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If you’re looking for the best beaches in Orange County then this article is for you. Here we’ll include everything you need to know about each beach, what makes it the best, and local tips to visit. Read on so you can plan the perfect Orange County beach day.
For most, hearing the word Orange County immediately conjures up beautiful images of a quintessential California coastline and picture-perfect beachside mansions. While this description isn’t exactly inaccurate, Orange County is vast and diverse.
It’s home to 34 different cities, and only six of them are on the coast. There are so many things to do in Orange County, yet it’s the beaches of Orange County that cause tourists to flock here year-round; dreaming of the day they too can move here.
Orange County is smack dab in between Los Angeles and San Diego, in Southern California. Its prime location, with easy access to two of the biggest cities in California, makes Orange County a popular place to live.
Orange County however is a world of its own, with perfect temperatures year-round. It boasts a suburban, upper-class feel throughout the county but each city has its own claim to fame.
Orange County’s biggest attraction, even bigger than Disneyland, is its beaches. Unlike the super-crowded beaches of LA or the more rugged surf beaches of San Diego, Orange County’s coastline has limitless options for every beachgoer.
Here you can find some of the best surfing in the world, piers equipped with amusement parks, coastal hikes, and fantastic beachside shopping.
Best beaches in Orange County
While Orange County has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, they also have a lot of them. With over 42 miles of the Pacific Ocean coastline, it can be hard to know just where to start. I’ve spent too many trips to count exploring Orange County’s vast coastline. Below I narrow down the best Orange County beaches to visit from North to South.
If surfing, surf culture, and a laid-back vibe are what you seek, then Huntington Beach is the place for you. Huntington Beach, named after the city it’s located in, is one of the most accessible beaches in Orange County. Here you have miles of wide-open beach to surf, swim, play volleyball, suntan, or have a family picnic.
Conveniently located, Huntington Beach is within walking distance of anywhere in downtown Huntington. It has numerous, affordable or free street parking options.
You can easily enjoy lunch, a drink, or shop at one of the many surf shops before hitting the beach. You’ll find public restrooms and showers, but you’re only a few minutes from cafes or restaurants whose bathrooms may be a bit cleaner.
Huntington Beach also boasts one of the longest piers on the West Coast and is lined with miles of trails perfect for biking, dog walking, or skating.
If you’re into surfing you absolutely have to visit in September for the US Open of Surfing, an annual surf competition held right on Huntington Beach.
For an amazing stay, you can choose among a great choice of gorgeous Huntington Beach Airbnb available.
Newport Beach was made internationally famous thanks to “The OC,” an incredibly popular TV show in the early 2000’s. Hollywood aside, Newport Beach, the town’s namesake beach, is a must-see if you’re looking for some wholesome, family-friendly fun.
Located on the Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach boasts a famous historic pier, great seafood, and beautiful sunset views. Here you’ll find five miles of beach to enjoy and some great surfing. It’s the perfect beach to sunbathe or swim in for a full afternoon.
Newport Beach is also one of the most conveniently located beaches for visitors. Newport Beach to Huntington Beach only takes ten minutes, it’s one of the best beaches near Irvine, and Newport Beach to Laguna Beach is less than thirty minutes.
Just be warned- parking is limited and it’s very crowded. If you can, take an Uber, public transit, or bike to get there. This will save you some serious time and money.
If you’re looking for more adventure, you can rent a bike or walk down the famous boardwalk to Balboa Pier. Here you can enjoy numerous arcade games, rides or hop on a ferry to Balboa Island if that strikes your fancy.
Or you can stay in one of the spectacular Airbnb in Newport Beach and stay close to the major attraction in the area.
Corona Del Mar State Beach
On the southern end of Newport Beach, right before Newport Harbor, you’ll find Corona Del Mar State Beach. What this beach lacks in size it makes up for in beauty.
Just a half-mile long, Corona Del Mar is one of the best dog beaches in Orange County and a very popular place to swim.
Surrounded by jagged cliffs and beautiful beachside mansions, the climb to get down to the beach is all part of the fun. It’s an ideal spot for body surfing or soaking up the sunset, with fewer crowds than Newport Beach.
While Corona Del Mar has the cliffside views secluded beaches are known for, it’s anything but. With full-on showers, restrooms, and nearby restaurants, you have every comfort at your disposal.
Parking can be difficult during peak season, but Corona Del Mar has a large parking lot where prices vary depending on the time and season.
You can also park in the neighboring areas above the beach if you don’t mind some walking. This is a great way to get even better views.
Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove is a particularly special park located in Laguna Beach. With 3.2 miles of beach and over 2,000 acres of nature, it’s one of the last remaining “wild” places in Orange County. This undeveloped beach is best for those who like to enjoy the outdoors, marine life, or visit one of the most secluded beaches in Orange County.
Here you can enjoy numerous hikes, swim, layout, or tide pool on Moro beach. Plus you can camp right on the bluffs. If that’s not all, Crystal Cove is also known for its Historic District, which consists of 46 different coastal cottages from a seaside colony in the 1930’s.
Here you can eat at Beachcomber Cafe, take a historic tour, or even rent a cottage for an overnight visit.
As a registered California State Park, you will have to pay a parking fee of $15 if you want to park onsite. There are maintained public restrooms as well as paved trails that allow dogs.
The beach and the hiking trails however are not dog friendly.
Laguna Beach Main Beach
Laguna Beach is home to the best OC beaches and the most in one city. Main Beach is probably the city’s most iconic. A quintessential Orange County beach, for tourists, this should be your first stop.
If you’re looking to spend a day beachside but filled with shopping, eating, or museum hopping, then this is the spot for you. Not only is Main Beach beautiful, but the numerous attractions surrounding it make it even better.
Take a long walk along the turquoise blue water, play some beach volleyball, or sunbathe. Enjoy the views at Heisler Park or go tide pooling.
Then go check out the numerous beachside art galleries, enjoy brunch or dinner with a beachside view, or pop into the local boutiques. If you have some time, keep walking south down the beach and enjoy the views.
Book yourself at one of the many beachside hotels and you’ll never have to leave or deal with parking. If you’re not staying locally, don’t worry, parking isn’t that hard to find with so many different side streets and lots nearby to choose from.
Victoria Beach may just top the list of prettiest beaches in Orange County, and that’s saying something, especially in Laguna Beach.
A somewhat secluded beach, to reach this local secret you’ll need to park above on the Pacific Coast Highway, then walk down a staircase to reach the sand. Surrounded by cliffside mansions, it feels private, luxurious and beautiful.
Victoria Beach is very popular for local skimboarders and is fully equipped with volleyball courts, caves to be explored and natural rock pools to swim in.
What makes this beach so special is Victoria Tower, a historic, Medieval-style tower. Located right on the beach, jutting out of the cliffs, Victoria Tower makes you feel like you’re living in a different time. It also makes for a stunning photograph and a romantic feel.
Dare I say this is the best beach in Orange County?
Thousand Steps Beach
For my last Laguna Beach recommendation, I give you Thousand Steps Beach. While incredibly popular, it’s also large, so you can visit and easily find some space for yourself. Plus, the downward climb to get there, hence its name tends to weed out the crowds.
If you’re able-bodied, the views, rock formations, and tide pools that await here are not to be missed and are well worth the effort. Like most beaches in Laguna Beach, you’ll find volleyball courts and sunbathers galore.
What makes Thousand Steps unique, however, is its beautiful rock formations including its caves. On the south end of the beach, during low tide, you can fully explore its most famous cave. On the north side, you can climb through a rock tunnel to enter a neighboring beach.
This is the beach for those looking for stunning views, and exploration- not for swimmers. The waves and tide are very strong here.
You can find parking above the beach. Just make sure you’re choosing a legal and defined parking spot or you’ll get a ticket.
Dana Strand Beach
Just outside of Laguna Beach you’ll find Dana Point, a beautiful, lesser-known cliffside beach town. Dana Point boasts several beautiful beaches but Dana Strand Beach is certainly a favorite.
This is one of the quiet beaches in Orange County, despite its popularity. Thanks to its more private location, and its vast shoreline, you have lots of space to enjoy the beach and views to yourself.
You can also easily find free parking at Strands Vista Park, which provides awesome ocean views. You will need to walk a little bit to get to the beach. If you head all the way down to the cove, you can explore the Dana Point caves, admire the cliffside mansions, or walk up to the Headlands Conservation Area.
San Clemente City Beach
If Newport Beach or Laguna Beach isn’t your vibe and you’re looking for something a bit more laid back, San Clemente is your best bet. This sleepy surf town boasts a beautiful, centrally located coastline spanning over four miles.
San Clemente City Beach is a favorite, as it’s both low-key and romantic. Here you’ll find a picturesque pier that makes viewing sunsets spectacular. You can walk along the beach, admire the surfers, sunbathe, or eat at one of the many beachside restaurants.
Plus, parking is very easy since it’s the closest beach entrance to the city, with hourly street parking nearby. If you’re interested in seeing more scenic views, or gorgeous bluffs, then just keep walking down the beach.
San Clemente is also a great area to stay, as it’s home to some of the best beach hotels in Orange County, especially if you’re on a budget. You can also check out the beachside campground.
Last but not least, Trestles Beach may just be the last official Orange County Beach. Located on the very Southern point of San Clemente, and the northernmost point of San Diego County, Trestles is one of the most beautiful beaches in Orange County.
Known nationally for its surfing, unless you’re an advanced surfer, you should stick to watching the pros instead of joining them. Surrounded by wild nature, and jagged cliffs, it’s not uncommon to have parts of this beach completely to yourself. You can also hike all along the bluffs in this area.
If you’re looking for more of an adventure, you can camp next door at San Onofre State Park. This way you can soak up the sunsets and the sunrises with few people around. For parking, there are several lots nearby that charge a daily fee.
Orange County Travel Tips
Before you visit Orange County, there are a few things you should know:
- It’s best to pick a particular coastal city or town as a base and stay there. I recommend Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, San Clemente or Huntington Beach. These cities offer the most things to do and have very walkable city centers.
- If you’re trying to explore all of the different beaches below, or the inland parts of Orange County, you will need a car.
Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!
- Don’t let the quaint, small-town-feel of each coastal city fool you. A lot of people live in Orange County which means traffic can be bad. Make sure to take that into account when planning your day.
- Beach parking can be crazy. If you have to drive yourself, try to get to the beach at off hours (early morning, mid morning or during primary work hours) or plan your trip outside of peak season (May-September).
- For the most part, beaches throughout Orange County are relatively safe, even as a solo female traveller. You should be completely fine exploring during the day. During early morning hours or evenings, choose the beaches that are more public and crowded to visit instead.
All in all, there are no wrong choices when it comes to Orange County beaches. What makes this area so attractive, and so famous, is the endless beauty of its diverse coastline. Hopefully, this list can help you narrow down which beaches in Orange County to prioritize since it’s impossible to see them all.
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About the Author: Alicia Briggs
A full-time traveler since 2018, Alicia is a writer and blogger, specializing in travel, social issues, and sustainability. She’s lived in over 70 cities and 25 countries, with expertise in California, Oregon, Mexico, Vietnam, and South Africa. Alicia is a self-described extroverted introvert, trying to balance her love of a great happy hour with her love of an isolated mountain top. You can follow her journey on her slow travel blog, Learning the Local Way