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REVEALED: The 12 Best & Worst Beaches In Southern California

Have you ever wondered which beaches have the softest sand or which ones are too crowded? 

Well, you’re in the right place to find out! 

From peaceful beaches that few people know about to beaches that might be better to skip, we’ve checked them all out for you.

In this guide, we’re revealing our ultimate list of the 6 best beaches in SoCal and the 6 worst beaches in SoCal.

Did your favorite make the list?

Let’s find out…

Best Beaches In Southern California

Let’s start with the 6 best beaches in SoCal.

1. El Matador State Beach

El Matador State Beach is a stunning beach located in Malibu. 

It’s famous for its beautiful sea caves and large rocks on the shore that you can explore at low tide. 

Many people love to visit because of its breathtaking sunset views and clear, blue waters. 

This beach is often considered to be one of the best in Southern California because it genuinely feels like paradise.

It’s also less crowded than other popular beaches in Malibu which makes it a peaceful spot for a day out. 

2. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is a lively and scenic beach located near Los Angeles. 

It’s well-known for its long, wide sandy shores where many people go to sunbathe, play beach volleyball and surf. 

The beach features a famous pier with a small aquarium at the end which offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. 

It’s also home to many shops and restaurants that line the streets just off the beach so it’s a great spot for families and friends to hang out. 

Manhattan Beach is one of SoCal’s top beaches due to its clean environment and the variety of activities available.

3. Treasure Island Beach

Sergei Gussev / Flickr

Treasure Island Beach is a hidden gem located in Laguna Beach. 

It’s known for its soft sand, clear waters and stunning surroundings, complete with palm trees and rugged cliffs. 

This beach is also famous for its tide pools where you can see colorful sea creatures like starfish and anemones during low tide. 

Kevin Dooley / Flickr

Many people enjoy visiting because it offers a peaceful retreat from busier beaches and has excellent spots for taking pictures. 

Treasure Island Beach is often considered one of the best beaches in Southern California due to its natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere. 

4. Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad State Beach is located in the town of Carlsbad which is in the northern part of San Diego County. 

This beach is famous for its long stretches of sandy shores where you can sunbathe, swim and surf in the waves. 

It’s also a great spot for fishing off the coast or having a relaxing picnic by the water. 

The beach has a campground nearby, making it a popular place for families to stay overnight and enjoy the natural surroundings. 

Many people consider Carlsbad State Beach one of the best in SoCal because it is less crowded than other beaches and offers a variety of activities for all ages. 

5. Black’s Beach

Black’s Beach is located beneath the cliffs of Torrey Pines in San Diego. 

Officially, it forms part of Torrey Pines State Beach.

It is well-known for its secluded setting and as one of the most powerful surf breaks in Southern California.

Due to the strong waves, it’s only suitable for advanced surfers so don’t try this one out if you’re a beginner! 

This beach is also famous for being a clothing-optional area and so it attracts visitors who are looking for a more natural beach-going experience. 

(Please note that only the northern portion of the beach is clothing-optional).

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The journey to the beach does involve a steep hike down from the cliffs which keeps it less crowded than other nearby beaches. 

Many surfers consider Black’s Beach to be one of the best spots in SoCal due to its powerful waves and less populated surf line.

6. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach is located in the city of Coronado, just across the bay from downtown San Diego. 

It’s famous for its sparkling golden sand which actually twinkles because of the mineral mica found in it. 

This beach is perfect for families because of its gentle waves and wide, clean shoreline where kids can play and build sandcastles. 

The iconic Hotel del Coronado, with its red-roofed turrets, sits right on the beach, adding to the picturesque setting. 

Coronado Beach is often ranked as one of the best beaches in Southern California due to its breathtaking views, accessibility and family-friendly atmosphere.

Worst Beaches In Southern California

Next, let’s take a look at the 6 worst beaches in SoCal.

Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that there really are no bad beaches in California.

They all have their pros and cons but the ones listed below are frequently rated as the ‘worst’ for a variety of reasons that have been noted.

The most common reasons are overcrowding and pollution.

1. Santa Monica Beach

Geoff / Flickr

Santa Monica Beach is located right next to the city of Santa Monica, just west of Los Angeles. 

This beach is famous for its long pier with an amusement park which attracts lots of tourists year-round. 

While it offers beautiful views and plenty of activities, Santa Monica Beach is often considered one of the less favorable beaches in Southern California. 

Steven Straiton / Flickr

One reason is that it can get extremely crowded, especially during the summer and on weekends, making it hard to find a good spot on the sand. 

Additionally, the water quality here has been rated poorly compared to other beaches which discourages swimming and water sports. 

2. Dockweiler State Beach

Dockweiler State Beach is located in the west part of Los Angeles, near the LAX airport. 

This beach is known for its wide stretch of sand and is one of the few spots in Los Angeles where beach bonfires are allowed. 

Even though it’s a stunning beach, it is often considered one of the less appealing beaches in SoCal. 

daveynin / Flickr

One major downside is its close proximity to the airport which means there’s a lot of noise from the planes flying overhead. 

Additionally, the water quality at Dockweiler State Beach is frequently rated poorly due to pollution which makes swimming less enjoyable. 

3. Huntington State Beach

Huntington State Beach is located in the city of Huntington Beach, also known as “Surf City”. 

It is famous for its excellent surfing conditions and large, sandy beaches. 

Despite these popular attractions, it is often considered to be one of the less desirable beaches in SoCal. 

Ken Lund / Flickr

The beach can become extremely crowded, especially during surf competitions and summer weekends, which makes it difficult to enjoy a quiet day by the sea. 

Additionally, the area is known for occasional issues with water quality, particularly after rain, which can affect swimming and beach activities. 

4. Poche Beach

Poche Beach is located in San Clemente, a coastal city in the southern part of Orange County. 

This beach is known for its convenient location near to residential areas and its accessibility for local residents. 

However, Poche Beach is often considered one of the worst beaches in Southern California. 

Graeme Thickins / Flickr

One major issue is the frequent water pollution problems which have led to regular health warnings against swimming. 

Additionally, the beach is covered in stones and can accumulate a lot of seaweed and debris which detracts from its appearance and makes it less appealing for visitors. 

These ongoing issues with cleanliness and water quality have made Poche Beach less popular than other beaches in the area.

5. San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach is located in north San Diego County and is known for its rugged beauty and popular surf breaks. 

This beach is famous among surfers for its waves and has a rich surfing history. 

However, it is often regarded as one of the less desirable beaches in Southern California for several reasons. 

The proximity to the now-decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station raises concerns about water safety and environmental impact. 

Additionally, the beach has had issues with erosion and limited sand, making less room for sunbathers and beachgoers. 

6. Imperial Beach

Imperial Beach is located in the southern part of San Diego County, very close to the Mexican border. 

It is known for being one of the southernmost beaches in California and hosts an annual sandcastle competition which draws many visitors. 

Despite these attractions, Imperial Beach is often considered to be one of the less desirable beaches in SoCal. 

A major issue is the pollution that frequently affects the water quality, often linked to sewage spills from the nearby Tijuana River. 

This pollution leads to regular beach closures, especially after rain, which can limit when people can safely swim or surf. 

Because of these ongoing environmental challenges, Imperial Beach does not offer the clean and enjoyable beach experience found at other Southern California beaches.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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