California Beach Vacations Rock!
A primary reason people travel to the Golden State is to enjoy California beach vacations. They come for sun and they come for fun, but not necessarily in that order. They can find adrenaline-pumping activities or laid-back R&R, as well as just about everything in between!
Is "learn to surf" on your things-to-do-before-I-die list or are you more of a shop-'til-I-drop sort of gal?
Does the combination of riding high at an amusement park while looking out on a Pacific Ocean sunset ring your inner yin-and-yang bell? Sounds good to me!
California beach vacations truly offer something for everyone, so let's try to figure out the details that suit you. First, though, can you spare four minutes for a little get-in-the-mood music?
Now, let's take an imaginary trip down the California coast, stopping at several beach towns along the way and doing one fun thing in each...
Northern California Beach Fun
- Climb Aboard Trinidad Bay Fishing Charters
About 30 miles north of Eureka, Trinidad Bay offers some of the best opportunities for light tackle fishing on California's beautiful north coast.
- Commune with Whales in Mendocino
From November through March, you can observe the gray whale migration from land or sea. In March, both Mendocino and nearby Fort Bragg celebrate the leviathans at separate weekend festivals that are fun for the whole family.
- Get Happy at Gourmet au Bay Wine Tasting
In Bodega Bay on the beautiful Sonoma Coast, Gourmet au Bay offers over 200 award-winning California wines and an international gift boutique. The only thing better than sipping wine is sipping wine by the sea!
- Shuck It at Hog Island Oyster Farm
In Marshall, CA (about 23 miles south of Bodega Bay and about 49 miles north of San Francisco) among Tomales Bay pristine surroundings, you can experience sustainable aquaculture in action and purchase live, fresh oysters direct from the source.
- Experience Beach Blanket Babylon!
With 30+ years of consistently sold-out performances, Beach Blanket Babylon is an internationally acclaimed San Francisco institution. The comedic musical send-up is outrageously fun and fabulous -- rather like San Francisco!
- Enjoy Bagpipes at Sunset
Situated on jagged cliffs overlooking the ocean, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay offers access to one of the state's most prestigious golf courses. You'll swear you're in Scotland when the fog rolls in and the bagpiper ushers in the evening...
Central Coast Beach Fun
- Explore Monterey Bay Aquarium
Located in a former sardine cannery on Monterey's Cannery Row, this is one of the largest and most respected aquariums in the world. It holds 35,000 plants and animals representing 623 species.
- Soak in Esalen Hot Springs
In addition to round-the-clock availability for Esalen guests, the hot springs are open to the general public by reservation only, from 1am to 3am, for a $20 fee, payable by credit card.
- Visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony
While the Hearst Castle is the big draw for this part of the Central Coast, don't miss this opportunity to connect with the natural world. Home to about 15,000 seals, the area is open every day of the year with no admission or reservation required.
- Rock Out at Morro Rock State Preserve
An important mariner navigational aid for many years, it was dubbed “El Morro” (crown-shaped hill) by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. Sometimes called “the Gibraltor of the Pacific,” the rock is now a designated bird sanctuary.
- Experience Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove
Each year thousands of beautiful monarchs migrate to winter in Pismo Beach. Believed to be the largest such habitat in the western U.S., the butterflies arrive in late October and remain until early March.
- Enjoy Santa Barbara Architectural Walking Tour
Experience Santa Barbara -- its architecture and its past -- in a unique and personal way and discover why it is so often called "the American Riviera." A little preview, perhaps...
Southern California Beach Fun
- Visit the Ventura Mission
Mission San Buenaventura (meaning "good fortune"), the ninth in California's chain of 21 historic missions, is perched on a hill above the Pacific Ocean. Completed in 1809, it was last mission founded during Father Serra's lifetime.
- Tour Malibu's Adamson House
Built in 1930, this 13-acre historic beachfront estate showcases the lavish tiles produced by Malibu Potteries between 1926-1932, including a 20-foot long tile replica of a Persian rug.
- Be a Kid at the Santa Monica Pier
Home to Pacific Park, a family amusement park with a large Ferris wheel and a 1920s carousel, the pier also provides a place for anglers to pursue their hobby as well as an aquarium, shops, entertainers, an arcade, a pub and several restaurants.
- Sail Away on the Queen Mary Dinner and Ghost Tour
On Saturdays, an upscale Sir Winston's dining experience is followed by an intimate tour with psychic Erika Frost, who shares stories about and guides you to many of the ship's paranormal "hot spots" that are not accessible to the general public.
- Take a Bicycle Tour of Surf City U.S.A.
With its 8.5-mile paved path, bicycles offer a great way to experience Huntington Beach. In addition to bikes and tandem bikes, Zack's is the place to find skates, roller blades and volleyballs, plus surfboards, wetsuits and surf lessons.
- Head to Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach
You can catch a ferry to Catalina Island here, fish or enjoy waterfront dining at the Harborside Restaurant and Grand Ballroom.
- Enjoy Splashes Restaurant in Laguna Beach
Located in the Surf & Sand Resort, this is THE place to savor American coastal cuisine, absolutely spectacular ocean views and the sound of crashing waves.
- Dive In for Captain Dave's Dolphin Safari
Dana Point is where you'll find Captain Dave, who offers daily trips year-round to observe and interact with the frolicking dolphins. Whale watching is offered in season, as well.
And, finally, San Diego Area Beach Fun
- Find a Deal at Carlsbad Premium Outlets
Most people come to Carlsbad to visit Legoland or the Flower Fields if they're visiting in the spring, but shopping offers year-round fun for children of all ages! Home to more than 75 name-brand discount outlets, you can find some sweet deals here.
- Be a Winner at Del Mar Race Track
A southern California institution since co-founder Bing Crosby partied with friends Jimmy Durante, W.C. Fields and Marlyn Monroe here, from late July through early September this is still the place to see, be seen and socialize.
- Explore La Jolla Cave
Descend a somewhat steep (but sturdy) 145-step wooden staircase to one of the largest sea caves accessible by land. Hopefully you'll still have energy to enjoy La Jolla's beaches, shops and restaurants after the trip back up the steps!
- Check Out the Extra-Special Sea World Experiences
Everyone enjoys a day at Sea World, but for an extra-special time, investigate the "Behind the Scenes" options in the "Experiences" section of their website before finalizing your plans.
- Kick Back with the Summer Concert Series
Spreckels Park is the place to be on Sunday afternoons/evenings, if you're in Coronado from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
California Beach Vacation Accommodations
Just as personal preference will guide activity choices, people can also design their California beach vacations based upon their budgets. Virtually every amenity level is available -- from camping, to hostels and all the way UP-UP-UP to ultra-luxury, five-star resorts.
Let's look at San Diego, for example. You might choose to camp with your family at Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado (RV camping only) or, perhaps, South Carlsbad State Beach if Legoland is on your itinerary. If you're a student or traveling and partying with a group of friends, the Banana Bungalow in Pacific Beach might be the perfect accommodation for you. And, of course, there are plenty of luxury choices available to you (with the world-renown Hotel Del Coronoado and Paradise Point on Mission Bay near Sea World being only two of many fine alternatives) and some very nice mid-range options, as well.
Virtually all of the state's coastal communities have a similar range of accommodation alternatives, but if you have your heart set on camping and you plan to visit during peak season (May through September), please take note that you MUST plan in advance. Summer reservations can be made beginning March 1 at 8:00am.
Here are links to some California travel planning sites that you may want to check out...
And, here are some guide books that may be useful as you plan your trip...
California Tourist Guide Books
Do you have a favorite California beach or beach vacation activity not on the list to share? What would your perfect California beach vacation look like? Do you have suggestions for any additional information I might include here?
I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed compiling it!