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California Beach Vacations: 11 Top Places

California Beach Vacations Simplified


When we think of California beach vacations, we picture sand, clean water and lodging so close you can run out to build a sand castle without getting in the car. The state has so many miles of shoreline you'd think Californians would be dizzy trying to figure out where to spend their vacations, but in fact, much of the coast is rocky, lined with precipitous cliffs or in the middle of a city.

There are still plenty of places to go for your California beach vacations, though. These are some of the best spots for a California Beach Vacation, from north to south.

Beach Resorts

These selected resorts are great places for California beach vacations - the kind where you lay around, get waited on, go to the spa or play a round of golf.


Just big enough to have some nice restaurants and interesting shops, yet small enough to be cute. With a couple of hotels next to the sand, plenty more just a few steps away and a nice little pier and beach, it's got all the ingredients that make great California beach vacations and getaways.

More in the Cayucos getaway guide.

Dillon Beach

Near the mouth of Tomales Bay, this little village on the hillside is packed with rental houses and not far from the Tomales oyster farms and Point Reyes. It's just isolated enough to have the makings of truly memorable California beach vacations.

Try Moore Vacation Rentals or Dillon Beach Property Management to find a place to stay here.

Irish Beach

A small vacation rental community south of Mendocino with private entry to the sand, it has great views and is an especially good place to get away with friends and family.

Laguna Beach

One of Orange County's prettiest coastal towns, Laguna Beach has some great oceanside resorts and hotels, a nice beach area right in town and lots of shops, restaurants and boutiques in town to browse around in.

More in the Laguna Beach Guide.


Malibu is the iconic California beach town, but it's more residential than touristy. Casa Malibu Inn is the only hotel we can recommend in the area, but you'll find nice beach houses for rent through California Vacation Rentals.

More from the Malibu Visitors Bureau

Pismo Beach

Pismo is rapidly becoming our favorite California beach town. There's plenty of sand here - sand to play on, drive on and zip around in if you have an off-road vehicle. The charming downtown faces a nice little pier and you can get a great basket of fish and chips or a cup of clam chowder. What could be more stereotypical?

More in the Pismo Beach Getaway Guide

Mission Beach, San Diego

Not too many tourists know about Mission Beach, on the ocean side of the peninsula that separates Mission Bay from the ocean, making it a great place to enjoy the California beach lifestyle like the local residents do. You'll find lots of beach volleyball nets, a nice paved walking trail, the old-fashioned Belmont Park amusement park and lots of ways to just chill out.

More from the San Diego Visitors Bureau

Redondo Beach

We like this spot in the Los Angeles South Bay for all kinds of reasons. There's a nice, sandy beach. The pier is full of restaurants and amusements and you can catch a fishing boat from the nearby marina.

More about Redondo Beach

Santa Barbara Beach Camping

In our office, we can't agree whether the town of Santa Barbara is a good spot for California beach vacations or not, but it's a little too upscale to qualify in my opinion. However, the nearby coastline is a great place for camping vacations, with four nice campgrounds.

All the details are in the Santa Barbara Beach Camping Guide

Santa Cruz

With a reputation as Surf City and a classic oceanfront amusement park, Santa Cruz is as good as it gets for a California Beach Vacation.

More in the Santa Cruz Vacation Planner

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