With more than 1,000 miles of coastline, California is home to some of the finest beaches in the nation. Pack up your kids and head to the coast — you’ll come across countless stretches that are perfect for a family beach day, from NorCal to SoCal and everywhere in between.
Whether you’re in search of beaches with calm waters and beachfront playgrounds or spots with amusement park rides and snack bars, we’ve rounded up 15 of the best beaches in California for families. Grab your boogie boards and sand pails and get ready for the ultimate family beach day on the West Coast.
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Best Family Beaches in Southern California
- Coronado Central Beach
- La Jolla Shores Beach
- Santa Monica State Beach
- Huntington City Beach
- Mission Beach San Diego
- Corona Del Mar Beach
The beaches in Southern California need no introduction. Known the world over for their great surf and sandy stretches, SoCal beaches are perfect for a family outing.
Coronado Central Beach, Coronado
Coronado Central Beach is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation, and you’ll soon realize why when you set sights on the sparkling shoreline. It literally sparkles due to a mineral called mica in the sand.
This is the beach directly in front of the iconic Hotel del Coronado, perhaps the most popular San Diego beach hotel (it is certainly the one our readers book into most with my benefits). Even if you’re not a guest of the hotel, you can still take advantage of chair and cabanette rentals at Del Beach, which also offers food and drink service (including adult beverages) to the sand.
And if the tide is just right, you may even catch a glimpse of the sunken shipwreck just off the coast (a bit south — this happens only at extremely low tides) or the tide pools in front of the hotel.
La Jolla Shores Beach, La Jolla
Unlike many of the rocky areas of La Jolla, La Jolla Shores Beach offers a long and wide sandy stretch, perfect for a typical beach day full of swimming and building sandcastles. There are lifeguards on duty. You and the kids can play in the water or ride boogie boards to catch some waves. Beachside Kellogg Park playground entertains when kids tire of the sand (if that is even possible).
Take a stroll north and walk under the Scripps Pier. Here at golden hour is one of the most popular places in San Diego to take photos and for tide pooling during winter.
This is also one of the access points to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park where many kayak, snorkel, and dive tours go for prime marine life viewing and a little exercise. It’s also one of the best places in town to learn how to surf.
(If you’re looking for the La Jolla beaches with the seals and sea lions, these are in the Village neighborhood and are worth driving a few minutes to see, especially with kids in tow.)
Like Coronado Central Beach above, La Jolla Shores Beach also makes my list of best beaches in San Diego for families and top things to do for kids in San Diego.
Santa Monica State Beach, Santa Monica
Santa Monica State Beach is among the best family beaches in California. With 3.5 miles of coastline, this beach offers plenty of sand and sea for your whole clan to enjoy.
Your little ones will love letting loose on the North Beach Playground, which is a universally accessible playground, while the famous Santa Monica Pier’s amusement park promises hours of entertainment.
Check out the pier’s aquarium, take a spin on the Ferris wheel, and eat your weight in funnel cake.
Huntington City Beach, Huntington Beach
The surf’s always up at Huntington City Beach, where I grew up with a father very engrossed in the city’s original 1960s surf culture. It’s called Surf City USA because this beach has a world-famous surf break near the pier. Grab your board and carve up the waves or visit during the VANS US Open of Surfing to catch the experts in the lineup.
Rest assured that north and south of the surfing heaven near the pier is a family-friendly beach where all ages boogie board, swim and enjoy a fantastic beach day out. While you’re here, grab a fire pit and roast some marshmallows on the sand or join a pick-up volleyball game.
Between the Huntington Beach Pier, nearby International Surfing Museum, and local shops and restaurants, you’ll find plenty of other entertainment near this popular beach.
Mission Beach, San Diego
With sand, surf, a boardwalk, and even an amusement park, Mission Beach is easily one of the best beaches in California for families, and there’s plenty to do here. Rent bikes and cruise down the boardwalk and stop into one of the ice cream shops for a sweet treat.
You’ll find the amusement park, Belmont Park, located along the boardwalk, too, where you can hop on the oldest wooden roller coaster in California and beat your high score in the arcade. There are also a number of surf rental shops and surf schools in case you and your crew are looking to ride the waves.
Corona Del Mar Beach, Corona Del Mar
Visit Corona Del Mar and you’ll soon realize why they call it the Crown of the Sea. Technically a part of Newport Beach, this hamlet features two picturesque beaches, Big Corona and Little Corona.
Big Corona is best known for its surf, where your kids can channel famous surfers like Duke Kahanamoku who once rode these local waves. For a quieter beach day, head to Little Corona. Your little ones will enjoy searching the tide pools for ocean critters and seashells.
Best Families Beaches in Central California
- Cayucos State Beach
- Moonstone Beach
- Pismo Beach
- Santa Cruz Main Beach
- East Beach
- Arroyo Burro Beach
- Lovers Point Park
The Central California coastline serves up countless family-friendly beaches with dog-friendly areas and fishing spots.
Cayucos State Beach, Cayucos
Cayucos State Beach may be one of the lesser-known stretches, but that makes it even more charming. Your children will have a blast crafting sandcastles and enjoying the playground on the sand.
After all, there’s nothing quite like swinging on a swing set, overlooking the ocean. Check out the tide pools to see some sea life or bring along some fishing poles and head to the pier — no fishing license is required.
Moonstone Beach, Cambria
If you have some beachcombers on your hands, then Moonstone Beach will be an absolute treat for your family. Named after the popular stones you’ll find along the shoreline, this beach is also a great spot for finding sea glass.
Though the surf is usually too rough for swimming, your kids can burn off some energy at Shamel Park, which sits right next to the beach. Play a round of horseshoe or make a splash in the seasonal swimming pool.
Pismo State Beach, Pismo
Pismo State Beach has long been a favorite among families and for good reason. This lovely stretch is great for kids, where you’ll come across a walkable pier, children’s playground, and volleyball courts for an afternoon of fun.
Stake a claim in the sand and spend the whole day soaking up the scenery. Bring your poles and go surf fishing from the sand or venture along the boardwalk and search for the local birdlife. And if you’re lucky, you just may see some horseback riders trotting along the sand.
Santa Cruz Main Beach, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Main Beach is another one of the best beaches in California for families. Just be warned, your kids are probably going to beg for a visit to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. And with more than 40 rides and attractions, can you blame them?
First spend some time playing on this picturesque beach and then give in to the pressure and head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, once known as the Coney Island of the West. Load up on some salt water taffy and take a spin on the historic Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster with a view of the Pacific Ocean.
East Beach, Santa Barbara
You’ll find another kid-friendly stretch in Santa Barbara at East Beach. Bring your bikes and cycle along the waterfront toward the Andree Clark Bird Refuge or pack a volleyball for a game down at the courts.
Looking for more beachfront activities? Rent boogie boards, paddleboards, and kayaks right on the sand at East Beach Rentals. Beach chairs, umbrellas, and beach toys are also available for rent to complete your getaway.
Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Barbara
If your idea of a beach day includes bringing your four-legged family members along, then put Arroyo Burro Beach on your list. Known as Hendry’s Beach to the locals, this dog-friendly stretch is a great beach for a game of fetch.
It’s also a prime surf spot, whether you’re looking to catch a few waves or prefer to watch the pros. After a sun-soaked day on the sand, grab a bite to eat at Boathouse with a sweet view of the sand and surf.
Lovers Point Park, Monterey
The water is so clear and calm at Lovers Point Park, you just may think you’ve transported to the Caribbean. The shallow water offers the ideal place for your kids to wade around, without worrying about crashing waves.
Bring a kayak or standup paddleboard to venture around the cove, or create some friendly competition on the sand volleyball courts. The park also features a picnic area, snack bar, and a swimming pool for children.
Best Family Beaches in Northern California
The water may be even colder along the shoreline in Northern California, but that doesn’t stop families from making a splash at these prime beach spots along the coast.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
For a different kind of beach day, make your way to the colorful shores of Fort Bragg. This unique beachfront is covered in millions of pieces of sea glass. The pieces of glass are remnants from when the beach was once a place for dumping glass bottles.
Your little ones will love hunting for the colorful treasures along the shoreline, but leave what you find behind for others to enjoy. Also, the waters can be rough in this area, so swimming is not recommended.
Crissy Field, San Francisco
Pack up your bicycles and make your way to Crissy Field for the day. Also known as East Beach, this San Francisco beach stretch is connected to the Golden Gate Promenade, a portion of the San Francisco Bike Trail. Go for a spin along the waterfront trail with your kids and then take a dip in the (cold) water, which is safe for swimming.
Dogs are welcome on this beach, so bring Fido along for the fun, too. When hunger strikes, pop into the Beach Hut Cafe for snacks and head over to the West Bluff Picnic Area.
Whether you’re traveling with toddlers or teens, your kids are never too old to enjoy a family beach day. Round up your crew and hit the sand in one of the 15 best beaches in California for families.
Favorite Kid-Friendly Beaches in California
I grew up in California so definitely have favorite kid-friendly beaches from when I was younger to the present day as the mom of a teen. Yes, they’re mostly Southern California family beaches with one Central Coast beach mentioned and this is mostly because the weather and ocean temperatures are conducive to longer days of swimming and sunbathing.
La Jolla Shores Beach
La Jolla Shores Beach is, of course, near my house. I like it because not only is it a big sandy beach but it’s the gateway to the La Jolla Underwater Park where there are reefs that slow down the surf breaks on part of the beach. This means that the waves are great for kids to boogie board or learn how to surf.
Coronado Central Beach
People travel from all over the world to visit Coronado Central Beach in front of Hotel del Coronado. Point Loma prevents the waves from getting too big here as well. There is plenty of sand to lay out your towel in addition to little winter tide pools. And, you might catch a glimpse of one of the massive Sandcastle Man structures that he leaves on the beach almost daily.
Huntington City Beach
Surf City USA is where I grew up. You can surf near the pier, if you’re good, but the waves are fun for kids to boogie board north or south of it. It’s also a quintessential wide sandy Southern California beach with a couple of family-friendly resorts bordering it.
Santa Monica State Beach
Pretty beach plus a pier with a small amusement park? This screams family-friendly. In fact, most families that I work with choose to stay in Santa Monica in one of the beach resorts like Shutters or Fairmont Miramar rather than in Los Angeles.
East Beach, Santa Barbara
My parents had a second home in Santa Barbara so I also grew up going to this big sandy beach. It’s the Central Coast so the ocean is not as warm year-round (but is plenty warm in the summer), and I loved playing volleyball on the courts here.
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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