Laguna Beach has the best beaches, oceanfront, and public parks in Southern California. In fact, its miles of coast along Pacific Coast Highway might be some of the best in the world. This list ranks the top 10 beaches–plus whether they’re currently open or closed. (Updated September 8, 2020.)
While this quiet little beach town located an hour or two south of Los Angeles (depending upon traffic) can be quite busy during the summer months, the majority of tourists flock to Main Beach. Ironically enough, Laguna Beach’s most popular beach is its worst beach.
In addition to Main Beach, the second-most popular spot does not make this list, and that’s Crystal Cove State Park, which is nestled between the cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. It’s a nice-enough stretch of coast, but it’s very popular and parking is a pricey hassle. Instead of the most popular options, this list is aiming for the best, with an emphasis on places away from the crowds and beaches with unique charm. Before we get to the list, let’s start with a September 2020 update…
Under the new California Blueprint for a Safer Economy, Orange County (where Laguna Beach is located) moves into the red tier as of September 8, 2020. This means that restaurants, museums, and other businesses can reopen indoor operations at 25% of normal capacity. We discuss what this means for visitors in our Ultimate Laguna Beach Planning Guide, which offers comprehensive travel advice.
This post is about the beaches and parks in Laguna Beach, so we’ll focus on the implications for those here. The city’s beaches are now open during regular hours, seven days a week from 6 am until 10pm. This is for all purposes, including both active and non-active (i.e. sunbathing or lounging) uses. Physical distancing must be practiced among non-family unit beachgoers. Face masks should also be used if physical distancing is not possible.
In other words, things are basically back to normal at the city’s beaches. Well, at least to the extent that wearing a face mask is normal (we’ll call it the temporary abnormal). The point is that there’s now minimal impact to the Laguna Beach experience. With Labor Day now over and the summer crowds heading home, it’s the perfect time to visit.
We’ll keep you updated on further developments. With that said, here’s our list of the 10 best beaches in Laguna Beach, California…
Some locals might be irritated to see me share the some of these hidden gems (calling some of these beaches Orange County’s best kept secrets would not be an exaggeration–sometimes we’ve seen around a half-dozen other people at some of the more secluded spots).
The good news is that Laguna Beach has at least 20 great beaches, coves, and parks–if not more–and I’m only sharing my 10 favorites. Plus, some of the entries on this list are hardly hidden (like Heisler Park and Treasure Island), anyway.
10. Thalia Street Beach – Our first entry onto the list is a nondescript beach that looks pretty bland. If you’re looking at this list because you want something picturesque, Thalia Street is most certainly not the right pick. Rather, this is Laguna Beach’s top surf spot. You’ll find a lot of locals here into surfing, body surfing, and body boarding. If you’re a surfer–or want to watch some surfers–this is (usually) the right choice.
If you do venture into the water here, be careful. This is not a sandy-bottom beach–it’s basically one big rock reef, with a limited section of sand. That area is also fraught with peril, as it’s the strongest rip current in Laguna Beach when there is large surf.
9. Table Rock Beach – I’ve previously said that I think Table Rock Beach is overrated, and I more or less stand by that. However, it’s a pretty unique beach some cool rock formations and a secluded location.
Additionally, if you visit at low tide, it’s easy to access a “hidden” sand beach and you can also venture through the rock arch at the end of the beach. Plus, it’s cool to see those houses precariously perched above the ocean.
8. Aliso Beach – I’m not a huge fan of this beach during the day. Even during the off-season, it can be crowded and the beach itself is sorta bland. (Plus, you have to pay for parking.) It’s exponentially worse during summer and other tourist seasons, when the lot fills up and you have to find overflow parking.
It’s a totally different story during offseason nights, when the public fire pits make this a great place to unwind and enjoy some drinks. There are multiple fire pits and while they are technically communal, you’ll want to arrive early to claim one (and be prepared to share–even though some others won’t) if you’re visiting during the summer. Another plus is that this beach is really long, and you can walk all the way to Treasure Island from it.
7. Shaw’s Cove – I’m not sure whether I like Shaw’s Cove or the adjacent Fisherman’s Cove more (Diver’s Cove is also right there, and could also make the list), so I’ll just lump them together. Both of these are serene and picturesque. Fisherman’s Cove is smaller and tends to be less crowded (neither are ever crowded–but you can sometimes hit Fisherman’s Cove when no one else is there), which makes it a great option for us when we want our dog to be able to run around.
A strong selling point of both locations is that there is free street parking available along Cliff Drive in this area. Because this area is just north of Heisler Park, we tend to park above Fisherman’s Cove, head down there or to Shaw’s Cove, and then continue on through Heisler Park to Main Beach before looping out onto the sidewalk along Pacific Coast Highway and heading back. This is the perfect way to enjoy sunset and dusk in Laguna Beach.
6. Thousand Steps Beach – One of Laguna’s southernmost public beaches, Thousand Steps beach is known for its long stairway that leads down to a long stretch of beach. The beach itself honestly isn’t that impressive, and is pretty crowded for a spot that is seemingly out of the way, but the caves and blowholes on the south end of the beach make up for the bland stretch in the middle.
Locals use the steps as a workout, and you’ll commonly find people doing yoga and other exercises on the beach, as well. (As you struggle to make it halfway up the steps and a ripped twenty-something runs past you, on their 15th ’round’ of the stairs, you’ll start to rethink the Double Doubles you had earlier that day…not that I speak from experience or anything.)
5. Crescent Bay Beach & Point Park – As you’ll see further down the list, I really skew towards beaches that also have good parks attached to them. Crescent Bay is another beach in this style, albeit with the interesting wrinkle that the beach is more or less disconnected from Crescent Bay Point Park.
I like the park because it offers some of the best panoramic sunset (or even sunrise!) views in all of Laguna Beach, and it is super easy to access, with plenty of free street parking. I like the beach because it’s large and has interesting character, but never seems to be too crowded. I also love the views offered of Seal Rock (pictured above).
4. Pearl Street Beach – The main draw at Pearl Street Beach is Arch Rock, which is one of the coolest rock formations in Orange County. Archways like this are not atypical in Laguna Beach, but this one is fairly unique in that it has a really light, earth-tone. From the north side, Pearl Beach almost looks like a tropical island setting.
Birds flock to the top of Arch Rock, and people flock all around its base, which you can pass through on foot to reach the tide pools and Cactus Point on the other side. These unique features coupled with a beach that’s usually fairly quiet makes Pearl Street Beach a serious winner in my book.
3. Picnic Beach & Heisler Park – Heisler Park encompasses multiple beaches, and it’s really the park I love, so I’m just choosing my favorite of the beaches as a reference point. Heisler Park is the best recreation area in Laguna Beach. This oceanfront park has numerous walking trails (that stretch south to Main Beach and beyond), gardens, a marine refuge with tide pools, picnic areas with barbecues, and lawn bowling greens.
However, it’s the public art installations that really make Heisler Park for me. Laguna Beach is an artist community, and Heisler Park is the intersection of art and ocean life. Heisler Park is also nice for its sunset vistas, with Recreation Point and the Gazebo both offering panoramic views.
2. Treasure Island Beach & Park – If you’re not a local, stepping onto the grounds of the Montage Laguna Beach (a hotel with standard rooms priced at around $800/night) can be intimidating. However, you simply follow the ‘public access’ signs down past the hotel, and are in one of the most beautiful beachfront parks anywhere.
The Montage maintains these grounds for guests of its luxury resort, but they are required by the California Coastal Commission to offer public access. This means that we commoners can enjoy the beautifully-maintained landscape, bursting with vibrant flowers, without forking over $800 for a room. I like the park above the beaches that stretches the length of the Montage Laguna Beach Resort, which actually encompasses multiple beaches (Treasure Island, Goff Cove, and Christmas Cove). Of these, Goff Cove Beach is my favorite. Just be careful climbing Goff Island…getting up is the easy part.
1. Victoria Beach – Nothing compares with “Pirate Tower Beach” for me. This was the secluded spot that first made me fall in love with Laguna Beach, and there’s still nothing like it, in my opinion. The name is derived from Victoria Beach’s 60-foot tall tower, which is actually a staircase that used to offer beach access from one of the houses above. Now, it’s entirely ornamental, transforming this location into something you’d see along the coast in Tortuga; a look-out tower for unfriendly vessels returning from pillaging the Spanish Main.
Beach erosion and high tides can make the tower section of Victoria Beach difficult to access. If you do make it out here, you’ll be rewarded with a picturesque scene and relatively low crowds, save for locals in the know.
This post just begins to scratch the surface on the nice secluded coves and wonderful beachfront parks you can find in Laguna Beach, California. It also barely begins to scratch the surface on what you can find in Laguna Beach, generally speaking. People often assume it’s “just” a beach given the name, but this town is so much more. We actually consider Laguna Beach a must-visit as part of a vacation to Southern California–and we’ll be sharing a lot more from Laguna in the near future.
For more tips, info, and advice, please consult our Laguna Beach, California Planning Guide. If you’re visiting other spots during your California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been to any of the beaches in Laguna? If so, which did you like or dislike? Any other beaches we didn’t mention? Any additional tips to add about these beaches that we didn’t cover? Do you agree or disagree with our rankings? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!