The 15 Best Family-Friendly Beaches in California

The 15 Best Family-Friendly Beaches in California

By Ani Karibian July 21, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Planning the ultimate family vacation can be a bit of a challenge. But thanks to California’s unparalleled weather and 840 miles of spectacular coastline, a family-friendly beach vacation is always a good idea. Whether you’re searching for a day trip or a weeklong getaway, the Golden State has a beach destination that’s bound to please everyone in your crew. So, you don't have to worry any longer—here are California’s best family-friendly beaches.

All you have to do is pick a place, grab the mineral sunscreen, and fill the ice chest with healthy snacks and refreshing kombucha; wherever you go, an adventure awaits you.  

The Best Family Beaches in Southern California

With soft sands, gentle surf, and an oceanfront amusement park, Santa Monica Beach is the perfect destination for families.

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1. Santa Monica Beach

Location: Santa Monica

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parking: Park in the lot (for a fee), along the boardwalk, or near the Third Street Promenade.

Amenities: Lifeguard, volleyball courts, children’s play area, public restrooms, beach showers, pier, picnic area, BBQ pit, paved bike path, wheelchair accessibility, restaurants, and shopping,

Dogs allowed: No

One of the top attractions in Los Angeles and best weekend getaways in the state, this quintessential SoCal beach has everything your kids could ever dream of. From sunbathing and swimming to eating ice cream and screaming their lungs out on one of Pacific Park’s roller-coasters, the youngsters will have the time of their lives here—guaranteed. While on the Santa Monica Pier, take the kids for a ride on the Ferris wheel and learn about aquatic animals at the Heal the Bay Aquarium. With plenty of fine dining, shopping, and entertainment options located inland on the Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica has something for everyone

2. Manhattan Beach

Location: 699 North The Strand, Manhattan Beach

Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 pm.

Parking: The City of Manhattan Beach has 12 parking lots. There are also over 300 parking meters in the Downtown Manhattan Beach business district. Parking lots typically charge $2 per hour, city parking lots cost $1.50 per hour, and street parking is $1.75 per hour.

Amenities: Lifeguard supervision, volleyball courts, children’s play areas, shopping, dining, pier, bike path, aquarium, public restrooms, and beach showers.

Dogs allowed: No

Manhattan Beach is the perfect place for day trips or extended family vacations. Complete with luxury hotels, Zagat-rated restaurants, and picturesque views, this two-mile stretch of white sandy beach is the place to be. Featuring almost 100 volleyball courts, a lively pier, and a gorgeous boardwalk (also known as The Strand), Manhattan Beach is simply irresistible. To get some cardio in, rent bikes and conquer the 22-mile-long Marvin Braude Bike Trail, which offers spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean. 

The beautiful Crystal Cove State Park is an ideal spot for swimming, surfing, and scuba diving, making it ideal for active beachgoers.

3. Crystal Cove State Park

Location: 8471 North Coast Highway, Laguna Beach

Hours: 6 a.m.–sunset

Parking: Parking is available year-round at the Los Trancos parking lot. The day-use fee is $15 per vehicle and the hourly parking rate is $5.  

Amenities: Drinking water, public restrooms, beach showers, wheelchair accessibility, picnic areas, family campsites, hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, lodging, RV access and sites with hookups, and RV dump station

Dogs allowed: No

This Orange County gem is a popular spot for swimmers, surfers, and scuba divers alike. The 3.2 miles of beach is surrounded by 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness, making this state park appealing to outdoor adventurers. With crystal-clear water, rocky reefs, and deeply wooded canyons, Crystal Cove is a geological haven. From dawn ‘till dusk, you’ll lose track of time in this action-packed park. Can’t get enough? Pack your tent and sleep under the stars at the oceanfront campsite.

4. Cabrillo Beach

Location: 3720 Stephen M White Drive, San Pedro

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parking: There is a parking lot that opens at 5:30 a.m. and closes at 10:30 p.m. Parking is free for the first 20 minutes and then costs $1 per hour. You can pay with cash or credit card.

Amenities: Children’s play area, barbecue pits, picnic tables, docking facility, jet ski area, launch ramp at the north end of the beach, non-motorized vehicle area, posts for volleyball (must bring net), roped-off swim area, and trailer parking

Dogs allowed: No 

This quiet and calm beach is a wonderful place to bring kids. There are technically two beach areas here—one outside the breakwater (which is great for surfing) and one within the harbor (which is safe for the youngsters)—so there are plenty of ways to spend your day, including swimming, surfing, and scuba diving. If your family loves a good game of volleyball, then bring the net and the ball, because the match is on. When you need to take a break from the hot sun, check out the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, located right beside the beach.

Situated in "Surf City U.S.A.," the famous Huntington State Beach is a haven for surfing aficionados and water sports enthusiasts.

5. Huntington State Beach

Location: 21601 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach

Hours: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Parking: There is ample parking in lots north and south of the Huntington Beach Pier; it costs $2 per hour, with a $15 daily maximum. There’s also plenty of metered parking along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Amenities: Volleyball courts, public restrooms, outdoor showers, wheelchair accessibility, visitor information kiosk, pier, RV camping (October–May), and about 100 beach bonfire pits

Dogs allowed: No

Rated one of the best beaches in the L.A. area, the iconic Huntington State Beach is a prime choice for family-friendly vacations. If the family isn’t into sunbathing, don’t worry there are plenty of other activities to keep everyone busy in “Surf City U.S.A.” Rent a kayak, a surfboard, a Duffy boat, or stand-up paddleboard—whatever the youngins’ prefer. When you’re ready to take a break from the crashing waves, stretch your legs as you stroll the Huntington Beach Pier. Enjoy a lovely meal at one of Huntington Beach’s delectable eateries located along the waterfront. Before the sun sets, make the skaters in your crew ecstatic by taking them to the famed Vans Off the Wall Skatepark to skate to their heart’s content.

6. Aliso Beach Park

Location: 31131 Coast Highway, Laguna Beach

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Parking: At the pay kiosks, parking lots cost $1 per hour. Additional parking is available via the pedestrian tunnel on the east side of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Amenities: Playground, concession stand, six fire pits, public restrooms, and beach showers

Dogs allowed: Dogs are allowed on the beach, but they must be leashed at all times.

Perhaps one of the most renowned beaches in Laguna, Aliso Beach Park is famous for The Vic, the home of the annual world skimboarding—meeting an incoming wave and riding it back to shore while performing fancy maneuvers—championship. That’s not all Aliso Beach has to offer, though. If you’ve got youngsters, take them to the tranquil waters to swim or to explore the tide pools before starting a barbecue and bonfire in the evening.

La Jolla Cove visitors can spend the day snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and taking in the spectacular scenery.

7. La Jolla Cove

Location: 1100 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parking: Be strategic with parking, especially on weekends and during the summer. There is street parking (usually with a two-hour time limit until 6 p.m. on weekdays) along Prospect and Coast Boulevard. There are also parking garages in the villages that charge an hourly rate, but they fill up quickly, so get there early.

Amenities: Lifeguard supervision from 9 a.m. to sunset daily, public restrooms, beach showers, picnic tables (located throughout the adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park), and belvederes

Dogs allowed: Dogs are allowed on the sand, but only during certain morning and evening hours, depending on the time of year. Dogs are also allowed at the Ellen Browning Scripps Park and on the boardwalk. 

Can’t get enough of sea lions? Well, you’re in luck. La Jolla Cove is home to many sea lions, plus majestic sunsets, delicious seaside dining, and kid-friendly activities. Visit this elegant yet laid-back beach to go kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and of course, swimming. For fantastic seafood and a stunning ocean view, we recommend dining at the 2019 Michelin Guide–recommended George’s at the Cove, housed in one of La Jolla’s original beach cottages overlooking the water.

8. Del Mar City Beach

Location: 1660 Coast Boulevard, Del Mar

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parking: Parking is available (for a fee) in the garages.

Amenities: Lifeguard supervision, grassy parks, picnic tables, kids play area, public restrooms, and benches

Dogs allowed: Dogs are not allowed on the beach between June 16th and Labor Day. The rest of the year, they are allowed on-leash.

Del Mar City Beach is an ideal place to bring your loved ones. The main beach starts at Powerhouse Park and extends north to the lagoon entrance at the San Dieguito River. At the south end of the beach, you'll discover rugged cliffs and tide pools, which create quite the view. On the other end is North Beach—also known as Dog Beach, one of the best dog beaches in California—where dogs are pretty much free to roam. After playing in the sand and the serene waves, take the little ones to Powerhouse Park and Seagrove Park; both are great for barbecues, playgrounds, and picnics. 

Central Coast Beaches the Whole Family Will Enjoy

With an oceanfront playground, campsites, and miles of pristine coastline, Avila Beach City Beach has everything kids need to stay entertained.

9. Avila Beach City Beach

Location: Front Street and San Francisco Street, Avila Beach

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parking: Free parking is available by the beach. 

Amenities: Lifeguard supervision, fishing pier, picnic tables, barbecues, grassy park, basketball court, aquarium, kids play area, and public restrooms

Dogs allowed: Dogs allowed on-leash before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. 

Dreaming of sandy beaches, hot springs, and a round of golf? Plan your next family vacation at Avila Beach City Beach because it has everything you need and more. A short drive away from the wide, pristine beach will take you to a golf course, a campground (if you feel like ditching the hotel scene), and the Avila Hot Springs. There’s also a park situated at the north end of the waterfront, where you can find the Central Coast Aquarium, grassy areas perfect for picnicking, and a pirate-themed playground. The beach and hot springs will leave you relaxed and rejuvenated—and already planning your next trip back. 

10. Pismo Beach

Location: 100 Pomeroy Avenue, Pismo Beach

Hours: 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

Parking: Free parking hours are from 4–10 a.m. and 6–11 p.m. Day-use passes cost $5 per vehicle upon entering the beach. Paid parking areas are also available near the beach; it costs $1 per hour east of Dolliver and $2 per hour west of Dolliver.

Amenities: Pier, boardwalk, volleyball courts, public restrooms, beach showers, children’s play equipment, benches, and water fountains

Dogs allowed: On-leash dogs are permitted on the beach, but they are not allowed on the Pismo Beach Pier. 

Pismo Beach is a picturesque place to hit the waves or sunbathe. Known for its beach breaks, this San Luis Obispo County destination is quite a popular surfing spot. Beginner and experienced surfers alike can spend the day improving their skills or simply catching waves. If the entire fam is into an active beach vacation, there are plenty of other fun activities located nearby. Ride over the sand dunes in a four-wheel ATV, go horseback riding, golfing, or catch your next meal right off the pier. For the ladies who love to shop, check out the Pismo Beach Premium Outlets to score some deals from the likes of Coach, Kate Spade, and Nike.

The Best Beaches in Northern California for Families

The stunning Half Moon Bay State Beach is home to four beach areas, providing an array of activities fit for the entire family.

11. Half Moon Bay State Beach

Location: 95 Kelly Avenue, Half Moon Bay

Hours: 8 a.m.–sunset

Parking: There are three parking lots within the city of Half Moon Bay as well as limited parking in the main day-use lot next to the beach.

Amenities: Drinking water, public restrooms, beach showers, wheelchair accessibility, picnic areas, learning center, fishing area, family campsites, hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, lodging, RV access and sites with hookups, and RV dump station

Dogs allowed: Dogs are not allowed on the beach. Dogs are allowed in the campground, in the day-use picnic areas, and on the Coastal Trail. They must be on-leash at all times. 

This four-mile-long stretch of sand in beautiful Half Moon Bay actually consists of four beaches: Francis Beach, Venice Beach, Dunes Beach, and Roosevelt Beach. All the beaches are equally stunning and well-equipped with amenities for the family. Regardless of which one you choose (or, if you have the time, check them all out and find your favorite spot), you’ll be in awe at the natural beauty that awaits you. If your kids love playing with sand, then you may want to opt for Dunes Beach, home to famous sand dunes. 

12. Heart’s Desire Beach

Location: Tomales Bay State Park, 1100 Pierce Point Road, Inverness

Hours: 8 a.m.–8 p.m.

Parking: There’s a parking lot by the beach that charges $8 per vehicle, but note that the lot often fills up before noon on nice days. If it’s full, you can park for free at the Jepson Trailhead above Shallow Beach and hike 1.5 miles to Hearts Desire.

Amenities: Picnic tables

Dogs allowed: No

Tucked away in Tomales Bay State Park, this beach is ideal for families, especially those coming with little ones in tow. The water here is calm and a bit warmer than that at other nearby beaches. Complete with marvelous scenery, a grassy area, and picnic tables with a scenic view, Heart’s Desire Beach is a wonderful place to spend quality time together. If the family is into hiking, you can always park by the Jepson Trailhead and hike 1.5 miles to the beach. From Heart’s Desire Beach, you can also explore the backcountry by following the Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Beach trails. 

Nestled in the Point Reyes National Seashore, Limantour Beach boasts a long, wide stretch of sand and ample wildlife.

13. Limantour Beach

Location: 1390 Limantour Spit Road, Point Reyes Station

Hours: 6 a.m.–midnight

Parking: Free parking is available.

Amenities: Public restrooms, a hostel, and trails

Dogs allowed: Dogs are allowed on-leash south of the beach access point.

Limantour Beach is located within the 71,028-acre Point Reyes National Seashore. The stunning region of Point Reyes is home to many gorgeous beaches and wilderness, so if your family is made up of explorers, this is the perfect place to go. At Limantour Beach, you can watch harbor seals and gray whales, take Fido on a walk, and let the little ones play in the gentle waters. So, leave the hectic city life behind and enjoy a chill vacation in this massive stretch of well-preserved wilderness. (While you’re there, check out the Point Reyes Shipwreck, one of the best beaches in California to visit year-round.)

14. Schoolhouse Beach

Location: Sonoma Coast State Park, Viking Strand and Highway 1, Bodega Bay

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Parking: The large parking lot for Schoolhouse Beach is located just off Highway 1, at the north end of the tiny unincorporated housing community of Carmet.

Amenities: Fishing permitted, picnic tables, and public restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

One of the widest beaches between Bodega Bay and the Russian River, this stretch of Sonoma Coast State Park is known for its magnificence—and it’s a great fishing spot. Surrounded by rocky headlands, this beach is made for exploring season after season. Other beaches situated off of the Sonoma Coast are not safe to visit during high tide, but Schoolhouse Beach definitely is, so bring your kids here to watch the waves or cast a line.  

15. Greenwood State Beach

Location: 6150 CA-1, Elk

Hours: 6 a.m.–one hour after sunset

Parking: Parking lot

Amenities: Fishing permitted, picnic areas, hiking trails, visitor center, museum, and public restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

This California state-protected beach, also known as Elk Beach, is located in Mendocino County’s semi-remote town of Elk. Upon arrival, stop by the Visitor Center in the middle of town to get a glimpse of what life was like here during the late 1800s. Your family will not only gain new knowledge about one of the state’s unique small towns, but they’ll also explore less-developed, more rugged terrain and enjoy gorgeous vistas at Greenwood State Beach.

WRITTEN BY
Ani Karibian

WRITTEN BY Ani Karibian

Ani is the content manager for California.com. She savors her time discovering California's hidden gems and writing about the hottest spots in town. She's got an unquenchable thirst for adventur…

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