The Pacific Coast Highway, (officially California State Route 1), follows the Pacific Coast for nearly a thousand miles. This is one of the most scenic roads in the world, dotted with hundreds of beaches. Here are our top six most beautiful beaches in California.
- Hermosa Beach
- Santa Monica Beach
- Big Sur Beach
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Carmel City Beach
- El Matador State Beach
In Spanish, Hermosa means beautiful. Very apt. Hermosa Beach is a ribbon of golden sand alongside The Strand (a 20-mile-long uninterrupted promenade and bike lane stretching from Santa Monica to Torrance Beach). Younger than its northern neighbor, Manhattan Beach, and crazier than Redondo Beach, its southern neighbour to which Patti Smith dedicated a song, Hermosa beach is both fun and sporty, where early morning surfers mingle with night owls. Located 15 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport, you can immerse yourself in both the sea and the Californian atmosphere as soon as you set foot in the country.
Founded by the Spaniards in the 18th century, Santa Monica has huge beaches and promenades lined with palm trees, making it one of the most popular holiday hot spots for the locals. Those of an athletic bent can try their hand at beach volleyball, while art lovers can browse the city's many galleries.
A radically different atmosphere awaits in Big Sur. Here, nature is king, and only one thousand people live here permanently. The untamed, jagged coastline falls steeply into the ocean with idyllic coves with sandy beaches dotted here and there. Big Sur is relatively isolated but also easily accessible - the coast is located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, 150 miles from the former and 300 from the latter. Protected by the local conservation policy (national parks, but also steep land that can’t be developed) Big Sur has, for the most part, retained its pure original beauty.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
Surprisingly missing from many of the usual tourist itineraries in California, Pfeiffer Beach is a gem. Surfers, photographers and those in search of solitude will all be satisfied. The waves are reliable and the sand is... purple! This is due to manganese particles washed off the hillside behind. Facing the beach and planted in the ocean, a sea stack pierced with an arch in its centre lets the golden rays of the sun pass through at the end of the day, creating a breathtaking natural sound and light show every evening.
Carmel City Beach, in Carmel
Sitting in the south of the incredible Monterey peninsula and facing the city of Santa Cruz, Carmel City is all about discreet elegance. Take the 17-mile drive, open the windows (and take the top down if in a convertible), to better see and feel. Breath in the air and the smell of flowers, and arrive in Carmel City ready to slow the pace right down. The city is an anachronism - no Starbucks or fast-food joints all the way to the horizon; but instead an 18th century mission, small houses with wooden beams and, of course, a splendid beach beneath a cliff.
El Matador State Beach in Malibu
This is the most romantic beach in Los Angeles. Also the quietest, the most isolated, and something of a miracle so close to the city. This crescent of clear sand between rocks and waves has crystal clear water decorated with natural sculptures, rocks pointing to the sky like giant spears and eroded triumphal arches rising from the ocean. This is clearly where the angels the city is named after come to recharge their batteries. The birds too, in their thousands. El Matador is ideal for a romantic dinner watching the setting sun.