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These Are The DIRTIEST Beaches In California 🤮

Bird poo.


Polluted runoff.

Not things you want to be touching at the beach, but at some beaches in California, you have NO CHOICE.

Have YOU been swimming at these beaches without knowing?

Read this post so you know exactly which beaches are the ones to avoid if you want the best chance of staying clean and fresh. 

Make sure you read to the end where we include important tips to use, so you and your loved ones can stay safe while enjoying the beaches of California. 

We’ll also reveal the cleanest beaches that make it onto the ‘Honor Roll’ of beaches.

The information in this post is according to the Beach Report Card 2022-2023 produced by the non-profit organisation ‘Heal the Bay’.

Some of the places on the list might not be a stereotypical beachfront, but more of a waterfront area.

Beach Bummers List

The ‘Beach Bummers List’ are the beaches that have been singled out as having the worst water quality, typically because of things like fecal pollution. 🤮

Let’s go through 9 California beaches that make it onto the list.

1. Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)


This beach repeatedly appears on the Beach Bummer list. 

Despite efforts like installing a stormwater capture system, water quality issues persist, mainly due to bird feces and polluted runoff.

2. Linda Mar Beach / Pacifica State Beach (San Mateo County)

A recurring Beach Bummer, this beach on the Pacific Ocean is polluted by runoff through San Pedro Creek.

3. Marlin Park (San Mateo County)

This beach has consistently been a Beach Bummer, located in a network of human-engineered channels near Foster City, suffering from poor water circulation and lingering pollution.

4. Erckenbrack Park (San Mateo County)

Repeatedly listed as a Beach Bummer, this beach faces water quality issues due to its location in a network of channels with limited water circulation and high human development.

5. Tijuana River Mouth (San Diego County)

Affected by the discharge of millions of gallons of sewage annually from Tijuana’s impaired sewage infrastructure and the Punta Bandera treatment plant.

6. Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Ave. (San Mateo County)

pillar point harbor

Located in a harbor with storm drain outfalls, the beach suffers from polluted water that is not effectively flushed away due to harbor seawalls.

7. Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach (Los Angeles County)

An enclosed beach with little wave action and poor water circulation, leading to bacteria pollution. Most pollution is attributed to birds.

8. Poche Beach (Orange County)

This periodic Beach Bummer receives polluted runoff from a nearby storm drain.

Issues with equipment designed to clean storm drain runoff have impacted water quality.

9. Gull Park (San Mateo County)

Part of the same network as Marlin Park and Erckenbrack Park, this beach suffers similar water quality issues due to poor circulation and urban runoff.

Staying Safe

Remember, while some beaches have periods of poor water quality, conditions can change over time. 

This means bad beaches can be good beaches and good beaches can have periods when they’re cleaner.

To give you the best chances of staying safe, make sure you use the following tips.

Check Recent Water Quality Reports

Before visiting, check the most recent water quality reports or grades for the specific beach.

water quality

The Beach Report Card provides weekly and annual updates on water quality at over 700 beaches, which can be accessed through their website and app.

Avoid Water Contact Post-Rainfall

It’s advisable to avoid contact with ocean water at these beaches for at least three days following significant rain events.

Rain can wash contaminants and pollution into the ocean, significantly lowering water quality and increasing health risks.

Look for Warning Signs

Pay attention to any warning signs or beach closure notices at the site.

These are usually placed by local health agencies when the water quality is unsafe for swimming.

Avoid Swimming Near Outlets

storm drain

Avoid swimming near storm drains, rivers, or streams that flow into the beach.

These areas are more likely to contain higher levels of pollutants.

Consider Beach Type

Open beaches typically have better water quality than enclosed beaches or those near storm drains or rivers.

If you have options, choose beaches with better circulation and less likelihood of pollution.

Be Aware of Specific Beach Issues

Each beach has unique challenges.

For example, the Santa Monica Pier has issues with bird feces, while the Tijuana River Mouth is affected by sewage discharges.

Awareness of these specific problems can guide your decision on whether to swim or not.

Observe Water Clarity and Odor

If the water looks murky, discolored, or has a foul smell, it’s safer to avoid swimming.

Practice Good Hygiene

If you choose to swim, avoid swallowing water and thoroughly wash yourself with soap and water afterwards.

wash with soap

Be Cautious with Vulnerable Individuals

Young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should be especially cautious, as they are more susceptible to waterborne illnesses.

Stay Informed

Regularly check updates from local health departments or environmental organizations like Heal the Bay for the latest information on beach water quality.

Staying informed and taking these precautions can help ensure a safer and more enjoyable beach experience.

Beach Honor Roll – The Cleanest Beaches in California ✅

The “Beach Honor Roll” is part of the Beach Report Card from Heal the Bay.

It honors beaches with exceptional water quality and it’s pretty hard to achieve.

Criteria for Inclusion in the Honor Roll

Consistent Water Quality: A beach must be checked every week all year.

It needs to get an A+ for all seasons and weather conditions, like Summer Dry, Winter Dry, and Wet Weather.

Zero Bacterial Exceedances: The beach should not have any bad bacteria levels all year.

Beaches on the Honor Roll (2022-2023 Report)

For 2022-2023, there were far fewer beaches on the ‘Honor Roll’ compared to the year before.

Only Two Beaches Qualified!

Just two beaches made it, compared to 51 the previous year.

This big change was due to lots of rain, which made the water quality worse at many beaches.

The beaches that made it onto the Honor Roll list were

Point Loma, Lighthouse, San Diego

Point Loma, Lighthouse, San Diego

Known for its picturesque setting, the area of the historic Point Loma Lighthouse in San Diego, is renowned for its outstanding water quality.

This area has made it onto the Honor Roll for maintaining high water quality standards throughout the year, even during varying weather conditions.

Bean Hollow State Beach, San Mateo

Bean Hollow State Beach, San Mateo

Bean Hollow State Beach, located in San Mateo County, is another beach that achieved Honor Roll status.

This state beach is celebrated for its natural beauty and unspoiled coastline.

Its inclusion on the Honor Roll highlights its consistent excellence in water quality, providing a safe and clean environment for beachgoers.

So even though San Mateo had quite a few of the worst beaches in California it has one of the two that made it onto the honor roll.

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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