While temperatures may be dropping around much of the country, the weather at California’s beaches remains relatively mild. In December, the southern part of the state features average highs in the mid-60s, and northern beach towns like Carmel-by-the-Sea usher in comfortable highs in the upper 50s.

Whether you want to swim, surf, hike, bike or walk along the beach before warming up by a warm fire at night, California offers iconic sands, enchanting parks and striking scenery. These charming California beach towns will leave you longing for a coastal California vacation this winter.

Best California Beach Towns to Visit This Winter

Pacific Beach

The San Diego area offers a variety of beach towns, each with their own personality and scene. Pacific Beach is a lively seaside neighborhood north of the city that’s popular with younger beachgoers who rollerblade, bike, skateboard and stroll along the paved Ocean Front Walk. What’s more, the area appeals to families with kid-friendly restaurants, including the trendy Backyard Kitchen & Tap and the charming and affordable Woody’s Breakfast and Burgers beach stand.

As for accommodations, Blue Sea Beach Hotel and other hip properties offer modern accommodations and amenities like ’80s-style video games in the lobby and beach chairs for rent. You can also stay in cottages that line Pacific Beach’s Crystal Pier, which afford striking ocean views. A variety of family-friendly rental homes also line the beachfront and offer captivating ocean views.

La Jolla

Beautiful La Jolla

La Jolla, the quieter and more upscale town north of San Diego, is known for its rocky cliffs and sea caves. Seals and sea lions frequent this area, which can make for a fun encounter for kids. Venture to the storied Cave Store or kayak in the ocean through sea caves with adventure company Everyday California and keep your eyes peeled for sea lions.

Kids will also enjoy peeking inside tide pools left inside the ocean rocks at low tide. After enjoying some outdoor activity, peruse the area’s beauty at charming boutiques, authentic Italian fare at Cafe Milano and the Mediterranean-style La Valencia Hotel.

Here are more fun things to do in San Diego.

Laguna Beach

One of Orange County’s most popular beach towns is Laguna Beach, a quaint artist colony that sits among picturesque sea coves and rocky shores along the famous Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Wander through downtown to browse more than 100 art galleries and other local shops or take a walk along the Main Beach, keeping an eye out for dolphins. Main Beach is also a treasure trove of tide pools full of sea life.

Laguna Beach offers a free trolley year round to take visitors throughout the area, and hotels like the Inn at Laguna Beach, the Holiday Inn Laguna Beach and Montage Laguna Beach offer a range of places to stay, no matter your price point.

San Clemente

Just south of Laguna Beach in Orange County is the Spanish-style San Clemente, a small town which exudes the sophistication of northern coastal destinations like Santa Barbara. Known for its iconic clock tower that has stood on the beach since 1968, San Clemente is a relaxed village with the atmosphere and charm of a mid-century California seaside town.

At the main City Beach stands a historic 1,200-foot fishing pier with locally-owned seafood restaurants serving hungry beachgoers and those who live here. Venture down the town’s central Avenida Del Mar for shopping, dining and the weekly farmers market, and lay your head atl Casa Tropicana, an upscale boutique hotel.


Bike Rentals Carmel-by-the-sea
Riding a bike is the BEST way to see Carmel-by-the-Sea

You might think you’re stepping into a fairy tale when you visit Carmel-by-the-Sea. Located to the south of Monterey, this coastal village is filled with fanciful houses and high-end galleries and shops. Biking through its winding streets and along the well-named Scenic Road that runs along the ocean is a lovely way to wile away a winter afternoon.

Map out a walk into the captivating village area populated with restaurants and shops and spend time meandering through the former home of poet Robinson Jeffers, which includes a stone cottage, gardens and an Irish-style tower with 360-degree vistas. Nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers ocean scenery, plentiful seals and picturesque hiking trails. La Playa Carmel is an upscale hotel choice, or try the motel-turned-trendy boutique property Hotel Carmel.

Coronado Island

Hotel del Coronado San Diego Hotel
Credit: Hotel del Coronado, San Diego

Frequently named one of America’s top beaches, Coronado Island offers the best of San Diego combined with island living. Just across San Diego Bay and near all things offered by the city, Coronado is not only home to the Hotel del Coronado, famous for its iconic red roofs, but also a naval base and a top public golf course.

While lounging at the beach, keep an eye out for Navy Seals who may be training in the surf. The island is also ideal for biking. Explore its picture-perfect homes and bay views of downtown San Diego from behind two handlebars.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach, also known as LA’s quirky beach town, has long been known for its eclectic band of characters who call the area home. With more high-profile people moving to the area and features on TV series like Netflix’s “Flaked,” Venice has become a trendy destination.

Touring its maze of canals gives you a feel for the local scene and the area’s mix of architecture. A bike ride along the Venice Beach Bike Path up to Santa Monica Pier, a walking tour of area murals and shopping Abbot Kinney Boulevard are all must-dos when in town. Several hotels, including Hotel Erwin and The Kinney Venice Beach, provide modern California-inspired accommodations.

This article originally appeared on US News & World Report.

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  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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