With about 1,000 miles of gorgeous coastline, California has many incredible beaches. Many of these are state beaches, which are precisely maintained and usually offer amenities. So which California state beaches are worth checking out? Keep reading to learn about the best ones!
California state parks feature incredible beaches. Whether you’re looking to relax, enjoy water adventures, go camping, or a mix of these, you’re sure to find it at a state beach on the California coast.
Since these destinations are maintained by the state park system and offer amentities for your convenience, you can expect to pay a fee to enjoy these California beaches. Most state beach fees are affordable, and you can also purchase one of the multiple-use passes if you plan to check out various areas or visit more than once.
Let’s get to it and check out the best California state beaches!
1. South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach is just a short distance off of Interstate 5 near San Diego County. This beautiful day-use beach is home to coastal bluffs, incredible views, and exciting beach activities.
With long, gentle waves, Carlsbad is an excellent spot for beginner bodyboarders, surfers, and swimmers. Many visitors also enjoy fishing, seacombing, and scuba diving.
At South Carlsbad State Beach, you can also find bike trails, restrooms, and showers. The park is also wheelchair-accessible. While there’s no extended camping available at South Carlsbad State Beach, there is an area for RVs to park for the night.
Unlike many other California beaches and state parks, Carlsbad is very close to the city. The San Diego area offers many things to see and do if you’re looking to make this your home base for a vacation.
2. Carpinteria State Beach
Enjoy warm waters and sunshine at Carpinteria State Beach, located about 12 miles south of Santa Barbara County. With one of the largest campgrounds in the area, it’s also an excellent place to spend a few days.
Families love hanging out at Carpinteria State Beach. The shore has a gentle slope, and the waves are typically small. Its Tomol Interpretive Play Area is excellent for little ones – featuring a multi-sensory kid zone that includes a slide, a bridge, a canoe, and cave rock art.
If you’re looking to catch some fish, Carpinteria is a great place for it. You’ll just need to be sure you get a state fishing license.
Tip: To go fishing in California without a license, head to one of the designated fishing piers along the coast.
As we mentioned, Carpinteria State Beach is the perfect place to camp. There are more than 200 family-size spots across four loops. You can also find water, sewer, and electrical hookups at many sites.
3. Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Beach is one of the best southern California state beaches. With over 2,400 acres of wilderness in the heart of Orange County, it’s also one of the biggest beaches in the area.
Crystal Cove is a rare, idyllic location, close to the heart of one of California’s busiest urban areas. Whether you’re staying overnight or just visiting for a day trip, it’s well worth a visit. The area’s high cliffs offer unmatched views, so be sure to also explore away from the beach.
Crystal Cove Beach has an underwater exploration area offshore, too. You can either explore on your own or join a guided tidepool walk. There are also trails to explore around the beach and park. And, for stunning scenery, be sure to stick around for sunset!
If you’re interested in spending a night or more, there’s limited camping available in the area.
History buffs also enjoy visiting the area’s historic district area, a collection of 46 coastal cottages set on 12.3 acres of land. Some of these are even available for overnight rentals, and they’re offered at minimal prices to help facilitate access to as many people as possible. Reservations fill up, so plan to book several months or more in advance.
4. Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach is known as California’s first-ever state beach. Today, it’s one of the most popular destinations in California, and for great reason. With over a million visitors each year, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at this large seaside destination.
Many visitors flock to Doheney because lifeguards patrol the beach year-round, which not all other beaches in the area have. Doheny’s north beach is a day-use surf spot with picnic facilities and volleyball courts. Meanwhile, its south beach has campsites for overnight visitors.
Along the beach, you can find tide pools and a visitors center with aquariums. You may even spot a film crew or two while you’re hanging out, as Doheney State Beach is a popular location for movies.
5. El Capitán State Beach
El Capitán State Beach is one of the most developed beaches in California, with a mixture of trees, a sandy shore, and several rocky tidepools. Stairs connect the beach to a nearby bluff area, which provides excellent views.
Activities available at El Capitán include fishing, picnicking, surfing, geocaching, and swimming. There are also guided tours, from educational family programs to scuba diving and snorkeling.
Camping is also available with more than 100 sites on the beach. With that said, spots are somewhat primitive. Restrooms are available, but electrical hookups aren’t.
There are several activities to enjoy nearby, too. There’s hang gliding at the nearby Douglas Preserve area. You can also take a cruise out to the Channel Islands or hike along a self-guided trail.
6. Leo Carrillo State Beach
Leo Carrillo State Beach is a unique beach in Los Angeles County, a little under 30 miles northwest of Santa Monica. The main section of the park is 1.5 miles of sandy beachfront.
The north beach area, above the 3rd lifeguard tower, allows pets. Since not all other beaches in the area (especially the other California state beaches) are pet-friendly, dog lovers appreciate this spot most!
Other fun activities include swimming, surfing, fishing, and beachcombing. Many visitors appreciate exploring coastal caves, reefs, and tidepools. There are also various kid-friendly summer programs.
Leo Carrillo also has a relatively large campground with over 100 spots. Hookups are available for RVs, too. Fires are only permitted when the fire warning level in the area is low enough, so you’ll need an alternative cooking plan.
To take a break from the beach, Leo Carrillo has several hiking trails for different abilities. There are also some awesome spots for wildlife viewing around the park.
7. Manresa State Beach
Manresa State Beach is in Santa Cruz and is one of the most scenic areas along California’s coastline. The beach views are unmatched, the bluffs provide altitude for sightseeing and flying kites, and the wide shore itself is ideal for beach activities and relaxing.
At Manresa, you can participate in geocaching, surfing, and fishing. There are also family-friendly exhibits and programs. Hiking trails offer excellent opportunities for exploring nature away from the beach.
Nature lovers appreciate Manresa State Beach’s two major plant communities. A coastal scrub community includes coyote brush and sagebrush, with numerous birds and rabbits also occupying the area. The lower coastal strand supports plants like beach primrose and sea animals, including whales, dolphins, sea otters, jellyfish, and more aquatic life.
Like most California state parks and beaches, you can also tent camp here. There are fewer spots, but they’re all walk-up, so they’re easy to snag if you book in advance. Conveniences include showers, restrooms, and a campfire area.
Check out other Santa Cruz beaches here!
8. New Brighton State Beach
New Brighton State Beach is just a few miles north of Manresa in Santa Cruz. This relatively thin beach is more of a hidden gem. It sits between the ocean and mid-height bluffs right behind it, offering a more private vibe. And, it’s wheelchair friendly if needed!
We recommend visiting New Brighton in spring or summer when the visitor center is open, and the water is warm enough for swimming. Other adventures include surfing, interpretive exhibits, geocaching, and family programs and exhibits.
Many anglers appreciate New Brighton State Beach, too. You can fish from the pier without a permit (regular limits apply), whereas you do need a permit at many other California state beaches.
If you’re looking to stay overnight, there are many tent and RV sites at New Brighton. They’re all drive-up, no hike-on sites.
9. Pismo State Beach
Pismo State Beach is the perfect destination for a beach vacation. It’s in the middle of a vibrant coastal town with so much to see and do.
Visitors enjoy surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and fishing at the beach. The park is also great for bird watchers and pets!
Pismo State Beach is fantastic year-round, thanks to its sizeable coastal lagoon area and gentle walking trails. Winter even offers a fun experience with the seasonal Monarch Butterfly Grove, where you can see large numbers of migrating butterflies.
Camping for RVs and tent is available across two areas, with tons of amentities throughout the park. Junior Ranger programs and Campfire Programs are also held throughout the year.
If camping isn’t your thing, there are many other accommodations nearby.
10. Refugio State Beach
Refugio State Beach is a relatively long, narrow beach lined by a row of palm trees for a unique background. A nearby creek feeds water to the trees, keeping them lush and green throughout the year.
Refugio is a safe and accessible location, with year-round lifeguards and beach wheelchairs available at no cost.
While Refugio State Beach is similar to many other California beaches, it stands out with its awesome kayaking programs. Guided tours are available for both beginner and intermediate-level kayakers during the warmer months.
Like most other California state beaches, camping is available. There are about 70 main sites, including several accessible locations and ten additional group sites.
11. Salt Point State Park
Southern California may be the most popular place for visiting beaches, but California’s northern regions are definitely worth checking out! Few stand out more than Salt Point State Park, a large area with outstanding views and several distinct regions.
Daytime activities at Salt Point include fishing, picnicking, and strolling on the beach. The seasonal Philips Gulch Waterfall can usually be seen during winter and spring and after any period of rain. This is an excellent place for a hike away from the beach. The park also features horseback riding programs with more than 20 miles of trails.
All of that is more than enough to make Salt Point State Park stand out, but you can also find one of California’s first underwater areas, the Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve. A low tide area lets people walk through, but its real beauty is accessible by diving down and exploring up-close and personal.
Salt Point State Park has over 100 campgrounds, but only the Gerstle Cove Campground is available throughout the year with 30 sites. The Woodside Campground has another 79 spots but is seasonally limited. Extra sites are available for hikers and bikers.
12. San Elijo State Beach
San Elijo State Beach is a popular seaside campground and beach. It follows along the Pacific Coast Highway 101 as a narrow walk right along the shore.
Despite its styling, this is a comprehensive state beach that includes picnic areas, geocaching, swimming, surfing, scuba diving, and fishing. This beach is wheelchair accessible, though steep cliff areas mean detours may be necessary for some areas.
There are also interpretive exhibits and family programs for more entertainment. A nearby reef is especially unique and worth a visit for snorkelers and divers alike. This beach is wheelchair accessible, though steep cliff areas mean detours may be necessary for some areas.
For beachgoers who want to spend the night, there are many campsites around San Elijo State Beach, many of which offer picturesque ocean views. There’s also an on-site grocery store and other amentities during the peak season for a convenient stay.
13. Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach is a gorgeous seaside park in Santa Cruz. Visitors flock here to swim, fish, camp, and explore unique features.
Seacliff State Beach is stunning on its own, but two factors especially stand out for visitors. The park boasts a long fishing pier that many locals and visitors enjoy spending the day. You can also see the SS Palo Alto concrete ship, which was originally built to serve as a tanker in World War One.
For those who want to spend the night, there’s camping available at Seacliff. There are about 60 spots for RVs spread across the park.
Note: There are no tent campsites at Seacliff. The closest state beach for campers to tent camp is at New Brighton.
14. Silver Strand State Beach
Silver Strand State Beach is the southernmost beach of the California state park system. It’s also easily one of the best California state beaches. Located between the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, it’s home to sandy shores, fishing opportunities, and beach activities.
With mild weather year-round, visitors flock to Silver Strand year-round. There are many amentities and lots of parking, making it a convenient beach destination.
The beach is a great place to fish, relax, sail, and more. There are also areas of big waves for surfers and calmer bay water for swimming and sailing.
South of the developed area of Silver Strand State Beach is a 1.5 mile of ocean and nature preserve for more exploring.
For those looking to spend the night, you can also find more than a hundred camping spots.
15. Sue-meg State Park
Sue-meg State Park, formerly known as Patrick’s Point State Park, is one of the best California state park beaches and a historic landmark. Originally part of an area inhabited by the Yurok people, the park now features a traditional Yurok village and unique activities.
Although the park only covers about one square mile, it’s a memorable place to spend a day or more. There are several tidepools, a dense forest area just past the beach, and beach activities. You can also find a native plant garden and tons of opportunities for picnics and hikes.
There’s a well-worth-it hike to the beach, where you can catch picture-perfect views and sightings of sea animals. Many visitors are lucky enough to spot crabs, sea lions, seals, whales, and more.
Like most of the state parks and beaches in California, there are plenty of opportunities for camping at Sue-meg State Park. We highly recommend hanging out for a while because there is so much to enjoy in the area!
California State Beaches FAQ
Still have some questions about California’s amazing state parks and beaches? We’re happy to answer them!
How many California state beaches are there?
There are actually hundreds of state beaches in California! You can check out the entire list here.
Why is there an entry fee for California state parks?
Since most of the state parks in California are maintained by the state, there is an entrance fee. This ensures the parks stay clean and beautiful. Fortunately, you can also find clean restrooms and showers and most of these parks. Most of the beaches and parks also have picnic and camping areas.
What is the most popular California state park?
Crystal Cove and San Elijo are two of the most popular beaches and state parks in California. Crystal Cove is in Orange County, while San Elijo is in San Diego County.
Enjoy California State Beaches!
We hope you’ve found your next beach destination on this list of amazing California beaches! If you live in California or visit often, we highly recommend grabbing an annual pass to get the full experience of California’s stunning coastline.
We wish we could include all the greatest spots, but there are multiple beaches not on this list that definitely deserve an honorable mention: Huntington State Beach, Santa Monica State Beach, San Clemente State Beach, and San Onofre State Beach.
Enjoy your trip to state beaches in California!