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The Best Lakes in Southern California

The Best Lakes in Southern California

It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a fishing spot or a quiet getaway, these places make us want to splash around.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

April 19, 2024

Southern California may be famous for its pristine beaches, but its lakes will make you forget about the sandy shores. The still surface and glimmering waters bring out the lakes’ finest qualities. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a fishing spot or a quiet getaway, these places make us want to splash around. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the best lakes in Southern California and be the judge.

Lake Elsinore gives you the opportunity to enjoy the freshness of a natural body of water occupying about 3,000 acres.

1. Lake Elsinore

At 3,000 acres, Lake Elsinore is the largest freshwater lake in Southern California and one you’re going to fall in love with. Known as a wakeboarder's paradise, Lake Elsinore packs more adventure than any other place in the area. Jet skiing, water skiing, motocross racing, windsurfing, and skateboarding are also popular here—it’s one of the best natural lakes in Southern California, so you know you’ll be having non-stop fun. 

With spectacular backdrops of the Ortega Mountains and Cleveland National Forest, most visitors choose to stay the night in their tents or RVs to enjoy the spectacular views at all hours of the day. If you think we’re exaggerating, go to Lake Elsinore and see what the hype is all about. 

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2. Lake Perris

Lake Perris is the go-to place for a fun outing with family and friends. With a length of three miles and a width of two, the lake provides enough space for all sorts of fun activities. Riding speedboats, pontoons, non-powered boats, and jet skis are a must—don’t forget to take a dip either. Spending a day here isn’t enough to experience everything this lake in SoCal has to offer, which is why Lake Perris offers a variety of campsites, accommodating tents, and RVs. 

When you’re not riding a jet ski, you’re either hiking, biking, horseback riding, or rock climbing in the area—it’s even a wonderful place to hammock. Honestly, there’s nowhere else we’d like to spend the weekend. 

Big Bear Lake is Southern California's largest recreation lake. It is about seven miles long and about one mile at its widest.

3. Big Bear Lake

Every season at Big Bear Lake comes with its own adventures. During the winter, the area is a snow-covered heaven; in springtime, Big Bear transforms into a calm paradise; and in the summer, this place becomes a watersport hotspot. Long story short, Big Bear Lake is one of the best lakes to live on if you want to have year-round fun. 

Paddleboarding, windsurfing, sailboarding, wakeboarding, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, and jet skiing are a few of the activities people enjoy at this beautiful lake in Southern California. And if all that isn’t captivating enough for you, the nearby San Bernardino National Forest is considered one of California’s top lake camping destinations. Changed your mind yet? We thought so. 

4. Lake Arrowhead

High in the San Bernardino Mountains hides a picturesque mountain lake—we’re talking about Lake Arrowhead. This artificial lake to visit in Southern California caters to both indoor and outdoor needs throughout the year. Summertime is all about swimming, canoeing, and boating. During the colder months, skiing and snowshoeing is what draws visitors to this place

If you love spending time by the water but hate camping, you’ll be glad to know that this lake in Southern California has plenty of cabins surrounding it. For an out-of-this-world experience, add this lake to your itinerary and expect nothing but fun. 

Located in the community of Crestline, Lake Gregory is a hidden gem tucked in the cool cedar and pine forest of the San Bernardino Mountains.

5. Lake Gregory

Still wondering if there are more lake beaches to explore in Southern California? Let us introduce you to one of the Golden State’s best-kept secrets, Lake Gregory. Located in the small mountain town of Crestline, Lake Gregory is a premium lake in Southern California that’s ideal for swimming. One of the lake’s highlights is the Rim of the World Waterpark, a massive inflated structure, which includes slides, swings, and diving platforms. But if you’re not into that, paddleboarding, kayaking, motorboating, fishing, and hiking are popular activities to engage in. What we’re trying to say is you won’t have a boring moment on your upcoming trip to this SoCal lake.

6. Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake, arguably one of the best lakes in all of the Golden State, is probably going to be your favorite. As one of the most popular recreational lakes in Southern California, Silverwood invites you to splash around its waters and admire the wonderful mountain views. The northern section is where you’ll find people water skiing, while the southern part is perfect for swimming and fishing. Most visitors choose to camp the night instead of leaving at the end of the day—you already know why. Now that you’re familiar with Silverwood Lake, it's time you witness its glory in person.

Castaic Lake is the largest state water project reservoir in SoCal and contains over 11200 total acres of parkland and open space habitat.

7. Castaic Lake

With 11,200 acres of lush greenery, Castaic Lake is the largest state reservoir in Southern California perfect for boating. The lower part is popular with non-power boating and kayaking, whereas the upper part is where you’ll find people sailing, powerboating, and jet skiing. Most people come to Castaic between mid-May and mid-September when the conditions allow them to splash around. Fishing is also pretty popular here—Castaic Lake is stocked with bass, trout, and catfish. As for those who aren’t the biggest fans of lakeside activities, the surrounding area is perfect for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and picnicking. 

8. Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake is a SoCal hidden gem you need to visit now. Considered one of the best lakes in Southern California, it got its name thanks to the pyramid-shaped rock sitting on its shore. This outdoor activity hotspot is located in the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests—you’ll always see motorboats, rowboats, and canoes any time of the year. Fishermen also love coming to Pyramid Lake—striped bass, trout, catfish, bluegill, and crappies are among popular catches. 

As for those who’d rather not get wet, the lake offers plenty of picnic areas, where visitors enjoy relaxing and basking in the sun.

Cachuma Lake was formed by the building of Bradbury Dam, a 201-foot earth-fill project built by the United States Bureau of Reclamation in 1953.

9. Lake Cachuma

Surrounded by the picturesque Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains, Cachuma Lake offers tranquility unlike any other place. Here, you’ll find almost everything you need for a relaxing holiday in the great outdoors—mild weather, clear skies, ideal fishing conditions, and much more. While direct body-water contact is not advised at Lake Cachuma, visitors still rush to enjoy all the recreational activities the area provides. If you’re looking for lake house rentals in Southern California, Lake Cachuma has plenty of options that’ll make your getaway extra comfy.

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