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11 Sea Caves To Explore in California

11 Sea Caves To Explore in California

Have you ever explored a cave? If not then it's time to explore these 11 sea caves in California.

Natasha Kouyoumjian


6 min read

March 07, 2024

Extreme adventures and unplanned trips have a thrill of their own, but casual mountain trips or an afternoon at the beach can be equally as fun. Grotto enthusiasts – or spelunkers – believe caves are more than just rock formations. If you’re living in or visiting California looking for a combination of mystery and adventure, or have a passion for discovering new things, a day at the sea can quench more than just one of these thirsts! Read on to learn about 11 magnetic beach caves that will leave you awestruck.

1. El Matador State Cave, Malibu


Sunsets at El Metadore state cave are the ultimate Instagram-ready setting.

Location: 32350 El Matador Beach Road, Malibu, CA 90265.

Driving on the Pacific coast highway, this Malibu beach has become the ultimate tourist attraction in the last decade. In addition to being one of the best beaches on the West Coast, El Matador state beach offers more than just a daytime experience. Crazy surf waves, a mesmerizing view, and the grounding power of the soft wind cradle you in this lively yet zen adventure.

As the evening approaches, enjoy one of the most famous attractions amongst California caves by visiting this lofty tower, peacocking in the middle of the shore. With its Instagram-ready setting, you’ll want to take more than just a selfie, so make sure your camera’s fully charged! 

2. McWay Falls, Big Sur

McWay Falls offers a visual definition of beauty in complexity.

Location: Big Sur, California 93920.

Being one of the two waterfalls in California City that pour onto the beach, McWay Falls has raised the bar of the cascade game! If you’re looking for a fail-proof plan to impress your partner on the first date, this 80-foot tall outrush is active all year round!  Bask in the freshwaters, while you scrub your feet on the gritty surface of the shore. Grab your partner’s hand and enjoy the hidden cave behind the thread-like falls for an unexpected and mysterious escapade. Don’t forget your GoPro so you snap a photo of the chummy moment to cherish forever!

3. Leo Carrillo State Park, MalibU

Can you guess which movie featured this cave?

Location: 35000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu.

Whether it’s a sunny day, afternoon, or evening, Leo Carrillo State Park never ceases to offer a good time to its visitors. With a lifeguard tower separating the north and the south beaches, Leo Carillo Beach is the epitome of a fun California beach day! Named after the famous actor, this state park has been featured in numerous famous scenes, including the final clip of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” music video where Kim Basinger is carried into the cave. Beachgoers can enjoy activities such as beachcombing, windsurfing, exploring tide pools, and, of course, visiting the sea caves! Enjoy a series of rock arches by day and camp under the Milky Way by night.

4. Thousand Steps Beach Cave, Laguna Beach

1000 Steps and one picture to attest for this glory.

Location: 31972 Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach.

On the south end of the Thousand Steps in Malibu, the Laguna Beach cave awaits. With its unique possession of a natural-formed tunnel, this cave is a hidden gem! From one beach to another, this sea cave stretches through curved passageways across a rocky cove leading to crystal turquoise waters. Make sure the tides are low on the day of your visit, so you can get a clear view of the cave! There’s never a shortage of mesmerizing caves in Southern California, and Thousand Steps is not an exception.

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5. Terranea Cave, Palos Verdes

As the sun approaches its end, a new life begins in this cave every night.

Location: Palos Verdes, CA 90275.

Hidden behind a modern resort, the cave of Terranea is located at the east end of this rocky cove. Following a trail called Bluff’s Edge, hikers are led to a shoreline with whispering pebbles talking to the wind. Although not the smoothest for sunbathing, this destination was once the first of a few theme parks in California history, which was home to Marineland! Supported by a rocky shell, the Terranea cave is said to be one of the best caves in Southern California.

6. Crystal Cove Sea Cave, Newport Beach

Ever wondered if you could spend a day in the presence of divinity?

Location: Newport Beach, CA 92657.

Crystal Cove Sea cave, also known as The Little Treasure Cove, is home to more than just one piece of tangible artwork of the architect called “nature”. Starting the hike from Corona del Mare beach is probably the best trail to spot 3 other sea caves in the process. Only during low tide is one lucky enough to witness this magnificent space, and though the entrance feels tricky, it’s spacious enough to slip through. Careful not to hit your head on the ridges hanging downwards when you visit the back chamber!

7. Painted Caves, Santa Cruz island

The name says it all because this cave is a work of art.

Location: Santa Cruz Island, California 93001.

Not to have it confused with Chumash Painted Caves (which, by the way, falls first on the list of fun activities to do in Santa Barbara), the Painted Caves of Santa Cruz have a completely different vibe! If you’re a sucker for science and mystery, the Painted Caves will win your heart. In the list of the caves in California, this beach cave is certainly the most extravagant. What makes these caves extra special is their unique ability to change their colors.

These natural, rainbow-colored canvases tend to shift shades as the light coming in alternates throughout the day. If you’re planning to pay a visit, the Santa Cruz Islands is the best place to start. Plan a boat trip with your captain to guarantee a low-tide day, ensuring the safe entrance to the cave, or contact the Island packers for an adventurous kayaking experience around the scope.

8. Sunny Jim Cave, San Diego

When the mind wanders and the feet follow, you end up in places like Sunny Jim Cave.

Location: 1325 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037.

Are you curious about caves, but your claustrophobia is getting the best of you? This beach cave is the answer to all your prayers! A properly paved out trail and a safe, luminous interior are what make Sunny Jim Cave one of the most popular sea caves in southern CA. Take a guided tour around the stretch, either by kayaking or on foot, and don’t forget to check out the tidepools!

9. Avila Beach Cave, San Luis Obispo

Location: 1717 Cave Landing Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

If you’re on your way from Pirate’s cove beach, be sure to stop for a small hike to visit the wildly popular Avila beach cave. In an attempt to escape the sun, this cove covers many of the astonishing caves in CA. Enclosed with countless archy rocks and passageways, this sea cave is best arrived at through a man-made tunnel and is totally worth it! If you’re planning on a field trip with your friends, and need that extra spice to top your day, Avila Beach Cave will bring that missing ingredient to the table. As the French call it, “ces’t la creme de la creme”.

10. Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego

One of the best-protected areas in California, the Cabrillo National Monument tidepools are safest during the great low tides.

Location: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.

Whether through its location or by the unofficial and unpaved trail, this cave stops at nothing from being the top mysterious one on the list. If you’re ready for a little risqué and unnerving adventure, you’ll love this national monument! At the end of the unofficial trail, a blowhole will reveal itself. Entering this cave is even a high risk on low-tide days, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be admired from a distance!

11. Little Corona del Mar Beach, Corona Del Mar

It’s only through looking out the window that we can realize where we are.

Location: 3100 Ocean Blvd, CA.

On a visit to Little Corona del Mar Beach, be sure to hike through the bluff and check out many of the curling caverns that make up the personality of this destination. As is the case for the majority of the sea caves in this listicle, make sure to embark on this adventure on a low-tide day!

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