Every family has a California beach destination (or 10) on their travel bucket list — whether it’s the waters of teal-blue Lake Tahoe or the famous boardwalks surrounding Los Angeles. When you’re ready to go, consider our picks for the best family beaches in California.
Written by Amanda Geronikos Norcross
Coronado Beach, just outside of San Diego, is a family beach through-and-through. The picture-perfect beach stretches 1.5 miles and thusly never feels crowded -- even in the summer. Little tykes love playing in the soft sand while big kids rush toward the waves, boogie boards in hand. Restrooms, showers and lifeguards add to the appeal for families, as do a plethora of activities, restaurants and hotels -- including the famous Hotel Del Coronado, situated right on the beach. Coronado Beach was named to our list of the 10 Best Beaches for Families in 2015 and 2017.
We can't get enough of La Jolla Cove, located just outside of San Diego. Here, the beach scene is quintessential California, with swaying palm trees, tide pools, soft sand and -- our favorite -- the resident sea lions who hang out on the rocky shores. Named one of the 10 Best Beaches for Families in 2016, La Jolla Cove is situated next to Scripps Park, a shaded area that's perfect for flying a kite or enjoying a picnic lunch.
Balboa Beach is the place for families to be in Newport Beach, California. Kids especially love Balboa Fun Zone, where you can ride the waterfront Ferris wheel, play some old-school games in the arcade, nosh on funnel cake or rent bicycles to explore the area. You can also board the Catalina Flyer for a day trip to Catalina Island. Of course, the beach itself is just as good, with everything you need to while away your vacation days.
Another fantastic beach near San Diego is Carlsbad State Beach, where soft sand, calm waves, delicious restaurants and beach resorts await families. The beach also offers a host of activities during the summer, including S'mores nights by the ocean! And, Carlsbad State Beach's location near LEGOLAND California Hotel (a 10-minute drive!) makes it a slam dunk for families.
Take your children -- and your fur babies -- to Carmel Beach, a pleasant beach that welcomes unleashed, well-behaved pets to play in the sand and surf. You can walk along the beach or on the surrounding steps and trails, or spend a whole day by the water. Afterward, grab a bite to eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea, an adorable village with restaurants, shops and art galleries.
Lake Tahoe is one of our favorite beach vacations in California for so many reasons - starting with the water that's so turquoise, you'd think you were in the Caribbean if it weren't for the surrounding pine trees. Within Lake Tahoe are several distinct beaches, including Kings Beach, named one of the 10 Best Beaches for Families in 2015. We love the playground, sports rentals and free Friday night concerts in the summer months. Parking is cheap, too.
In Malibu, Zuma Beach beckons families to enjoy a day (or a full week) on its quiet, clean and uncrowded shores. Here, the sand is perfectly soft, and the waves are big enough for boogie boarders and surfers to get their thrills on. Lifeguards patrol the beach, and public restrooms are available. And its location just off the scenic Pacific Coast Highway makes this California beach destination even more convenient.
Of course Santa Monica is one of the top California beaches for families! The beach is great and the famed Santa Monica Pier is even better, with everything from unique museums and walking tours to classic rides and live entertainment. Dining options also abound - sit-down restaurants, food trucks, you name it!
Corona Del Mar State Beach in Sacramento is perfect for everyone in the family: the beginner swimmer, the seasoned surfer, the FitBit fiend (there are hiking trails) and the family member who just wants to relax with a good book. Plus, this California beach offers useful amenities -- concessions, restrooms, showers and parking. The cliff views aren't bad, either.
Santa Cruz has a boardwalk, so naturally it's one of the best family beaches in California! The Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk is free to stroll, with ticketed rides and games the kids will love. Don't miss the boardwalk's most famous ride, the Giant Dipper! The beach itself is wide, so families have plenty of room to spread out and dig their toes in the sand.