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10 Things You Should Know About Visiting Southern California Beaches

Updated on December 3, 2010

It's summer time in Southern California, and that means BBQs, boogie boards, bare feet, beaches, beer, babes and other great things that start with the letter 'B.' Unfortunately, it also means heavy crowds, heavy traffic and all around chaos. Have no fear, there are ways to stay cool amidst the heated chaos this summer, and I'm here to share them. Whether you're a tourist or a local, here are 10 things you should know in order to be respectful and not embarrass yourself when visiting Southern California beaches this summer.

10 Things You Should Know:

1. Surfing Etiquette.

Just as there are rules of the road when driving a car, there are rules (unwritten) of the ocean when surfing.

1. The first surfer standing up, closest to the curl of the wave, has right of way.

2. To get out, paddle around the break and avoid other surfers.

3. Help other surfers in trouble

4. The golden rule: respect the beach, the ocean and each other

For tourists and locals alike, ignoring these rules is a pound-able offense, meaning it's worthy of a pounding, meaning you will get punched.

2. Pick Up Your Trash.

For many locals, the beach is a second home. Now you wouldn't leave trash on your living room floor would you? Hopefully not. Be respectful of the beach and mother earth by following the old backpackers rule: pack it in, pack it out. Pick up all your trash, and any other trash you see, and dispose of it properly. If you see somebody having trouble with this, kindly remind them what to do. You will be rewarded in the afterlife.

3. Protect Yourself from Aerial Assaults of the Feathered Kind.

I see it everyday, and it always makes me laugh. The Johnson family packed up a nice lunch to bring to the beach: BBQ potato chips, PB and J, some juicy watermelon etc. They hold hands and skip down to the water for a quick dip, only to return, finding their lunch strewn about the sand like leftover shrapnel from an IED. Seagulls are the enemy here, and they are masters of search and seizure. If you leave any food visible, even in ziplocs or brown bags, the gulls will find it.

4. Know the Flags.

The black ball flag looks just like it sounds: typically yellow with a black ball in the middle. What this signifies is the border between the swimming and surfing zones. Many Southern California beaches implement the black ball flag during the summer months, and for good reason. Swimming, wading, body boarding etc. in the hard board surfing zone can be dangerous, as well as annoying to surfers. Take note of this flag and stay on the appropriate side. Also, a colored flag on the lifeguard tower is used to indicate the swell condition and level of danger. Red for high hazard (experts only), yellow for medium hazard (use caution) and green for low hazard (general use).

Southern California Beaches


5. Wear Sunscreen

I know you've heard it before, but it's still often forgotten. With a weakening ozone layer and increasingly higher temperatures, the bright sun of Southern California is a serious health risk. Wear something with SPF 50+ for maximum protection, and apply regularly. Protect your skin today and avoid future harm.

6. High Tide/Low Tide

Just as the sun and moon rise and fall, so does the ocean tide. It's always a shame (but funny) to see a family's day at the beach get ruined because the high tide washed away their towels, books and iphones. Ask the lifeguard or check the newspaper for the high and low tide times before laying out your towel in a spot that has the potential to get washed away.

7. Don't Poop on the Grass

Many southern California beaches don't allow dogs during the summer months, if at all. The beaches that do involve some stipulations. Usually, dogs are only allowed before or after a designated time, and only with a leash. If you can't bear to leave your pooch at home, there are dog beaches in the area that allow Fido to roam free with his fellow brethren. Just remember to pick up after them.

8. Pack Light

A proper day at the beach isn't complete without the essentials: beach chair, umbrella, small cooler, towel and a maybe water toy of your choosing. This is fine, but it gets get out of hand when hoards of visitors start setting up circus tents, concession stands and Texas BBQ pits on the sand. I understand you want some comforts of home, but do you need all of them. It is obnoxious. For that, I recommend saving the annual family festival for somewhere other than a public beach.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
great white sharks in Southern California?jellyfish bloom
great white sharks in Southern California?
great white sharks in Southern California?
jellyfish bloom
jellyfish bloom

9. Be Aware of Underwater Dangers

Stingrays: These guys are sneaky; hiding just beneath the sand and ready to prick you with their venom-toting barbed tale. Avoid a sting by shuffling or stomping your feet in the water as you walk to scare them away. If you are stung, soak the injury in warm water. The venom is protein based, and the hot water will serve to denature it and slowly ease the pain.

Jellyfish: The amount of jellyfish in Southern California is typically low. Their abundance depends on a variety of factors including ocean currents, temperature and oxygen levels in the water. When there is a large jellyfish herd, AKA bloom, there is not much you can do to avoid a sting. Your safest options are to wear a wetsuit, protective nylons or obviously, stay out of the water completely. If you are stung, remove any tentacles and rub the wound with vinegar. For further first aid, take an antihistamine and apply a cloth soaked in baking soda and water.

Great white sharks: If you have seen Jaws, then you know what to do. When you hear the first duh dump, scream and start flailing your arms as you frantically swim to shore… not really. The best advice I have for dealing with a shark: punch it in the nose. Really, that's the best advice I can give. Yes, while great white shark sightings in Southern California are rare, they are not unheard of.

Submerged rocks: While the beach is a popular tourist destination, this does not mean it's clear of danger. Swimming into a submerged rock head first can be a handicapping experience, if not deadly. Take note of signs marking their whereabouts. For added protection, remember to always swim or dive with your hands in front of you to protect your skull.

Riptides: This is an abnormally strong underwater current that flows from the shore, out to sea. It stirs up the bottom, turning the surrounding water brown (full of sand) and foamy. If you find yourself in the middle of this and being pulled out to sea, swim parallel to the shore, then ride the waves into the beach.

10. Demonstrate Respect

Hey tourists, we love you. Now let's see some of that love back. Really, this goes for everyone, in the whole world actually. Whether it is in the lot searching for a parking spot or out in the water, giving up a set wave to a grom. Show some love to others at the beach, sit back, and watch the love pour back in.


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    • MosLadder profile image

      Chris Montgomery 

      4 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Nicely said, and I agree. Love the circus tent reference, can you say Newport Beach Pier in the summer? As for the pounding, unless you drop in on somebody's head, everybody just needs to chilll, have a little Aloha.


    • jdaviswrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Davis 

      8 years ago from California

      orangecountyjill - Thanks for the comment. You're not from Orange County are you? You must know all about these...

    • orangecountyjill profile image

      OC Jill 

      8 years ago from Orange County, California

      Awesome article! Such important information you added about the rip tides too.

    • jdaviswrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Davis 

      9 years ago from California

      sirrot - Thanks for reading. Maybe your are right, but i can't verify for the rest of the world's beaches...I'm sticking to what I know.


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