20 Beautiful California Beaches To Put On Your Travel Bucket List

From the sea lions of San Diego to the hippie culture of Santa Cruz, there's endless ocean and sand to explore.

best beaches in California - bucket list ideas
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California is notorious for its beaches, but often the spotlight rests on just a few locales (ahem, Laguna, Venice...) and other gemstones go unseen by the public. While many locals like to keep their favorite beaches on the down-low, we're hear to quietly clue you in on on the best spots to enjoy the state's coastal beauty. Read on and get your bathing suit — or in some cases, a jacket — ready to go.

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best beaches in California - bucket list ideas
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Pebble Beach, Monterey County

Get your "Big Little Lies" fix at this Monterey County beach. Travel along the scenic 17-Mile Drive and make sure to stop at Lone Cypress on your way. This tree is a "," and a popular attraction in addition to nearby wineries and golf courses.

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Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

This beach isn't for laying out, but it is sure to be a memorable journey. Visit this former trash dump site in Northern California and discover some treasure. The beach is for your viewing and hunting pleasure. You might be lucky enough to find a rare ruby or hidden sapphire.

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Baker Beach, San Francisco

Get a different view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge while walking along the . Visitors can enjoy sunbathing or a picnic all at this one location. If you are up for adventure, there is an entrance into the Coastal Trail on the cliff-side of the beach.

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Avalon, Catalina Island

Travel 22 miles off the coast by ferry to get to beautiful Avalon Bay. Enjoy numerous restaurants and shops, or just cool down at the beach. Can't get enough of the beautiful scenery? Ditch the hotel and stay at one of the island's .

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Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach

The beaches at this state park are perfect whether you're looking for some action or relaxation. are perfect for paddle boarding, kayaking and even body surfing. If you prefer sight-seeing, explore the one-mile trail and take in the ocean and the rustic coastal cottages.

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Shell Beach, Sonoma County

Drive from San Francisco to find quiet, isolated along the Sonoma Coast — an environment guaranteed to help you decompress.

Bonus: It is Sonoma, where you can find a great glass of wine after your beach rendezvous! Just dress warm, the Sonoma Coast can get a bit chilly.

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Black's Beach, La Jolla

Be prepared to work for this glorious beach. To get to , you first down from (which is a gorgeous state natural reserve filled with hiking trails). But it's worth it. At this beach, you'll find powerful waves, amazing views and even a bathing suit-optional area.

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Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

Experience a true surf town in Santa Cruz, where the beaches are and fish tacos. beach boasts a famous natural bridge, and the area experiences an annual monarch butterfly migration. The waters are also a site for migrating whales.

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Leadbetter Beach, Santa Barbara

A popular spot for beginning surfers, is . Grab a snack at the (which is quite literally on the sand) or stroll over to one of the other many popular beaches within walking distance.

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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur

Though is more of a place to hike than to lounge on the beach (, like Limekiln State Beach, that are accessible), it's too beautiful to leave out. Hike to see an aerial view of the beaches, waterfalls crashing into the ocean and dolphins flipping in the water.

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco

While you're gobbling up clam chowder in San Francisco and taking 'grams of the Golden Gate, don't forget to hit the beach, too. is expansive with 3.5 miles of white beach and few tourists. (Just stick to walking or flying kites — the waters can be frigid and dangerous unless you're an experienced swimmer/surfer).

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La Jolla Cove, La Jolla

This very small beach is nestled between sandstone cliffs and is one of the most photographed in California. Head to for swimming, snorkeling or scuba divers, and enjoy seeing plenty of sunbathing nearby.

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Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Along the Cambria coastline of California's central coast, you can stroll the one-mile boardwalk at or relax on one of the many wooden benches along the beach park. Catch a glimpse of whales, dolphins, sea otters and plenty of birds while you're there.

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Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Barbara

Watch for whales along the sandy beach of , a local hotspot in Santa Barbara. With all the typical venues for swimming, surfing and surf fishing, Arroyo Burro also offers areas for grassy picnics and barbecuing.

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Muir Beach, Marin County

Combine nature with beach life and you have . to find starfish, octopuses and anemone, then head to the nearby Muir Woods for gorgeous walks through redwood trees.

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Manhattan Beach, Manhattan Beach

The main beach in is a sandy, two-mile flat that's famous for its beach volleyball. If you're not a volleyball player yourself, there's still plenty to do: Stroll along the Manhattan Pier, ride the 22-mile long bike trail behind the beach or check out the free at the end of the pier.

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Carpinteria State Beach, Carpinteria

Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, you'll find a mile of beach for swimming, tidepool exploring, camping and surf fishing at . Spot seals and sea lions (and the occasional gray whale) from December through May, and find starfish, octopuses, crabs, snails, sea anemones and sea urchins in the tidepools.

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Carmel Beach, Carmel-By-The-Sea

This iconic beach on California's Central Coast has fluffy white sand and a gentle cove — and even allows dogs off-leash. A popular spot for weddings, also has plenty of volleyball nets overlooking the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and a scenic trail that leads walkers through Cypress trees and landscaped gardens.

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Redondo Beach, Redondo Beach

Find uncrowded, soft sand at , which stretches from the Redondo Pier to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Check out the Redondo Beach Jetty (one of the best spots in the area for surfing!) or head to Avenue C Beach (a 20-minute walk from the pier) for beach volleyball.

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Paradise Cove, Malibu

A hotspot for celebrities, is a public beach with a popular restaurant, wide expanses of sand, clean facilities and a private pier. As a local sign says: "Sea the view, bring the kids, have a seat, enjoy Malibu." You don't have to tell us twice.

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