Beaches to Hike in Southern California

 Photo: Lotus Head

“Hiking is basically just walking.” “Hiking isn’t good exercise.” “Who has time for hiking?” These are all the excuses one might hear in response to someone asking them to hike. Oh, how wrong these people are! Hiking can be excellent exercise, particularly if you choose a challenging trail. Everyone has time for hiking. You just need to make it! And once you realize that you can get exercise while taking in some of the most wonderful views in your area, you’ll be hooked (hey, Hooked On Hiking would be a great book title, but we digress…). If you’re located in SoCal, you have access to some of the best hiking trails in the U.S. Even better, you can do beach hiking and dip your toes in the sand and/or water post-hike. Is there anything better? Make sure to bring cool beach towels so you can fully benefit from your seaside jaunt.

Read on for recommendations on beaches to hike in Southern California.

Rincon Point, Santa Barbara/Ventura

Rincon means “Corner” in Spanish, and indeed Rincon Point straddles the boundary, or corner, of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Two beaches – a state beach on the Ventura County side and a county beach on the Santa Barbara side – allow for several miles of coastal exploration. Many people drive by Rincon Point on Highway 101, but relatively few stop and explore the area and the beaches are shielded from the noise of traffic, helping create an isolated feel. It should also be noted that Rincon Point’s beaches are among the few in So Cal that are dog friendly, so why not give Killer a chance to enjoy some cool, salty air?

Point Dume, Malibu

Point Dume is a small peninsula that sticks out from the Malibu coastline. This hike starts from Pacific Coast Highway, climbs to a 200-foot promontory with fantastic views of the ocean and then drops back down to the beach. From there, you have two miles of coastline to explore including tide pools and their resident wildlife, including starfish, anemones and starfish. Hiking two miles on a level beach may sound easy – until you try it. The challenges of the uneven sandy terrain, jumping around waves and climbing rocks should not be taken lightly, but you will be rewarded with some great scenery for your efforts.

Oceanside Abalone Cove Trail on Palos Verdes

If you haven’t visited this charming town outside of LA, do so now. Set atop a hill, it’s almost as if the entire city has an ocean view. For this hike, go ahead and park at Abalone Cove Shore Park ($5), as residential streets nearby offer permit-only parking. Follow the trail along the cliff-side, as it cuts through some bushes and turns downhill at a fairly steep grade. Head to the beach once you hit the wide stretch of asphalt, or continue to the tidepools. If you decide to do the latter, wear shoes you can get wet. Kids will love to see the marine life! Bear right and go downhill onto Sea Dahlia Trail as it winds along the water and enjoy these breathtaking views. You are now on the historic California Coastal Trail, which extends 1,200 miles from Mexico to the Oregon border. The rocky trail will eventually curve around and spill onto the wide beach. Hopefully you’ve carved out some time to enjoy the stunning expanse around you.

Victoria Beach and La Tour, Laguna Niguel

This secluded beach in south Orange County not only gives visitors a chance to experience some outstanding coastal views and explore tide pools, but it also features one of O.C.’s more unusual historical landmarks. “La Tour” (“Tower” in French) is a 1926 medieval style stone tower, originally built to allow homeowner William Brown, a state senator, access to the beach. The inside of the tower is closed to the public, but it still makes an interesting destination, certainly not your typical “walk along the beach.” Parking is free, although it may be a little tricky to find along the narrow residential streets, so allow a little extra time.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

San Diego may be best known for Sea World and Lego Land, but savvy residents bring out-of-town guests to the trails in this reserve, which features not only impressive ocean views but the rare Torrey Pines that give it its name. The Guy Fleming Travel is good for beginners, as it’s a fairly easy 2/3-mile loop.  Lined with wildflowers, cacti, and more along with offering panoramic views, it will literally take your breath away. Just a tad more difficult, Razor Point Trails is about 2/3 of a mile to the Razor Point Overlook. Along the way, hikers can see yucca flowers and sandstone sculptures created from the erosion. But if you truly want to incorporate the beach into your hike, you want to take the Beach Trail. A ¾-mile trail through the upper reserve that descends about 300 feet down, its beach landing is the ultimate payoff. If you want a really intense workout, go back up! If you’re willing to give up the beach access and views but still enjoy the scenery, free parking, and less people, head to the Torrey Pines Extension just north of the reserve.

San Onofre, Just North Of San Diego

You might have seen San Onofre in the news as of late, as you can go swimming with sharks … sans paying! You might leave sans your life, though, so do so at your own risk. Sharks aside, San Onofre is renowned for great camping, so think about making your hike a weekend getaway. Parking is $15/day—which might seem a bit high—but when you consider there are six miles of San Onofre Beach Trails with panoramic views of the expansive ocean, that’s nothing. While there are six trails, a combination of trails one and four is great for access to the beach. Simply head down Beach Trail 1 until you arrive at the coastline. Head south along the shoreline (It’s rocky, so wear good shoes!). You’ll cross two secluded beaches and many bluffs before arriving at Trail 4. Think about packing a light picnic, as you can stop at a bench on this trail and take in the breathtaking views. You can retrace your steps for more beach scenery or use the loop. If you do the latter, just be forewarned that you will hear a bit of noise from I-5.

These trails are just the beginning. There is a wealth of information available online and in print about hiking in L.A. and beyond, so get out, get air and get in touch with nature.

Hank McKinsey is the founder of

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