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The Best Orange County Beaches

The Best Orange County Beaches

By California.com
January 14, 2021

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. 

One of Orange County’s best-kept secrets is its 42 miles of pristine beaches, making this SoCal paradise an ideal destination for a beach getaway. Whether you’re looking for calm waters, tide pools buzzing with marine life, ecological preserves, secluded beaches, picturesque boat harbors, or legendary surf breaks—the O.C. has it all.

The Best Orange County Beaches for Surfing

From tourist hot spots with plenty of amenities to quiet coves known only to the locals, these are the best Orange County beaches you should visit next.

Head to Huntington Beach for pristine golden sands and epic surf breaks—it's known as "Surf City USA" for a reason.

1. Huntington City Beach

The fact that Huntington Beach is nicknamed “Surf City USA” should be enough indication of its surf-friendly nature. This long stretch of sandy waterfront starts at Seapoint Street and runs south to Beach Boulevard, where Huntington State Beach starts. Besides great swells and wave breaks, Huntington City Beach offers volleyball courts, bonfire pits, and a pier spanning 1,850 feet in length.

This popular destination on the O.C. coast also boasts plenty of amenities, including public restrooms, outdoor showers, wheelchair accessibility, and surfboard and bicycle rentals. Pro tip: Arrive early and claim a spot, as the sands of this top California surf spot get busy pretty by late morning. 

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Spend a day riding the waves at San Onofre State Beach, then stick around to watch the enchanting sunset.

2. San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach, also known as Old Man’s Beach and Surfing Beach, is a great spot to catch some waves in the O.C. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned surfer, you’ll definitely appreciate the consistent breaks at this top Orange County beach.

Volleyball courts and fire rings are also available on-site, and those looking to spend the night RV camping in SoCal can head south to Bluffs Beach—you’ll find a tent and RV campground as well as numerous trails awaiting exploration.

Surf to your heart's content and admire your spectacular surroundings at Doheny State Beach.

3. Doheny State Beach

Out of all the Orange County beaches on this list, Doheny State Beach is the most suitable one for beginner surfers. This beach has two separate areas: north and south. The north part has a large, grassy park with picnic facilities, sand volleyball courts, and an excellent beach. This side of the beach is often frequented by swimmers and beginner surfers because waves roll in slowly from San Juan Bay. The south section of the beach boasts a big campground (perfect for beach camping) and a long stretch of sand—the water on this side is not as clear, though.

The Best Orange County Beaches with Piers

Lounge on the shores of San Clemente State Beach and watch in awe as the sky over San Clemente Pier transforms into cotton-candy hues.

4. San Clemente State Beach

Visit San Clemente to get a feel of the Mediterranean right in the heart of Southern California. The city’s main beach boasts white sandy shores, towering palm trees, and many shops and restaurants nearby. The downtown area near the San Clemente Pier is called Pier Bowl.

At the San Clemente State Beach pier, you’ll find surfers waiting below for the perfect wave to roll in toward shore,  fishermen casting their lines into the water, and families sunbathing on the shoreline. 

Visit Newport Municipal Beach for a fun-filled day along the Orange County coast.

5. Newport Municipal Beach

Newport Municipal Beach is one of the most beloved beaches in Southern California, and for good reason. Known for its historic pier and miles of surf and sand along the peninsula, Newport Beach is a must-see for anyone who hasn’t been yet. If you get tired of staring at the waves (yeah, right), you can dine at one of the many restaurants along the coast, rent a Duffy boat, or take the ferry to Balboa Island.

With beautiful scenery and ample amenities, it’s no wonder this Newport Beach destination is not only one of the best beaches in Orange County, but also in all of California.

The Best Orange County Beaches for Families

Make a beeline for the beach when visiting the town of Laguna Beach, which boasts some of the best beaches in the O.C.

6. Laguna Beach

The world-famous, family-friendly Laguna Beach has so much to offer. There’s nothing you can’t find in this Orange County beach town, which features a diverse selection of restaurants, hotels, and shops close to the shore. Main Beach is a top place to be, especially for sports enthusiasts looking to play volleyball in the sand or to toss a football or Frisbee at the water’s edge. Also ideal for families with small kids, Main Beach’s water is relatively calm (with lifeguards nearby), and there’s even an on-site playground for young children. 

For a bit of tidepool exploration, head north to Rockpile Beach where the tides are relatively low. In the mood for a stroll? Walking all the way south from Pearl Street Beach will lead you to a rock arch known as The Keyhole. And if you want to see one of the most unique beaches in California, visit Victoria Beach and discover a hidden gem in the O.C.

Enjoy an afternoon with the family at Dana Point Harbor Beach, where people of all ages can swim in the calm waters and play in the sand.

7. Dana Point Harbor Beach

Parents can go to this family-friendly stretch of coast without a second thought or worry in mind. Nicknamed “Baby Beach,” Dana Point Harbor Beach is one of the few beaches in Orange County with a roped-off swimming area for kids. Next to the beach is a small fishing pier and a replica of a historic ship known as The Pilgrim, which is begging to be explored.

Behind the beach, you’ll find a grassy park with high bluffs towering overhead—a perfect picnicking spot. If you’re in the mood for exploration, several harbor overlook platforms can be found at the top of the bluffs.

The Best Orange County beaches with tide pools

Discover marine life at Little Corona del Mar beach, which is often frequented by snorkelers and scuba divers alike.

8. Little Corona Del Mar Beach

Little Corona del Mar is a small yet popular beach in the neighborhood of Corona del Mar. Flanked on both sides by rocky reefs, the tiny cove attracts snorkelers, scuba divers, and tide-pool fans from all over the world. Bear in mind that the shores of this Orange County beach are rather uneven and rocky, so bring appropriate footwear to enjoy the coast.

After exploring the tide pools, you might want to sunbathe on the soft sands. But if you’re up for a leisurely stroll, walk south along the shoreline until you reach a hidden public beach called Cameo Shores Beach. Trust us, it’s worth the journey.

Take a leisurely stroll along Aliso Beach and check out the tide pools teeming with wildlife.

9. Aliso Beach

Often overlooked by tourists, this Orange County beach offers everything from fire pits and tide pools to a playground and enviable amenities (such as public restrooms and better-than-average food stands). This sandy beach also has gentle waves that attract skimboarders from around the Golden State. You can enjoy stand-up paddleboarding and body surfing here, too. 

If you plan on swimming, it would be worth walking north until you reach the edge of Treasure Island Beach, where the water is cleaner due to the large rocks protecting the shore—this spot is among the most beautiful beaches in California for a reason.

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