I can’t believe I have lived in Orange County for a year and a half without making a guide to the incredible beaches here at our disposal. I mean, most of my weekends consist of beach trips, and I am blessed to live within walking distance to Doheny State Beach. I wanted to keep this post within a realistic geographical region to where you could easily visit all 7 spots within a day (though, I would not suggest rushing that much- a good 3-4 days would be perfect!) Hopefully this post will help you find your new favorite escape here in beautiful Southern California.
I am thinking of creating itineraries for visitors to the Orange County area- including the best beaches, bars, coffee shops, hikes, restaurants, photo spots… would you you guys find that useful? Shoot me a message or comment!
Anyway- let’s dive right in (literally)!
1) Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach
I have been to this beach dozens of times (including yesterday). There are numerous reasons why this one takes the #1 spot for me.
Thousand Steps is so unique because there is a secret cove that is only accessible at low tide. On this beach, there is an abandoned swimming pool. Another aspect of Thousand Steps that I love is the length of it. This beach is quite a walk from one side to the other, with beautiful mansions lining the cliffs above. You can almost always find a spot here that feels fairly private. The stairs down the cliff to the beach are brutal but TRUST ME they are 100% worth it.
SAFETY NOTICE: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ACCESS THESE POOLS UNLESS IT IS LOW TIDE. There are strong currents, powerful waves and the cave you must venture through to get here fills up quickly. There is also a small blowhole on your way to the pools. People have lost their lives here, and the tides can be unpredictable.
If you are set on accessing the pools, please follow the below precautions:
- Do not go alone unless you are a seasoned vet of this adventure.
- Bring good shoes for traversing the rocky cliffs.
- Be at the entrance to the cave no later that 20 minutes prior to low tide. You need ample time during low tide to get to and from the pools.
- Start heading back from the pools no later than 1 hour and 15 minutes past low tide. This is just my general rule-of-thumb, but always monitor the wave size/height against the cliffs and use your best judgement.
- Understand that this is trespassing on private property. Do not go into the gazebo. During peak season (summer), lifeguards will prevent you from going to the pools entirely.
2) Fisherman’s Cove, Laguna Beach
Fisherman’s Cove is truly a gem. Finding parking in the residential area surrounding the beach is like a battle, but once you’ve accomplished nabbing a spot, you will instantly fall in love with Fisherman’s Cove. The surrounding homes are incredible (and probably cost a fortune), the walk down the cliff to the sandy shore is stunning (bonus- there are some huge palms above the beach that make for a perfect eno spot), and the small size of this beach makes it feel private and secluded. Mostly a locals hangout, you never feel overwhelmed or touristy here. This cove also lends itself to being a fantastic snorkeling and swimming spot on calm days, as it is more protected from harsh waves than most beaches.
3) Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach
Two words: abandoned tower. What more do you really need to know? This tower has rich history and looks gorgeous with the coast crashing against it. There is also a small pool here that fills at high tide.
Unfortunately, the tower is privately owned and you cannot go inside, but you can climb around it to your heart’s content. I also appreciate this beach’s length and the fact that it is less traveled than others.
4) San Clemente Pier Beach, San Clemente
I absolutely LOVE going to the San Clemente Pier. I come here 3-4 times a month. The surrounding beach is perfect for a relaxing picnic. There is ample parking (paid and unpaid), the pier has plenty of benches where you can sit and observe the surfers or people watch for hours.
Did I mention that my favorite coffee shop, Bear Coast, is just steps away? All their drinks /pastries are heavenly, but I recommend a dirty chai (hot or iced, you can’t go wrong either way) and one of their homemade poptarts.
5) West Street Beach, Laguna Beach
This is another one of my most visited beaches. A great spot to dive into the waves, skimboard or sunbathe surrounded by OC’s finest (seriously, why are there always so many attractive people here?!).
I think this beach is my favorite to catch a sunset at. There is an empty lot on the cliff above, and while it is illegal to be there, there aren’t any fences and people do it daily. Rest assured, the lot is well below street level, so you aren’t blatantly visible from the road. Still- exercise caution here, and understand the risk when you step foot onto private property.
6) Salt Creek, Dana Point
The infamous Dana Point mural lines the crossing under the road and guides you towards a jaw-dropping spot. The grassy hill overlooking this beach is prime-time for a romantic date night watching the sun go down. It’s a huge area, so you don’t have to worry about being too close to your neighbor (there are usually quite a few people relaxing here). And below, the beach is vast, lined with gorgeous cliffs and feels very raw/natural. Take the time to walk from one side to the other and you’ll really appreciate how stunning Salt Creek is.
7) Crystal Cove State Beach, Newport Beach
I just want to preface this one- I absolutely love Crystal Cove. But I probably wouldn’t if I didn’t have an annual State Beach pass. Without it, parking is $15, and there are no nearby free parking options. I think that cost is pretty extreme, but the annual pass is well worth it for a local (around $190 I believe). More info on annual passes HERE.
The cost aside, Crystal Cove feels untouched. There is hardly ever a crowd here, the beach feels miles long, and the undeveloped cliffs make you feel like you’re not even in Orange County anymore. Come at Christmas time to view the decked-out Christmas tree!
Also, overlooking one section of Crystal Cove is a Shake Shack with the best milkshake I’ve ever had. You’re welcome.
- Strand Beach, Dana Point
- Doheny State Beach, Dana Point
- Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach
- Huntington State Beach Pier, Huntington Beach
- Trestles, San Clemente
Honorable ‘Near OC but not technically OC’ Mention:
- Solana Beach, San Diego
About 45 minutes from Dana Point (sans traffic- so go ahead and factor that in), Solana Beach offers pristine beauty and seclusion. Park on the residential street above and make your way down the access walkway and stairs to this gorgeous strip of beach.
Main attraction: OFF-LEASH DOGS ARE WELCOME! This is a rarity. Most beaches require leashes, but a specific portion of Solana allows pups to run free. This in turn has created what is essentially a beachfront dog park. My little guy loves it here and burns off so much of that puppy energy here.
There ya have it, my top 7 beaches (plus some unforgettable extras) in Orange County! Happy Adventuring!
*NONE OF THE ABOVE RECOMMENDATIONS ARE SPONSORED.*
*I DO NOT ENDORSE TRESPASSING, BUT DO SUPPORT THE NATURAL CURIOSITY OF ADVENTURERS. BE CAUTIOUS WHEN PARKING IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS AND ABIDE BY POSTED PARKING SIGNS.*