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Ultimate Guide To California 2009

Beaches? We have our favorites

February 01, 2009|Jane Engle, Christopher Reynolds, Susan Spano, Catharine Hamm, Chris Erskine, Hugo Martin, Andrew Nystrom and Tim Hubbard

When we think Colorado, we think Rockies. Missouri? The Mississippi River. And California? Well, we have so many fabulous physical features that it's hard to choose one. But for our purposes, we're concentrating on beaches, if only to rub it in to Colorado and Missouri. The staff has chosen its favorites, which appear below. This may not be the end-all and be-all, and you may even disagree. If you do, let us know at

Coronado City Beach


Bookended by military stations and parading past the storied Hotel del Coronado, this nearly two-mile stretch of Pacific Ocean sand is a great place to hobnob with summer crowds or escape them. Either way, you'll have room to play. One of San Diego County's widest beaches, it expands to 100 yards or more in spots along a spit between the U.S. Naval Air Station North Island and the Naval Amphibious Base. Depending on where you plant your umbrella, you can swim, surf, watch pelicans dive bomb for fish, wade in tide pools, barbecue or grab a fancy drink at a Hotel Del cafe. My favorite time is early morning, when Navy SEALs on training jogs may be the only souls you see. The sunsets? Fabulous.

Along Ocean Boulevard, (619) 522-7346 (lifeguard service);

-- Jane Engle


Windansea Beach

La Jolla

Not a state beach, not a county park, Windansea has nevertheless been on the Big Map of California Beach Culture for years. It's home to the Pump House, where Tom Wolfe's Pump House Gang used to hang out in the 1960s. And it has a wicked shore break that has slammed countless bodysurfers into involuntary headstands. It's handy to a beloved pizza joint, Carino's. No public restrooms, no picnic area, just 18 off-street parking spaces. The neighboring residential area is many blocks south of La Jolla's trendy boutiques and pricey restaurants. In other words, there's not much here for Mom, Dad and the little ones. But for those in their teens and 20s, this is where cool kids have been hanging out for about as long as there have been cool kids.

6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla;

-- Christopher Reynolds


Black's Beach

San Diego County

This is the great-granddaddy of California nudist beaches, reached from near the Torrey Pines Gliderport north of La Jolla. The beach is lined by a high cliff and the path down is treacherous, which help isolate Black's from gawkers and other forms of nonmarine lowlife. Part of the beach is in a state park, and the other part is governed by the city of San Diego. Its naturist status is only semiofficial; there are no toilet or trash facilities and lifeguards make only occasional patrols.

Torrey Pines;

-- Susan Spano


Aliso Beach

Laguna Beach

If you've moved many times, you develop touchstones; Aliso Beach is mine. Despite the Laguna Beach address, it's hardly artsy, pretentious or self-absorbed. Instead, it's the sort of place the Cleavers would have visited. Why? There's parking. There are restrooms. It's bordered by a wildlife refuge. You can have a bonfire. And best of all, it's accessible. You don't have to walk down 900 steps to get there. Lazy man's beach? Perhaps. But isn't being lazy what a day at the beach is all about?

31131 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; (949) 923-2280,

-- Catharine Hamm


Crystal Cove State Park

South Orange County

I don't know that I've ever been on a bad beach in California. But I've never been on one with as many appealing qualities as Crystal Cove: tide pools, scenic bluffs and a family-friendly vibe. It's roomy too, though development on this stretch of land between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach has amped up the action in recent years. Still, on weekends, you'll have plenty of space for a blanket or a pop-up awning. No snack shops or bike rentals here, just a great rustic and pristine beach. Note that the walk from the parking lot to the beach can be long and steep. Kids have no trouble with it, but unsteady grandparents might.

Between Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar; (949) 494-3539,

-- Chris Erskine


East Beach

Santa Barbara

Creamy sand, a dozen courts for serious volleyball, arts and crafts shows on weekends, a perpetual parade of watchable people, the distant dreamy houses on the slopes above -- East Beach delivers all these things, along with a well-situated restaurant, the East Beach Grill (breakfast and lunch, starting at 7 a.m.), and adjacent sports facilities at the Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse (the handsome 1927 building at 1118 E. Cabrillo Blvd.). For the sporty and the slothful, this is atop the Santa Barbara list.

1400 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara;

-- C.R.


James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

North of Half Moon Bay

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