12 Best Beach Towns in California in 2024 + Where to Stay

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

This guide to the best small beach towns in California covers where to stay in each town, the top things to see and more!

With over 800 miles of beautiful coastline, California has its fair share of quintessential sun-soaked beach towns. Having lived in California for all of my life, I’ve had the pleasure to travel up and down this magnificent coast, visiting many of these cute towns along the way.

Most California beach towns are similar in that they have warm, inviting spirits, with friendly locals and great ocean views, but they’re all different in things to do and general atmosphere. Here are the 12 best beach towns in The Golden State!

Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Best Beach Towns in California

Laguna Beach

Located in Orange County, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach is seven miles of coves and beaches that lay claim to tide pools, boardwalks, and bluffs. The town itself is known as being an art haven, with plenty of galleries and boutiques to check out.

Aside from the beach, Laguna Beach is home to upwards of 20,000 acres of pristine wilderness, which you can check out via mountain biking and hiking trails.

Laguna Beach Best Small Beach Towns in California

Read more: The Most Beautiful Oceanfront Hotels in California

Where to Stay in Laguna Beach

For a budget stay in Laguna Beach, check out The Tides. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the town center and has an outdoor saltwater pool for use.

For a great mid-range option, check out Laguna Brisas Hotel. This hotel is right down the street from the beach itself and offers an outdoor pool and views of Catalina Island.

If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, the Surf and Sand Resort is for you. This hotel overlooks the ocean, gives guests private beach access, and is located in central Laguna Beach.

Read more: 14 Best Hotels in Laguna Beach

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)


Capitola is one of the oldest resort towns in California and is situated in Santa Cruz County on the coast of Monterey Bay. The town itself is incredibly picturesque with idyllic beaches and colorful buildings and is full of eclectic boutiques and restaurants.

I love visiting Capitola no matter the time of year – in the winter, it tends to be a relaxing and quiet escape, while in the summer it gets busy and has a classic California beach town vibe.

Where to Stay in Capitola

Quality Inn & Suites Capitola is a budget motel just 10 minutes from the beach. The property features free WiFi and a seasonal swimming pool

Fairfield Inn & Suites Santa Cruz – Capitola is a mid-range hotel that offers an outdoor pool and spacious suites.

Inn at Depot Hill is a beautiful 4-star B&B that’s walking distance from Capitola Beach and Wharf and features an evening wine reception and a full breakfast.

Read more: A Guide To Traveling California In A Campervan: Need To Know Tips

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Avila Beach

A community in San Luis Obispo County, Avila Beach is a great California getaway for the whole family. In the summer, the beach welcomes concerts of all sizes, farmers markets, wine tastings, and so much more. Meanwhile, on the San Luis Pier, Fishermen haul in their daily catch – giving you the freshest seafood experience in the local restaurants.

Not to mention, the waters themselves are perfect for watersports. Because of the calm conditions, renting a kayak or paddleboard for an afternoon is super easy to do. With your kayak, definitely make a point to head to the historic Point San Luis Lighthouse!

Avila Beach California Beach Town

Where to Stay in Avila Beach

Avila Village Inn is an adults-only mid-range property that offers free bike use, an outdoor swimming pool, and a gym.

Avila La Fonda Hotel is a luxury property that is home to a spa bath, fireplaces in every room, and free WiFi.

Read more: How To Road Trip California On A Budget


Located on the central California Coast on the colorful Estero Bay, Cayucos is a resort town only 30 minutes away from Hearst Castle. The town is full of Americana, and makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the Wild West, but with a beach setting. Saloons and antique shops are aplenty!

Calm waters make Cayucos an ideal spot for water sports, including swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and diving. If you’re into fishing, head over to Cass Wharf – a great public fishing pier.

Where to Stay in Cayucos

Dolphin Inn Cayucos is a great budget hotel less than a mile away from Cayucos State Beach.

Shoreline Inn is a mid-range property located right on the beach and offers a continental breakfast and an afternoon biscuit reception.

Pier View Suites is a boutique hotel adjacent to the beach. This is a great place to stay if you want a breezy, bungalow-style place to stay.

Read more: 15 Best Weekend Getaways in California (And Where to Stay!)


Carpinteria is a small city just east of Santa Barbara that lays claim to having the world’s safest beach – Carpinteria State Beach — and to being an all-around family-friendly destination. The waves at Carpinteria are small, so while it’s not great for catching a wave, they are great for splashing around in. That said, if you are looking for a great surfing spot, one of the state’s best surfing beaches, Rincon, is just three miles southeast.

The town itself is fairly easy-going, offering many casual dining options, mom-and-pop shops, and small bars.

Where to Stay in Carpinteria

Sandyland Reef Inn is a budget-friendly stay less than a ten-minute drive from Carpinteria State Beach.

Cliff House Inn is a mid-range property offering private beach access, on-site dining, and an outdoor pool.

Read more: The Best Places to Camp in California

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Fort Bragg

Located on the northern Mendocino coast, Fort Bragg, California has lived many lives. Originally a military garrison and later a lumber town, Fort Bragg is now one of the top beach destinations in the state, and for good reason. Not only is the area home to a beach full of glistening sea glass, but it also has a striking, craggy, coastline that will sweep you off your feet.

The town itself is full of cool museums – logging, train history, tattoo culture, sea glass, and marine science, to name a few – as well as great farmers markets and boutique shops.

Where to Stay in Fort Bragg

Seabird Lodge is a trusted budget option that offers an indoor pool.

Emerald Dolphin Inn & Mini Golf is a great mid-range stay in Fort Bragg. The Inn features an 18-hole mini golf course, arcade, and it’s just 1 mile away from Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

North Cliff Hotel is more of an upscale stay that offers a hot breakfast buffet and great views of the ocean and Noyo Bay.

Read more: Central CA Coast Travel Guide (Best Towns, Where To Stay & More)

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)


Whether you have just a couple days or a week to spend in a California beach town, Cambria and its many attractions will be sure to keep you occupied. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria is home to Moonstone Beach, wineries, the incredible Hearst Castle, a cute downtown area, coastal bluff trails, and elephant seals.

So many of these places are incredibly photogenic too, so be sure to bring your camera!

Where to Stay in Cambria

Cambria Palms Motel is a budget stay in Cambria that is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown Cambria and offers BBQ facilities.

El Colibri Hotel & Spa is a central mid-range property that is walking distance to Moonstone Beach and offers a full-service spa and wine bar.

A little more upscale, Pelican Inn & Suites features a seasonal outdoor pool and unique room décor.

Read more: 10 Best Things to See and Do on California’s Central Coast

La Jolla

Nicknamed “the jewel” of San Diego, La Jolla is everything from luxury hotels and upscale shopping to casual beach vibes and gorgeous scenery. The town itself is filled with one-of-a-kind shops, fine dining restaurants, and great museums, while the beach gives way to dramatic coastline and hiking trails up to the cliffs.

La Jolla is one of the most popular beach destinations in the world and is a must on any trip to San Diego.

Read more: Best Places to Photograph in San Diego (Local Insider Tips) & Things to Do in San Diego for Couples

Where to Stay in La Jolla

The Shoal Hotel La Jolla Beach is a budget stay that features an outdoor pool and is only an 8-minute walk from Windansea Beach.

Empress Hotel is a mid-range boutique hotel that is just a 10-minute walk to the beach and is home to an Italian restaurant.

La Valencia Hotel is a luxury property that is close to the beach and provides modern rooms with an old-charm feel.

Read more: Where to Stay in San Diego (Best Neighborhoods & Hotels)

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Carmel-by-the Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque little town that looks as though it popped straight out of a fairy tale. Located on the Monterey Peninsula, the town is one-square-mile big and is full of charming restaurants, boutiques, and cafes – there are no fast food chain restaurants here.

While in Carmel, head down to Carmel Beach and stroll the scenic road, go wine tasting (the village has almost 20 wine tasting rooms!), pay a visit to the Carmel Mission, and catch some live music at Sunset Center.

Fun fact, Clint Eastwood was once the mayor and now has a restaurant here!

Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel Oaks is a budget stay in Carmel that has free continental breakfast delivery, and is close to many shops and sites.

Hotel Carmel is a mid-range hotel right in the heart of Carmel. The hotel serves a daily continental breakfast and features a hot tub.

The Vagabond’s House Boutique Inn & Spa Studio is a 4-star property just 1-mile from Carmel Beach City Park. The hotel features a stone courtyard and unique décor in every room.

Read more: CA Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide (And Where To Stay!)

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Bodega Bay

A town of roughly 1,000 people in Sonoma County, Bodega Bay is home to fishermen, shopkeepers, and creative types of all kinds. Within and surrounding the town, you’ll find fresh seafood eateries, spas, and wineries, as well as great hiking, fishing, and whale-watching spots.

Bodega Bay tends to be rather quiet and is the perfect place to go if you want to unplug and relax.

Where to Stay in Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay Inn is a mid-budget property less than a 5-minute walk to Bodega Bay and offers free WiFi.

Bodega Bay Lodge is a 4-star hotel with beautiful views of Doran Regional Park and the ocean.

Read more: Where to Stay in San Francisco (And The Best Hotels in Each Area)

Bodega Bay Beach at Sunset

Morro Bay

Also known as “the Gibraltar of the Pacific”, Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County is home to an extinct volcanic peak (that juts out 567 feet above the ocean), over six miles of sandy beaches, and an eclectic array of photogenic shops and restaurants.

Morro Bay has all the elements that make a beach town spectacular, but what makes it even more so is that it tends to be much more affordable than many of the surrounding towns. It’s easy on the eyes and on the wallet!

Boat in Morro Bay with Morro Rock in Background

Read more: 15 Cheap Weekend Getaways in California to Visit Now

Where to Stay in Morro Bay

Harbor House Inn is just two blocks from the waterfront and is a great budget stay in Morro.

Masterpiece Hotel is a mid-range stay just 5 minutes away from Morro Rock. This Andalusian-style motel features an indoor hot tub and a daily wine reception.

Read more: Big Sur Camping Guide: Best Places to Camp

12 Best Small Beach Towns in California (And Where to Stay)

Shelter Cove

A Humboldt County hamlet, Shelter Cove is known as being the gateway to California’s Lost Coast. From Shelter Cove, you can visit Black Sands Beach, stroll the Lost Coast Hiking Trail, visit the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, whale watch, go diving, or fish.

Of course, while there are many activities to do, rest and relaxation should also be on the menu for things to do in Shelter Cove. The town and surrounding area are so peaceful, it’s an ideal situation to unplug and be present.

Where to Stay in Shelter Cove

The Oceanfront Inn is a mid-range property offering a private beach area.

Inn of the Lost Coast is another mid-range stay located right on the beachfront and offers a hot tub and karaoke nights.

Read more: The Forgotten Coast: Off The Beaten Path in California

FAQs: Best Coastal Towns in California

What is the most beautiful beach town in California?

Mendocino, renowned for its breathtaking coastal scenery and artsy small town vibe, stands out as the most beautiful beach town in California. Known as the ‘Victorian Village by the Sea’, many visitors are drawn here because of the many picturesque coastal cottages.

What is the safest beach town in California?

Carpinteria, located just 10 miles east of Santa Barbara, has gained recognition as California’s safest beach town. It stands out as an ideal destination for families seeking a safe coastal vacation.

What beach town in California has colorful houses?

Capitola Beach in Santa Cruz is home to two rows of colorful houses known as “The Venetians.” These privately owned condos are all painted in vibrant pastel colors and look like homes you would find in seaside villages in Europe.

Plan Your Trip to California

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Travel Insurance: We never travel without a travel insurance policy because it’s not worth the risk! We use and trust Visitors Coverage, which we’ve used for the past 8 years.

12 Best Beach Towns in California

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  1. Stephanie Sarnoff says:

    As a retired ex-Californian, now in Oregon, I long for sun, the smell and sight of the sea. Are there beach towns reasonably affordable, without a slew of homeless street people? I’m from s. Calif., and know , well, the beaches of Los Angeles and Orange County. Thanks, Stephanie

  2. Tanya Raedeke says:

    We just stayed with our family in San Clemente at the affordable San Clemente Inn, just minutes walk from the beautiful San Clemente State Beach. We drove to Laguna 3X for more great beaches (paddled and boogie boarded with our kids in Crescent Bay!) and the best gelato we’ve ever found stateside at Gelato Paradisio. But, we favored staying in the much more quiet, laid back San Clemente. We also loved walking the lovely beach trail to T Street beach and the San Clemente Pier. The SC Inn is doing a fabulous makeover and their pool and pickle ball court rocks! Hailing from Colorado, we will definitely be back. Or, maybe LaJolla next time.

  3. A couple more small beach towns to consider are Aptos and La Selva in Santa Cruz County. And don’t forget Pismo just north of Santa Barbara—adjacent to Avila Beach.

  4. Hi Christy! Awesome recommendations. Do you have a suggestion for taking family to California to surf? Hawaii not in budget and my Texan kids want to learn to surf. Thanks!!

    1. Christy Woodrow says:

      Hi Katie. San Diego is a great place! That’s where I currently live and it’s where I learned how to surf.

  5. Vivian McGee says:

    Great article. Having recently discovered Shelter Cove, I have decided it’s my favorite California beach town. It is absolutely stunning and beautiful! Wonderful beaches, hiking, and golfing, too.

    1. Christy Woodrow says:

      That’s wonderful! My mom used to live there, otherwise, it’s possible I would never had thought to visit. It’s such a unique place!