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Southern California Beaches: A Native’s 3 Favorites

The last of winter’s rains are washing through the streets, but a sudden profusion of skirts and sandals says that San Francisco is ready for spring. I’m with the masses–Mother Nature needs to pick up the pace and get summery! But without the aid of a weather-controlling device, I’ve really only got two choices: wait out the chill, or drive south to SoCal.

It took me some time away from home to really appreciate Southern California. In fact, this has been the first year spring has really signaled an inner craving for a day on the beach. I’ve found myself flipping through swimwear catalogues, pricing tickets to the coast, and wondering how well those spray tans work–the whole pre-summer ritual. And every time I begin planning my escape, I start with Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach

Laguna has always ranked among my favorite beaches. If you walk the wooden “sidewalk” that surrounds it, you get a view that’s almost ridiculously “California.” There’s a volleyball net strung over the sand, old-fashioned lifeguard towers overlooking the water, kids splashing through the surf, and toned 20-somethings bronzing by the waves–but it’s the city itself that makes me love this locale. You can walk directly from the shore to a whole world of art galleries, taco bars, and burger joints in minutes, most of which won’t look twice at your flip-flops.

San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre is another Southern California classic–popular mainly with surfers, campers, and hikers. I’ve never been great at surfing, but the trails running through the desert scrub make for gorgeous spring and summer day hikes. Sometimes you can even spot seals and dolphins ducking through the waves! The closest city is San Clemente, which offers its own share of beaches and surf spots.

Doheney State Beach

While it tends to be a bit more crowded than the other beaches, Doheney is one of those places I always find myself coming back to–usually with a group of good friends. The integrated picnic tables and barbecue pits draw plenty of families, kids’ soccer teams, and teenagers to the area, and sometimes during a plankton bloom the beach will glow with bioluminescent noctiluca–a rare sight, but one definitely worth seeing. Nearby, Dana Point Harbor offers whale watching, fresh fried clams at Jon’s Fish Market, and tons of opportunities to sail and fish.

Even with so many Southern California beaches to choose from, these three spots are hard to beat for completeness. They’ve got some surf, some culture, and–for me–a lot of memories. Come visit and make your own.


Image credits from top to bottom: “Laguna Beach Lifeguard” by AntyDiluvian; “California surfing” by Ricardo Fernandez;  “beach view” by M.A.X.


My name: Kate Beall

How I earn my keep: Writing for Travelocity.

Best meal I've ever had: There are three: the mofongo at Jimmy'z Kitchen in South Beach, the lomito completo at Fuente Alemana in Santiago, and (for the sheer novelty factor) the cuy chactado in Arequipa, Peru.

First thing I do in a new place: Hit the shower. Anything more than an hour in transit gets me fantasizing about soap.

View that took my breath away: Seeing the endless stretch of the Sierras as I flew in to Reno/Tahoe for the first time. In the winter, it's an aching field of white all the way to the horizon, like a world wiped clean. Looking out at it gives you this unmatched feeling of eternity.

Most challenging travel moment: Sharing a pull-out couch in a cramped New York apartment. The heat wave of 2010 was in full, humid swing and the air conditioning was D.O.A. There was nothing to do but soak your clothes in the sink and hope to pass out before they dried. ...then wake up in an hour and do it all again.

Favorite way to get around: On foot. I'm still working on the motorcycle license.


Jennifer Gaines

Kate, you can stop your wondering about those spray tans! I’m here to say — they work! Unless you do what I did last summer and spend a day in a wet suit. My tan peeled off, making a very strange pattern across my body!

Mohali Hotels

Where is the ideal Southern California camping spot this time of year.My friends and I are looking for a place to go camping in a few weeks after mid terms and we were wondering where we should go. We are looking for a place that is close to a body of water ( the ocean, a lake, waterfalls, or a river). A place that we can build a fire. And lastly a place that is enjoyable and beautiful. Thanks!

Cherokee County Homes

I’m a Gulf of Mexico beachgoer myself, but all three beaches you listed look very nice. The only pacific beach I’ve been on is in Tahiti :-)


My favorite SoCal beach is Zuma. It tends to get crazy during the summer, so we come early to beat the crowd. I spend a lot of time there during the summer, training for triathlons and relaxing afterward. The best time to visit is early September, when the water gets warmer and the water clears up. Last year I swam with dolphins and it was a great experience.

summer dresses

Roll on summer! I can’t wait to get back into shorts and sandals, the weather in the UK is pretty miserable at the moment.

Parkeren Schiphol

Summer here we come! Can’t wait to be on the beach again! These photo’s really are summer. Last year I was there, great place to be.

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