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Visitors to California arrive in droves to gawk at celebrities, snap a selfie with Mickey, ride a cable car and so much more. But many come for one reason alone—to lie on the beach. The Golden State is blessed with 840 miles of vainglorious coastline, from sun-kissed beaches in the Southland to misty, moody seashores up north and the best way to see them all is a nose to tail trip in a convertible, a Jeep or a VW Bug. This dream road trip detours around a swath of the Central Coast (due to a winter bridge outage and recent mudslide in Big Sur), but we promise this coastal ride still fulfills every beachcomber’s fantasy.

RELATED: The coolest California beach towns you’ve never heard of

Ocean Beach, San Diego, beaches

Ocean Beach | Flickr photo by Brian Roberts

Ocean Beach: San Diego
Meet the crunchy cool sibling of San Diego beaches. Unlike flashier Mission and Pacific Beaches, funky OB sports a chill, throwback vibe. Folks love its gorgeous peer, cluster of chill bars, eateries and antique shops centered around Newport Avenue and applause worthy sunsets. It’s less rowdy than its nearby counterparts and also boasts close proximity to off-leash Dog Beach a short walk away.

Black's Beach, San Diego, California

Black’s Beach | Flickr photo by Tristan Ginger

Black’s Beach: LaJolla
Tucked underneath UCSD’s studious campus is large and sprawling Black’s, probably the most famous clothing optional beach in America. A trail beginning near the Torrey Pines Glider Port dumps visitors right into the heart of the beach which attracts upwards of a thousand visitors on summer weekends (gays favor the north end.) The water is heavenly in summer and the waves are surf ready, but wear sunscreen: The SoCal sun will smack your naked booty hard.

San Onofre State Beach, Orange County, surfing, beaches

San Onofre State Beach | Flickr photo by Roger Howard

San Onofre State Beach (Trestles): San Clemente
It may not call itself Surf City USA (that title belongs to Huntington Beach further up the Orange County coastline), but this collection of surf spots near picturesque San Clemente are perhaps the most famous in the entire state. Accessible via a 15-minute walk through a nature trail, this surfer’s paradise is famous for easy paddle outs and perfect peeling left and right handers. Spending the night? Park your vintage VW Bug at San Onofre State Beach Campground.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California

Venice Beach

Venice Beach: Los Angeles
Everything you’ve heard about L.A.’s most fabled beach community is true. Fun and funky boardwalk? Check. Street artists pedaling their wares? Check. Boozy cafes, muscle heads, bikini-clad babes? Check, check and check. No longer the scruffy nabe it was 20 years ago thanks to its impeccable canals, bumping beach scene and chic shops along Abbot-Kinney, a Venice visit is essential Los Angeles.

ALSO: Think you can afford a trip like this without first earning some CheapCash? Beach, please.

El Matador State Beach, California, beaches, Malibu

El Matador | Flickr photo by ™ Pacheco

El Matador: Malibu
A mythologized paradise that belongs as much to everyday beach bums as it is does to the rich and famous who live among its hilltops, long and lanky Malibu is first and foremost a sun-worshipper’s playground. Surfers catch a swell a the aptly named Surfider Beach, while families head for Zuma. Skip both in favor of rugged El Matador featuring large boulders, cool rock formations and sea caves. Wait for the magic hour to snap that dream selfie.

Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara, beaches, sunset

Butterfly Beach | Photo by Compass + Twine

Butterfly Beach: Santa Barbara
Technically in nearby Montecito, pretty Butterfly Beach is famous locally for its sunrises and sunsets—meaning that it’s pretty much awesome morning, noon and (early) night. It also happens to be near the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort so prepare for some serious people watching. Afterward, make the short drive (or long walk) to a wine bar or al fresco eatery in Santa Barbara’s buzzy Funk Zone.

Cayucos, beaches, California

Cayucos Pier | Photo by Fred Moore

Cayucos State Beach
As millionaires and billionaires continue to snatch up every last piece of real estate on the California coast, the undiscovered beach town is quickly becoming an endangered species. Despite all this this, diminutive Central Coast gem Cayucos remains delightfully sleepy—a throwback to a vanishing California. The beach and pier are perfectly pleasant and the charming downtown sports a bit of an Old West vibe. Don’t miss fish tacos at Ruddell’s Smokehouse.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, California, beaches

Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: Santa Cruz
Since Northern California weather doesn’t always cooperate, it’s nice to have a beach backup plan and in this case that plan includes funnel cakes, black light miniature golf and the largest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast—all against a stunning  mountain backdrop. A family-friendly destination for sure, but also a frenzied fun beach scene in California’s crunchiest coastal college town.

Baker Beach, San Francisco, California

Baker Beach | Photo courtesy of Mills Baker

Baker Beach: San Francisco
If your impression of San Francisco is that of an egalitarian love fest, the vibe at its favorite beach best exemplifies it. Although the water is chilly year round, mile-long Baker has something for everyone; families love the facilities, picnic tables and exploring the abandoned military installation, while singles favor the chill (and clothing-optional north end). The Golden Gate Bridge views are priceless.

Goat Rock Beach, Sonoma County, California, beaches

Goat Rock Beach | Flickr photo by Nick Quaranto

Goat Rock Beach: Sonoma County
Unless the weather Gods happen to be cooperating, this road trip ends on a chilly note, but that’s exactly why we like it. Instead of laying out, bundle up in a sweater with picnic basket and bottle (from a nearby winery) in hand and admire the gorgeous rock formations, lush surroundings, nearby mouth of the Russian River and fellow beachgoers—and by that we mean seals and sea otters.

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Tagged: California

Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

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