California has some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world offering endless adventures for beach lovers. As California locals, we have traveled up and down the State in search of the best beaches on the Central Coast in California.
Whether you’re looking for a place to soak up the sunshine in the summer, or somewhere to escape during the colder winter months, here are all of the top beaches in Central California!
We cover these top-rated beaches in order starting in the south and heading up north along the coast. Let’s dive in!
25 Best Beaches On Central Coast In California:
1. El Matador State Beach
If you’re looking for the most beautiful beaches in California, you can’t go wrong with El Matador State Beach in Malibu. Whether you’re seeking a spot to lay out, take photos for special events, or stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, this beach has it all!
Upon arrival, you can park in the paid beach parking lot off Highway 1 which costs $3 per hour. From the lot, take a short path down to the beach.
You’ll be greeted by rugged bluffs with giant rock formations scattered along the shoreline. There are scenic stairs that you can take down to explore three separate beaches, sea caves, and rock arches up close.
In the evenings around sunset, El Matador State Beach is a popular location for photoshoots.
2. Oxnard State Beach Park
Unless you live in Ventura County, the chances are you’ve probably never heard of Oxnard before. This unassuming town is tucked away between Camarillo and Ventura making it a wonderful beach destination for those who like to avoid busy places.
There are several beaches in Oxnard, but one that we like to visit the most is Oxnard State Beach Park. This is a family-friendly beach that rarely gets crowded. You can also explore the adjacent Oxnard Beach Park which has picnic areas, sand dunes, and walking paths.
Tip: After spending the day on the beach, head over to the Sea Fresh Channel Islands restaurant to enjoy fresh seafood on an outdoor patio overlooking the harbor.
3. San Buenaventura State Beach
We currently live in Ventura County so San Buenaventura State Beach is a place that we visit very often.
Due to a frequent marine layer from the coast, Ventura tends to get a lot of gloomy days. But when the sun does come out to play, locals flock to the San Buenaventura State Beach to soak up the sunshine!
San Buenaventura State Beach is very family-friendly. This beach features a bike trail, walking paths, picnic tables, and even has a food truck The Jolly Oyster Ventura selling seafood right next to the ocean.
Along the bike trail, you can stop by the Ventura Pier or take the kids to play at the Ventura Promenade Beach Playground on the sandy shoreline.
Always wanted to learn how to surf? Ventura has some of the best surfing conditions on the Central Coast making it a wonderful place to learn surfing for beginners. Check rates & availability for Ventura surfing lessons here!
4. Carpinteria Beach
Carpinteria is where we go when we want to get away from the crowds. This is one of the best beaches in Central California that offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
For first-time visitors, I recommend hiking the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail & Tar Pits Park which travels next to the coast. Along this trail, you’ll have several opportunities to walk down to the beach and dip your toes in the water.
The hike ends at Carpinteria State Beach where you can enjoy picnicking and camping just steps from the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, be sure to stop by Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary where you can observe protected harbor seals from a viewpoint.
5. Arroyo Burro Beach County Park
Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is a hidden gem in the Santa Barbara region. This is one of the most dog-friendly beaches on the Central Coast in California where you can take your furry friends to run off leash on the sandy shoreline.
The waters here are fairly calm and it’s very easy to access the beach. You can park your car at the Arroyo Burro Beach parking lot and head directly to the waterfront. The parking lot is shared with the adjacent Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach restaurant so it can get packed around mealtime.
This is a fairly wide beach so there is plenty of space for all beachgoers to spread out. The location also has restrooms, water stations, and outdoor showers so you can clean off your sandy pup before getting into the car.
Along with pristine beaches, Santa Barbara is known for having excellent wine. We recommend taking this Small Group Wine Tour that visits some of the best private family-owned wineries in Santa Barbara!
6. El Capitán State Beach
El Capitán State Beach is a wonderful place to visit for those who want to camp right next to the ocean. Although the campsites tend to get booked up fairly quickly, we have been lucky enough to snatch a spot at the El Capitán State Beach Campground in the past.
The campground is surrounded by fragrant eucalyptus trees, bushes, and lots of vegetation. The campsites feel pretty secluded yet within a short walk you can reach the scenic El Capitan Beach and a bike path.
7. Oceano Dunes
Oceano Dunes is a unique beach that’s unlike anywhere else in California. This is one of the best beaches in Central California where you can enjoy a variety of recreational activities including swimming, camping, fishing, and driving your car onto the shoreline.
Pismo Beach is the only place in California that allows you to drive your personal car onto the beach. Many families come here to spend the day playing on the beach and stay to watch the sunset around a sand firepit.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area day use is from 7 a.m. to an hour past sunset with a small $5 entrance fee. If you wish to camp overnight on the beach, reservations can be made on the Reserve California website by searching for ‘Oceano Dunes SVRA’.
8. Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is a popular spot for visitors that’s located right at the center of downtown Pismo Beach. Here you can lay in the sand, go on a walk along the Pismo Beach Pier, and snap a picture of the giant ‘Pismo Beach’ sign at the pier plaza.
There are plenty of facilities at this public beach including fishing rentals, a kid’s playground, and volleyball courts so everyone can have a great time! When hunger strikes, local popular seafood restaurants are situated just feet from the pier.
9. Shell Beach
Shell Beach is a hidden little gem tucked away on the Central Coast between Avila and Pismo Beach. This secluded part of the coastline offers picture-perfect scenery that is best experienced by hiking the Ontario Ridge To Shell Beach Bluff Trail.
Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop is 3 miles long and offers views of pristine nature, sparkling turquoise ocean, and beach coves. Along the hike, you will also pass a hidden swing hanging off an oak tree with the ocean as the background.
You can easily spend hours here exploring the scenery and then head to a nearby beach for some sunbathing.
10. Pirates Cove Beach
Pirates Cove Beach is a secluded beach that’s located near the Shell Beach Bluff Trail. This small beach has a strip of sandy shoreline tucked away between rocky bluffs.
Pirates Cove is a ‘clothing optional’ beach and a popular pick with nudists so it may not be suitable for families and kids. After parking at the Pirate’s Cove Beach parking lot, it’s a short but steep walk down to the beach.
On your way, you can also stop by Smugglers Cave which is a large cave looking out into the Pacific Ocean.
11. Avila Beach
Next up is Avila Beach, just a short distance north of Shell Beach and Pirates Cove Beach. Avila Beach is a small beach community where the locals come to relax on sunny summer days.
This cozy beach town features a waterfront strip with boutique shops, a long sandy shoreline, and the Avila Beach Pier. The water at Avila Beach is fairly calm so you’ll see lots of families with kids playing in the water, dogs, and people learning how to surf in the gentle waves.
12. Spooner’s Cove
Spooner’s Cove is a pristine natural beach tucked away in Los Osos just south of Morro Bay. This is one of our favorite areas for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and mountain biking away from busy crowds.
Surrounded by rugged sea cliffs and lots of greenery, this secluded spot feels like a hidden gem.
Tip: wear proper footwear to explore tide pools and colorful pebbles along the shoreline.
13. Morro Rock Beach
Morro Bay is one of our favorite Central California towns for weekend getaways. Near this quaint town, you’ll find the iconic Morro Rock and the adjacent Morro Rock Beach.
Morro Rock is a towering volcanic plug that formed millions of years ago. While some of the best views of Morro Rock can be enjoyed from Black Hill Trail in the distance, you can also drive up to this giant rock and see it up close.
At Morro Rock Beach you can walk along the shoreline, explore scenic sand dunes, go on hiking trails, or enjoy a picnic on the beach. Nearby you can also observe adorable sea otters playing and nursing young pups at the Sea Otter Viewing Location.
If you enjoy camping, we recommend booking a campsite at the Morro Strand State Beach Campground just a short distance north of Morro Rock Beach.
14. Morro Bay Dog Beach
Morro Bay Dog Beach is one of the top Central California beaches that allows dogs off-leash. Situated between Morro Bay and the quaint Cayucos town, here you’ll find a wide-open shoreline where four-legged friends can run around and swim in the water.
Due to frequent winds and gloomy coastal weather, Morro Bay Dog Beach is not the most ideal place for laying out. We like to stop here for a walk along the beach and to let our pup get his energy out while visiting Morro Bay or after hiking Cass Hill Trail in Cayucos.
15. Cayucos State Beach
Near the quiet Cayucos town, you’ll find the beautiful shores of Cayucos Beach. Cayucos is a wonderful summer destination for Central California locals that is much quieter than Pismo Beach or Morro Bay.
The town has a few boutique hotels, inns, motels, and vacation rentals just steps from the beach. On sunny days you can even spot the Morro Rock far in the distance.
If you enjoy fishing, Cayucos Pier is an excellent spot for fishing and observing marine such as whales, dolphins, and sea lions. Whether you plan to stay in town or visit Cayucos on a road trip, be sure to stop by the Hidden Kitchen restaurant for a delicious breakfast & lunch on a beachfront patio.
16. Moonstone Beach
Cambria is another quaint town along the Central Coast in California. Some of the most popular attractions in the area include Hearst San Simeon State Park, hiking at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, and visiting Moonstone Beach.
The best views of the Pacific Ocean can be seen from the mile-long Moonstone Beach Boardwalk that follows next to the coast. You can also head down to the sandy beach to explore tide pools and spot colorful pebbles along the shoreline.
17. William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach
William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach is one of the best beaches in Central Coast for outdoor enthusiasts. This beach is the starting point for the stunning San Simeon Bay Trail that travels along rugged ocean cliffs to a lookout point of elephant seals.
Before heading out there, be sure to get everything you may need for the day on the beach. There are not many facilities nearby and the closest town is Cambria 15 minutes south if you need to get anything.
If you enjoy historic attractions, I highly recommend combining a trip to the unique Hearst Castle nearby. Hearst Castle Visitor Center offers daily tours of the Hearst Castle estate where you can marvel at ornate architecture, artwork, elaborate rooms, stunning pools, and lush gardens.
18. Piedras Blancas
Piedras Blancas is not a typical beach where you can lay out, but it’s worth a stop for those traveling along the Central Coast. This is one of the best Highway 1 beaches for viewing wildlife and elephant seals.
Travelers can stop by the Elephant Seal Vista Point where you can see elephant seals lounging in the sand. These gentle giants are protected so visitors are not allowed to go onto the sand. There are plenty of boardwalks and viewpoints set up along the bluffs where you can observe them from a safe distance.
If you’re planning to make a stop here, you can also purchase online tickets and tour the historic Piedras Blancas Light Station nearby.
19. Sand Dollar Beach
Set along a rugged coastline in Big Sur, Sand Dollar is one of the most beautiful California beaches. Sand Dollar Beach is situated just off Highway 1 and features a long shoreline surrounded by jagged rock formations.
To reach the beach, you can park in the Sand Dollar Day Use Beach parking lot. It costs $10 to park in the lot or you can try to snatch a free parking spot along Highway 1.
From there, a short trail will lead you to scenic stairs that you can take onto the sandy shoreline. This is a quiet beach that is frequented by families with kids, dogs, and surfers.
20. McWay Beach
McWay Beach is another unique location on California’s Central Coast that’s not a traditional beach. Here visitors are not allowed to go on the beach itself and can only observe it from the McWay Falls viewpoint on top of ocean bluffs.
McWay Cove is one of the only two places in California where you can marvel at an oceanfront waterfall flowing down a cliff and onto the beach. This is a very popular spot along a Big Sur road trip and is fairly easy to visit.
After parking at the McWay Beach Parking Lot, you can head on a short walk to the overlook. Be sure to bring a camera or your phone as you’ll want to snap a few photos of this stunning beachfront waterfall for memories!
21. Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is another one of our favorites in the Big Sur region. Tucked away at the end of a windy, narrow road, this beach is a must-see for those on a Big Sur road trip.
When you arrive, you can park in the Pfeiffer Beach Day Use Area which costs $15. This beach is known for having a wide area for laying out and has unique purple-colored sand that’s unlike anywhere else.
Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most popular beaches in California for photography enthusiasts. In the evenings around sunset, you can often catch golden hour light peeking through the Keyhole Arch rock formation.
22. Carmel Beach
Carmel-By-The-Sea is a scenic coastal town tucked away between Big Sur and Monterey. The highlight of this town is Carmel Beach, one of the best beaches on the Central Coast in California for swimming, surfing, and viewing sunsets.
This pristine turquoise beach is a nature lover’s dream. The beach consists of soft sand surrounded by beautiful cypress trees, lush shrubs, and plants. You can wander along the white sand shoreline or take in the scenery from one of the walking paths that are part of the California Coastal Trail (CCT).
Explore all of the best of Carmel on this coastal 17-Mile Drive 2.5-hour electric bike tour. This guided electric tour stops by all of the top landmarks, viewpoints, and beaches in Carmel.
23. Lovers Point Park
If you’re looking for nice beaches in California, put Lovers Point Park in Monterey Peninsula on top of your list! We usually make a stop here while heading on a road trip from LA to San Francisco.
Lovers Point Park has a small, calm bay that’s perfect for swimming, kayaking, and laying out in the sand. If you don’t have your own outdoor gear, you can rent a kayak or a paddle board from the Adventure By The Sea Kiosk nearby.
This beach is popular for its beautiful turquoise water and white sand shoreline. From here, you can also head on oceanfront pathways and explore jagged ocean rocks.
24. Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is located just outside of Santa Cruz City. It costs $10 to visit this beach for the day.
This is a smaller beach that’s known for its natural beauty, unique rock formations, and whale watching. Here you can also walk around tide pools and explore underwater life including starfish, sea anemones, and crabs.
Natural Bridges State Beach is situated next to a Monarch Butterfly Preserve with trails that travel between fragrant eucalyptus trees. From late October to February, you can observe thousands of butterflies that migrate here for the mild coastal weather.
25. Shark Fin Cove
Shark Fin Cove is one of the most picturesque beaches on the Central Coast of California. Although the beach itself is very small, it is recognizable for the giant rock that resembles a shark’s fin. This beach also has caves that you can explore at low tide.
Shark Fin Cove is located a 15-minute drive north of Santa Cruz. Due to rocky terrain and strong waves, this beach is not the best spot for laying out or swimming.
Most people stop by here on a Highway 1 road trip along the coast to take a few photos of the stunning scenery.
Looking for more things to do in California? Be sure to check out these posts next:
- 30 Best Central California Coast Attractions For Visitors
- 15 Amazing Places To See Big Trees In California
- 15 Best Places For Viewing Wildlife In California
- 12 Best Hikes In San Luis Obispo County, California
- 16 Best Places To Stay In Carpinteria CA On The Coast
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