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Top 5 Southern California Beaches

Updated on December 14, 2009

What is California best known for? Typically, tourists come to the southern half of the state to relax on the many spectacular beaches it has to offer. Because I have grown up in Newport Beach, California I have been able to enjoy many of the beaches for over a decade. I want to share my knowledge with you about which beaches are the most popular, have the best waves, and have the smallest crowds. The one thing that all these beaches have in common is when a southwest swell comes through with the winds blowing offshore; the waves are unforgettable.

1. The Wedge

The wedge has been one of the most well known beaches in the country for decades. It’s name was put on the map because of it’s mouth dropping, bone crushing waves. When a big southwest swell comes through Newport Beach, the wedge is the place to be for those who want to be remembered. I can’t think of any other place where more people get taken away on stretchers on a big day.

When a big swell comes in, the beach is packed with spectators, all waiting to see the next person drop in to his death or make it out a legend. The wedge is known to be extremely dangerous due to the shallow waters and the side wave that pushes through to create a wave that can get very tricky. Surfers typically stay away from the wedge because of this side wave, making the beach much more popular for bodysurfers and bodyboarders. It brings in the top bodyboarders in the world, all testing their courage on a wave that shows no mercy. The wedge is in a beautiful location, as it shares the jetty with Newport Harbor.

2. Lower Trestles

Trestles is considered to have one of the best waves in Southern California. If you are able to paddle out on a southwest swell, there is a great chance you will be riding waves that go longer than a couple football fields. It is an incredibly popular spot for surfers from all over, bringing in a lot of competition. The top names in surfing all come to trestles time and time again to get these incredibly long rides on an almost perfect wave.

Although the beach access can be quite a hassle, the wave unfortunately still gets extremely crowded. Yet the beach access tends to keeps the tourists away, allowing you to have a very relaxing beach experience if you are looking to post up and catch some cosmic rays. Due to the crowds in the water, you have to fight for waves, thus deterring the less experienced surfers away from the beach. The beach itself is quite unique as there are train tracks still in use right where the beach starts. Every once in a while a train will fly right past you, reminding you how close you still are to civilization.

3. Oceanside

Oceanside is a great place in San Diego to come enjoy yourself, whether you are a beginner or an expert, or just want to hang out on the beach and enjoy the water and sunshine. The break is right next to the Oceanside pier, making it fun for spectators to get a bird’s eye view of the action. The pier is one of the longest piers on the West Coast.

However, due to its easy access, it can get extremely crowded rather quickly. If you were looking to get away from the crowds and have a peaceful day at the beach, I wouldn’t recommend this place, but if you were looking to immerse yourself in the action and check out the beach/surf culture, Oceanside is the place for you. There are plenty of attractions besides the waves to make it a great overall beach experience.

4. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is located in southern Los Angeles. The break is right next to the pier. Great waves come through Manhattan but it tends to get pretty crowded, both on the beach and out in the water. A west swell shows Manhattan’s true colors when it comes to fantastic waves.

In addition, Manhattan Beach is home to some of the best volleyball players in the country. Every year, Manhattan hosts the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, thus creating massive crowds of tourists, all trying to catch a glimpse of the world’s best beach volleyball athletes. Manhattan is also a shopper’s paradise, with numerous shops and boutiques. Due to the waves, the volleyball, and the shops, Manhattan brings in many different styles of beach goers.

5. Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach is a big tourist attraction in San Diego. Like Oceanside, the break is right next to the pier and surfers of any skill level can paddle out and have a great time! Pacific Beach is ranked 5th because although the beach is beautiful, Pacific Beach as whole is a zoo. Tourists flock to this part of San Diego, and the hundreds of attractions make them never want to leave. There are tons of places to shop and dine and the nightlife is always full of energy. If you are a surfer, this is not the place for you. But, if you are a tourist or someone looking to have a good time in a beach town, then this is where you want to be.

Which of these beaches have you been to?

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    • SurferGirl1 profile image


      8 years ago from California

      No Swami's in the top 5?

    • Lalulinho profile image


      9 years ago

      Interesting hub, dsturgeon--I used to live at Pacific Beach and agree that it is a a bit of a zoo many weekends... The surfers tend to show up in the morning. Most of the beaches you recommend seem to be for more serious/good surfers--what are the good beginners (I am one) surfer beaches in LA and Orange County out of curiosity?


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