With 42 miles of coastline, Orange County beaches are what postcards and bucket lists are made of. Couple that with the Southern California sunshine 278 days of the year and you have officially entered the California dream.
There are a lot of beaches to choose from in Orange County and each one has its unique personality. Really, there is a beach to suit every vacation style, mood, and activity level. The only trouble you might run into is deciding which one to visit first.
Some beaches, like Bolsa Chica State Beach, are perfect for those who are after a more laid-back vibe (think reading a book on the beach and sunbathing). While other beaches in Orange County, like Huntington Beach, are great for surfing. And still others, like Crystal Cove, are ideal for photography and sunset enthusiasts.
Depending on what mood you’re in and what your travel style is, there’s a perfect OC beach for you. These are our picks for the top beaches in Orange County.
Crystal Cove State Beach
Best for: Enjoying the views! Nature lovers, tide pools, hiking and camping in the backcountry, and cottages right on the beach.
Parking: If you have a California State Park Pass ($195/year) you can drive right into one of their four entrances. Otherwise, it will cost you $15 for a day pass.
Amenities: Restrooms/showers, paved bike path, picnic tables, 2400 acres of backcountry wilderness, historic district with 46 vintage cottages, Shake Shack restaurant with cliffside views, Beach Comber restaurant, dozens of beachside and backcountry campsites, and three miles of spectacular sandy beaches.
Dog-friendly: The 3-mile paved bluff side trail or any other paved surface is dog-friendly. Dogs are not allowed on any of the beaches or backcountry hiking trails.
You will fall in love with some of the most gorgeous views of the Pacific Coast as you walk the winding trails on top of the bluffs at Crystal Cove State Park.
If you are looking for a unique place to stay, the Historic District is home to 24 adorable seaside cottages for rent. You have to be vigilant about trying to score a reservation though. If you’re lucky enough to find one, you’ll feel like you won the lottery.
FUN FACT: If you loved the Bette Midler movie, “Beaches” it was filmed in cottage #13.
Crystal Cove also has an entire backcountry area for hikers and campers that is a great escape for those who like to “rough it” a bit more.
On the south end of Crystal Cove State Park, you might notice a line of cars creeping down the Pacific Coast Highway and wonder what’s going on. That is the line for the Shake Shack, a fun cliffside restaurant with some of the best milkshakes and views around. The line can be long, but it moves quickly and is worth the wait.
Looking for more to do? Check out our post on the 30 Best Things to do in Orange County.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
Corona Del Mar State Beach
Best for: Swimming, volleyball, sunbathing, boat watching.
Parking: Download the free parking app, Park Mobile for easy payment for many of the Orange County beach areas. Paid parking in the large parking lot with an entrance at Ocean Blvd and Jasmine Ave. For free street parking, head up to Inspiration Point on the east end of Ocean Blvd and Orchid Ave and then walk down the ramp to the beach.
Amenities: Restrooms/showers, volleyball courts, fire rings, and public barbecues are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Dog-friendly: Before 10:00 am and after 4:30 pm your leashed dog is allowed on the beach.
Corona Del Mar State Beach is a popular spot located on the east side of the Newport Harbor entrance in Newport Beach.
Spend your afternoon watching the yachts pull in and out of the harbor all day or go swimming. The water in the Corona Del Mar area is usually less choppy because of the rock jetties nearby which make it perfect for swimmers.
Directly across the harbor entrance is the famous surf spot called The Wedge. This area is known for waves that can tower up to 30 feet and should only be surfed by experts.
Be sure to check this cool Wedge Cam to see how high the waves are before you arrive. The summer and fall are the best times to catch the highest waves at this favorite surf spot in Orange County.
Huntington City Beach
Best for: Surfers, sunbathing, swimming, biking, rollerblading.
Parking: The city beach has metered parking and pay station lots on both sides of the pier that charge $2.00/hour and $15 daily maximum. The city beach also has an annual parking pass that’s $150.00 if you’re a local.
Amenities: Restaurants/shopping, pier, surf lessons, restrooms/showers, volleyball courts, fire pits, RV camping, bike rentals.
Dog-friendly: No dogs allowed on the beach or the pier. Dogs are allowed on the paved paths. Furry friends should visit the dog-friendly HB Dog Beach instead for oceanside fun.
Huntington Beach is home to the annual US Open of Surfing and is also known as “Surf City USA,” so you can probably already guess that this is an ideal spot to go surfing in Orange County.
This gorgeous beach and its surrounding beach town by the same name has that small-town feel with big beach fun. The Huntington Beach Pier on Main Street is the heart of the town in which all activities revolve around.
At the Huntington Beach Pier, you can often find big crowds, local artisan markets, and tons of restaurants. They even close down Main Street every Tuesday night from 5-8 pm and have a full-fledged farmers market.
What many people might not know is that Huntington Beach is split into a city beach (north from Seapoint Street to Beach Blvd) and Huntington State Beach (south).
Both areas have a paved bike trail that stretches along the 3.5 miles of coastline and makes for some scenic walking, bike riding, and rollerblading.
Bolsa Chica State Beach
Best for: Chilling, beach walking, sunbathing, bird watching, photography, surfing, fishing.
Parking: A lot of parking available. $15 per day or the California State Park Pass ($195/year).
Amenities: Restrooms, bike rentals, general store, SeaLegs at the Beach, fire pits, picnic tables, showers, Bolsa Chica Wetlands, RV camping.
Dog-friendly: No dogs allowed on the beach but you can walk your dog on the paved bike path.
Bolsa Chica State Beach is much quieter than its neighboring Huntington Beach. So if you’re looking for more of a place to chill, sunbathe, read a book, or watch the sunset, this is your beach.
Three miles of wide sandy beach stretching from Warner Avenue to Seapoint Avenue will make you feel like you have room to breathe and enjoy the crashing waves.
Right across the street from the beach is a nature lovers paradise, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Be sure to check this gem out if your schedule allows, there are miles of trails and some of the best birdwatching and photography spots in California.
On the northern edge of this beach is a super cool local spot called SeaLegs at the Beach. SeaLegs has tons of outdoor seating, fire pits, live music, and tasty food and alcohol. Don’t miss out on ordering the yummy nachos.
Main Beach (Laguna Beach)
Best for: Artsy types, tide pooling, shopping.
Parking: Metered street parking is available in most areas of Laguna Beach, rates range from $1- $4.50 per hour.
To avoid parking woes altogether, check out one of the coolest features Laguna Beach offers – the free open-air trolley service. Look for the trolley stop signs throughout the town and download the Visit Laguna Beach app to access a real-time trolley tracker.
There is also a FREE Summer parking lot where the 405 freeway and Highway 133 meet where you can hop on the trolley. You can catch the free trolley into Laguna Beach from June 27th through August 30th.
Amenities: Grassy park, kids play area, boardwalk, basketball, volleyball, tide pools, restaurants nearby, restrooms/showers.
Dog-friendly: From June 15 to September 10 – no dogs are allowed on Main Beach from 9 am to 6 pm. All other times are dog-friendly for dogs on a leash.
The first thing that comes to mind when you hear Laguna Beach might be the popular TV show by the same name and gorgeous coastlines.
What you may not know about Laguna Beach is that it’s also heavily populated by artists and is often referred to as an “artist colony.”
The eight miles of coastline at Main Beach in Laguna Beach is the ideal spot for snorkeling, swimming, surfing, or exploring the little ocean critters in the tide pools. There is something for everyone and its surrounding landscape is what postcards are made of.
If you are interested in strolling off the actual sand to explore Laguna Beach even further, be sure to check out one of the art galleries or visit during an art festival like Sawdust Art Festival, Laguna Art-A-Fair, Pageant of Masters, or Festival of Arts.
You will find a ton of restaurants and shopping right across the street from the Main Beach area. Be sure to check out the HIP shopping district for some one-of-a-kind local items.
And if you’re looking to explore more of the beaches in Laguna Beach (there are a lot), here are a few other must-see local gems & Instagram hot spots:
- Table Rock Beach is a tucked-away beach located in a deep cove under a row of gorgeous million-dollar houses. You can access this beach down a set of wooden stairs on Table Rock Drive. On the south end, you’ll find another hidden treasure called Secret Cove.
- Thousand Steps Beach is one of the largest beaches in Laguna Beach. Enjoy playing beach volleyball or explore tide pools at low tide. As you can probably guess, Thousand Steps Beach is down a long stairway off of 9th avenue, but don’t worry, the actual number of steps is 223!
- Victoria Beach is another hidden spot where you’ll find the mysterious Victorian La Tour (Pirate) Tower which can only be accessed at low tide. Near the tower is another famous Instagram spot at Victoria Beach, the super-cool circular concrete pool that fills with seawater right on the edge of the ocean. Be sure to explore both and get some selfies if you are looking for two unique landmarks in Laguna Beach.
Best for: Relaxation, sunbathing, surfing, kiteboarding, reading a book, walks on the beach, and enjoying the sunset.
Parking: There is a large strip of parking between the Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Beach with many free spots if you get there early enough.
Amenities: Very clean restrooms located in the parking lot, kid-friendly grassy areas in the parking lot areas, volleyball courts.
Dog-friendly: No dogs allowed on this beach.
If you are looking for a quiet laid-back beach to relax, read a book, and soak in the sun, Sunset Beach is for you.
The beach has a super-wide stretch of sand and feels very private. This area is more residential with beautiful beachfront homes lining the sand and a great place, as its namesake suggests, to watch the sunset.
You will often see kiteboarders enjoying this beach zigging and zagging through the surf near one of the nicest Airbnb homes and best places to experience the sunset in Orange County, the Water Tower Beach House.
Salt Creek Beach
Best for: Kid-friendly, tide pooling, walking, surfing.
Parking: There is a large public parking lot off of Ritz-Carlton Drive. It’s a decent walk to the beach from there but you can take the shuttle for $1 that will take you back up the hill.
Amenities: Grass park, picnic tables, basketball, sunbathing, outdoor showers, restrooms, and tide pools.
Dog-friendly: Dogs are allowed in the park but are not allowed on the beach.
The popular family-friendly Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point is located directly below the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel beach resort.
There is a small offshore reef nearby that makes this one of the best surfing spots in Orange County, so get ready to catch some waves.
This beach has a kid-friendly large grassy area nearby called Salt Creek Park that has picnic tables and a walking path. There is also a nearby concession area that serves food and sells beach supplies in case you need something to make your day in Dana Point more enjoyable.
If you want to try your hand at SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) head a little further south in Dana Point to Doheny State Beach where the waves come in a bit slower.
San Clemente State Beach
Best for: Beach camping (both tents & RVs), snorkeling, surfing, fishing, bonfires, grunion runs.
Parking: All parking is $1.50/hour at parking meters and pay stations. When you park in the day-use parking area, you will have to hike down a trail to a tunnel under the railroad tracks that will open up into the narrow sandy strip of beach.
Amenities: Restrooms/showers, picnic tables, fire pits, large campground, high bluffs/cliffs, bike paths.
Dog-friendly: Dogs aren’t allowed on San Clemente State Beach.
“Spanish Village by the Sea” is the slogan of the gorgeous city of San Clemente.
And San Clemente State Beach is a highlight of the city, known for having intense winds and a gorgeous landscape with a narrow sandy strip situated in front of railroad tracks and sand dunes.
The camping area at San Clemente is open to both tents and RVs and is quite large. It’s set amongst beautiful cliffs/bluffs, ravines, and wooded hills making this a very scenic beach in Orange County.
Best for: Fur babies and friends. If you are traveling with children, be sure they are comfortable around bigger dogs and keep all food off the beach.
Parking: $2 per hour metered parking. There is often a line of cars stretched out onto the Pacific Coast Highway between Seapoint and Goldenwest. The machines only take credit/debit cards. Be patient, the line moves quickly.
Amenities: Trash cans and bags to clean up after your dog. Limited restrooms with one small restroom on each end of the beach that often has a long line, plan accordingly.
Dog-friendly: All dogs are welcome and can be off-leash. It is a canine party zone and very dog-friendly.
Your fur baby is going to LOVE this place! The north end of Huntington City Beach from 21st Street up to Seapoint Street is known as the Huntington Dog Beach
This is one of the best beaches in Orange County for dog lovers and is one of the few beaches in Southern California that you can let your dog enjoy the beach completely off-leash!
If your pup has never been to the beach before, I highly recommend keeping them on a leash until they get comfortable, you don’t want them bolting back up into the PCH and getting hurt.
TIP: Be aware that there is no water source to rinse all the sand off your pup or give them water to drink. Bring your own bottled water, they will be tired and thirsty from all the running around. Bring a towel for doggy clean-up before getting your pup back in the car.
Tips for Visiting Orange County Beaches
Is the weather always perfect in Orange County?
On average, Orange County gets 278 days of sunshine per year but there are two months that locals know have a shift in the weather.
Otherwise known as May Gray and June Gloom, these two months tend to have cloudy, overcast skies and may not be as picture-perfect as the other 278 days per year, schedule your travel accordingly.
Learn how to do the “Sting Ray Shuffle” like the locals.
Whenever you walk into the beautiful Pacific Ocean, make sure to shuffle your feet along the bottom to avoid being stung by stingrays who like to bury themselves in the sand.
Stingrays love warm water which is why we often see them in shallow water during the summer months.
What are these tide pools you speak of?
When the ocean water recedes at low tide, it will reveal many cracks and crevasses that house some cool tiny ocean creatures.
If you want to explore the tide pools and check out the tiny ocean critters, be sure to check the tide charts because timing is important. There are two high tides and two low tides in California every day.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rosie Queen is a travel blogger and creative writer who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Since moving to Huntington Beach in 2019, she has been exploring every nook of Southern California and beyond with her adventure-seeking husband and adorable Golden Doodle, Indy. She’s obsessed with her dogs, color guard/marching band, national parks, and road trips.
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