Southern California's Most and Least Popular Beaches

Visiting the beach is a truly popular pastime in California. A count of beach-goers during 2000 to 2004 tallied 129 million visits a year to southern California's stretches of sand and surf.

It's no wonder the state's beaches attract millions. The southern region gets great beach weather and has plenty of sandy shores on the Pacific Ocean.

Along 220 miles of coastline, from Nicholas Canyon in the north to Imperial Beach in the south, there are 75 beaches to choose from.

Most Popular Beaches

Despite the vast selection, a single beach far above any other draws the largest throngs of people. One in ten beach-goers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties is sunbathing, swimming or surfing at Huntington Beach. Among the plenty of attractions at Huntington Beach is some of the best surfing in California.

Most popular beaches in southern California:
Rank Beach Visits a Year
1 Huntington 12.6 million
2 Santa Monica 8.8 million
3 Venice 8.4 million
4 Newport 8.3 million
5 Zuma 7.0 million
6 Mission 5.9 million
Huntington Beach, southern California's most popular beach

Huntington Beach, southern California's most popular stretch of sand. Photo: David McLaren

Least Crowded Beaches

Just over half of the trips to a southern California beach end up at the 15 busiest stretches of sand. That leaves another 60 beaches with much smaller crowds.

Those who prefer having a beach almost to themselves can choose from several that get less than 100,000 visitors a year. The least crowded of all is Surfside, tucked away between the more lively Huntington and Long Beaches. A lack of easy public access keeps people away from Surfside's quiet stretch of coastline.

Least visited beaches in southern California:
1 Surfside
2 Table Rock
3 Poche
4 Baby Beach in Dana Harbor
5 Emerald Bay
Surfside Beach, the least crowded beach in Southern California

Surfside, the least crowded beach in Southern California. Photo: Karen Fasimpaur

The emptiest of beaches are concentrated in Orange country. But beaches with few visitors also exist farther up and down the coast. To the south, Marine Street beach at La Jolla doesn't see many people. North of Los Angeles, a good beach for avoiding crowds is at Nicholas Canyon.

Busiest Times at the Beach

Like the ocean, people arrive at California's beaches in waves. Not surprisingly, the biggest crowds seeking surf and sand move in during the summer, especially on weekends.

Over half the visits to a beach in southern California happen in June, July and August. July alone accounts for 22 percent of all beach traffic. And nearly half of visits at any time of the year occur on Saturday and Sunday.

When Beaches Have Fewest People

California's beaches empty of people during the winter. The least busy months — February, November and December — get just one-sixth the number of visitors as July or August.

Beach crowds also thin out on weekdays. Compared with a weekend, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays the beaches from Los Angeles to San Diego have one-third as many people.


Ryan H. Dwight, Mitchell V. Brinks, Gajapathi SharavanaKumar and Jan C. Semenza. 2007. Beach attendance and bathing rates for Southern California beaches. Ocean and Coastal Management. 50(10): 847-858.

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