Active day on the Coronado Boardwalk (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

Mix one part water, one part sand, one part sun-soaked coastal charm, and you’ve captured the recipe for some of California’s most appealing seaside destinations. California beach towns are renowned for their relaxed, embracing spirit and their boundless ways to play.

Southern Californians seem to have invented fun in the sun. Is it any wonder artists like The Beach Boys and many others sing about “California Dreamin’, Surfin’ USA and Soak Up The Sun?” With its almost picture-perfect weather and unique, fascinating coastal towns, a visit to any of these beach destinations makes for an unforgettable vacation.

Coronado Island

The iconic Hotel del Coronado (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

San Diego boasts 70 miles of pristine sand along its stunningly beautiful coastline dotted with fun beach towns, each with its own vibe.  But, hands down, one of our favorites is Coronado Island whose famous white glittering beaches have often been listed among the world’s best.  

Coronado isn’t a true island as it connects to a narrow isthmus of land. This jewel of San Diego has a storied past and one that’s best discovered at the captivating, elegant and timeless turn-of-the-century Hotel Del Coronado. Standing sentinel over a wide mile-and-a-half of spectacular white sand and fronting the azure waters of the Pacific, the turreted Victorian seaside resort built in 1888 is a famous National Historic Landmark.  Numerous celebrities, presidents and foreign dignitaries have passed through its doors. L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz resided here for months at a time while penning his famous story.

We love the easily walkable main street and side roads filled with charming boutiques, eateries and nautical gift shops. The 25 mph speed limit ensures safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Biking is the best way to get around and explore this fabulous island paradise.


Oceanside Pier welcomes a stroll over the Pacific (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

With an average year-round temperature of 72 degrees, 3 ½ miles of sandy beaches, world-class surf conditions, a historic wooden pier, and a Cape Cod-style harbor village, it’s easy to see how Oceanside fits the image of a quintessential California beach town.

Oceanside is home to countless professional and leisure surfers for whom surfing is more than a passion; it’s a way of life. One of the best places to watch these dedicated wave riders catch a swell is from the impressive Oceanside Pier. At 1,942 feet, this easily walkable promenade is ideal for watching the sun disappear over the horizon and light up the evening sky. And there’s nothing like the warmth and distinctive scent of a beach bonfire to fit the iconic California seashore image. Just throw in a nice red wine and a pullover sweatshirt to ward off the evening chill.  

The New England-inspired Oceanside Harbor (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

Just a few miles from the pier sits the picturesque New England-inspired village of Oceanside Harbor, one of the most photographed spots in this coastal town. No surprise that restaurants here feature fish and seafood. One eatery even sports its own lighthouse.

Dana Point

Take in the easy salt breeze along Monarch Beach, Dana Point, CA (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

The first time we ever drove through the unpretentious low-key town of Dana Point, we were intrigued by the names of its streets like Golden Lantern, Blue Lantern and Green Lantern. It’s believed these monikers originated from the legacy of tall ships that once moored in its waters.

One of the few true sheltered harbors along the Orange County coast, this delightful portside community encompasses a natural cove bounded by dramatic cliffs on one side and the crystalline waters of the Pacific on the other.

Dana Point Marina is the jumping off point for dolphin and whale-watching and wine and sunset cruises. On a recent voyage we were treated to pods of playful dolphins frolicking about the waters and of course, a few sightings of migrating whales. The harbor is also popular with kayakers, stand-up paddlers and sail-lovers.

The powdery sands of resplendent Salt Creek Beach and Monarch Beach attract beachcombers and water enthusiasts alike. Dana Point Harbor Beach, known as “Baby Beach,” is popular for its calm and protected waters.  Nothing beats those unforgettable moments when the elements all come together on a perfect sunny Southern California day- feet in the sand, rhythm of the surf and cool ocean breezes blowing through our hair.

Laguna Beach

Beauty abounds in laid-back Laguna Beach (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

Art and nature joined together in perfect harmony is the best way to describe charming Laguna Beach located halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Laguna Beach is one of our favorite Orange County coastal towns for so many reasons. Beaches are picture perfect, sunsets are spectacular, and there can’t possibly be another waterfront promenade in the world with such stunning views. Trusting a recommendation from a local we found the almost-unknown Victoria Beach. Surrounded by rocky bluffs, it hosts a bizarre but fascinating medieval structure residents here call the “pirate tower.” Constructed in 1926, it is only accessible from the beach at low tide. Waves can be massive at high tide.

Laguna Beach is perhaps most famous for its vibrant art scene and festivals. Pageant of the Masters is a popular event held each summer—in which classical works of art are remarkably re-enacted by characters on stage.

Many of the town’s locally owned and delightfully unique shops and galleries fill its easily walkable downtown. Kitschy, trendy, beachy, free-spirited, eclectic, stylish or retro, it’s guaranteed you’ll find it here and not walk out from the shops empty-handed.

Newport Beach

Nature on display in Crystal Cove, Newport Beach, CA (Photo by Noreen Kompanik)

Newport Beach has evolved into an icon of sophistication and chic coastal living while still retaining much of its seaside village charm of yesteryear. Its stunning beaches, unspoiled nature, two ocean piers and quaint neighborhoods make this a spectacular escape destination. Sunsets here blaze the sky in a myriad of bold colors.

The region boasts some of the cleanest beaches in all of Southern California. Beachgoers and tide-poolers head to its calm coves. Serious surfers love the challenge of The Wedge, one of Southern California’s most famous surf spots with winter swells reaching 18 to 20 feet.

Newport Beach sports one of the loveliest little island neighborhoods on the coast. Balboa Island began as a summer vacation destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of L.A. Today, the idyllic waterfront village with its charming canals is home to year-round residents and is a marvelous place to dine and explore.

1,032-foot walkable Newport Pier is popular with pelicans, seagulls and pier fisherman. The historic Dory Fishing Fleet Market founded in 1891 is a registered historical landmark. We loved watching the fisherman unload their daily catches while scavenging seagulls waited for their chance to steal a leftover.

Speaking of history, Orange County’s largest remaining preserves of open space and natural seashore is located in Newport’s picturesque Crystal Cove State Park. Featuring 3.2 miles of beach and 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness, its historic district is like stepping back in time. The seaside colony with 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages built in the 1930s and 40s have been authentically restored and pay homage to an earlier era. The cottages are available for stays by reservation.  

A sign in one of Coastal California’s fun beach shops read:

“You can shake the sand from your feet but it never leaves your soul.”

Life is indeed good.