5 Must See California Coastal Destinations
California is known for its glamorous, fashion-forward lifestyle, dotted with wealthy cities and gorgeous beaches. The beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, the luxuries of Beverly Hills and the street cars in San Francisco are reason enough to venture out to see everything California has to offer. California is a world of its own and these 5 Must See California Coastal Destinations are just proof that the sparkly dresses and big lights are only a fraction of what awaits.
Monterey is a picture perfect coastal town with gorgeous views and easy access to the Pacific. This restful vacation spot is great for a long weekend or a weeklong trip with mini excursions to Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur and even Wine Country. Monterey has so much to offer with Pebble Beach and Pebble Beach Golf, as well as The Monterey Bay Aquarium at Cannery Row where you can find amazing shops, restaurants and more. At the end of Cannery Row there is San Carlos Beach with both options to wade and play in the ocean and sit and picnic in the green park landscape. You can also go to Monterey State Beach and Monterey Bay Waterfront Park with volleyball courts, barbecue pits, tables and recreational trails.
Known for the looming Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic rock formation that can be seen up close at the end of Morro Rock State Beach. at the Morro Bay is found halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, tucked away along the coast and boasts a perfect middle coast climate supporting year-round, outdoor activities like golfing, hiking, surfing, boating and more. Beaches and parks are abundant, but one to note if you have a four-legged family member is North Point Beach which is known for being off-leash pet friendly. You can also enjoy Morro Beach at Morro Rock or kayak just south across the channel to Sandspit Beach. Want to do something else besides wade in the waves? Check out the Museum of Natural History, the Art Center Morro Bay, the Morro Bay Estuary Nature Center or check out Main Street Market. Each and every one of these are free things to do while you explore.
Mendocino seems like one of California’s most forgotten coastal towns that's perfect for a beach getaway. If your goal is to find some unique and peaceful beaches, this is the town for you. Bowling Ball Beach and Glass Beach (coves completely covered in sea glass) are a few and for a regular beach day, check out Caspar Beach. No matter which you choose, make sure you head over to enjoy this serene natural setting without all the fuss of the crowds. Its picture perfect with its stereotypical California laid-back setting and 60's vibe. Check out downtown Mendocino for art galleries, delicious restaurants or throw on some solid shoes or boots to hike the oceanfront bluffs and secluded trails. Our family also loved riding on the Skunk Train, which was named one of the “Top Ten Family Activities in California” by National Geographic Traveler.
If you want something a little closer to the big SoCal cities, then try Encinitas. Just north of San Diego, it was named one of the best places to surf in the world by National Geographic and lays claim to Swami's Beach which is its most famous surfing spot. If surfing isn't your thing, check out the local's favorite at Moonlight Beach where you can enjoy bonfires at sunset, volleyball and more. You can also go hang out at Cardiff State Beach and try kiteboarding or snorkeling for the day. Away from the beach you can explore the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve or go to San Diego’s Botanical Garden (yes, in Encinitas) or the Lux Art Institute. Of course, don't forget to check out the rest of the city filled with coffee shops, record stores and a bit of New England on the west coast at Lobster West.
Another southern underrated coastal destination is Carpinteria, CA just east of Santa Barbara, the county’s most southern beach town. A quaint spot that is home to Carpinteria City Beach, the known as the “world’s safest beach” due to its tiny waves, yet large sandy area. Meanwhile, you can catch the surf waves not far away at Rincon State Beach. Stroll the town and check out the collection of surf shops and restaurants like The Palms where patrons have been cooking their own steaks since the 60s. Stop by in the fall for California’s largest free festival, AvoFest, which boasts 75 music acts on four stages as well as plenty to eat and tons to learn.
If you are planning a California road trip, these five beautiful beach cities are a sure bet for some incredible adventuring. And, check out this post about California's Best Family Vacation Hot Spots, which is full of great recommendations for unique family getaways in the Golden State.