The 18 Most Charming Beach Towns in Southern California

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Whether you’re in the market for a day trip or a weekend away, one of these charming seaside escapes is your new happy place. Maybe you want to work up an appetite surfing the waves before indulging in "the perfect burger" at Venice Beach? Or perhaps you’re looking for something a little more low-key, say sampling some local wine and renting an Airbnb right on the beach in Oxnard? Or why not indulge in some retail therapy in Laguna Beach before kicking back with a cocktail while watching the sun go down? All that and more with our pick of the best beach towns in Southern California, featuring gorgeous views, mouthwatering cuisine, thrilling activities and charming vibes. Bon voyage!


charming beach towns in southern california oceanside
Mission Pacific Hotel

1. Oceanside

This low-key beach town has come a long way in the past few years and is now a top destination for foodies and wannabe surfers. The Michelin star dining at the Wrench & Rodent (a seabasstropub) is excellent, and adventure-seekers can learn to ride the waves at sister properties the The Seabird and Mission Pacific. Beginners are more than welcome, but it’s worth knowing that this coastal city takes the sport seriously—The California Surf Museum is here and Super Girl Surf Pro (aka the world’s largest surf event and music festival) takes place here each fall. This beautiful spot is also where you will find the flagship Valle by Chef Roberto Alcocer from Baja (come for the mouthwatering seafood, stay for the stunning Pacific Ocean views), and next door is Charlie’s dessert bar with an entire house of sweets inside the charming Victorian Graves House where they filmed Top Gun.

charming beach towns in southern california encinitas
Aliliea Marea

2. Encinitas

Another formerly sleepy beach town that screams ‘grab your long board’, Encinitas is now a top dining destination with celebrity chef Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Sea and Eurobistro-wine bar Valentina. Another foodie stop you won’t want to miss is Vaga by acclaimed local Chef Claudette Zepeda featuring her Mexican-Asian signature dishes. The beauty of the restaurant is its location—perched on a secluded coastal bluff with outdoor seating areas and firepits, you’ll feel like you’re on your own private beach. When you’re not soaking in the view, stroll into town for the farmer’s market or other coffee shops and cafes.

charmming beach towns in southern california redondo beach
Redondo Beach

3. Redondo Beach

This coastal community hub surrounded by a bustling pier (complete with basking sea lions) and beach bike path offers plenty of great shopping and dining. Don’t miss brunch at BALEENkitchen with a decidedly East Coast vibe, and unwinding at Portofino Hotel & Marina, a waterside property tucked away from the fray where you can serenely see the boats float by from your guest suite. You can have the best of both a city and sea getaway here, and for car or film buffs, this coastal town is famously the final destination of “The Cannonball Run,” a car race from New York to Los Angeles turned feature film, which first ran in 1971 and the annual treks are still made to this day.

best beach towns in southern california butterfly beach montecito
Photo by Cecilia Rosell, Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

4. Montecito

This strip of beach in Montecito came into the limelight when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (seen frolicking with son Archie) decided to trade in British Royal life and call the low-key, yet sophisticated area of Santa Barbara home. Beaches here are pristine, and after strolling through the sands, walk or ride bikes with a sidecar rented from Mad Dogs & Englishmen up to charming, Spanish-style Coast Village Road where star sightings happen on the daily at Lucky’s steakhouse (this is also the hood where Oprah and Ellen live), and next door at Mediterranean hang-out Coast & Olive.

best beach towns in southern california ventura
Ventura Harbor Village

5. Ventura

Sandwiched in between Carpinteria and Oxnard, Ventura Harbor Village is a working harbor, fishing marina and quaint area with plenty of charming shops, galleries, restaurants and waterfront activities. Expect a carousel, stand-up paddle-board and jet skiing with sea lions, a beach cove and surfers, plus it’s dog-friendly. This spot is also where you will find the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, aka “The American Galapagos,” with a viewing tower where you can spot up to 445 species of birds.

best beach towns in southern california venice beach
Visit California

6. Venice Beach

As an artist enclave since the 1960s, you will still find colorful characters walking, biking, rollerblading and body painting on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, but don’t overlook the food mecca this area has become in just a few short blocks. International talents and fare include Aussie-owned Great White for breakfast burritos, OSPI for pasta and Michelin-starred chef David Myers Adrift (from Singapore and Japan) for elevated burgers (dubbed "the perfect burger" by the NYT) and shakes. Head to the roof of the funky Hotel ERWIN for cocktails and the best views of the sunset and spectacle below.

best beach towns in southern california malibu
Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board

7. Malibu

One of the most famous stretches of sea in the world also has pockets of small-town charm in the one-mile area near Carbon and Surfrider beaches. Take a stroll out on the long wooden pier that juts out over the Pacific with a few nautical themed shops and organic food haven Malibu Farm. While you won’t see Baywatch lookalikes running down the shore, you might spot some of the Kardashian clan heading for the private room at Nobu next door to members only Little Beach House.

best beach towns in southern california coronado
Hotel Del Coronado

8. Coronado

At the southern end of San Diego, Coronado island is home to the historic Victorian-style Hotel Del Coronado where Presidents, royals and A-list celebrities have passed though over the past 130 years. Now, families gather near the cabanas for sunset s'mores over the fire pits. Activities nearby include Italian wine tasting while floating through the canals with The Gondola Company, or work out any kinks perfecting your throwing aim with the Coronado Axe Company. You can also stick with the more traditional (and potentially safer) kayaking and paddleboard options at the Coronado Boathouse in Glorietta Bay.

best beach towns in southern california carpinteria

9. Carpinteria

Santa Barbara, just 12 miles northwest, is gorgeous, but nearby Carpinteria is gorgeous and empty. The small seaside village has a walkable main street called Linden Avenue and mom-and-pop establishments including little surf shops, antique stores and cafés. Mostly notably, Little Dom’s from L.A. has recently set up shop with a market-deli, bar and restaurant offering seafood, pasta and those famous meatballs.

best beach towns in southern california san clemente
Facebook/San Clemente Guide

10. San Clemente

This town was brought to national attention in the 1970s when President Richard Nixon hosted world leaders at his seaside home here. Today, surfers look up at the site while catching waves at Trestles. San Clemente is notable for its gorgeous Spanish architecture, so enjoy the red tile roofs and stucco as you’re shopping on Avenida Del Mar. Eat seafood down at the 1,296-foot wooden pier, where you can catch the killer sunset.

best beach towns in southern california manhattan beach
LA County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors

11. Manhattan Beach

There’s a charming 1950s feel to the small businesses in Manhattan Beach, where there’s the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the historic wooden pier and an outdoor fireplace in Mecox Plaza. Only ten minutes south of LAX, this is where your stressed-out out-of-towners should check in to the Shade Hotel, where you can meet them for the weekend so everyone can detox from whatever urban hassles are needling. For retail therapy and food-fuel after hitting the bike path, Manhattan Village is bursting with popular transplants from other parts of the city such as JOEY, BOA and Sushi Roku.

best beach towns in southern california huntington beach
Visit California

12. Huntington Beach

Not exactly a small town (it has around 200,000 residents), “Huntington,” as it’s called, nonetheless has a chill vibe with its 9.5 miles of sandy flat beach, slammin’ waves (thanks to the currents around Catalina) and healthy economy (thanks to a history of oil discovered nearby and the aerospace industry). Plus, how can you not love a town that is home to the International Surfing Museum and has the trademarked nickname “Surf City USA”? Stay at the Paséa Hotel & Spa right next to the pier and schedule an exfoliating body treatment with ginger oil at the Balinese spa there.

best beach towns in southern california oxnard
Visit Oxnard

13. Oxnard

It’s regarded as the new Malibu by entertainment bigwigs who want beautiful wide beaches at prices that aren’t quite as hefty as the more well-known communities. This Ventura County spot is notable for what it doesn’t have: no high-priced restaurants, no chichi boutiques and no keeping-up-with-the-Joneses vibe. However, what it does have is a smattering of international food, a great stock of contemporary vacation rentals bang on the beach and an emerging wine industry—it’s a great starting point for the Ventura County Wine Trail.

best beach towns in southern california cat
Visit Laguna Beach

14. Laguna Beach

There’s a reason why plein air painters clustered around this seven-mile stretch of coastal cliffs and coves as far back as the turn of the 1800s: The area is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It also has 20,000 acres of protected natural land for biking and hiking, and a charming shopping district you can reach by renting an electric bike. Treat yourself to a room at the Montage Laguna Beach, where you can enjoy sundowner cocktails at the fire pit before having a fancy dinner at Studio. For something a little more intimate and low-key, the chic Mediterranean meets mid-century modern style of boutique Hotel Joaquin feels like your own pied-à-terre with a garden area pool.

best beach towns in southern california newport beach
Facebook/Newport Beach

15. Newport Beach

In The Great Gatsby, socialite Daisy Buchanan’s laugh is said to sound like money. That’s the way the air feels in Newport Beach, where the average home clocks in around $2.5 million. Still, you don’t need to be rolling in it to enjoy a weekend here, but you will want to use your savings to stay at the luxe Resort at Pelican Hill, with its Insta-worthy round pool and Italianate architecture. And take a trip to A’maree’s, a soaring modernist designer boutique right on the water that’s set up more like an heiress’s home than a store. Meanwhile, families will enjoy the two piers: Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Pier that features the Balboa Fun Zone, an old-school amusement park with a Ferris wheel and ocean views. 

best beach towns in southern california long beach
Visit California

16. Long Beach

It’s no small town, and it’s located just 20 miles from downtown L.A., but the allure of Long Beach escapes most Angelenos anyway. (Except Lana Del Rey, who highlights the place in songs and videos featuring her love of Cali.) So listen up: There’s a case to be made for Long Beach as your new beachy getaway, with its active LGBTQ community, great food and walkable downtown area. Stay at the jazzy yet affordable Hotel Maya and be sure to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific. In the well-healed Belmont Shores section along Pacific Coast Highway, L.A. nightlife guru Brent Bolthouse and Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina have opened a stunning Bungalow Kitchen outpost designed by Studio Collective.

best beach towns in southern california dana point
ekash/Getty Images

17. Dana Point

Dana Point is all about the sailing—there are slips for more than 2,500 boats as well as a romantic, craggy coast including Headlands, the signature promontory that overlooks Dana Point Harbor. Wide flat beaches are made for long walks, as well as parasailing, windsurfing and boogie boarding. Dubbed the Whale Watching Capital of the Word, definitely enjoy a whale watching tour if you’re going between late November and mid-May. And when it comes to accommodations, keep it casual by staying right across the street from the ocean at the Capistrano Surfside Inn and renting a bike for the weekend without ever once getting behind the wheel of your car.

best beach towns in southern california solana beach
Visit Solana Beach

18. Solana Beach

Your perfect dog vacation is here. At Del Mar Dog Beach, your canines can run off-leash and even swim with you. Stay at the Hotel Indigo with your four-legged friend and make a day of it, then stroll around the walkable downtown, have lunch and browse at the nearby Cedros Design District.

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