La Jolla Cove
Nestled amid the hustle and bustle of posh downtown La Jolla, this seaside destination feels less like a beach and more like a laid-back city park. Visitors can put their toes in the sand, play in the surf, snorkel and kayak here, but the real gems are on dry land. Locals stroll cliff-hugging sidewalks, practice yoga on emerald green grass and socialize under fantastically shaped trees reminiscent of those in Dr. Seuss books. Don’t miss an opportunity for wildlife viewing, as separate beaches provide protected habitat for seals and sea lions. One last don’t-miss stop on your itinerary: a patio seat at Cody’s La Jolla for hearty, classic California cuisine. I highly recommend the huevos rancheros, accompanied by Bloody Marys.
~ Scott A. Lien
Crystal Cove State Park
Whenever I’m in Southern California, I always make time to hike this park, which is nestled between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. On a cool summer morning, the 17 miles of well-defined trails provide a great workout for backpackers, bikers and even scuba divers, as the terrain varies between lush vegetation high up and sandy beach down below. I love to do a one-hour hike and then, having burned sufficient calories, I hit the Beachcomber Café for a Bloody Mary and beignets. If you’d prefer to make a weekend of it, and are lucky enough to snag a reservation, a handful of restored 1930s beach cottages are available for rent.
~ Melinda Sheckells
Beach With Everything
I can make it to the Pacific Ocean in less than four hours. It’s as simple as the 15 to the 91 to the 55 to the water. I hang a left, to get to my family’s favorite beach, Newport. It’s where I sent my teenage daughters off for their first surfing lesson with an all-too-hunky, bronzed dude with an exotic accent before enjoying a delicious barefoot breakfast with my wife on picnic tables in the sand at the Stuft Surfer Café. There are plenty of other cafés and shops to choose from along this quaint beach village. There’s a good bike trail, too. The only downside is the metered parking. But for that I’ve learned to love the Park Mobile App, a convenient way to buy additional time throughout the day without having to walk back with a handful of coins. It’s the only reason I hang on to my cellphone as my toes work their way into the sand. That and so the kids can take a selfie with the bronzed dude.
~ Paul Szydelko
Beach With Character(s)
Everybody knows Muscle Beach, but who knows “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Help Me Get Drunk”? (Yes, sung to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock.”) With some loose change, I’ve helped the poor guy get there. It’s part of the deal at Venice. Want to see celebrities in bikinis? Go somewhere else. Here you’ll find a collision of real SoCal citizenry. I love to watch the surfers at the pier or the kids at the skateboard park in the day as much as I love to watch the fishing subculture with their families in tents at night, trying to gain a meal or selling their catches for rent. I love the sights of the artists at work on ever-changing mural art walls, plus the powerful steel sculptures of Mark di Suvero. I love the endless stream of tent vendors and the variety of dining options at the Sidewalk Café, Danny’s and the Hotel Erwin. I love the sound of my granddaughters laughing at Venice’s great playground, their favorite hangout. … Did I mention the broad, white-sand beaches?
~ Marc Barrington
Cambria, Cambria, more than 400 miles and 10 years away and present in my mind’s eye roughly three times a week. I don’t simply need a vacation: I need that vacation, to that place. My last visit to this Central Coast town where pines meet white sand, where the light plays otherworldly games upon the rocks of Moonstone Beach, where the village actually feels like a village, was in 2003. My son was just shy of his third birthday and sick with the croup. And yet the whole world was soaked in some kind of unrepeatable loveliness. When I returned, I wrote this:
“… So it was that under the mint sky I was hiking alone down a steep pine hill while my son was in a hotel bungalow, clinging to his mother and sleeping a virus away. I reached the village and bought a lamp that looked like a violin. The store was filled with fountains and aromatic fog and string music. I hiked back up the hill. I saw a doe in a clearing. … She looked at me and loped back into the forest. I returned to the bungalow, and there was a blue jay on the roof.”
Sometimes a beach is made all the more magical by the world to be found in the half-mile inland, the diversity of nearby experiences that mock any simple understanding of what “beach” means. The magic’s in the contrast of sun and cloud, sand and forest, nature and culture, today and yesterday; it’s in the moments that will stubbornly refuse to leave you, and that will forever call you back.
~ Greg Blake Miller
Let’s get the most important—and depressing—fact out of the way: You can no longer use the sand to keep your can of Budweiser upright in America’s Finest City. Since 2008, San Diego’s beaches have been declared booze-free. Thankfully, for those of us who like to toss back a few cold ones while watching the tide roll in, the ban didn’t extend to Lahaina Beach House, a Pacific Beach favorite that overlooks the ocean. True to its name, Lahaina looks like a converted beach house, complete with a wooden deck that beckons bikini- and swimsuit-clad revelers straight from the sand. (No shirt? No shoes? No problem.) Pacific Beach—or P.B., in locals parlance—offers more than a dozen watering holes within a mile or so from the sand, all of which give off that laid-back beach vibe for which San Diego is famous. (Check out Tower 23, the PB Shore Club, World Famous and Saska’s.) But if there’s an establishment that truly encapsulates P.B.’s penchant for boozing by the surf, it has to be Lahaina. Granted, the drinks are a bit pricey. But you’re paying for the view. So to quote that great San Diego philosopher Ron Burgundy: Drink it in. It always goes down smooth.
~ Matt Jacob
If your idea of seaside pampering is a massage and mimosa, check into Shutters. But those looking to commune with nature (in relative seclusion) should head on over to El Matador State Beach. One of the pocket beaches that dot the Pacific Coast Highway just west of Malibu, El Matador’s tiny parking lot ($8 per day), no-dogs policy and steep access trail keep beach trash and drum circles at bay—leaving visitors free to roam in cigarette-butt-free sand, pondering the inconsequentiality of man and the vast cruelty of nature. Bonus: Majestic rock formations and caves make great backdrops for selfies.
~ Laurel May Bond