When you think of California, picture its stunning coastal towns. But which ones are the best to visit? These best California Beach Towns are must-see places for everyone.
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Arguably the most charming town on the California coast, and the only one designated as a historic landmark, Mendocino was founded in the 1850s and features grand Victorian buildings that sit alongside saltbox cottages. This artists’ colony located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific was also the setting for the popular television series, “Murder, She Wrote,” which doubles as Cabot Cove, Maine, due to its New England flavor. Amidst the stunning scenery and beautiful homes are numerous restaurants, B&Bs, a museum, a bookstore, a toy store, and unique boutiques. Nearby, you can hike through the redwoods, enjoy wine tasting, and visit one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the world.
2. Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is a picturesque fishing village that served as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film, “The Birds,” in which killer birds attack local villagers. If you’re a fan, you might want to stop by the 150-year-old Potter School behind St. Theresa’s Church, located about five miles south of town. It was used for several scenes, although today it is a private residence, occasionally open for visitors.
3. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is one of the most popular places on the California coast and offers outdoor enthusiasts plenty of things to do. You’ll find plenty of thrilling action, including thrill rides like the Giant Bear, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the country, operating since 1924. This is also a great place to enjoy live music while you soak up the sun. and the sand, enter the water with a stand-up paddleboard among otters and sea lions or enjoy a romantic sailboat ride at sunset.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, a former artists’ colony on Monterey Bay, is one of the best coastal towns for romance. Enjoy the wonderful sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks, snuggle up with your loved one by a fire pit along the shore, and enjoy one of the many wine-tasting spots downtown. There are plenty of romantic restaurants serving gourmet cuisine and ocean views, as well as high-end shops and jewelry stores like Tiffany & Co. as well. The castle-style L’Auberge Carmel and Mission Ranch, a former dairy farm saved from developers by the city’s most famous former mayor, Clint Eastwood, offer two of the most unforgettable places to stay.
The southernmost city in the Santa Barbara area may not be well-known, but it has those quintessential Southern California beaches, a laid-back pace, mild year-round weather, and a wide sandy beach with beginner-friendly waves, which are ideal for learning to bodyboard. While mornings in Carpinteria may be cloudy, that’s the perfect time to enjoy the city’s delights, like Linden Avenue, shaded by palm trees and lined with cafes, galleries, and clothing stores.
6. Avalon, Catalina Island
This town on Catalina Island, which can be reached by a short ferry ride from the Southern California coast, has a rich history and is often compared to the Mediterranean with its clear, strikingly blue waters, its lush vegetation, and its houses on the slopes. At Avalon, you can enjoy some of the best snorkeling and diving in the continental US along with plenty of other outdoor activities, as well as shopping, exploring art galleries, and dining on delicious dishes at restaurants with beautiful views of the water.
7. Coronado, San Diego
Coronado offers an island getaway that’s just a stone’s throw from town. A quiet enclave that has dreamy beaches with soft sands and the famous Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888 and crowned by reddish-red turrets that look like castles. Join a guided tour offered by the Coronado Historical Association, where experts share fascinating information about its notable history, as well as its famous guest list, which includes the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Rent a bike from Holland’s Bicycles and enjoy pedaling past grand waterfront mansions or visit Orange Avenue, with its many shops, restaurants, galleries, and theaters.
8. Venice Beach
World-famous Venice Beach is a mecca for eccentrics, with its wide stretch of soft sand backed by a boardwalk filled with runners, skaters, and cyclists year-round. See the muscle builders pumping iron under the sun’s rays and the wide range of performers, from glass walkers and mimes to jugglers and break dancers. You’ll also find plenty of fashion-forward boutiques, great food trucks, and much more.
9. Newport Beach
Newport Beach is a lovely town. Here, you’ll discover unique shops, comfy cafes, and top-notch dining spots like Marche Moderne, a beloved French bistro nestled right near the water. When you’re craving some sunshine, try kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding in the harbor or take a ferry ride to Balboa Island.
Sausalito, located near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, is a great escape for San Francisco locals. But we believe this coastal town is worth a visit no matter where you reside. The harbor is full of vibrant houseboats that might make you reconsider living on land, and Bridgeway, the main street, offers charming shops, eateries, and farmers’ markets. You can also find a couple of public beaches nearby, although the views at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are hard to beat.