Best Beaches in Southern California (with cocktails)
After living in California for more than 20 years, you’d better believe I know my way around the state’s beautiful beaches and have a favorite spot for drinks at whichever one I choose! Although I’ve traveled all over the world, I still believe that Southern California is still home to some of the very best beaches and beachfront restaurants and bars. If you’re planning a visit to the Golden State, or maybe you’re a local just looking for a new place to sip on a margarita while watching the sunset, let me share with you my favorite beaches and bar hangouts in Southern California.
Huntington Beach is also known as Surf City USA, and with good reason! This wide open beach stretches for nearly 10 miles, making it the perfect place for a barefoot stroll or a quick dip, whether you’re a surfer or not. In fact, this beach was voted Best Beach in California by USA Today, and I’d have to agree! When I’m done lounging on the sand, I love to head up to Duke’s just in front of Pacific Coast Highway for a tropical cocktail and delicious Hawaiian-inspired seafood right on the beach. Named for legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, this place is surf style at its finest and the perfect beachfront hangout, day or night. Then make sure to stroll across the street to Pacific City for numerous great places to shop and dine.
Though the name Laguna Beach may conjure images of guilty pleasure reality TV, the beach itself is deserving of recognition, too! Halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, this beach is a great spot for a more adventurous trip to the shore, with sea caves and tide pools to explore if you get bored of lying on the pristine sand. With so many waterfront establishments, Laguna Beach is also a great place to pass the evening sipping on beer, wine, a fruity cocktail, or even some bubbles. Personally, I love The Deck, a bar/restaurant with the best pork and beef meatballs. You also can’t go wrong at The Rooftop Lounge for great sunsets. Laguna Beach is also home to several breweries where you can enjoy some local beers on their own or accompanying a delicious meal.
While I love to relax under a palapa as I bronze on the sand, I have to say that Pacific Beach is not my favorite beach for that kind of a day. It is, however, the perfect spot to hang out–filled with bars and restaurants with a lively waterfront vibe, I love heading to this vibrant town for a fun evening out with good friends and good drinks. While the boardwalk can feel very touristy, it’s worth a stroll to stop in at places like JRDN at the Tower 23 Hotel, where you can build your own mimosa on the weekends–my kind of brunch! Another great spot to check out is the rooftop patio at PB Shore Club, which has one of the best views in town. And, the kitchen is open late for when you’ve worked up an appetite that only tacos can satisfy.
With a slightly more upscale vibe than some of the other spots on this list, Manhattan Beach has everything you need for a perfect day spent seaside. Peruse the charming boutiques in Downtown, dine at one of the city’s many excellent restaurants, or simply enjoy watching the surfers from the pier–whatever kind of day you’re looking for, Manhattan Beach has something to offer, and that goes for bars, too. StrandBar is my go-to for killer margaritas (made from scratch!) with an ocean view that’s hard to beat. If beer is more your style, BrewCo, near the pier, has an impressive menu including brews from the neighboring breweries of Smog City, El Segundo and Monkish. Grab a pint and head to the front of the bar for an ocean view while you sip.
Huntley Santa Monica Hotel
Known for its iconic pier and choice shopping, Santa Monica is another great spot to spend a sunny day with a cocktail in your hand. The Penthouse bar at the Huntley Santa Monica Hotel has unbeatable views spanning the ocean, the mountains, and downtown. Pair that with the extensive list of enticing house cocktails and plenty of fine wines to choose from, and there’s nowhere I’d rather watch the sun disappear over the horizon! The rooftop of the Hotel Shangri-La boasts a similarly broad selection of drinks with a perfect view out over the ocean. It’s an intimate setting where you can enjoy oysters on the half shell and toast to a great day spent by the water.
One of my all time favorites in Santa Monica is The Lobster, a landmark overlooking the Santa Monica Pier. An amazing view with incredible cuisine, a destination not to be missed!
The Lobster Santa Monica
As you can see, Southern California has no shortage of amazing spots to take in the surf and sand with a drink in your hand. (Sometimes I wonder why I ever left!) Wherever you do choose to go for an indulgent day by the sea, I hope you’ll enjoy these waterfront spots just as much as I do. If you do stop by, be sure to have a cocktail for me. Cheers!