Best California Beach Towns to Visit

The coast is home to some of the coolest towns in California. From the north shores of Half Moon Bay, down through San Simeon, and into Oceanside, you’ll soon find there’s no shortage of beaches and breathtaking scenery along Highway 1. Each of these places has its own unique charms and attractions, but the main allure is the beach. If you’re headed to any of these charming destinations, you’ll want to make sure you have one or two pieces of designer swimwear on hand to soak up the sunshine, play in the waters, and decide which of these seaside towns is your favorite. Let’s travel down the California coastline and explore some of the coolest towns in California.

#1: Half Moon Bay

Less than an hour outside of the hustle and bustle of San Francisco is Half Moon Bay, one of the best seaside towns in California. It’s a great place for beach hikes with several routes along the California Coastal Trail. A triangle bikini and a pair of cutoff shorts is the go-to outfit since many of the trails eventually lead to the beach. Wearing water shoes or tennis shoes is a smart choice when exploring tide pools. It will give you a better grip on the slippery rocks and uneven surfaces. 

Half Moon Bay is also home to the Mavericks, an area of beach that has world-famous ocean waves that only the best of the best can surf. It has a slower pace than other towns further down the coast with a small-town feel, but it doesn’t mean there’s a lack of things to do. Nature lovers can get their fix with bird watching, horseback riding, and hiking and biking along the beaches. There’s also kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing available when you want to spend time in the water.

#2: Monterey

Another coastal destination for water activities is Monterey, one of the next big stops as you head south down the coastline. It, too, is known for its allure to outdoor enthusiasts. Like in Half Moon Bay, there are plenty of places to hang out on the sand, but it’s more likely you’ll find people being active in the water. Boating, boogie boarding, and swimming are part of the everyday lifestyle here. Plus, walking along the wharf and exploring Cannery Row are two of the main attractions to take advantage of whenever you’re visiting.

Slip on a designer cover up over your bikini when exploring the main streets. The effortless look of the Lily Vanilla Chemise Tunic or the White Ada Short Chemise are two options that work well for the occasion. The temperatures further north in California can feel chillier than what’s typically found in Southern California, so longer sleeves are nice to have when the breeze blows off the water, but are airy enough to be comfortable on a warm summer day.

#3: San Simeon

The smooth waters and beach area of San Simeon are ideal for swimming, body surfing, and beach picnicking. It’s a picturesque place where you can easily spend an afternoon searching for seashells and appreciating the view. Eventually, you may come across what looks like huge rocks on the shoreline, but as you get closer, you’ll see they’re the town’s beloved elephant seals. It’s estimated that during peak season (January, April, and October), there are up to 17,000 seals spotted along the San Simeon shores.

Another must-see is Hearst Castle. Book a tour and explore different areas of the Hearst family estate. The architecture is striking and the land expands across over 250,000 acres, which is still home to free-roaming zebras, bison, and horses. Due to its vast popularity, it’s recommended to make reservations in advance.

#4: Santa Barbara

Past San Simeon and into the area near Santa Barbara are several wineries that make up the Central Coast. Wine is probably the number one thing Santa Barbara is known for, although, there are plenty of water adventures to take advantage of as well. Sailing and surfing top the list of things to do. There are also several parks that are designed for skateboarding and exploring beautiful gardens and wildlife. Its laid-back appeal mixed with classy charm makes it one of the coolest towns in California. 

It has as much to offer beach-wise as it does arts, culture, and wellness. Whether it’s spending time near the shore or at the spa, you’ll want to make sure you have your swimsuit ready. A sophisticated bandeau bikini swimsuit style will help you blend in with the serene surroundings. Variations, such as bow-tie fronts and one-shoulder straps, help to switch up the look and find the one that works best for you.

#5: Santa Monica

For a mix of activity in the water and on land, Santa Monica has it all. You can choose from sand volleyball, surfing, swimming, and cycling. Plus, you can’t leave without visiting the famous Santa Monica Pier. It has a gigantic Ferris wheel, carnival games, and is the perfect place to feel like a kid again. Keep things casual with a t back bikini or one piece swimsuit that can easily transition from the water to time spent on the shore. 

After a day at the beach, the downtown area has plenty of shops, restaurants, and entertainment mere blocks from the pier. Some of the streets are closed to vehicle traffic, making it an urban oasis where you can listen to street music, participate in a group exercise class, or savor an ice cream cone and people watch. This popular beach town has a casual appeal that’s balanced by the glamorous spin commonly associated with L.A.

#6: Manhattan Beach

This low-key destination often gets overlooked because of the number of other top beaches in California that span from L.A. to Orange County. It’s set up with sand volleyball courts, prime for a casual game or competitive tournament. Also, the oceanfront homes are something to be admired if you want to ride a bike or take a walk along The Strand that winds up and down the coast. It’s one of the smaller seaside towns in California, which only adds to its quaint charm. 

It’s a welcome escape from the city and a less congested spot to visit. It has a farmers market every Tuesday, cute sidewalk cafes, and a local pride that permeates through all the boutiques and other small businesses. 

#7: Long Beach

Although swimming and surfing are as popular as other beach destinations, Long Beach is more known for its historic attractions, particularly the Queen Mary. The ship permanently rests in the harbor and serves as a destination hotel with onsite dining and events. Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can still get a ticket to tour the massive boat, which is claimed to be haunted. There are also outdoor concerts usually taking place in the park nearby. 

Long Beach is known as a boarding destination for those who want to travel on the Catalina Cruiser to the island of Catalina. The short journey takes you to one of the most frequented cute California towns where traveling by golf carts is more common than having a car. Long Beach has more to offer than your average surf town and a day trip here is definitely worth the visit.

#8: Newport Beach

Not too far south of Long Beach is Newport Beach, where deep-sea fishing and whale watching tours are abundant. With the high number of boats in Newport Harbor, sailing is definitely one of the biggest pastimes, although the pristine beaches are also good for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding as well. 

Nearby Balboa Island has a small, waterfront amusement park similar in style to Santa Monica with a smaller Ferris wheel that provides stunning views. Plus, if you’re a fan of architecture and home decor, a casual stroll around the harbor is a fun way to see the different styles of porches residents have decorated. Each one is unique. 

A one piece swimsuit that can double as a bodysuit is a fashionable choice for both Long Beach and Newport Beach to make the easy switch between being in the water and on land. Pair it with designer beach sandals and a pretty cover up and you have a chic outfit to spend time in these Orange County seaside towns.

#9: Dana Point

Known as the “original surf town,” Dana Point has a laid-back culture that combines all the best things about the beach. This includes swimming and surfing at Doheny State Beach, as well as boating, fishing, and kayaking. Out of the water, enjoy the area’s hiking trails, golfing, and biking. It’s the place to do yoga on the beach, walk the beautiful coastline, and set out on a dolphin tour all in the same day. 

Casual wear is welcome, but you can still stay stylish with your favorite designer bikini and beachwear accessories. Dana Point is only one of many of the best California beach towns along this stretch of road. The further south you drive, the more surf neighborhoods you’ll pass through.

#10: Oceanside

Located between Orange County and San Diego is Oceanside, an aptly named town that’s full of local appeal and easygoing vibes. With mostly calm waters and sunny weather year-round, spending weekends at the beach is a regular occurrence. Swimsuits and sandy feet are typical as the area expands to include more restaurants and shops near its boardwalk. The pier is also known for hosting multiple music festivals throughout the year honoring local artists and also, more mainstream acts.

Beyond the waterfront and into the main streets of downtown Oceanside, you’ll find a growing number of craft beer breweries and up-and-coming dining spots. There’s a neighborhood appeal, which feels welcoming even if you’re not a resident. It’s the perfect spot for a vacation or a quick getaway if you are looking for a slower pace. 

The West Coast is the best coast, at least when it comes to seaside towns. Take a drive along the Pacific in any direction and it will become clear how much there is to discover. Just make sure you have your favorite boutique swimwear packed for whenever the mood strikes for a California coast road trip.