Best Southern California Beaches for Families

Find a secluded beach for your next family vacation, like Jalama County Beach. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

From Santa Barbarba to San Diego, California beaches come in all sizes and specialities. Some beaches are best for water sports, some offer animal watching and other don’t even have sand. Beach goers can sit in a longer and read, make sand castles, fly kites, or just watch at the waves. There’s also California beaches with amusement parks, secret surf spots and some even offer beach camping. Read on for the best California beaches for families.

Best California Beaches for Families

  • Santa Barbara Area Beaches
  • Los Angeles Beaches
  • San Diego Beaches
Carpinteria Beach. Best California beaches for families
Find a camping spot in the town of Carpinteria. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Santa Barbara Beaches

West Coast beaches can’t be beat for sunsets. Catch the fiery sun as it drips below the horizon and watch the sky fade from aubergine to indigo. The Central California coast offers secluded beaches rich with marine life and tide pools.

Carpinteria State Beach

Just 12 miles south of Santa Barbara, California, find the charming beach town of Carpinteria. Named by Juan Cabrillo during his California explorations in the 1500s. The Chumash people lived in the area too.

Originally donated in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the park. Carpinteria features one mile of beach access and at low tide find tide pools. With its protected location, it’s one of the safer beaches for families to surf and swim.

The campground offers four different camping loops. And I found a bathhouse with hot showers ($) and flush toilets.

Beach Row sites in the San Miquel Loop at Carpinteria State Beach has size restrictions and vehicles over 19 feet aren’t permitted. The RV size limit for all camp sites is 35 feet.

Carpinteria State Beach is located at 205 Palm Ave. Campsites start at $45 a night and $60 for premium beachfront sites. It’s $70 a night for RV hook ups plus a $7.99 reservation fee for all online reservations.

Summerland Beach

If your beach vacay requires a sunset horseback ride then Summerland Beach is the beach for you. In-between Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, Summerland offers another quaint area to relax. Arrange horseback rides through Santa Barbara Horseback Rides.

Summerland Beach is located at 2297 Finney St. It’s a day use park and accessible through Look Out Park. Open 8 a.m. to dusk.

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Jalama Beach. Best California beaches for families.
The Road to Jalama County Beach, outside of Lompoc. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Jalama Beach County Park

If you pine for a hidden beach with amazing sunsets over the Pacific, this is the one. Since it’s surrounded by private property and Vanderberg Air Force Base, it’s secluded. It’s a county beach and not a state beach, fewer people know about it.

In 1943, Santa Barbara County received 24 acres to develop into a park. About 45 minutes from Lompoc, Jalama Beach County Park offers a quiet beach to walk, fish or surf.

Make it a weekend and reserve a site. Find tent camping sites, RV sites, day-use sites along with one and two-bedroom cabins for rent. Basic sites start at $30 a night and premier sites are $50 a night. The cabins start at $190 a night. Day use fee is $10. Jalama Beach features a bathhouse with hot showers ($) along with flush toilets. Though the restrooms could use a renovation.

Find a stocked store with camping necessities. Or grab a bite at the Jalama Beach Grill. Don’t miss Amtrak’s Surfliner train chugging up and down the coast on the tracks just outside the park.

Jalama Beach County Park is located at 9999 Jalama Road. Don’t expect cell or data service though find a pay phone in the park.

Hearst San Simeon State Park

Along the Central California coast, media mogul William Randolph Hearst built an American icon, the Hearst Castle. Set on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, it’s now a state park, including the castle along with over 20 miles of beaches.

Hearst San Simeon State Park offers over a hundred campsites for tent and RV camping. It features a bathhouse with hot showers ($) along with flush toilets. The RV size limit for all camp sites is 35 feet.

Hearst San Simeon State Park Campground is located at 5000 San Simeon-Monterey Creek Rd. in Cambria. Primitive campsites start at $20 a night and $35 a night for sites with utilities plus $7.99 reservation fee for all online reservations.

The Hearst Castle tour requires a separate timed ticket available online or at the Visitor Center at 750 Hearst Castle Rd.

Elephant Seal Boardwalk

At the Elephant Seal Boardwalk, find seals napping along the beach in a large rookery. This facility offers a boardwalk to safely watch the massive seals that are surprisingly quick and agile. In the summer the males fight each other for mating rights with bellows and battles.

It’s located along Highway 1, 5 miles north of Hearst Castle Rd. (watch for a roadside sign) and free.

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Moonstone Beach. Best California beaches for families
Moonstone Beach offered tumbled gemstones. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Moonstone Beach

Beaches offer more than shells. At Moonstone Beach, find tiny tumbled moonstone, jade, and bloodstone along the waterline. Located south of Elephant Seal Beach and the Hearst Castle, it features a boardwalk.

Moonstone Beach is located on Moonstone Beach Drive off of Highway 1. Find the entrance of the boardwalk across from the El Colibri Motel.

San Clemente Beach. Best California beaches for families.
San Clemente offers a convenient location in town for family beach time. Photo Credit: Spencer Ford

Los Angeles Beaches

Forget about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and sample the beaches in the LA area. If it’s the weekend start early in the day to find a parking spot. Come prepared to spend the day. Most LA beaches offer limited parking.

San Clemente State Beach

In-between Los Angeles and San Diego, San Clemente offers an escape with sand stone bluffs and a popular surf spot. Originally developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC built the visitor center and the park infrastructure. The sand at San Clemente is a bit pebbley.

Along with watersports, San Clemente State Beach offers over 100 campsites with restrooms and hot showers ($). Tent campsites start at $45 a night and $65 a night for RV sites with utilities along with a restroom and hot showers ($).

Huntington State Beach

Visit the beach where surfing got started in the U.S. in 1910. It’s even nicknamed SurfCity USA. The Hawaiian father of modern surfing took a wooden long board into the surf to demonstrate the sport at Huntington Beach.

Huntington State Beach is day-use only. Find lifeguard stations sprinkled along the beach.

Huntington State Beach is located at Magnolia Avenue and Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). The daily use parking fee is $15 for standard vehicles.

Santa Monica State Beach

With three miles of beach and an iconic pier packed with an amusement park, Santa Monica State Beach is a symbol of LA. Find a wide sand beaches, sand volleyball courts along with a bike path.

The Santa Monica Pier divides the state beach into a north section and a south section. It’s a day-use only beach. Find lifeguard stations sprinkled along the beach.

The Santa Monica Pier is located at 200 Santa Monica Pier. Street parking available by meter. Restrooms and rinse-off showers are available along the bike path.

Will Rogers State Beach

Just north of Los Angeles, find Will Rogers State Beach with about two miles of beach to explore. Named after the 1930s movie actor, Will Rogers’s widow donated the land for the beach after his death.

Find a playground, volleyball courts, a bike path and walkway. Will Rogers State Beach also offers showers.

Located at 17700 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. Parking ranges from $4 to $12, depending on the season. Will Rogers State Beach is a day-use park.

Malibu Lagoon State Beach

Where the Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean find Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Also known at Surfrider Beach, it’s a popular surfing spot.

Malibu Lagoon State Beach is located at 23200 Pacific Coast Highway. Parking is $12 a car. Malibu Lagoon State Beach is a day-use only park.

Zuma County Beach

Just north of Malibu, Zuma County Beach offers surfing, volleyball and wide beaches. With almost two miles of beach, it’s not listed on most road atlases and paper maps. Zuma offers showers and restrooms along with life gaurds. Watch grey whales in the winter from Zuma.

Zuma County Beach is located at 30000 Pacific Coast Highway. This beach uses metered parking and is a day-use only park.

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San Diego Area Beaches

San Diego is tops for family fun and this includes the beaches. Find several beaches perfect to park a beach chair and umbrella for the day. Or find a California classic and hop abroad a roll coaster, steps from the sand.

Coronado Beach

Just across the bridge from Downtown San Diego,  Coronado Island boasts some of the best beaches near San Diego. Head the legendary Hotel del Coronado for a top beach, open to all, not just hotel guests. Kids can chase waves, fly kites or build sand castles. Then arrange for a special treat, Hotel del Coronado will set up a campfire to make s’mores at the beach for your family.

Located at 919 Ocean Blvd. on Coronado Island. Find free parking along Ocean Blvd. or at the Ferry Landing Marketplace.

Belmont Park. Best California beaches for families. Where to go in San Diego with kids.
An amusement park next to the beach is where your kids want to go in San Diego. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mission Beach

The quintessential SoCal beach experience. Rent an umbrella and a beach chair or a cruiser and board to spend a perfect day. Or walk to Belmont Park, an amusement park built in 1925, steps from the sand.

Mission Beach offers a walk and bike path along with restrooms, showers and life guards. Lots of beach rental shops, restaurants and snack places within walking distance.

Located at Mission Blvd and West Mission Bay Dr. and find free parking in Bonita Cove. Arrive early on weekends for limited parking.

Silver Strand State Beach. Best California beaches for families. Where to go in San Diego with kids.
Explore Silver Strand State Beach on Coronado Island. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Silver Strand State Beach

A pedestrian tunnels connect the Pacific Ocean with the San Diego Bay at Silver Strand. Along with traditional beach fun, Silver Strand State Beach offers a seasonal café and ranger programs to learn more about birds and aquatic life.

Also find the Coronado Surfing Academy at Silver Strand State Beach and arrange a surfing lesson for the kids or even yourself.

Located at 5000 Highway 75, about four-and-a-half miles south of downtown Coronado. Find an interpretive area along with restrooms. Day-use parking rate is $12. Camping is available for self-contained RVs and is $20 a day.

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From San Diego to north of Santa Barbara, find beaches for shelling, surfing or strolling. Some offer beachfront campgrounds, one offers an amusement park, all offer lots of breezes and soothing waves. Find out the details of your next beach day. Best Beaches in California | Best Beaches in Southern Cali #Beaches


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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