Jon Bilous/Alamy

Orange County’s Best Beaches

Orange County’s Best Beaches
Visit these four idyllic, sun-drenched stretches of sand in Southern California

With 42 miles of sandy coastline and a string of small, eclectic beach towns, Orange County delivers the quintessential Southern California experience. Sandwiched between San Diego to the south and Los Angeles to the north, “The OC” blends a casual, active lifestyle with laid-back sophistication. Catch a famous surf break, sunbathe, visit nearby family attractions, or shop near these top Orange County beaches, listed north to south.

Huntington City Beach, Huntington Beach

The flat, wide beaches and desirable breaks along Huntington Beach gave this town its “Surf City, USA” nickname in the 1950s when the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing first took place. Today, Huntington remains a wave-riding mecca and the most popular of the well-known beaches in the country—but surfing is not the only game in town.

Near the famous 1,850-foot Huntington Beach Pier, you’ll see volleyball players spiking on the sand (the AVP Huntington Beach Open is held here), and runners, cyclists, and skateboarders taking advantage of the flat, paved 10-mile Ocean Strand. Wander to Main Street to find the latest in beach apparel or if hipster-chic boutiques and a gourmet food court are more your style, head to oceanfront shopping hub Pacific City, which opened in 2016.

The area offers a variety of ocean-view rooms, from classic resorts like the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort and Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa to the colorful and modern Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel and Paséa Hotel & Spa.

Corona Del Mar State Beach, Newport Beach 

In addition to Newport Beach’s pristine sandy beaches, the Orange County gem is known for its restaurants, nightlife, and waterfront shopping, including recently opened luxury destination Lido Marina Village. Newport also offers multiple off-shore activities like Hornblower’s whale-watching and cocktail tours, as well as trips to the island town of Avalon via the Catalina Flyer.

One of the many appeals of Newport’s beaches is that you can wind down next to a bonfire right on the sand. Fire rings are available on a first-come, first-served basis at Corona Del Mar State Beach and Balboa Pier during the beach hours of 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

For a convenient home base—with views of yachts outside your window—stay at the elegant Balboa Bay Resort off Pacific Coast Highway. 

Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach

The allure of Victoria Beach lies in its natural beauty and isolated location. The Instagram-popular spot takes effort to find, but the payoff is significant: a nestled cove with a front-row seat to waves crashing against beautiful rock formations, a salt water pool, and a castle-like tower called “La Tour.”

Victoria Beach is not easily accessible due to the lack of parking near the entrance on Victoria Street. (Note: Street parking on Pacific Coast Highway and nearby side streets is available, but very limited.) Get to the beach by descending a long stairway off Victoria Street, or you can walk down the emergency vehicle access ramp off Dumond Drive. Once you reach the shore, walk a bit north to find the concrete pool and tower. Time your visit to be there near high tide when the pools are most likely to fill up. And be careful as you make your way there—you may have to navigate over slippery rocks depending on conditions.

Enjoy a peaceful overnight stay at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, a secluded, sustainable-minded property that made it on National Geographic's exclusive list of Unique Lodges of the World.

Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point

If you’re traveling with kids, Salt Creek Beach makes beach-going simple. There’s plenty of available (paid) parking, lifeguards on site, a concessions stand, and a grassy area with picnic tables and a basketball court. Salt Creek is a popular boogie boarding and surfing spot, with a variety of breaks for every level (rent a surfboard or standup paddleboard from nearby Infinity Surfboards).

Want the best view of the beach below? Head to the bluff-top Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, set 150 feet above the water. Watch the sunset from the balcony of 180BLU, the hotel’s cocktail bar, with a specialty drink—like the Tequila Sangria—in hand.

For a unique vantage point of Dana Point’s entire coastline, hop aboard the Spirit of Dana Point, a 118-foot replica of a 1770s private schooner that sails from the Ocean Institute, a marine science and maritime history center.

In addition to the Ritz-Carlton, you have your pick of gorgeous coastal properties throughout Dana Point. Monarch Beach Resort boasts a championship golf course and luxury spa, Laguna Cliffs Marriot Resort & Spa provides contemporary comforts and a family-friendly pool area, and the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach offers separate living spaces in their modern-meets-beachy suites.

Scott Mansfield

Discover Orange County

75
September
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
89°
High
42°
Low
Sept - Nov
89°
High
42°
Low
Mar - May
80°
High
41°
Low
June - Aug
96°
High
52°
Low

Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.

“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” — actor Dennis Quaid

Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. 

Santa Ana
Liz Boyd/Alamy

Santa Ana

Orange County’s largest city boasts a walkable downtown with an emerging arts and culinary scene

Not showy or sassy like some of Orange County’s more touristy towns, Santa...

CLIF Bar/Mason Mashon

The California Questionnaire: Greg Long

Although he’s traveled the globe in search of big waves, this professional surfer will always call California home

California native Greg Long has carved out a name in the world of competitive big wave surfing by conquering the most challenging waves on the...

Behind The Lens/Getty Images

Dana Point

Begin your Highway One odyssey in this scenic town with views over the ocean bluffs

The southern origin of California’s Highway One offers some gorgeous drama, like beach town...

OC Stock Photos 2016

Irvine Spectrum Center

With a Ferris wheel and Spanish ambience, this shopping center expands the definition of “mall”

Southern California is known for its sunny, open-air shopping centers, but this outdoor mall in the heart of Orange County ups the ante with...

David Marano/Getty Images

Newport Beach’s Surf Scene

Check out an epic bodysurfing mecca along the O.C. coast

Back in 1971, a Sports Illustrated article about bodysurfing not only anointed Southern California “the cradle of the sport,” but...

Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge

The hotel-meets-water-park chain brings its all-weather family fun to Orange County

At first glance, a completely indoor water-park hotel might seem unnecessary in sunny Orange County. Fans of the Great Wolf Lodge brand, however,...

The Howlin’ Tornado water slide at Great Wolf Lodge near Anaheim is as tall as a six-story building.
Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
Courtesy of Disneyland Resort

Spotlight: Disneyland Resort

Just saying the name sets a child’s face glowing

The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-...

The magic of Disneyland, walking through the tunnel underneath the train station to Main Street, it just transports you to other places and other times.
John Lasseter
Carsten Erler/Getty Images

Spotlight: Anaheim

Amazing attractions, shopping and dining in the one-of-a-kind Orange County town

With its laid-back vibe and unbeatable attractions, this vibrant city on the northwest side of Orange County has become a popular destination for...

Myles McGuinness

Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
Santa Barbara

Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera. The Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the...

San Diego

End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village—pedestrian-friendly...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Unleash the kid within at California’s ultimate playgrounds

From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone. Take a tram ride to tour movie back lots at Universal Studios...

Lucas Himovitz
Knott's Berry Farm

Buena Park Playtime

Find family fun at Camp Snoopy plus pirates, Pig Pen, and more

Just northwest of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, the town of Buena Park offers more places to play. Knott’s Berry Farm features Camp Snoopy with kids...

Orange County is the cultural center of the surf world and Huntington Beach is like the heartbeat.
Corky Carroll (Orange County surf legend)
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

O.C. Shopping

Discover boutique brands and bargains

Shopping in The O.C. is almost as legendary as surfing. Start at expansive South Coast Plaza, California’s largest luxury shopping complex, with...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

July/August

With a nickname like “Surf City, U.S.A.,” Huntington Beach is the obvious place for this 9-day, sun-and-wave extravaganza, the world’s largest surf event. Top pros including Kelly Slater and Rob...

William Fovall/Flickr
Courtesy of Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

Orange County's Luxury Resorts

Live like a star at posh getaways

The good life might have been invented in “The O.C.”—especially when it comes to resort destinations. With spas, elegant dining, posh lodgings,...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Get into the coastal vibe

Maybe it’s the sun-streaked hair, the frequent smiles, the eyes always gazing west, looking to the horizon to see when the next set might roll in. It’s the unmistakable look and vibe of a...

Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State

Start in one of California’s sunniest destinations, not just in terms of the weather, but also in attitude. In the heart of the city, shop in Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods,...

San Francisco

Finish your trip in one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to visit “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Discover the awesome sports scene in the Golden State

With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...

Christina Lauren/Flickr
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Crystal Cove State Park

Stroll a perfect beach with an intriguing past

In 1912, an early Laguna Beach artist described finding a rugged coastline “with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and...

SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

Amy Meredith/Flickr
Courtesy of Brian Huskey

The California Questionnaire: Brian Huskey

The Top Chef alum loves riding his bike to work, taking road trips, and vacationing at Lake Tahoe

Brian Huskey first came to national attention in 2013 when he competed on season 11 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, set in New Orleans. The...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

Michael Saechang/Flickr

Golf in Orange County

Tee up at top courses, with some ocean views

With ideal Southern California weather and some of the country’s most celebrated courses, Orange County justly earns the nickname “California Golf...

Every year, the Orange County Great Park Balloon dons a smiling jack-o-lantern mask, marking the unofficial start of fall in Orange County.
Courtesy of Orange County Great Park

Orange County Great Park

Explore an impressive urban park

Turning former military land into a roughly 1,300-acre/526-hectare green space, this Irvine park is as ambitious as it is...