5 Spectacular Beach Destinations in Orange County
By AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson | June 01, 2023
Check out these five vacation destinations in the OC for fun in the sun and some of the best beach scenery on the California Coast.
34163 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Protected coves beneath tall, ochre bluffs make the coastline near Dana Point a sight not to miss. Boats crowd a charming harbor, the departure point for whale-watch cruises and ferries to Catalina Island. Among the fun things to do: hike along 3 miles of trails at the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area and enjoy sweeping ocean vistas and access to some of the area’s most beautiful beaches. Salt Creek Beach County Park is one of Orange County’s best beaches for families thanks to its lack of crowds and tide pools filled with sea urchins, sea anemones and starfish.
301 Main St.
“Surf City, USA”—as Huntington Beach is widely known—shows off its gorgeous California coastline from vantage points along a historic 1,850-foot-long pier as well as from the 10-mile Ocean Strand, a paved path that’s ideal for strolling or biking. Some of the best beaches in Orange County are here, including Huntington City Beach; quiet, laid-back Sunset Beach; and the very dog-friendly Huntington Dog Beach.
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381 Forest Ave.
Artists have been coming to Laguna Beach to be inspired by some of California’s most beautiful beaches for more than a century, and you’ll find evidence of the city’s creative roots in its dozens of art galleries and outdoor sculptures. You may draw inspiration yourself from the unspoiled beaches of Crystal Cove State Park, where you can enjoy the sunset views from atop bluffs or hike along one of many park trails. Secluded Victoria Beach has its own natural beauty, but also features the picturesque Pirate Tower—a whimsical, castlelike structure concealing a private staircase providing access from the bluffs above.
1600 Newport Center Dr.
Pleasure boats of every description—from pricey yachts to modest sailboats—fill Newport Beach’s huge harbor, a sight that sets this lovely beachside community apart from others along the California coast. But inviting acres of sandy shoreline are also one of the city’s claims to fame. Balboa Beach is one of the best beaches for families the O.C. has to offer and a short walk from the sea and surf leads visitors to the historic Balboa Pavilion and adjacent Fun Zone, complete with Ferris wheel. Another fantastic beach here is Corona del Mar State Beach, which boasts scenic cliffs and excellent surfing.
1231 Puerta Del Sol
Carefully laid out by its founders in the 1920s as a “Spanish Village by the Sea,” San Clemente is renowned for Spanish-style buildings with red tile roofs and stucco walls draped in colorful bougainvillea. Rugged cliffs topped with coastal sage scrub towering over sandy tracts of shoreline attract swimmers and sunbathers to San Clemente State Beach. Nearby San Onofre State Beach—one of California’s most visited state parks—draws millions of visitors every year thanks to having some of the state’s most beautiful beaches and the world-renowned surf breaks known as Trestles.