Best Waterfront Towns in California

California is known to have some of the best beaches in the world, giving both locals and tourists the pick of the litter. With so many awesome beach towns to choose from, it can be tough to decide which one to visit first or even plant roots in.

Among all the beach towns in California, these are some of the best.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the epitome of California Surf Town, offering a low-key atmosphere amongst its high tides and amusement park. The hub of Santa Cruz is its beach boardwalk that’s visited by locals and tourists alike during all times of the year. Catch some waves, ride some classic coasters, and dine on timeless carnival fare while watching people pick up a spontaneous latin dance session in the middle of the street.

Going further out into the ocean will afford up-close-and-personal views of humpback whales and other sea creatures that you wouldn’t see anywhere near the shoreline. End the day with some local fish fare and a glass of your favorite red or white from any one of the wide array of wineries.

There are plenty of housing options to choose from, though not exactly at an affordable price tag. Median home prices in Santa Cruz currently go for $830,000.

Monterey

Nestled in the cove of Carmel Bay is Monterey, a lovely beach town that attracts a ton of visitors every day thanks to its pretty beaches, water-side parks, and fun social scene. The Monterey Peninsula boasts a number of casual and fine dining options along its quiet coves, as well as its classic and contemporary art galleries.

In addition to driving up the coast, another great way to indulge in the surrounding natural beauty is to rent a bike and peddle around the peninsula to Pacific Grove and take part in the 17-Mile Drive Tour.

On the south end of the Monterey peninsula is the eclectic art scene at Carmel-by-the-Sea. There’s no shortage of natural beauty thanks to its quaint coves, crashing waves, white sands, rocky backdrop, and tree-shaded trails. Further in is Carmel’s main village that’s filled with art galleries, high-end pubs, and cute inns.

This beach town is slightly less expensive than its Santa Cruz neighbor, with the median home price sitting at $747,200.

Encinitas

Despite being in close proximity to the beaches of bustling Los Angeles and San Diego, Encinitas is one of those beach towns that has still managed to maintain some serenity without being engulfed by urban sprawl that’s characteristic of the aforementioned cities. Encinitas continues to be a hot spot for avid surfers who seek out some of the best waves on the west coast.

After a big surf, the old downtown core is the place to hang out. The center of the city features all sorts of timeless delights, including a host of different types of bars and restaurants. There’s also the La Paloma Theater and two historical boathouses to check out too.

Like Santa Cruz, you’re paying for such delectability at your fingertips with housing prices well over the median statewide price. The median house price in Encinitas stands at $958,400.

Laguna Beach

Like all the other beach towns on this list, Laguna Beach is arguably one of the most picturesque waterfront spots in Southern California. This small coastal city is well-known for its various coves, beaches, tide pools, and boardwalk on Main Beach. Lots of surfers take to Aliso Beach Park to catch some waves and visitors enjoy meandering through all the beaches’ trails and coastal canyons.

Aside from natural wonders, Laguna Beach also boasts a vibrant social scene with a variety of awesome eateries and bars, art galleries, and boutique-style shops.

Living in Laguna Beach is certainly not on the affordable end of the spectrum, with the median house price in the area fetching $1,548,000.

Santa Monica

A swankier beach town in Southern California is Santa Monica, a vibrant waterfront community on L.A.’s coast. Miles of wide beach areas line the coast of Santa Monica, pierced with its infamous pier and boardwalk. Fun in the sand by day and unique dining and entertainment options at night, Santa Monica makes for the perfect spot for vacationers.

Those who call Santa Monica home take advantage of the incredible shopping available with plenty of shops to choose from thanks to the likes of Santa Monica Place and Third Street Promenade.

The median home price for a place in Santa Monica currently stands at a whopping $1,400,000.

Coronado

It’s easy to experience small-town charm while still living in the city with Coronado close by. A hop, skip, and a jump from San Diego, Coronado boasts some of the best white sands in the state.

Coronado beaches have a more family vibe in contrast to many of California’s more adult-themed beach scenes. Anchoring Coronado island is the historic Hotel Del Coronado, a late 1880’s-built castle-like structure that oozes plenty of interesting tidbits of history.

There are plenty of eateries and bars to enjoy along the sandy beaches of Coronado. Nothing beats enjoying delicious local fare and sipping on refreshing beverages while enjoying sunrises and sunsets on the Pacific.

Another way to enjoy the beach and check out the island is to take a bike ride amidst the waterfront estates and manicured gardens or take the dog for a walk on the pet-friendly peninsula.

In line with Santa Monica as far as home prices go, Coronado’s median home price is $1,481,600.

The Bottom Line

With an 800-mile coastline flanked by white sands and rocky terrain, California’s Pacific coast offers residents and visitors a seemingly endless array of beaches to enjoy. To help you narrow down your choices of which spot to hit up next, consider any one of the above dreamy locations.