Best Beaches in Southern California – South of Los Angeles

We have compiled a list of the best beaches in Southern California.

Black’s Beach

Feeling a little risque? Or free-spirited? How about taking a detour to Black’s Beach, San Diego’s famous, or should I say, infamous clothing optional beach?

You won’t find a more scenic location in San Diego, as this stretch of sand sits below three-hundred-foot cliffs. Of course, most clothing optional beaches are a bit difficult to get to, and Black’s is no exception. The trail down is quite steep, but far from impossible. It winds it ways down the cliff, in some places a wide trail, in others quite narrow, and in certain treacherous spots, steps have been built to help get you down to the sand safely.

Black’s Beach is perhaps the largest nude beach in the Country; it is two miles long and is located in La Jolla. Black’s Beach got its name from William Black, an oil man who once owned much of the land on the cliffs above the beach. Not sure if Mr. Black would be happy his name was used for a naturist beach.

Is it safe to get some rays au natural on Black’s Beach? Well, the beach has been recognized as a nude beach since the 1970s and has mostly been free of enforcement activities. Nudity is only allowed on part of Black’s Beach – from the Glider Point north for about one mile.

Because of its seclusion, Black’s doesn’t draw large crowds – unless you are rather shy, then there will be way too many people for your liking. There are definitely more men than women, and though there are some gawkers, going to Black’s is more about the freedom and a full-body tan than about anything sexual.

There are no restroom or other amenities on Black’s Beach. There is no permanent lifeguard station, but lifeguards do patrol from late spring through the end of October. Access is either by steep trail (parking near the Glider Point), walking north from La Jolla Shores or south from Torrey Pines State Beach – though you should know that high tide may hinder access.

best beaches in Southern California

A look down at Black’s Beach from Torrey Pines.

San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre was another clothing optional beach in San Diego County. Unfortunately, the past tense must be used when describing this as a nude beach. It was used all the way back in the 30s and 40s as a nude beach by surfers and naturists. Since 1976, when the State Beach opened, the sand south of trail 6 was recognized as a clothing optional beach.

However, this nudist paradise has been targeted since 2010 by park rangers as they increased their enforcement of nudity violations. This increased enforcement has virtually ended San Onofre’s run as a nude beach.

However, if you still want somewhere to go catch some rays in your tiniest bikini or your Speedo, this is one of the most popular beaches in southern California. You’ll find swimmers, surfers, sunbathers, kayakers, birders, campers, and people just out for a shoreline stroll.

Dolphins, sea lions, and whales can be seem off shore at various times, and the beach stretches for several miles parallel to Interstate 5 just below the Orange County line. San Onofre Surfer Beach is renowned surfing spot, with waves for beginners to premium surf breaks.

It does cost to park, so you may want to inquire about the rates before you go. Also, it’s located just south of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. The power plant has been shut down, but if the thought of swimming within a mile or two of a nuclear reactor freaks you out, you might want to find another beach.

Pacific Beach

If you want to have a quiet stretch of sand to yourself, don’t come to Pacific Beach. Thousands of young partiers are attracted to the boardwalk, bikinis, bars, and bros and babes. Pacific Beach, known as “PB” by locals and tourists alike, is ideal for swimming, sunbathing, windsurfing, and people watching. Unlike Black’s Beach, swimsuits are not optional here – but some of the swimsuits are barely there!

After a long day under the sun there are plenty of bars where you can unwind with a chilled drink. Or you can enjoy plenty of restaurants where you can relax with a delicious meal. If drinking or eating doesn’t catch your fancy, Pacific Beach is packed with boutiques and shops offering everything from trendy attire to beach souvenirs.

Pacific Beach is packed with plenty of young people sunbathing, drinking, eating, partying, and shopping. All that activity means that parking can be a real pain. Come early to grab a space or be prepared to walk quite a distance.

After dark, pacific Beach is a popular spot for dancing, drinking craft beers, and partying the night away. However, if you are over 30, you might feel like an old-timer here. One of the best ways to enjoy the beach area is to bring a bike, or rent one from one of the bike rental shops along the boardwalk. It won’t really count as exercise, as the crowds force you to ride slow. But if you enjoy the beauty of the ocean and a plethora of tanned bodies, the ride will be well worth your time!

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is Pacific Beach’s neighbor to the south. The boardwalk that starts in pacific Beach continues the length of Mission Beach – that bike ride will take you the length of both of these scenic and exciting beaches.

Mission Beach spans two miles of Ocean Front and sits of a sandbar between Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This beach community is divided into North Mission and South Mission, and is home to the Giant Dipper (at Belmont Park), also known as the Mission Beach Roller Coaster. The roller coaster, built in 1925 is one of the oldest roller coaster in the world.

Mission Beach offers a robust variety of sand, surf, and sun activities – from surfing to people watching to beach volleyball to soaking up some rays. From hot dog stands to fine dining eateries, from nightclubs to street performers, Mission Beach has something for everyone. It reminds many of east coast beach towns, but it has a definite west coast vibe. The center of activity is Belmont Park, but there is plenty to do from the jetty at the south end to its boundary on the north with Pacific Beach.

You can picnic, barbecue, kite-surf, sail, people-gaze, party the night away, or just take a snooze in the sun. It’s funky, and just a little off-center, and though it’s definitely a playground for 20-somethings, you won’t feel too out of place if you’re pushing way past 30!

Ocean Beach

The next beach to the south is Ocean Beach, known as “OB” by everyone who should know. It’s not connected by a boardwalk to Mission Beach, and it’s definitely got a feel and a mind of its own. Ocean Beach boasts a quirky collection of bars, casual eateries, antique shops, and eccentric locals. Ocean beach is also home to Dog Beach – take your canine for a pleasurable stroll on a perfect section of sand at the north end of OB.

The OB pier, which extends a ½ mile out to sea, is one of the main attractions – you can take a refreshing stroll out on the pier or cast your fishing line and see what’s biting. The OB Pier is one of the few spots in San Diego where you can fish without a license. Surfers catch awesome waves near the piers, and the beach is also great for swimming and sunbathing.

There are plenty of places to eat and enjoy an ice cold beverage, but try a burger at Hodad’s, a famous burger joint that’s been featured nationally. One of the most popular things to do is check out the sunset at the foot of Newport Avenue – it’s a nightly ritual for locals and tourists alike.

Like any beach area, parking can be tricky, but there is a public parking lot at the foot of Voltaire Street, one near Dog Beach, and a couple small lots near the beach in the main part of town.

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