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.
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. The educational institution also offers tidepool hikes led by a naturalist, kayak tours around the Dana Point Harbor, bioluminescence night cruises (summer only), and whale and marine life tours.
In addition to the Ritz-Carlton, you have your pick of gorgeous coastal properties throughout Dana Point. Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club 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.