California’s 2, 200-mile stretch of Pacific coastline is both epic in scale and conducive to a thoroughly laid-back lifestyle. Of its myriad coves and beaches, clifftop trails and marine preserves, there’s something to suit every shade of beachlover, whether you’re a day-long sunbather, a childlike sea-splasher, a thrill-craving surfer or a peace-seeking hiker. So just grab your swim shorts or walking boots and hit the soft sand of California’s varied shoreline.
Coronado has drawn beachlovers to its wide stretch of sand since the 19th century, when the Hotel del Coronado first opened its grand Victorian front doors. You can still sit on its elegant patio today, looking out over the Pacific Ocean while sipping elaborate cocktails. Below lie three beautiful beaches, lining a peninsula just across the Bay from San Diego: Central Beach is perfect for families and sunbathers, North Beach draws the surfer crowd, while Dog Beach is roamed by leashless canines. Coronado is also perfectly located to watch the mighty whale migration between December and March, when 20,000 gray whales travel from Alaska to Baja California.
La Jolla Cove may be small, but its crescent of soft sand and sandstone cliffs decked with wild flowers are achingly picturesque. The water is a glinting azure, and with 10 meter visibility beneath the surface it’s a superb scuba and snorkelling spot. This submarine world is protected by a San Diego Ecological Reserve, and contains a kaleidoscopic range of wildlife including the electric orange Garibaldi, California’s state fish. And if the cove becomes a little too crowded, you can easily hop off to one of La Jolla’s other beaches - Windansea is great for surfing and La Jolla Shores has heaps more sand for building castles and sunbathing.
The rugged stretch of shoreline encompassed by Baker Beach is ideal for walking, drinking in views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and listening to the wash and tug of the Pacific. Porpoises can often be glimpsed cutting through the waters of San Francisco Bay, and the beach itself it dotted with tide-pools and rocky outcrops which are teeming with miniature marine life. Just bear in mind as you explore this gorgeous coastal world that jagged serpentine cliffs, big waves, and a strong, unpredictable undertow make the ocean unsafe for swimming.
Marking the point where the Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean, the Malibu Lagoon is flanked by a varied array of pretty beaches. Best of all, Surfrider Beach is, along with Zuma ten miles to the west, one of California’s best surfing beaches, lashed by glorious salt-sand waves. East of Malibu Creek Bridge, silhouettes line up along Malibu Pier enjoying the superb saltwater fishing. To the west of the bridge lies a wild patch of saltwater marsh, packed with birdlife and sprinkled with a few picnic tables. And, being Malibu, you’re never far from an ice cream or cocktail should the urge seize you.
If all this talk of coastal walks, shoreside cocktails and indolent sunbathing has left you yawning, you might wanna ditch the previous four in favor of Huntington City Beach. This 3.5-mile stretch of sand runs down to the Ocean from the city of Huntington Beach, in Orange County, otherwise known as Surf City. With North Pacific swells meeting southern hemisphere storms, the beach is washed by mighty waves, and has become a SoCal surfing mecca attracting eight million board-lugging pilgrims a year. But there’s also plenty for non-surfers to enjoy, with a stylish beach pier, bonfire pits and live music in the summer as well as heaps of bars, shops and restaurants on nearby Main Street.