Is your goal this summer to find the best family-friendly beaches in California? The Golden State is synonymous with sandy beaches, enchanting waves, and a chilled-out lifestyle. But while swimming in the sea and building castles is fun, some of the beaches in Cali have what it takes to elevate themselves to “kid-friendly” status.
Family beaches in California have clean restrooms, easy parking, lifeguards, and places to snack. However, the best of them also offer hiking trails, tide pools, play areas, and a whole lot more for children to explore this summer. So, what are you waiting for? Pack that sunscreen and get going!
Best Family Beaches in California
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Balboa Island, Newport Beach
The best beaches in southern California for families should be fun, sunny, and sandy, and Balboa Beach provides all three in abundance! This mile-long sun-kissed shore caters to people of all ages – surfing and parasailing for teens, fishing for young kids, and even whale watching on a yacht or Duffy boat for babies.
The restrooms and lifeguard stations will help worried mamas let loose and relax while their toddlers splash in the water. Set up lunch at the picnic table or BBQ over the fire pits to replenish after playtime. Or, head over to Balboa Island by ferry to grab the iconic bad boy, the Balboa Bar, a block of vanilla ice hand-dipped in chocolate and coated in more sugary toppings.
When it’s time to burn off that sugar, drop by Cali’s oldest amusement park, the Balboa Fun Zone and challenge your kids to an arcade game. Before you leave, catch a ride on the waterfront Ferris Wheel for some pretty spectacular views.
Rated highly for its sparkling waters, shimmering sands (thanks to the mica), and gorgeous views, Coronado Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego for families. Plus, it allows you to have a true family vacation since you can bring your furry friends here with you!
While the teens get busy surfing, biking, kayaking, and boogie boarding, parents can catch a breather with the younger ones at the tide pools. When the hunger pangs set in, set up at the picnic table or order food and drinks to your rental cabana from the legendary Hotel del Coronado.
Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean will love catching a glimpse of the sunken shipwreck during low tide. Budding biologists-to-be can spend time adding to their shell and sand dollar collections. They’re guaranteed to lose their minds over the tidepools that teem with sea creatures!
Even lazy travelers have something to look forward to here; gondola rides followed by roasting marshmallows over a bonfire. The showers, restrooms, and lifeguard stations make parents’ lives a lot simpler.
Tip: watch for the military aircraft that fly over the beach!
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove gets a seal of approval for many reasons, but its the resident seals and sea lions that take the cake for us! One of the best family beaches in San Diego, this sanctuary is a haven for those seeking some old-fashioned R&R. Frolic in the soft sand, fly kites in the sea breeze, explore sea caves, or dive into the azure waters.
The seven miles of white sand is a graphic masterpiece, so take it in with a hike or view it from a hang glide!
Restrooms and showers are available for a quick change after a swim in the warm waters. Scuba, snorkeling, and kayaking aside, one can even golf at the close by Torrey Pines. The very best thing to do, of course, is to admire the magnificent beasts lounging in the sand, or at The Children’s Pool (no humans allowed here).
Reminder: Parking spots fill up quickly during weekends and the holiday season, so make sure to get there nice and early.
While there are plenty of surf beaches in California, nothing beats South Carlsbad State Beach when it comes to being beginner-friendly. The soft waves are spaced out and not on top of each other, making it the perfect spot for your kid’s first surf lessons.
Far from the bustling city, this silent oasis is best for quality family time. Stroll the beach, work on your tan, build sandcastles, and play beach ball. The lifeguards keep visitors safe, so guardians can rest easy.
To take the experience to the next level, pitch a tent on the beach campgrounds. Feast on sticky smores and share stories around the campfire before waking up to watch the sunrise over the ocean.
Another bonus is that it’s close to the Legoland California Hotel, a hotel that is designed to encapsulate every kid’s dream and every parent’s foe – LEGOs.
Zuma beach just has to be on your list of the best family-friendly beaches in California! It has a ton of facilities for kids including a play area, concession stands, and numerous opportunities to windsurf and kiteboard. Add to that the nearby Malibu Equestrian Park for its recreational riding, and you’ve got the perfect beach vacation.
Zuma Beach is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway, making it a smart spot to stretch those legs while on a road trip through California. However, parking can be quite challenging due to the sheer amount of land there is to cover, so don’t forget your lot number.
Equipped with restrooms, picnic tables, and lifeguard stands, this wide stretch of beach is a nice and clean resting spot for those on holiday. Setting the mood with spectacular scenes of the sea, this Beach is a fantastic place to spot dolphins and migrating gray whales.
Caramel City Beach
Caramel City Beach is one of the best family-friendly beaches in California mainly thanks to the phenomenal views. The beautiful clean beach is a mile-long and in the shape of a crescent that is surrounded by green areas.
Here, you’ll feel the super soft sand beneath your feet as you listen to the lull of the waves. Truly a gem, this also has the added benefit of being one of the few dog-friendly beaches in California.
There are volleyball courts, changing areas, restrooms, jogging trails, and plenty of parking. There are numerous attractions close by, too, such as the Monterey Mirror Maze, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Discovery Whale Watching to visit once the kids get tired of surfing. End your visit with a trip downtown to explore the local art, eat delicious food, and shop at the boutique stores.
Santa Monica State Beach
The best family beach vacations in California almost always include a visit to Santa Monica Beach. This golden sand beach straddles the Pacific Ocean and offers views that are beautiful enough to make it one of the city’s favorite spots in California to watch the sunset. The northern section is very big and clean, while the southern beach is green.
This go-to beach for kids offers adults and children the chance to zoom around in a rental bike, play at the sports courts, indulge in the play area, splash in the sea, surf the waves, fish with dad, or whatever tickles your fancy! There are so many things to do!
The pier is the most perfect place to spend time with your family here. You’ll find entertainment at the small amusement park and plenty of restaurants you can visit to refuel. There’s even an arcade, aquarium, and Ferris Wheel for moms and dads who crave some old-school fun.
Tip: If you’re visiting during the peak holiday season, opt for a ride-share to avoid wasting time looking for parking.
Corona del Mar State Beach
Find Corona Del Mar State Beach nestled between Laguna and Newport on your way to Disneyland in Anaheim. The “Crown of the Sea” has two main attractions, namely the surf spot at Big Corona, and the tide pools full of ocean critters and other curiosities at Little Corona. Reminiscent of a Hawaiian island, this magical place is super family oriented.
Among the family-friendly beaches in California, this one boasts a large space for kids to run free, clean restrooms, BBQ areas, fire pits, volleyball courts, and lifeguard stations. Gather your clan for a day of hiking and picnicking on this beach that’s surrounded by splendid views.
The cooler waters make the beach extremely popular during the summers for scuba divers and surfing enthusiasts.
Crissy Field East Beach
Why is Crissy Field East Beach on our list of best family-friendly beaches in California? Connected to the Golden Gate Promenade (part of the San Francisco Bike Trail), this picturesque beach showcases some of San Francisco’s best sights: Angel Island, Marin Headlands, and the infamous Alcatraz Island.
And when the tummies start to rumble, the iconic hot cocoa and a latte at the Warming Hut Café will sate those cravings.
Whether taking a walk through the mist at dawn, picnicking with the family, or setting aside time for some quiet reflection at dusk, Crissy’s magic will make your time there special. Kite enthusiasts can go kite flying, kiteboarding, windsurfing, and try other windy beach activities over the soft golden sand.
Meanwhile, speedsters can bike through the grassy parks, toddlers can try taking a dip in the (cold) water, parents can set up a picnic on the lawn, and the old-timers can fish at the pier.
Keep an eye out for the ethereal rainbow over the Golden Gate. It is one of the best northern California beaches for families for a reason!
Note: Paw parents rejoice as this beach welcomes dogs.
Arroyo Burro Beach
This hidden jewel is a paradise for families with kids. In fact, Arroyo Burro should be on everybody’s bucket list of the best beaches in central California. Also called Hendry’s Beach, it’s where you’d go to teach your toddler to dog paddle or kid to catch their first wave. Even dogs are welcome!
Hike and bike through the Douglas Family Reserve before cooling off in the waters. Kids and adults can swim, kayak, bodyboard, beach comb, and even fish under the watchful eyes of the lifeguards. The lucky ones might even spot a passing seal!
Tip: Come around late noon for a long walk down the beach before the tide comes in towards the cliffs and steals the sand away.
The best family beaches in California are located near the Newport Pier. Known for being less touristy, this beach has a boardwalk for the family to skate and ride rental bikes. The vibe is mellow.
Plus, getting to watch the shore lights all around you glow brighter as the sun goes down is a feeling unmatched; almost like a show that the city has put on, especially for you!
There’s always something for everybody here. Babies can watch for dolphins with their parents, toddlers can build castles in the sand, kids can splash in the sea, teens can boogie board, and everybody can test their skills on a surfboard.
Set forth on a voyage of your own as you sail, canoe, or boat over the gentle waves. Animal lovers will see seagulls and crabs, and if lucky, even spot stingrays and dolphins.
Tip: Free parking can be found off the main streets in the side alleys.
We can’t talk about secret beaches in California without mentioning Seal Beach! Situated in Orange County, this beach is cut off by two inlets.
Far less crowded than the other beaches, this is the place to lay out that blanket to work on your tan with a book in hand. Kids can romp in the sand, do cartwheels, or splash to their heart’s content.
When the sun goes down, wander the pier for food or shopping. This is the perfect place to spend a quiet day with the family without the rush of daily living.
When it’s the best family-friendly beaches in California you want to visit, Venice Beach is one you can’t miss. Why? Much like its namesake, this vibrant beach is bursting with street life.
All along the boardwalk, you’ll find entertainers and skating enthusiasts showing off their skills and even bodybuilders flexing their muscles at the outdoor Muscle Beach Gym!
The murals and graffiti that cover the Venice Art walls like a comic book make the place even more vibrant. Rollerblade, bike or skateboard down the beachside Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail.
Kids can play at the oceanfront play areas while surfers ride the waves. There are also options to kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and more. Parents can relax as there are lifeguards stationed at the beach to keep visitors safe.
Mission Beach is all about that beach lifestyle. “Surf, sand, and sun” are the mantra that locals and visitors live by here.
Choose to ride your bikes down the 2-mile-long boardwalk or ride the oldest wooden roller coaster in California (the Giant Dipper), or do both! However you choose to spend your time, fun is guaranteed!
The amusement park is an easy favorite for those holidaying with kids, and the surfing scenes are top notch too. Parents will get a kick out of the arcade games, while kids are sure to appreciate the sweet treats from the ice cream stores.
Since it has lifeguards all year round, it remains one of the safest places for kids to learn to swim. And a mere short stroll away is Seaworld San Diego at Mission Bay!
Pismo State Beach contains pretty much anything a kid could want and more! Plus, it’s dog-friendly too.
Play areas, volleyball courts, and a boardwalk to fish or birdwatch, this is the idyllic seaside family vacation you’ve always dreamed about. However, the highlight is surely the Monarch Butterfly Grove. Get swept up in the magic of being surrounded by hundreds of butterflies, but don’t forget to take pictures!
Camp, surf, kayak, zip around the nearby dunes in an ATV, or explore the Dinosaur Caves at Pismo as the sun goes down. Water fountains and restrooms are available for a quick change.
Crystal Cove State Park
Grab a bucket and explore the tide pools of the Laguna Beach coast through Crystal Cove State Park. Starfish, crabs, and even anemones can be discovered in the conservation area. You can also bike the trails into the Moro Canyon for fantastic views of the coast.
There are shower areas, restrooms, picnic tables, camping grounds, and even hiking and biking trails to explore. Younger kids are sure to enjoy horseback riding at the beach too.
Tip: Explorers will need good shoes.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is located on the west side of Santa Cruz, at the end of the beautiful west cliff drive. Packed with California Brown Pelicans, cormorants, snowy egrets, and gulls, this waterfront is one of the best family vacation spots California has to offer for birdwatching. Remember to bring your binoculars!
Easily navigate your way through the rock shelves with interesting patterns to find tidepools filled with beautiful wildlife. Travel inland to check out the visitor center, where you can learn about the local wildlife (especially the birds) before you hike, bike, or horse ride through the network of trails. You might also get to watch migrating whales in the ocean, or spot seals and otters too!
If watching a swarm of Monarch butterflies flock to the eucalyptus trees at the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve sounds magical to you, October and April are the months to visit. The experience truly is like a fairytale come alive!
The pier is what makes Manhattan beach one of the best LA beaches for families. Play beach volleyball, cycle the concrete strand along the coast, or visit The Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier. It’s an epicenter of activity!
Swimming and riding the waves are done under the watchful eyes of lifeguards, so parents can breathe easy. And once the hangry tantrums set in, you can check out the abundance of places to eat close by.
Tip: Parents who want some me time can check out Adventureplex’s Parent Night Out drop-off system for date nights (Fridays and Saturdays).
The Pearl of L.A.’s South Bay is quite popular, which can make finding parking quite a struggle, so make it a point to arrive early.
Cayucos State Beach, Cayucos
Stop by Cayucos State Beach as you drive along the road from LA to SF for a surprise. A great wooden pier that extends into the sea, cozy benches littering the sandy beach, and most importantly, a postcard view of the majestic ocean with rolling hills in the background, wait to greet you.
It offers visitors free parking, free restrooms, play areas, and a swing set for children. Surfers can ride the waves, while the rest build castles in the sand. Budding naturalists will be excited at the chance to visit the tide pools and fish at the pier. When it’s time to eat, just walk to restaurants that are between 50 and 200 feet.
Moonstone Beach, Cambria
A treasure chest for beachcombers, Moonstone Beach is renowned for the moonstones and sea glass found along the shoreline. Since the surf is quite rough, this is perfect for visiting on days when it’s simply too cold to get in the water.
Looking for the best beaches in Los Angeles for families that are off the beaten path? Travel to Redondo Beach for a view of lovely cliffs blooming with colorful flowers. The dirt trail climbs up the cliff and is best suited for older kids and teenagers.
The Pier is where to go to eat, shop, and duck away from swooping pelicans. You’ll find shops that sell fancy kites and stores that sell yummy ice creams. While there aren’t many public amenities, the lack of crowds makes it well worth the trip.
Note: Parking is on the dirt and it’s best approached in a 4×4 or a high-clearance vehicle.
Moonlight State Beach
Hike along the cliffs of the beach to watch the sunrise and sunset at Moonlight State Beach. For easier access, the beach has a walkway and public restrooms too. Be it smashing serves at volleyball or toddling in the playgrounds, it’s easy to see why this beach is one of the best family-friendly beaches in California.
Great for wading, boogie boarding, and surfing, the water isn’t too deep which is perfect for kids. Plus, the lifeguard stations keep a close eye on visitors. A handy concession stand that sells snow cones will likely be the littles’ favorite part of the trip. There are also charcoal grills to whip up a quick meal.
Stop at Glass Beach while en route to Eureka, CA for a unique experience. Although the rough waters aren’t ideal for swimming, the major attraction at this beach is the sea glass remnants. Collect pieces of glass with soft rounded edges in a plethora of mesmerizing colors. Just keep in mind that you can’t take them home.
Walk the trails with your kids before picnicking on the beach. It’s easy to lose track of time observing the wildlife in the tide pools.
You’ll be able to spot anemones and starfish at low tide. Once you’re done exploring, head south to B Bryan Preserve to see giraffes and zebras up close!
Santa Cruz Main Beach
Santa Cruz Main Beach is a must-visit for one main thing: the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Featuring over 40 rides and attractions, this “Coney Island of the West’ has a historic Looff Carousel as well as enough funnel cakes and corn dogs to sate the hungriest beachgoers. Educate kids about sea life at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.
Tip: The beach is close to the bizarre Mystery Spot.
Huntington State Beach
Considered one of the best beaches on the west coast, Huntington State Beach is loved for its jaw-dropping sunset views. The surf’s always up at this beach and the world-famous surf break near the pier is why it’s nicknamed Surf City USA.
The waves are perfect for playtime and swimming around, even for small children. Worried parents of new swimmers can always set up near one of the many lifeguards. Check out the International Surfing Museum to inspire and motivate your little ones to give it a try!
Surfers can catch some waves, while the rest go boogie boarding, kite flying, one-wheeling, cycling, and more. There are play areas for children, basketball and volleyball courts to grab a quick game, and the spectacular Vans Off the Wall Skatepark to show off those mad skills.
When it’s time to refuel, gather your tribe around the bonfire to enjoy a packed lunch/dinner with toasty marshmallows, or visit one of the local restaurants on the pier.
Tip: Parking is easy to access, but requires payment and fills soon.
Santa Catalina Island
This island escape is something out of a storybook with its exciting activities for the family like snorkeling, parasailing, ziplining, glass boats, and even submarine tours where you can immerse yourself in the sea without getting wet! Wander around on foot or rent bicycles, electric bikes, or golf carts. You can also take the Garibaldi bus for $2/person.
The beach is known for being a haven for whales, making it the place to visit to see them up close. Keep on the lookout on your ferry ride out to Dana Point, then stroll down to fill those grumbling stomachs at the local seafood restaurants. While on the island, live like the locals and sample the regional specialty: Buffalo Milk.
Lovers Point Park, Monterey
The view is always beautiful at Lovers Point Park. The water is crystal clear and there are lovely walking trails and biking paths along the bluff. There are also rentals for water sports and cycle carts.
Simply laze about at the beach or swimming pool when it’s sunny and bright. Splash in the shallow waters or look for seashells in the hidden tidepools. Later, tire yourself out with a game of beachball or kayak around the cove.
Keep an eye out for whales, sea otters, and sea lions, and for a quick lesson on these creatures and marine conservation, head to the Watershed Resource Center. Or introduce your kids to the wonders of the ocean at the closeby Monterey Bay Aquarium.
La Jolla Shores Park
Do you love the beach but hate when sand gets everywhere? Do you like the waves but are too nervous to swim? Do you like to surf, but bodyboarding is your real skill? If any of these resonates with you, La Jolla Shores is the beach to visit.
The packed sand of this beach means flat terrain that’s easy to walk, jog, run, and play on. The water sports are varied and accommodate all ages, that includes snorkeling, surfing, and scuba diving. Younger kids will love observing sea creatures like leopard sharks and sting rays in the tide pools next to the Scripps pier.
There’s even a connected grassy park with a play area and a walking path. In the evening, roast s’mores over the fire pits, or stroll down the block to dine at one of the local establishments.
Behold the sunset from nearby hiking trails surrounding this beach for stunning views of the ocean. The State Reserve is dedicated to guarding the indigenous Torrey Pines. There’s a visitor center at the top of the cliff at Torrey Pines Lodge where you can learn about the local history.
The long coastline has hard-packed sand that is easy to walk on for even tiny feet. Hiking the rocks, on the other hand, is better suited for older kids as they are slippery.
There is much to do here, between riding the swells at the beach, paragliding along the coastline, and wading in the shallow stream. You might even spot a seal or two while fishing!
Tip: Tower 5 is a fun spot for bodyboarding or surfing waves.
Restrooms and a fountain to rinse off after are available. Pay to park at the parking lot or park on the streets for free.
Point Dume State Beach
At the top of the list of best Malibu beaches for families is Westward Beach. Located to the west of the Pacific Coast Highway, this 3-mile beach is a sandy haven for visitors who want to combine leisure with incredible sights.
Watch seals and dolphins beside the Point Dume Natural Preserve. Children can swim at the beach without fear thanks to the lifeguards stationed for safety. Amenities include parking, outdoor showers, and restrooms.
A trail from a coastal bluff dune leads to the Nature Preserve, where you can watch clear views of the north Malibu Coast, Santa Monica Bay, and even the Catalina Islands. The real gem of this beach can be found toward the south end.
Pirates Cove, a hidden treasure that is located behind the beach’s rocky outgrowths is sure to appeal to tiny adventurers.
Want sand, waves, forests, and wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Baker Beach is one of the best family-friendly beaches in California for unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Dogs are on the beach and bathrooms are conveniently located close to the parking lot for quick changes. Due to the water being quite cold, it’s best to opt for this beach if your family would prefer to play in the sand over the sea.
Walk the cool sands and keep an eye out for dolphins, sea lions, and porpoises in the waves. You might even spot starfish at low tide.
There are several hiking paths along the beach, and if you are feeling adventurous, make the 2-mile hike from the middle of the beach to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. For history lovers, the north end of the parking lot leads to the Battery Chamberlin, where you will find a 97,000-pound cannon.
Leo Carrillo State Beach
Beautiful, aesthetic, and peaceful, Leo Carrillo is known for its caves, tidepools, wild rock formations, and big swells. When the tide is low, the tide pools are like mini rainforests, filled with hermit crabs, sea snails, little fish, and sea anemones.
If you time it right (low tide), you can go down the beach and over some small rocks to reach the sea caves. Park your vehicle and take a tunnel under the PCH to the beach where the clean and clear ocean awaits!
Tip: Use the pay-by-phone app to save $1 on all-day parking.
Consider amping up the holiday by staying at the Leo Carrillo Campground. This is the best way to enjoy the gorgeous Leo Carrillo State Park up north, hike the trails, and then end the day with a game of tag in the surf.
The flattened terrain here makes Hermosa Beach the ideal spot to learn watersports and swimming. That’s great news, too, since this city takes its games very seriously, which is reflected in the regular competitions held. You can participate in amateur games or watch the pros battle it out in volleyball, surfing, and paddle-boarding competitions.
Amble down the strand with your toddler or cycle along the pier with your teen, this is the ultimate “quality-time” vacation spot. There’s a farmers market to pick local products for a quick picnic. You might also choose to just dine at one of the establishments on the strand. It’s all a fun time when at Hermosa Beach!
Most importantly, don’t skip taking your kids fishing! Grabbing your fishing gear, sitting on the pier, and imparting lessons on life and fishing is nothing short of a rite of passage.
Montara State Beach
Take your teens hiking on Montara Mountain and then climb down a 25-foot-long rope to access the beach (there are stairs for those less adventurous)! Lie in the beautiful flower fields and spend time watching the clouds pass you by as the sounds of the waves engulf you. It’s the perfect place for that Instagram photoshoot with the kids.
The So-Cal feel of this beach is enhanced by its relaxed atmosphere, and you can witness this firsthand by staying at the Point Montara lighthouse. Ardent fishing maniacs will be thrilled by the fishing scene, where you’ll be able to catch crabs too.
Tucked away at the end of the San Pedro coastline, this beach offers beautiful views of the mountains at sunset. However, it’s the many kid-friendly activities here that make it a favorite for families.
There is a play area, a jet ski area, volleyball courts, a roped-off swim section, a non-motorized vehicle area, and water sports like surfing and scuba diving. It’s home to the Sunken City hike, a path that visitors can take to view old military housing ruins, some of which are fabled to have fallen off the cliffside and into the bay.
However, the star of the show is definitely the free Cabrillo Marine Aquarium next door!
Walk to Angels Gate point at the very to see a little lighthouse and Foghorn at the rock Jetty. You’ll see big cruise ships enter and exit, as well as cargo ships that come in at high tide. You’ll also find a mile-long pier from which you can fish or watch the local fauna.
Other beaches to consider.
How can we miss out a place which boasts Long Beach in its name? From Mothers Beach with shallow water perfect for toddlers or Peninsula Beach are great family beaches. There are lots of things to do in Long Beach for families too!
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