Coolest Small Beach Towns In California

There are 823 miles of California beaches that some of the best jewels of the United States have their base. These ten towns in California, each with their own character, have not one but many things that ultimately make them the coolest towns of the state. 

Avalon

Avalon, California
Avalon, California

Part of the state but not the mainland, Avalon is a majestic beach town, which wraps itself around Avalon Bay, southeast of Catalina Island. The town seems to know its worth; having been used many times by the Hollywood scene, it has retained its cool while projecting its charming exterior to others, so alluring to newcomers, and magnetic at bringing people back times again. Avalon's Crescent Avenue contains the beaches galore, with countless locally-owned restaurants and shops, including the Lloyd's of Avalon as an olden-days candy store with homemade saltwater taffy, peanut brittle, and fudge. The serpentine wall set between the Avenue and the beach is the best place to relax and watch the waves. 

Cambria

Cambria, California
Beautiful shimmering blue sea and white water waves crashing on Moonstone Beach.

Set at the mid-point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria makes an unforgettable stop when driving from one to the other. With enough attractions to engage in various activities for a week, it is almost guaranteed that one will opt to spend days-worth, while wishing for a lifetime, at the Moonstone Beach. The amazing landscape of the region includes rows of pine trees and other untamed beaches, while the Moonstone Beach is laid with colorful, glittery gemstones to make jewelry. In the vicinity, there are also wineries, the majestic Hearst Castle on a verdant hill, an atmospheric downtown area, bluff trails along the coast, and elephant seals to gawk at. 

Capitola

Capitola, California
Colorful homes in Capitola.

One of the state's oldest resort towns, set in Santa Cruz County on the coast of Monterey Bay, even its idyllic beaches may be defeated in the battle for the best Instagram picture by the colorful buildings in the sand. The town's center is filled with eclectic boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants within a short walk from there. A relaxing and quiet escape during the winter season, the town maintains its cool upon getting hyped up with the classic California beach-town vibe during the summer. One cannot miss out walking the bayfront promenade, the sandy beaches at the north end of the Monterey Bay, and near the colorfully-decorated beach wall with an evening bandstand and a movie screen for sundown shows.

Carmel-by-the Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Families and dog walkers enjoy the sandy shores of Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Editorial credit: David A Litman / Shutterstock.com

Going as just "Carmel" among the locals, the town of only 2.6 sq. km. in area is set scenically on the Monterey Peninsula's south side. It is known for its art scene, rich history, and new wealth. It is also a perfect escape for the active, with the Carmel Mission being one of the state's most beautiful and shady trails that fan out into the lushness of the Mission Trail Nature Preserve. The white, sandy Carmel Beach, the sun-kissed Carmel Valley, as well as a mosaic of meadows, wave-battered bluffs, and wind-twisted trees in the nearby Point Lobos State Reserve, all make a postcard-card worthy experience. The main village is filled with galleries, gastropubs, and cozy inns, while the "fairytale cottages" are worth a special mentioning, having been summoned to life by Hugh Comstock in the 1920s and 1930s, to echo the storybooks houses, including his first cottage, Hansel, that looks right out of the tale.

Carpinteria

Carpinteria, California
The bluffs of Carpinteria, California.

Some 10 miles east of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria is known to have one of the world's most safe beaches, with three to choose from. The Carpinteria City Beach and Carpinteria State Beach run along the town, while the best surfing experience is at the southeast's Rincon Beach. The thick sludge oozing from the earth and dribbling down the bluffs, upon which it hardens into asphalt, can only be found in five spots worldwide. The Tar Pit Park in Carpinteria is one of the places where this natural phenomenon has been going strong for millions of years. Linden Avenue is another cool place in the town, plentiful with antique and small beach shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Coronado

Coronado, California
Colorful sunrise on Coronado Island. 

The Coronado island community that can be reached by the arching Coronado Bridge or a water taxi feels like its own private world surrounded by idyllic beaches with soft sands. The Hotel Del Coronado of 1888 is an island's crown jewel, topped by russet red, castle-like turrets. Its famous guests included Marilyn Monroe, who starred there in a 1959 comedy, Some Like It Hot. The restaurant Il Fornaio Coronado and Peohe's offer extensive views of San Diego's city-center skyline across the San Diego Bay, while the Loews Coronado Bay Resort on its own 15-acre peninsula is perfect for water sports enthusiasts and dog-walkers.

La Jolla

La Jolla
La Jolla, California.

Coming complete with luxury hotels, upscale shopping, and cool beach vibes, La Jolla, is one of the most popular beach escapes worldwide as a seaside jewel of San Diego. The gorgeous scenery of the town includes a dramatic coastline and hiking trails up to the cliffs. Pronounced "la joy-uh," the white-sand beaches of its Shores are just a twenty-minute stroll out of its walkable downtown area. Popular with surfers, snorkelers, and peddlers, La Jolla also offers sunset-time firepits and an adjacent playground for kids. The waters are filled with marine creatures, including colorful garibaldi and friendly leopard sharks, while there are also seals at the Cove and Bird Rock. The ocean is always in plain view from a terraced cafe or through the glass of an upscale restaurant or high-end boutique. 

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach
Aerial view of Laguna Beach, California.

Part of the Orange County, in between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach is a seven miles-long stretch of coves and beaches with tide pools and a downtown full of galleries and boutiques. The art heaven also comes complete with vibrant murals painted around town and the Laguna Art Museum, one of California's oldest. The over 30 beaches include the Crescent Bay with mystical coves and the Thousand Steps beach accessed by conquering 222 stairs. There are also expansive parks, such as the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, and the colorful Heisler Park, with myriads of hiking and biking trails leading deep into nature.

Santa Barbara

Skyline of Santa Barbara.

With whale spouts on the horizon, bourgeois crimson-tiled rooftops, and birds squawking over the ocean with a breeze, it is no wonder that Oprah, Brad Pitt, and Ellen DeGeneres have chosen Santa Barbara to set up their estates, some tucked into the coastal enclave of Montecito. The Old-World beauty of the 'The American Riviera' can be seen in the Spanish-style architecture, the rolling hills reaching east into the Santa Ynez Mountains, and in the wine country scene. The Summerland County State Park is perfect for picnicking, while the Refugio State Beach and the Butterfly Beach provide endless sandy stretches for days-long relaxation. 

Venice Beach

Aerial view of Venice Beach.

Known for its edgy, artsy, and oftentimes odd vibe, one will feel part of the town in no time at all, with the cool allure embracing one right into its atmosphere. Set south of Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast Highway, the town is known as simply Venice to the locals. It was established in 1905 and modeled by Abbot Kinney, after his beloved city in Italy. In addition to the piazzas, the Venice Canal Historic District also has the original canals and quaint cottages. The iconic beachfront boardwalk is filled with street entertainers and vendors. The noise doesn't stop there, with the daily drum circle on the beach or the loud and lively waterfront skate park for the active. The boho-chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard is one of L.A.'s best shopping districts with edgy furnishings and fashions boutiques, as well as the N'ice Cream cafe. Food trucks and live music line Abbot Kinney Boulevard on the first Friday each month.

The humble people and the cozy lodging juxtaposed by the bourgeois lifestyle, altogether with the best beaches, dramatic cliff-tops, astounding fauna, and natural phenomena, make these towns shine like bright gems on the Californian coastline.

Share