Pretty much every family’s summer vacation dream involves sand, water, and lots of sunshine. Since California offers free access to all its public beaches, picking it as a family vacation destination is a no-brainer.
California has over 1,000 miles of coastline and a vast array of family-friendly beaches. From calm waters to picnic grounds and an extensive beachfront, there is a perfect beach for every family.
Another thing we love about California is its Mediterranean-like climate. Summer months are always warm and dry, while the winter season is wet and mild. Fall is usually mild and colorful, while spring attracts many families looking for an early escape to the sunshine.
Now, you might be torn between planning your California beach vacation in Northern California or Southern California. The truth is that the California coastline runs across both regions. However, the best well-maintained, activity-filled, family-friendly beaches are in Southern California.
If you are looking to explore more rugged coastlines that are better suited for adventurers, hiking, and nature experiences, NorCal has a host of them. Frankly – we love them both!
Where to Find California’s Best Family Beaches
Best Beaches In Southern California For Families
Zuma Beach, Malibu
Set against natural rocky bluffs in Malibu, Zuma beach is one of the best family beaches near Los Angeles. You will find a plethora of activities for both younger and older kids. Zuma Beach has a small playground, and there is enough space for your family to play volleyball, frisbee, or any other beach sport.
This famous family beach offers great surf along with panoramic views of the ocean, and you can spot dolphins in the waves. It is a popular spot for surfers and is patrolled by lifeguards. Take your family to the Malibu Equestrian Park nearby and enjoy practice and recreational horseback riding.
Where to stay: The Casita is a wonderful rental property within walking distance to the beach or nearby try Malibu Beach Inn.
Mission Beach, San Diego
This is easily the best spot for family beach vacations in California. With lots of sand, a 2-mile-long boardwalk, and an amusement park, there are lots of activities to entertain your kids with. Your kids will enjoy renting a bike and riding down the boardwalk. Be sure to stop for some ice cream while at it.
Mission Beach has many surf schools and rental shops, so it’s an excellent place for your kids to learn how to surf. Check out Belmont Park and have fun riding the oldest wooden roller coaster in California.
Nearby, Mission Bay is also where you’ll find Seaworld San Diego, often a popular highlight on many families’ California bucket lists.
Where to stay: Right on the beach try Blue Sea Beach Hotel or its the perfect sport to get a charming beach house to fit all the family.
Coronado Central Beach, San Diego
Coronado Central Beach offers one of the most beautiful soft white sand shorelines in the country. The sand literally sparkles due to the presence of mica. Apart from its beauty, this is an excellent location for a California beach vacation. The beach is easy to reach and has lots of space for kids to run around. It is also home to the famous Hotel del Coronado.
During low tide, you can spot the sunken shipwreck located south of the coast. Your kids will enjoy kayaking or paddleboarding on this beautiful beach. You can also go cycling around town or rent a golf cart and take a tour of the small town. There is a fun gondola tour you can enjoy with older kids.
Where to stay: The famous Hotel Del Coronado is the obvious choice, but look just off the beach for better value, try Crown City Inn Coronado for a cheap(er) and cheerful surprise packet.
Santa Monica State Beach, Santa Monica
Stretching out towards Malibu, this gorgeous spread of soft golden sand and colorful pier is one of the best beaches in California for families. The Santa Monica Pier houses an iconic amusement park where your kids are sure to enjoy endless hours of fun and entertainment.
They will also enjoy the North Beach Playground and the aquarium at the pier.
Although the beach is filled with fun activities for the whole family, you can also head off the beach to Tongva Park, where slides and a fun splash park will leave your kids thrilled. It’s one of the best Califonia beaches for a classic sun-filled family vacation.
Where to stay: On a budget? Why not try a quad room at HI Los Angeles. Middle of the range for families we love Huntley Santa Monica Beach close to the action, or luxury try Lowes Santa Monica Beach Hotel.
Moonstone Beach, Santa Catalina Island
Every child loves a good treasure hunt, and Moonstone Beach is home to lots of treasures. Hidden offshore on Catalina Island, board the Catalina Flyer to enjoy a day of sunbathing on the sand while your kids build sandcastles or hunt for moonstone and sea glass along the shoreline.
Although the surf here is typically too rough for swimming, your family can enjoy splashing around the pool at Shamel Park, which is right next to the beach. The summer tides are friendlier, and there are small tide pools where the children can play. Take a soothing stroll on the boardwalk or head into town for a meal in one of the cozy restaurants.
Where to stay: Try this superbly located Hamilton Cove Villa, or the Edgewater in Avalon for memorable overnight Catalina Island experiences, or if you’re day-tripping only, stay at Sand Pebbles Inn Cambria.
Back on the mainland, Huntington City Beach is called Surf City USA, and for good reason. It is home to a world-famous surf break ad that is great for families with older kids who love to surf. Younger kids get to swim and boogie board as well.
This beach is an excellent location for a family picnic, and there are lots of beach sports to participate in. It’s also got a great reputation for being dog-friendly, perfect if you’re traveling with your furry friend.
Take your family to explore the nearby International Surfing Museum. The Huntington Beach pier also houses numerous beach entertainment and restaurants where your family can grab a quick bite. There are lots of family-friendly resorts nearby making this one of our favorite Southern California beaches for a family beach vacation.
Where to stay: On a budget try Newport Channel Inn, or luxury Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa
La Jolla Shores Beach, San Diego
Any beach hopper in California will tell you that La Jolla Shores Beach is a top kid-friendly beach in California. The waters are calm enough for your kids to play, ride boogie boards and swim around and there are lifeguards on duty. You can take a walk under the Scripps Pier or take the kids to the beachside Kellogg Park playground, which is conveniently right on the beach.
Neighboring La Jolla Cove is also regularly touted as one of the top family beaches in southern California. The water here is a haven for sea lions and is protected, so no boards but swimming and snorkeling are permitted. It’s only small but worthy of a visit alongside La Jolla Shores.
Or head further along the coast for more fabulous (but smelly!) seal spotting at The Children’s Pool (despite the name, its animals only permitted here!).
Note parking struggles in La Jolla are real! Get in early if you’re bringing your car, especially on weekends.
Where to stay: Bereft of the normally mega-resorts, this is the perfect spot for a family holiday rental through VRBO, though if you’d prefer a hotel, try The Shoal Hotel La Jolla Beach.
Carlsbad State Beach (Tamarack Beach), San Diego
Located near San Diego, this state beach features calm waves and soft sand, perfect for families with kids. During summer, your family will love participating in the S’mores nights by the ocean. The beach has lots of restaurants and fun beach activities for families to explore.
Best-loved for its proximity to Legoland California Hotel, Carlsbad State Beach is a popular California beach vacation destination for families. The Legoland Hotel is an iconic creative hotel built like LEGOs which makes it an absolute winner for families with LEGO-mad kids like ours – combine the best of beaches and theme parks here.
Where to stay: Other than staying at the Legoland Hotel, there are plenty of more pocket-friendly solutions nearby including camping at South Carlsbad State Beach, or for longer stays look for family suites nearby.
Balboa Beach, Newport Beach
Located in Newport Beach, California, this beach will have your kids begging for a family beach vacation every summer. It features the Balboa Fun Zone, which has lots of entertainment for the kids, and a waterfront Ferris wheel. If you love fishing, feel free to do so on the pier.
Your family will also enjoy engaging in several beach activities like parasailing and surfing. There are fire pits available for bonfires and lifeguards on duty. Head on to Peninsula Park, where you can lounge on the grass or play frisbee with the kids.
Where to stay: On a budget try Holiday Inn Express Newport Beach, or for a luxury stay it’s got to be Balboa Bay Resort.
Corona Del Mar State Beach, Newport Beach
Immediately south of Balboa, this beach offers a variety of fun options for every member of the family. With activities available for surfers, swimmers, hikers, and divers, it is easily one of the best family beaches in Southern California.
Actually split into two beaches, there are Little Corona and Big Corona Beach to explore, offering beautiful stretches of sandy Pacific Coast beach, as well as picture-perfect coves.
Gather your tribe and venture onto one of the hiking trails where you can enjoy stunning cliff views. You should also plan a family picnic where everyone can come together and enjoy the breathtaking sunset.
Where to stay: For a long stay try a charming beachfront cottage to fit all the family or a gorgeous garden bungalow at Resort at Pelican Hill is an unmissable experience.
Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado
This unique beach has two sides; the pacific side and the bayside. The pounding surf on the pacific side is a great option for older kids who like to surf. There, your kids can sign up for surfing lessons at the Coronado Surfing Academy.
The bayside, which is known as Crown Cove, features calmer waters that are warm and better suited for younger kids. What more could a parent ask for?
Start a bonfire in any of the fire pits and enjoy some special time with the family. You can also rent a boogie board for the younger kids to splash around with.
Where to stay: Try Hampton Inn & Suites Imperial Beach, or true luxury your stand-out offering is Loews Coronado Bay Resort.
Best Beaches In Northern California for Families
Enough of southern California, time to follow Highway 1 and discover some of the best gems along the northern California coast.
Families should note that even in summer, you won’t want to spend too long in the water on NorCal without a wetsuit – summer highs in the water only hit around the low 60s.
Crissy Field East Beach, San Francisco
Action-filled Crissy Beach is a wonderland for families. One of the best kid and dog-friendly beaches in California, it is an excellent location for kite surfers and wave surfers alike.
Located at the edge of the San Francisco Bay, Crissy Field Beach has ideal picnic areas on the lawn where your family can enjoy a great time together. The beach offers great views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, making it one of the most iconic beaches in northern California.
Initially an Army base, Chrissy Field now houses a national parkland where families take their kids to have the time of their lives. Be sure to stop by the Warming Hut Café for some hot cocoa and latte and pack your kits to enjoy the wicked winds.
Where to stay: Nearby Marina District of San Fransisco will put you within walking distance, try Travelodge by Wyndham Presidio or you’re not far away from the Fisherman’s Wharf area, a superb luxury offering is The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square.
Lovers Point Park, Monterey Bay
Featuring crystal clear waters that mirror that of the Caribbean, Lovers Point Park is a beautiful sandy stretch perfect for your family. Located in the State Marine Reserve at Monterey, it is one of the best beaches for kids in California. The water here is shallow, and the tides are low, so smaller kids can safely splash around without fear.
There is a snack bar, a picnic area, a swimming pool for the kids, and a couple of volleyball courts. Be sure to bring a kayak so your family can enjoy exploring the surrounding coves.
Where to stay: With a family group, try this wonderful oceanfront home in Pacific Grove, or InterContinental The Clement Monterey will superbly locate you for the Monterey Bay Aquarium too.
Santa Cruz Main Beach
Very popular among tourists and locals, Santa Cruz Main Beach is an excellent location for families. It has a boardwalk and an amusement park where your family can enjoy hours of nonstop entertainment. This vibrant beach is filled with lots of fun beach activities, and your kids will not want to leave.
There are many amenities available for your family’s comfort as well. For more fun family adventures, head into town and explore the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Also, check out the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, where your kids will enjoy learning about sea creatures.
Where to stay: There’s a great range of family-friendly choices in Santa Cruz, on a budget try La Quinta Inn & Suites Santa Cruz or get together with the family at this wonderful Santa Cruz Beach House.
Montara State Beach, San Mateo County
Bounded by low hills to the north and south, Montara State Beach is another great location for family beach vacations in California. It has tide pools where younger kids can play, and its scenic backdrop makes for great family pictures. The waves are great for surfing as well.
If your family loves to hike, head on to Montara Mountain and explore the only undisturbed coastal mountain habitat. The nearby Point Montara lighthouse offers overnight accommodations and is a great option if your family wants to stay close to the beach. Be sure to come with your fishing gear as well.
Where to stay: Your nearest campgrounds are at Half Moon Bay State Beach, or close to the beach, Oceanview Inn Montara.
Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe
Let’s take a break from the coast and head into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yes, you read that correctly!!
Kings Beach is known for its clear, turquoise waters. Located in Lake Tahoe, it is one of the best beaches in California for families. Elegant pine trees surround the sandy stretch, and the waters are cool and calm, perfect for kids to splash around in. Feel free to rent kayaks and other water sports equipment and gear and explore the waters.
Be sure to visit on a Friday to enjoy the free Friday night concerts hosted on the beach all summer. There are great family-friendly accommodations and restaurants nearby as well. You won’t find a finer example of a lakefront beach on the west coast.
Where to stay: Get in early if you want to rent a superb family home minutes to the lake and beachfront in summer, or try nearby Red Wood Lakeside Lodge.
Limantour Beach, Point Reyes
Situated in one of our favorite parts of the west coast, a trip to Point Reyes National Seashore is not complete without a visit to the wide and incredible beaches. Point Reyes Beach North and South can be frequently fogged out in summer and have huge waves, however, the 4-mile long Limantour Beach can be “just right”.
The waves here are calmer (though still more than enough you’ll want to pack the boogie boards), but wetsuits are recommended, even in summer! You can bring your leashed furry friends here to the southern half of the beach. Note, facilities are limited so pack your picnic and take what you came with.
Hearts Desire Beach, Point Reyes
If you’d prefer an inland bay, head further north and within Point Reyes National Seashore to Tomales Bay State Park and you’ll find the lovely Hearts Desire Beach – regularly touted as a family favorite.
It is calm and shallow for little ones to wade in, but a little rocky for our liking – and incredibly tidal! Many families with young children prefer this set up though, with picnic tables and washrooms nearby, day parking is $8 (and fills fast on weekends!).
Where to stay: For Limantour Beach or Hearts Desire Beach, we recommend staying in the cute little town of Inverness where there are lots of family-sized rental properties.
Greenwood Creek State Beach, Mendocino County
Rich in history and culture, Greenwood State Beach is one of the best family beaches in California. With a picturesque view of the Pacific Ocean and a creek that streams into the ocean, this state park beach has a serene, unspoiled atmosphere that is hard to find.
For an extra dash of adventure, hire a kayak and explore Greenwood cove through Gunderson Rock with your family.
Where to stay: Try Gualala Country Inn or stay further north in Mendocino, Seafoam Lodge,
Gualala Point Regional Park Beach, Sonoma County
A secluded beach complete with a river, park, and campground! What’s not to love? Prepare your family for a full-blown adventure where you get to stay in a campground surrounded by the forest and the crashing waves. Located in Sonoma County, this beach is great for whale watching, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing, biking, and fishing.
There are many hiking trails so your family can gear up and explore the dramatic shoreline around the park. The campground is fully serviced with showers, restrooms, picnic areas, BBQs, and other basic amenities. Your family can have a proper camping trip and beach vacation all in one.
Where to stay: Camping is the best way to go for the perfect beachfront vacation in northern California.
East Beach and Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara
Located in Santa Barbara, this historic waterfront is a great location for a family beach vacation in California. East Beach is a great place to try stand up paddleboarding with your family. With its soft sand and gentle surf, this beach is great for younger kids and older kids alike.
Take a walk or ride your bikes on the historic pier. Stop for a couple of selfies with the famous dolphin statue at the base of the pier. Explore Stearns Wharf and enjoy fresh, mouth-watering seafood with the entire family.
Where to stay: A wide range of family accommodation can be found, it obviously gets pricier as you get closer to the action. You can get pretty good value beachside lodgings at Avani Inn of Santa Barbara, or try the superb 5-star Hotel California
More Frequently Asked Questions on California’s Best Beaches
There are so many fabulous contenders but if you force us to just pick one, La Jolla Shores is probably what you have in mind when it comes to picture-perfect California beaches.
Especially if you’re looking for a winter de-thaw we know just how important California water temperature is! You obviously want to head to southern California and whilst there’s not too much in it, we’d say Balboa Beach or any of the beaches in the protected coves around Newport will be your warmest.
Both La Jolla Cove near San Diego and Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe can lay claim to fame for having beautiful crystal clear water.
According to Heal the Bay, which runs an annual beach report card, the majority of California beaches are A or B grade. The award for top-rated California clean beach in 2021 went to the tiny and little-known Crown Beach, Sunset Road, Alameda County. Followed by a big pack of beaches from LA Country including Royal Palms State Beach, Leo Carrillo Beach, and Las Flores State Beach.
If you’re combining your California beach vacation with a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, your closest beach to stay at will be Corona Del Mar State Park.
Only stopping briefly via LAX? Then your closest beach to LAX will be Dockweiler State Beach. You may also want to try Playa Del Rey Beach, or slightly to the south try El Porto beach or Manhattan Beach.
Looking for More Beach Inspiration?
Make sure you check out our further guides to beaches in the USA that families are sure to love:
Packing for the Beach?
Before you head off on a beach vacation you need our ultimate family checklist for a day at the beach!
All the essentials you can think of for packing your beach bag from sun cover and pop-up tents through to beach toys, entertainment, dealing with feeding and changing time at the beach, keeping your drinks cool and much more!
We take you through everything you need in detail here – or subscribe to our mailing list and you can immediately download this handy checklist straight away.
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