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What You Need to Know About Visiting California Beaches

Make plans for a breezy coastal getaway at the Golden State's beaches

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Science tells us that beach time is good for the mind and body, from the meditative effects of staring at the waves to the soothing sensation of warm sand on our feet. After months of various levels of COVID-19 restrictions, we could all use a dose of surf-and-sand medicine, and with California beaches now open, it's time to give in to the lure of seaside rejuvenation.

If you need more evidence of the beach's health benefits, talk to 86-year-old Don Eittreim, owner of the Jalama Beach Store and Grill. Since 1978, the octogenarian has served his world-famous Jalama Burgers at his beach store at Jalama, a Santa Barbara County surf haven that's a half-hour drive from Lompoc.

"This place keeps me young," Eittreim says.

Besides Eittreim's burgers, Jalama Beach is known for long stretches of white sand, beachside campsites, and a left-hand point break. It's one of hundreds of California beaches that offer a sunshine-infused, recreation-oriented getaway.

Gloria Sandoval, spokesperson for California State Parks, which manages 62 beaches across the state, says access to beaches is now more vital than ever.

"Everybody is trying their best to reduce their exposure to the virus, and we know that people can recreate responsibly at beaches," Sandoval says.

That said, your beach trip may look a bit different than in previous years. "COVID-19 is still with us, so there are new guidelines that we have to adapt to," Sandoval notes. "At state beaches, people have been practicing physical distancing. We've been educating the people who are not. We're also encouraging everybody to recreate only with immediate household members."

One of the best ways to stay safe at the beach is to avoid gathering in groups or lying around on the sand. "We're encouraging active recreation like walking or boating," Sandoval adds. "At many of our beaches, we are not allowing sunbathing. We want people to keep active and keep moving."

Beach visitors should visit the State Parks COVID-19 Resource Center, or review the department's simple Flatten the Curve guidelines. Sandoval also recommends that before you leave your house, check the website for the specific beach you want to visit. Rules may be in flux based on changing city and county guidelines, so it's important to know the latest updates before you travel. And you should familiarize yourself with local guidelines and regulations in your destination.

Once you've done this essential homework, the fun part—planning your beach trip—can begin. For a bit of inspiration, check out these beaches by region:

Southern California

Orange County's long, wide beaches are ideal for strolling and jogging—just ask any of the beautiful people logging their daily laps on miles of firm, brayed-tan sand. At Huntington Beach, aka Surf City USA, make some tracks while you scan for dolphins, or search out the perfect angle for winning Instagram images of historic Huntington Beach Pier. In Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park's three miles of silky white seafront edge a charming cluster of 1930s and 1940s cottages. Walk along the beach at low tide and you'll find myriad sea creatures in Crystal Cove's tide pools.

In Los Angeles County, make like a movie star and cool off on Malibu's 21 miles of coastline. Admire the wave-riders at Surfrider Beach, home of the first World Surfing Reserve and iconic Malibu Pier. Head to Zuma Beach to challenge the waves or watch for whales, or wander three miles of winsome ocean frontage at Will Rogers State Beach, perched between Malibu and Pacific Palisades.

San Diego's shoreline boasts impossibly perfect weather and surf-worthy waves. You'll find great people-watching at Tourmaline Surfing Park, a Pacific Beach hangout for old-school longboarders and new-school novices. Or head to slightly less energetic Ocean Beach, a sun-kissed stretch of sand that fronts a fun-and-funky village. In "OB," an eclectic crowd browses for antiques and quirky vintage goods, then fuels up at casual eateries with outdoor tables.

Central California

It seems like summer never ends in San Luis Obispo County, home to small coastal towns that strum a classic beachy vibe. Take a walk alongside the azure waves in Pismo Beach, the self-proclaimed "Clam Capital of the World." Surf, boogie-board, or paddleboard by the pier, or paddle a kayak near the cliffs and caves in neighboring Shell Beach. A few miles to the north, Avila Beach, a sleepy beach town on San Luis Bay, is home to sugar-soft beaches plus farm stands and hot springs.

Downtown Santa Barbara's East Beach and West Beach—two sleek strands separated by 2,300-foot-long Stearns Wharf—beckon with white-crested waves and grand palm trees. (Bathtub-like West Beach has shallow, calm water that's ideal for kids.) Neighboring Goleta offers quieter suburban beaches like Haskell's and Goleta Beach Park, both family-friendly spots to savor the sand.

Northern California

In Mendocino County, ride your bike on the paved MacKerricher Haul Road Trail that parallels the pounding surf at Ten Mile Beach in MacKerricher State Park. Wander along the picturesque headlands and white-sand cove at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, or take your kayak for a spin at the creek-mouth beaches of Russian Gulch or Van Damme state parks.

The white curve of sand at Crescent City's Enderts Beach offers up plenty of space and solitude. It's accessible only on foot (take the trail from the end of Enderts Beach Road). Pacific breezes can stir up rough waves, but at low tide, check out rocky pools rich with sea stars, urchins, and giant green anemones.

Trinidad's come-hither beaches, including Trinidad State Beach and Patrick's Point State Park, attract beachcombers searching for washed-up treasures and photographers hoping to snare dreamy seascape shots.

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