Beaches & Islands - 12 min read

15 Best California Beaches for Families (Kid & Pet-Friendly)

Angie Grier

Angie Grier, Updated October 1, 2022

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California is famous for its sunny days and white sand beaches. With 840 miles of coastline, it is no wonder that this state contains more than 420 public beaches.

But not all beaches in California are created equal. For families trying to find the perfect beach for their vacation, choosing the right place to go can be difficult.

The following list of fifteen beaches offers an overview for families looking for an excellent beach vacation. The best beach to see wildlife is La Jolla Cove. For fun kids’ activities other than the beach, the best beach to visit is Santa Monica State Beach. The safest beach for young children like toddlers and babies to swim at is Coronado Beach.

The best beach for older children who enjoy surfing or boogie boarding is Huntington City Beach. The beach that offers the best place for families with dogs is Arroyo Burro Beach. A family beach vacation at any of the following beaches will be a memorable one.

1. La Jolla Cove, San Diego

Credit: La Jolla Cove / Facebook

The beach at La Jolla Cove, located in San Diego, is the all-around best beach for families with children of all ages.

La Jolla Cove attracts many people to its beautiful beaches and blue waters to watch the California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals play in the surf or lay on the sand. For children, seeing these resident pinnipeds can be an exciting and memorable activity.

Lifeguards are on duty at La Jolla Cove and children enjoy boogie boarding in the surf or flying kites in the breeze. Seals and sea lions can be found anywhere along the La Jolla Cove beach area, depending on the weather.

While visitors drive around looking for them, they should plan to stop at the Birch Aquarium to check out more aquatic animals. 

2. Santa Monica State Beach

Credit: Santa Monica Pier / Facebook

The Santa Monica State Beach is a popular family beach with its long stretch of golden sand perfect for swimming, surfing, and volleyball.

A kids’ play area called the North Beach Playground provides a universally accessible place for children to play when they get tired of playing in the sand. This playground gives families a wide variety of activities to keep kids from getting bored at the beach.

In addition to the sand and the waves, the Santa Monica Pier offers a variety of activities for people of all ages to enjoy. At the Pier, visitors can ride the Ferris wheel, watch street performers, and chow down on funnel cakes.

In addition, the aquarium located under the Santa Monica Pier offers visitors an engaging view of the fish that live in the surrounding waters, including those being caught by the fishermen above.

Restaurants and snack shacks offer plenty of foods to eat, and visitors can buy souvenirs from one of many small shops. With so much to do during the day, tourists find many ways to enjoy their time at this beautiful beach destination.

3. Coronado Beach, Coronado

Credit: Coronado Shores Company / Facebook

Coronado Beach, located in San Diego, is a wonderful beach for families because it is the safest beach in California.

Swimmers of all ages, even toddlers and babies, can safely enjoy the gentle waves that characterize this long stretch of sparkling sand. The clear waters also make it easy for swimmers to see what is in the water around them.

Tide pools, picnic tables, and restrooms make this a fun place to spend the day. At the nearby Hotel Del Coronado, visitors can rent chairs for the day and sip a cocktail or cold beverage.

This hotel also offers beach-side food service. Coronado Beach is a scenic place where people can relax and build sandcastles, or swim, surf, and boogie board while lifeguards watch over them. 

Related Read: 20 Best San Diego Beaches

4. Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Barbara

Credit: Cliffs at Arroyo Burro Beach Park, Rebecca Stanek / Wikimedia

The Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara is also known as “Hendry’s Beach” or “The Pit” to locals. This beach is a fantastic and welcoming place for all family members, including furry ones. Arroyo Burro Beach is one of the few beaches in California that is open to dogs. 

Young children enjoy spending the day swimming in the surf at Arroyo Burro Beach while older children learn to surf or boogie board. Many people also surf fish at this beach hoping to catch surf perch or corbina.

The nearby Boathouse Restaurant has a nice seafood and cocktail selection perfect for celebrating the end of a beautiful day at the beach.

5. Huntington City Beach, Huntington

Credit: Huntington Beach City Beach Info / Facebook

Huntington City Beach is more popularly known as “Surf City USA.” This famous surf haven attracts people of all ages who enjoy the excitement of watching the VANS US Open of Surfing.

The waves at this beach provide thrilling waves for older children who enjoy bodysurfing or boogie boarding. The waves are not the only attraction at Huntington City Beach. The International Surfing Museum is located nearby for a quick visit by surfing enthusiasts.

In addition, families can roast marshmallows over a beach bonfire or play beach volleyball. With several nearby restaurants and beach shops to choose from, there is plenty to do both on and off the sand.

Related Read: Best Time To Visit California

6. Crystal Cove State Park, Orange

Credit: Crystal Cove Conservancy / Facebook

Crystal Cove State Park contains three miles of pristine shoreline in a 3,900-acre park. This family-friendly beach has many tide pools for children to explore and inland trails to hike.

The surf at this beach is great for kids to swim and boogie board. Fishermen cast into the surf along this beach and often catch species such as kelp bass, sheephead, surf perch, and halibut.

A set of historic cottages are available to rent using a lottery system, providing a unique place for families to spend the night on the beach.

For families that do not win a lottery space in the cottages, a campground is available in the park near the beach. The park and beach at Crystal Cove offer numerous activities for families who enjoy exploring nature.

7. Newport Beach, Balboa Peninsula

Credit: Balboa Beach Company / Facebook

Newport Beach, located in Orange County, is found on the ocean side of the Balboa Peninsula. This beach appeals to families with children of all ages because of the many fun activities that can be found here.

Newport Beach is famous for its surf culture and the Endless Sun Surf School provides surf lessons and camps for kids of all ages. Swimming, boogie boarding, bodysurfing, and beach volleyball are all fun things to do on the ocean side of the peninsula. 

Not only does Newport Beach have a family-friendly surfing community, but it also has other fun activities for families. On the harbor side of the peninsula is the Balboa Fun Zone, which is located near the Balboa Pier.

This fun zone is the oldest amusement park in California. It has bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, carnival games, an arcade, and small rides for young children. Families that visit this beach always have something fun to do.

8. Zuma Beach, Malibu

Credit: Zuma Beach County Park, Dave Parker / Wikimedia

Zuma Beach, located in Malibu, offers soft sands, multiple lifeguard stations, and several places to find snacks. These things together make this one of the most child-friendly beaches in California.

Zuma Beach is one of the cleanest in the state and usually ranks as one of the healthiest in terms of water condition. A kids’ play area can be found at Zuma, as well as plenty of restaurants, parking, and showers.

Beach wheelchairs are also available if needed. This beach is free to visit, and families enjoy swimming, snorkeling, surfing, bodysurfing, and more when they spend the day here.

However, everyone should be aware of the presence of riptides that occasionally occur here. In the winter, Zuma Beach is an excellent location to observe whales migrating along the coast.

9. Crissy Field, San Francisco

Credit: Crissy Field Dog Group / Facebook

The beach at Crissy Field, sometimes referred to as East Beach (not to be confused with the East Beach in Santa Barbara), is located in San Francisco. The panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island is famous and attracts many people to this spot year-round.

The reason why this beach also attracts families is that the San Francisco Bay protects swimmers from rip currents, making this a safe place to swim. 

Unlike many of California’s beaches, Crissy Field welcomes dogs to play in the surf and run around off their leash.

Families with children and dogs enjoy taking advantage of this safe space to run around, fly kites, and windsurf in the perpetual breezes that blow through here. A nearby cafe offers refreshments and warm drinks after spending the day on the sand.

10. South Carlsbad State Beach

Credit: CA State Parks – San Diego Coast District / Facebook

South Carlsbad State Beach, located just north of San Diego, is a popular place for families to spend a long weekend.

This public beach offers a beautiful, uncrowded space that does not see as many tourists as the more accessible beaches located closer to the cities. As a result, children have plenty of space to run around, build sandcastles, and swim in the waves under the watchful eyes of lifeguards. 

People that come to this beach usually stay in the well-maintained campground for the weekend, easily making their reservations online in advance. When kids get tired of playing, swimming, or surfing at the beach, the famous family theme park, Legoland, is located nearby.

When the campground fills up, several reasonably-priced hotels located nearby provide families with easy access to the South Carlsbad State Beach and Legoland.

Related Read: 70 Things To Do in Orange County, CA

11. Santa Cruz

Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk / Facebook

Families that visit Santa Cruz don’t just go for the beach, they go for the entire Santa Cruz experience. While the waters of Santa Cruz Beach may not be the cleanest in the state, that does not stop people from enjoying swimming and surfing in the waves.

This laid-back beach provides an excellent place to lay out in the sun and play in the sand with children. On certain summer evenings, free outdoor movies and free concerts take place on the beach.

After spending time at the beach, many people seek out the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, famous for its carnival atmosphere. At the boardwalk, activities and attractions are available for kids of all ages.

A historic carousel is perfect for young children, while older kids enjoy the antique wooden roller coaster. Arcade games and a funicular ride add to the carnival ambiance of this famous boardwalk.

12. Heart’s Desire Beach

Credit: Tamales Bay State Park, ANNLF19271 / Wikimedia

North of San Francisco in the Tomales Bay, lies a hidden cove called Heart’s Desire Beach. This beach is accessed through the Tomales Bay State Park and is a popular place to visit on weekends and holidays.

Parking at this beach is inexpensive but can be challenging, so people should plan to arrive early. The trails from the parking area to the beach are easy to walk, even for toddlers.  

Because Heart’s Desire Beach is located in a narrow bay, distant from the ocean, there are no waves on the shore. The calm waters are popular with swimmers, kayakers, and paddleboarders. The barbecue grills, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers provide a comfortable place for families to spend the day and hang out.

13. King’s Beach, Lake Tahoe

Credit: Kings Beach State Recreation Area / Facebook

Kings Beach is not on the Pacific Coast but on the California side of Lake Tahoe. This funky, inland beach has a laid-back, relaxed vibe that welcomes families with children of all ages.

The crystal clear, turquoise waters of this freshwater lake invite people to swim, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard without worrying about jellyfish or sharks. 

Because of the shallow slope along the Kings Beach shoreline, the waters at this beach stay warm during the summer. Picnic tables, restrooms, and a playground are available for visitors.

In addition, everyone enjoys renting water sports equipment such as jet skis, pedal boats, kayaks, Aqua Cycle trikes, and standup paddleboards. Visitors to Kings Beach have plenty of fun on the water all summer.

Related Read: 15 BEST Water Parks in Los Angeles

14. Lovers Point Park, Monterrey

Credit: Best Western The Inn & Suites Pacific Grove / Facebook

Lovers Point Park is located within the sheltered waters of Monterey Bay in central California. The beautiful, sandy beach at this park provides a safe space for even young children to enjoy swimming in the ocean.

A concrete pier offers an excellent spot from which to fish, and the park has a public swimming pool available for kids who prefer not to swim at the beach. 

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is also on this point, near the beach, and should be visited from November through February during the butterfly migration. In addition, the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is a short, 1-mile walk along the shore from Lovers Point Beach. This is a lovely area for families to explore.

15. Carmel City Beach

Credit: Carmel By The Sea / Facebook

Carmel City Beach is in Carmel Bay, just south of Monterey Bay. The soft sand at this beach is perfect for toddlers to play with or older children to build sandcastles. Kids and well-behaved dogs can spend the day enjoying the beach and swimming in the surf.

The parking lot fills up quickly at this beach. Visitors should arrive early to find parking. Despite the difficulties with parking, many people choose this beach to spend their day.

Locals and tourists are drawn to this place and not only enjoy the beach and gentle waves, but also the walking trails perfect for strolling through the beautiful scenery.

Beach fires are permitted in certain places, so families can gather around a fire and relax while roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.  

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