegance, wonderful on-site restaurant,s and convenient beach access (plus available loungers and umbrellas!)

Your trip to Santa Barbara will be one you will remember for a long time. It’s such a fantastic city, and we can’t wait for you to experience it yourself!

By Alec Sills-Trausch of Alec Sills Trausch Photography


Santa Barbara's Coast - Best Beaches In CA For Families


Pacific Grove – Monterey

One of the best things to do in Monterey is spend time at Pacific Grove beaches, five miles of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Shoreline Park is the official name of the coastline along Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It goes from Hopkins Marine Research Station (next to Monterey Bay Aquarium) around the Monterey Peninsula to Asilomar State Beach. The western one mile portion, Asilomar State Beach, is in a protected reserve, and no collecting or fishing is permitted (including shells).
But the tide pools between Asilomar and Point Pinos Lighthouse are amazing and very popular with kids of all ages during low tide when they’re best viewed.
When low tide coincides with sunset, then you have a winning recipe.
Parking can be a challenge along the Pacific Grove coast during peak periods. When you find a spot along Ocean View Boulevard, make sure you pull all the way off the road and do not block any part of the bike lane.

Insider Tip

Lover’s Point Park is a mile and a half from the lighthouse toward Monterey and has a swimming pool, boat and bicycle rentals, volleyball court, snack bar, and a great park and beach for families. If families visit the area during the monarch migration (winter months), look for the trees that often have thousands of gorgeous butterflies.

Where To Stay In Monterey

Our favorite place to stay in the area is Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, right in the middle of Cannery Row.
By Charles McCool of McCool Travel
wave breaking on rock - best ca beaches for families


Garrapata Beach – Big Sur

There are many beaches along the California coastline, but Garrapata Beach in Big Sur, just 6.7 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, is one of the best for families.

The beach has beautiful soft sand with stunning jagged mountains just beyond the sand. There’s a parking lot located just a short and easy walk away from the beach, so it should make it easy to haul the family beach gear to and from the car. Also, the beach is dog friendly too!

Make sure the kids keep their eyes peeled, as sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters frequent the waters here. And the California gray whales pass by each year during their migration!

Garrapata Beach is located inside Garrapata State Park, which is completely free to visit. There’s lots to do at the park, which makes it especially perfect for families. After frolicking in the ocean, plan a hike to enjoy even more gorgeous coastal views. For families with smaller kids, there’s a short 0.6-mile hike and longer ones for more adventurous children.

Insider Tip

But the most unique part about Garrapata Beach is Calla Lily Valley! Just down a trail from the beach, this valley is filled with calla lily flowers during the spring. Plan to visit this time of year if you can to experience this stunning sight!

Where To Stay In Garrapata Beach

Families can spend their entire vacation at nearby Carmel-By-The-Sea and stay at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, which offers suites that are perfect for families. Or, opt to do the incredible Big Sur road trip and make this one of your stops along the way.

By Adam and Kathryn of Adventures of A+K
a cove of sand bordered by grassy cliffs and the ocean - best california beaches for families


Moonstone Beach – Cambria

Moonstone Beach in Cambria offers families much more than the ocean and sand between their toes. Moonstone Beach features a one-mile-plus boardwalk along the coast with expansive views of the Pacific and rugged bluffs. The boardwalk, on a cliffside just above the sand, is adorned with windswept Monterey cypress trees, shrubs, and seasonal wildflowers, making for an easy walk for kids of all ages. Then there is the beach itself, accessible via stairs from multiple spots along the way. A section of the beach consists of shiny, smooth, colorful stones, among which you might find the famous moonstones the beach is named after.

The beach is bookended by two sites that make this a great destination for families. At the southern end is Shamel Park – a community park featuring a playground area, a gazebo, picnic tables, restrooms, and a seasonal swimming pool. Making memories in a playground right by the beach teeming with birds like pelicans, cormorants, and Western gulls is sure to be special for kids.

Insider Tip

Leffingwell Landing sits near the northern end with information boards that educate kids (and adults!) about the largest marine sanctuary in the continental United States – Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Families can rest on the benches or picnic tables and enjoy the marine life in this federally protected area. Don’t forget to bring binoculars. Lucky visitors might even spot whales during migration season. These are just a couple of ways to enjoy your time in Cambria.

Where To Stay In Cambria

Sand Pebbles Inn offers families the perfect spot to relax and linger in beautiful Cambria. Opt for a room with an ocean view or a gorgeous patio overlooking the coast and boardwalk. If that’s not enough, they bring a freshly prepared complimentary breakfast to your door that can be enjoyed in your room or carried to the beach. Dogs are welcome in certain rooms for an additional $25.

By Farha Mukri at Trips Come True

moonstone beach - best beaches in california for families

Morro Strand State Beach – Morro Bay

Morro Bay has a collection of the best family beaches in California. They boast stunning natural beauty with a picturesque coastline, pristine sand, and the iconic Morro Rock. The breathtaking views create a serene and relaxing family environment. Morro Bay is a must-stop on an LA to San Francisco road trip.

Our favorite spot, Morro Strand State Beach, is a great place to relax on the sandy shores of this family-friendly beach. It’s an excellent spot for sunbathing, beachcombing, building sandcastles, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, and flying kites. Boat tours and whale-watching excursions are also popular options.

Families can stroll along Morro Bay Harbor to watch the boats sail in and out. Kids can visit the marina and the bustling waterfront, where they might spot sea otters and sea lions.

Start a family visit by exploring the iconic Morro Rock, a volcanic plug that rises majestically from the ocean. It’s an iconic spot for taking photos and enjoying scenic views of the bay.

Then visit Morro Bay State Park. This state park offers a variety of activities, including hiking, picnicking, and birdwatching. The park has several trails with stunning bay views and opportunities to spot local wildlife.


Insider Tip

When visiting Morro Bay, check out “The Sandspit,” a narrow stretch of land located between the Morro Bay Harbor and the ocean. You’ll need to take a short hike through the Morro Bay State Park to get there.


Where To Stay In Morro Bay

The location of La Serena Inn makes it a great place to stay for families visiting Morro Bay. The property is about a half mile from the beach and only a few minutes walk from Bayfront restaurants.

By Yukti From Travelwithme24x7


Morro Bay Rock - Best Beaches in California For Famiies


Best Northern California Beaches

Fern Grotto Beach – Santa Cruz

For families looking for a secluded and kid-friendly beach in California, Fern Grotto Beach in Santa Cruz is a hidden gem that deserves your attention. Tucked away from the bustling crowds, this picturesque spot offers a tranquil oasis for families to unwind and create lasting memories.

Fern Grotto Beach is a perfect recommendation for families because of its serene and relaxed atmosphere. Unlike some of the more popular beaches in California, this hidden beach in Santa Cruz is lesser-known, providing a peaceful and intimate setting for families to enjoy without the worry of overcrowding.

Families can partake in a variety of enjoyable activities while at Fern Grotto Beach. The beach’s calm waters are ideal for swimming, making it a safe and enjoyable spot for kids. Explore the tide pools and discover fascinating marine life together or take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline to collect seashells. Picnicking under the shade of the nearby trees is a delightful way to enjoy a family lunch while appreciating the beach’s natural beauty.


Insider Tip

During low tide, a hidden cave becomes accessible to visitors. Kids will love exploring this secret nook, and it can make for an unforgettable adventure. Remember to check the tide schedule before visiting to make the most of this unique experience.


Where To Stay In Santa Cruz

For a comfortable stay near Fern Grotto Beach, the Seaside Haven Resort comes highly recommended. Situated just a short distance from the beach, this charming resort offers family-friendly amenities such as spacious rooms, a swimming pool, and a play area for kids. Its proximity to the beach allows families to conveniently spend more time on the sands and less time commuting.

By Trijit Mallick from Budget Travel Buff


Fern Grotto Beach with a couple hugging - Best CA beaches for families


Stinson Beach – Marin County

Located on Highway 1 in the tiny coastal town of Stinson Beach, the namesake Stinson Beach is famous in an area that is not particularly known for its beaches.  Locals know that when the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area is socked in with fog, Stinson Beach is often the sunny exception.  And it is an inviting beach, with its large free parking lot and its wide sandy crescent beach.

Families can bring a blanket, some low chairs, and an umbrella to set up for enjoying its pleasures.  And don’t forget the picnic basket, though a snack bar does operate next to the lifeguard tower.   A lifeguard is on duty from late May to mid-September, and though the surf is usually safe, do be aware that rip tides and even sharks have been known to visit.

Around here, it is advised that beachgoers never turn their back on the ocean.  Many people like to come here even when it isn’t sunny to relax on the sand or enjoy a long surf-side walk.


Insider Tip

The last time we visited, a box at the entrance to the sandy beach held colorful sand toys that were left behind and were being made available for other children to borrow.


Where To Stay In Stinson Beach

The area holds very few lodgings and restaurants.  One that does work nicely for families is Sandpiper Lodging at the Beach, which has six regular rooms and four cabins with kitchens.

By Carole Terwilliger Meyers of Berkeley and Beyond


Couple walking along Stinson Beach Boardwalk - Best Beaches in California for Families