Heading to the beach is so much more than sunblock and beach towels when you have your family in tow. Yes, the kids might want to see a few dolphins, swing on a nearby play set or build sand castles but parents want, check that, need so much more. We’re talking lifeguards, clean bathrooms, easy parking, and shallow waters to name a few. From the clear, clean beaches of Malibu to the surfer studded waters off Manhattan Beach, we’ve visited our amazing coastline to get the low down all thing seaside. Read on and see which beach you should visit with your family next.
Malibu & Santa Monica Area Beaches
Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica
A visit to the Annenberg Community Beach House is so much more than just a trip to the beach. With a playground, splash pad, pool, restaurant and tons of fun activities planned all summer long, you might not even make it to the ocean.
One of our favorite things here is the easy factor: you can reserve a parking spot online so you know the lot won’t be full. You can skip food packing, as Back On The Beach Cafe will provide you with all your snacking and lunchtime needs. And they have the cleanest beach bathrooms we’ve ever seen! Parking rates and activities schedule change throughout the year, so be sure to check their website for updated information before planning your visit.
415 Pacific Coast Hwy.
photo: National Park Service via Flickr
Westward Beach, Malibu
This lovely stretch of sand is private and picturesque. Often used for filming (you might recognize it in everything from Planet of the Apes to Iron Man), the large cliffs provide a stunning backdrop for your family’s beach day. Hike up the Point Dume path and you may catch a glimpse of body surfing dolphins or climbers repelling the rocky cliff.
There is a pay parking lot (closer) or free parking on the street (cheaper). Take note that the lifeguard tower is only manned in peak summer season. End the day at The Sunset Restaurant and you’ll miss PCH traffic, too.
Tip for little swimmers: This north-facing beach’s surf breaks shallow and close to shore so make sure to keep an extra eye on beginning swimmers at the water’s edge.
Westward Beach Rd.
photo: Passion Leica via Flickr
El Matador Beach, Malibu
One of the most stunning beaches in all of Southern California, it’s off the beaten path and nicely secluded. The beautiful rock formations (file this spot away to return to for your holiday card picture) give kids places to play and explore. There is a fee to park in the lot or limited free parking on PCH.
Insider Tip: There are stairs to take down to the beach, which is OK for even little kids but are not stroller accessible, so strap the babes in a Bjorn. The stairs are part of the fun, and when you get down to this not-too-populated spot, you’ll never want to leave. Just north of this spot is Sycamore Beach, which is another fabulous secret family spot.
32215 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu
So many things here for the kids to adore: Tidepools! Sea caves! Surfers! And in addition to being far from the maddening crowds, you’re not far from Neptune’s Net — an amazing seafood shack with the added benefit of being a friendly biker hangout. Stop for a late lunch or early dinner on the way home to the delight of your vroom vroom loving kiddos who can try and count all the motorcycles out front. And if you’ve got a pup, the north beach here is one of the few beaches in the county where you won’t have to leave your four-legged friend behind, just don’t forget the leash.
35000 West Pacific Coast Hwy.
photo: Adam Jones via Creative Commons
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
A bird sanctuary. Surfers to watch. Rocky outliers and sandy swimming spots. Walking distance to the Malibu pier where you can grab lunch at Malibu Farm (one of the best lunches and views in town) or rent poles and go fishing for your own lunch. After you’ve sufficiently grubbed, head to Malibu Country Mart for dessert. Yep, Malibu Lagoon has it all, in one convenient location.
Great for young kids who need to constantly be exploring new and different environments, it’s even a perfect place to bring visitors and grandparents, who love to tour the Adamson House, a Spanish Colonial Revival home that has the best surviving examples of decorative ceramic tile produced by Malibu Potteries.
23200 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Will Roger’s State Beach, Pacific Palisades
Just off Pacific Coast Highway, at Temescal Canyon, Will Roger’s State Beach has a huge sandy beach, volleyball courts, a playground, and convenient parking that stretches the whole length of the beach (extra convenient when you’re toting lots or have very little tots). Parking price vary by season so make sure you hit the ATM before you plan to hit the surf. Speaking of surf, this is a great spot to go practice those boogie boarding skills, with a long and low break perfect for beginners. In need of some sustenance? Gladstones is open nearby, and their kid’s menu is one of the best dining deals by the beach.
17000 Pacific Coast Hwy.
photo: Gaby T. via yelp
Seaside Lagoon, Redondo Beach
A surf-free large salt-water lagoon, Seaside boasts lifeguard supervision, playground equipment, a snack bar hosted by Ruby’s, and a large grassy play area. It’s only open in the summer and there is a parking fee of $2/hour ($6 max) along with an entrance fee that varies depending on the season (it’s $6-$7 this summer, and free for the under 2 crowd). If you have a wide age range of kids in your group this is a great option, with the surf-free lagoon and sand for beach babies and the knock-your-socks-off water slides for your big kahunas.
200 Portofino Way
photo: yngvar via Creative Commons
Manhattan Beach, Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach is what the rest of the country thinks all of California looks like. Miles and miles of clean white sand, punctuated by a picturesque pier. Try and park near the pier, so you’ll be close to bathrooms and snacks — and the Roundhouse Aquarium, which is located at the end of the pier. This small and intriguing place is free and kids who need a break from the sun and sand love this hands-on aquarium/marine studies lab.
Manhattan Beach is also home to some of the best beach volleyball players in the world. So bring a volleyball and let the little ones bat the ball back and forth like the pros do, or just let them watch the big guys play.
2 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
El Porto, Manhattan Beach
Because the sight of the refinery up the coast breaks up the pristine ocean views, this beach tends to be less crowded than Manhattan Beach (above). Clean bathrooms, a snack shack right next to the swings, volleyball nets, and a bike path, make it a great place for sports-minded families to spend the whole day.
Note: the waves can get bigger here, making it a fun spot to watch surfers. However, since the waves break a little further out, it’s still a very kid friendly surf’s edge.
photo: Maggie S. via yelp
Mother’s Beach, Long Beach
With a name like Mother’s, it has to be good. This is one of the best and safest options if you have small children and you will be the sole grown-up in your gang. Mother’s Beach in Long Beach is on a bay, fully staffed with safety personnel and has a great playground. It can be empty on early summer mornings and a complete zoo on weekend afternoons, so be cautious and crafty when planning your visit.
5839 East Appian Way
Bay Shore Beach, Long Beach
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Mother’s Beach is the Bay Shore Peninsula. Almost guaranteed to be less crowded, the Bay Shore Beach is clean, safe and fun. If you’re looking for some solitude, try heading farther south down the peninsula where you can probably score a stretch of sand all to yourselves. Just a reminder, there is no surf on the Bayside beaches, so if you have a kiddo who wants to hang ten on the boogie boards, this is not the spot for you. They are, however, perfect for toddlers, beginning swimmers, and parents who are made nervous by big waves. There is free parking on Bay Shore Drive.
5415 E. Ocean Blvd.
photo: Jon W. via yelp
Orange County Beaches: Totally Worth the Trip!
Seal Beach: The perfect spot to learn to surf, body board, or bodysurf.
Sea Bridge Park, Huntington Beach: Tough to find on your first try, but well worth it.
Strands, Dana Point: Puts the “fun” in Funicular!
Little Corona, Newport Beach: No steps and kids can watch the divers.
Aliso Beach Park, Aliso Viejo: As close to Caribbean blue seas as you get in SoCal.
Know Before You Go: Heal the Bay has a very easy to use website that frequently updates all Southern California beach conditions. As of May 10, 2018, all of our picks have an A or A+ rating.
What is your family’s all-time favorite beach and why? Share your tips in the comment section below!
—Kate Felton, Meghan Rose & Christina Montoya Fiedler