best beach towns in California to retire to and live in

Some of the most stunning and lively beach communities in the country can be found in California. California beach towns have something to offer everyone, from the thriving city of San Diego to the charming coastal communities of the Central Coast.

At one of the top beach towns in California, you can find everything you’re looking for. Whether it’s a spot to relax and take in the scenery, go on a romantic weekend, or bring the family. These coastal towns are sure to deliver an amazing experience with miles of breathtaking coastline, some of the greatest surfing in the world, world-class restaurants, and lots of activities to keep you entertained. So join us as we visit the top beach towns in California to live in or retire to if you’re ready for a beach holiday.

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#1. La Jolla, San Diego

Image source: Tripadvisor

This is one of the top beach towns in California to live in. Everything in La Jolla’s hamlet is accessible on foot, and it’s only a short drive from downtown San Diego. For a fun-filled family beach day, there are aquariums as well as sultry restaurants and dimly illuminated pubs.

The La Jolla shoreline is adorned with upscale shops and fine dining establishments, giving it a laid-back but elegant vibe. Nevertheless, the waterfront hotels in La Jolla are only a short distance from the well-known La Jolla beaches (such as La Jolla Cove). By doing this, you can visit the beach earlier and catch the greatest waves in town without having to worry about parking.

Although there are a lot of things to do in La Jolla, I do suggest stopping by the sea lion colony along San Diego’s rocky shoreline.

#2. Oceanside

Image source: Tripadvisor

Over the past few years, this little coastal town has transformed into a favorite destination for foodies and would-be surfers. At sister resorts The Seabird and Mission Pacific, thrill-seekers can learn to surf, while the Michelin-starred food at the Wrench & Rodent (a seabasstropub) is outstanding. Although novices are more than welcome, it’s important to realize that this coastal community takes the sport seriously. This is because it is home to the California Surf Museum and the Super Girl Surf Pro, the world’s largest surf competition and music festival, which takes place here every fall. 

Come for the delectable seafood, and stay for the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean at the iconic Valle by Baja chef Roberto Alcocer, located in this lovely location. Next door is Charlie’s Dessert Bar, which has an entire house of sweets inside the charming Victorian Graves House, where they filmed the movie Top Gun.

#3. Newport Beach

Image source: Tripadvisor

Newport Beach is also one of the top beach towns in California to live in. In Newport Beach, there are countless opportunities for sunbathing. There are also numerous fire pits, volleyball nets, and grassy picnic/soccer fields across the expansive Newport Beach region.

Furthermore, take a stroll down the pier to watch fishermen capture their evening meal or rollerblade all the way to Huntington Beach along the beach walkway. At the end of the Newport Balboa Beach Pier, there is a vintage Ruby’s Diner that attracts beachgoers with the aroma of fresh fries and juicy burgers.

You’re in luck if you’d rather go shopping than spend the day relaxing on Newport’s beach. The busiest destination in Newport is Fashion Island, one of Southern California’s largest shopping centers.

#4. Encinitas

Image source: San Diego

With restaurants such as renowned chef Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Sea and the Eurobistro-wine bar Valentina, Encinitas, another relatively small beach town that shouts “grab your longboard,” has become a top eating destination. Alila Marea, a premium resort that just debuted its oceanfront rooms and suites, along with Vaga by renowned regional chef Claudette Zepeda and her Mexican-Asian specialty cuisine, is another important development in the area.

You’ll feel like you’re on your own private beach. Thanks to the property’s stunning location, which is perched on a quiet coastal cliff with outdoor lounging areas and firepits. When you’re done taking it all in, take a trip into town to check out the farmer’s market or other cafes and coffee shops.

#5. Huntington Beach

Image source: Tripadvisor

Huntington Beach, one of the most well-known beach towns in Southern California, is accustomed to enormous crowds. One of the popular activities in Huntington Beach is participating in watersports. This Huntington offers miles of golden sand beaches. 

One of the most well-liked beaches for young adults is without a doubt Huntington Beach, which is located along the Pacific Coast Highway. Additionally, Huntington has fantastic nightlife with a wide selection of bars and clubs in the downtown area. Tourists also swarm to Huntington Beach each summer for the renowned U.S. Open surf competition.

Don’t forget to bring your surfboard, skimboard, boogie board, or snorkel gear to Huntington. Be sure to check out our beach packing list before you leave. It’s the ideal way to make the most of a full day of enjoyment in the scorching Southern California sun.

#6. Redondo Beach

Image source: Tripadvisor

In this seaside community center, which is bordered by a busy pier and a beach bike path, there are many wonderful stores and restaurants. Don’t miss breakfast at the Baleen Kitchen, a restaurant with an eminently East Coast atmosphere, and unwinding at the Portofino Hotel & Marina, a quiet waterfront hotel where you can peacefully observe the boats go by from your guest suite.

For those who enjoy cars or movies, this coastal town is well-known for serving as the finish line of “The Cannonball Run,” a feature-length motor race from New York to Los Angeles that debuted in 1971 and is still undertaken annually to this day.

#7. Laguna Beach

Image source: Travel2Next

Laguna Beach is also among the top beach towns in California to live in. Visitors from all over the United States who enjoy the finer things in life go to Laguna Beach. This seaside town, which is only an hour outside of Los Angeles, is the ideal getaway from the hectic city life. Laguna Beach is a hidden treasure in Orange County with a thriving art scene. Attend the Sawdust Art Festival, which features more than 1,000 regional artists, during the summer. This is possibly the best method to learn about and experience Laguna culture.

Although the Laguna Beaches are cleaned up and attractive, the great eating options are what draw most visitors to the area. Famous Laguna Beach eateries such as Nick’s Laguna Beach and Sapphire have made a name for themselves in this seaside community.

#8. Butterfly Beach, Montecito

Image source: Forbes

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (pictured having fun with son Archie) decided to trade in the British Royal life and make the quiet yet affluent neighborhood of Santa Barbara their home, this stretch of beach in Montecito shot to fame. The expansive gardens of the Four Seasons Resort are close by. But to get to the charming, Spanish-style Coast Village Road, where Lucky’s Steakhouse is located (this is also the neighborhood where Oprah and Ellen live), take a walk or rent bikes with a sidecar from Mad Dogs & Englishmen. The Mediterranean hangout Coast & Olive in the Montecito Inn is right next door.

#9. Monterey Bay

best beach towns in California to retire to and live in
Image source: Kayak

The iconic seaside town in Northern California is Monterey. For a trip loaded with amusement along the California coast, take advantage of the magnificent shoreline or one of Monterey’s many hiking trails. No other coastal town can compare to Monterey’s breathtaking scenery. While visiting Monterey, indulge in excessive golfing, shopping, outdoor activities, or kayaking.

In addition, the wildlife in Monterey Bay is very abundant. Join a whale-watching tour led by a biologist to cruise the port and see the magnificent animals. Dolphins, sea lions, and orcas are among the top aquatic species on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

#10. Venice Beach

best beach towns in California to retire to and live in
Image source: Tripadvisor

Don’t underestimate the gastronomic hotspot this neighborhood has become in just a few short blocks. It has been an artist’s haven since the 1960s. You will still see the most colorful personalities walking, biking, rollerblading, and body painting on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Foreign chefs and food options include Michelin-starred chef David Myers Adrift (from Singapore and Japan) for enhanced burgers and shakes, as well as Australian-owned Great White for morning burritos, OSPI for pasta, and OSPI. For cocktails and the greatest views of the sunset and show below, head to the roof of the hip Hotel Erwin.

#11. Morro Bay

best beach towns in California to retire to and live in
Image source: Travel in USA

At Morro Bay, the surrounding hills and the coastal panorama converge. The best location for a photo shoot in Morro Bay is the most notable landmark, Morro Rock, which acts as the backdrop for the tranquil fishing village.

During your visit to Morro Bay, take advantage of the 3-mile stretch of Morro Strand State Beach for activities including windsurfing, fishing, and jogging. Have a deliciously fresh seafood dinner at one of Morro Bay’s waterfront restaurants, including The Galley Seafood Restaurant & Bar, after spending a fulfilling day exploring the coast.

A variety of entertaining Morro Bay activities are also available downtown, including vintage shops, a movie theater, and neighborhood bars with pool tables. A less popular coastal village in California, Morro Bay offers guests a secluded vacation.

#12. Malibu

best beach towns in California to retire to and live in
Image source: PlanetWare

Small-town charm can also be found along one of the most well-known stretches of water in the world, the mile-long stretch between Carbon and Surfrider beaches. Take a stroll down the Pacific Ocean’s long wooden pier, which is home to Malibu Farm, an organic food utopia, and a few stores with nautical themes. While Baywatch impersonators won’t be rushing along the beach, you might see some members of the Kardashian family walking toward the VIP room at Nobu, which is near the members-only Little Beach House.

#13. Shelter Cove 

Image source: Tripadvisor

California’s Lost Coast is home to Shelter Cove, which is situated in Humboldt County. This small seaside community in Northern California is bordered by enormous redwood trees. Explore neighborhood tidepools or stroll along Shelter Cove’s black sand beaches. Campers can spend the night on the sand, while more opulent visitors can book a stunning house rental on the seaside.

One of California’s most remote tiny communities, this one has a distinct personality all its own. You are beckoned to explore this unspoiled beauty as you depart from the contemporary world and travel to a seaside paradise surrounded by jagged peaks and mossy rocks.

#14. Coronado

Image source: San Diego

The famous Hotel Del Coronado, built in the Victorian style, is located on Coronado Island at the southernmost point of San Diego. Throughout the past 130 years, presidents, royals, and A-list celebrities have stayed there. Families now congregate close to the cabanas to enjoy s’mores at dusk over the fire pits. The Coronado Axe Company offers a new activity where you can work out any kinks in honing your throwing aim while floating around the canals while enjoying Italian wine.

At the Coronado Boathouse in Glorietta Bay, you can alternatively stay with the more conventional (and possibly safer) kayaking and paddleboarding alternatives.

#15. Pebble Beach

Image source: Visit California

If you enjoy playing golf, you must go to Pebble Beach. Don’t forget your golf clubs and schedule a tee time before your trip; this is one of California’s top seaside towns for golfing. In addition to being the best public golf course in the nation, Pebble Beach also offers first-rate lodging and delectable dining alternatives.

In Pebble Beach, ride a horse through a field of untamed spring flowers while perched on the edge of craggy seaside cliffs. On your trip to a California beach town, if you want to unwind, visit one of Pebble Beach’s spa retreats.

What Part of California Has the Best Beaches?

State Beach at Seacliff. More than 100 identified beaches can be found on California’s Central Coast. This ranges from large expanses of sunny sand bordered by arcades and amusements to isolated coves ideal for peaceful reflection. Seacliff State Beach is the northern highlight of the magnificent expanse of sand that curves across Monterey Bay.

What Is the Most Affordable Beach Town in California to Visit?

Arcata. Arcata is the seaside town in California with the lowest prices. This reasonably priced community in Northern California is renowned for having a cheap cost of living. If you want to take advantage of everything Northern California has to offer, such as the nearby beaches of Humboldt Beach and Mad River Beach, Arcata is a terrific spot to call home.

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