If you’re planning a vacation to California it’s understandable to ask “when is the best time to visit California beaches?” California beaches are some of the best in the world for sunbathing, people-watching, and surfing.
The water temperatures can be a little chilly compared to other beach States like Florida, however, the surf and the sunsets are hard to beat.
I grew up visiting the beach in California and over the years I’ve developed habits to make my beach days enjoyable. During college, I preferred the social atmosphere of a busy beach.
These days, I choose to visit the beach for the peaceful sound of the waves, the sun, and quiet runs on the beach.
In this article, I’ll share the tips you need to plan a great beach vacation in California. I’ll share the best time for waves, weather, water temperature, crowds, and time of day.
Let’s get started!
Best Time To Visit California Beaches
Choosing the best time to visit California beaches will depend on a few factors and your preferences. Everyone plans a vacation for a different reason.
Maybe your trip is scheduled around a business meeting or maybe it’s for the family. If you’re visiting to catch big waves it will likely be at a different time than if you want warm ocean temperatures.
For The Weather
The weather can be tricky on the California coast but if you visit in mid-summer or early fall it should guarantee warm weather and sunny days.
Most people assume that California beaches are always sunny with warm weather, but this is a false stereotype created by pop-culture.
There are a few important things to know about beach weather in California.
In the month of May, the weather will be heating up and many people are excited to get out of the cold weather and visit the California beaches. Chances are, they will encounter the phenomenon of “May Grey”.
May Grey refers to the marine layer that tends to hang over the California Coast in the early summer. It’s hit and miss and hard to predict, but you can count on at least half of the month of May to be overcast. Sometimes it clears up by midday, and other days it sticks around all day.
Plan a trip to California beaches and chances are half of your beach time will be spent under the clouds (this goes for beaches all the way down to San Diego).
June Gloom piggy-backs on May Grey and will still have a number of warm cloudy days. The second half of the month will give you a better shot at enjoying sunny days. Most days during June will see the marine layer burn off by midday, but it’s not always the case.
If you’re planning a trip for summer, it’s best to schedule it in the back half of the summer when there is a much better chance of sunny days.
Split The State In Half
I’m sure you’re aware that California is a massive State. Californians always refer to the State in its Northern and Southern Regions (“I’m from Northern California or I’m from Southern California”).
The cut off for the North and South is blurry but usually cuts off around San Luis Obispo (which is really Central California). There is a trade-off when you visit Northern California beaches (Monterey and above). Northern California beaches have beautiful beaches but cooler days and the wind usually picks up in the afternoon.
If you’re planning your trip and desiring sunny, wind-free days, your best bets are beaches South of the San Luis Obispo/Pismo area.
For The Warm Water Temperature
California has cool ocean temperatures throughout most of the year, but there’s a “best time” to visit if you want ideal temperatures for swimming.
In early summer the weather will warm up, however, the water temperatures are always behind. Ocean waters off the California Coast heat up in late summer.
August and September will provide the warmest ocean temperatures for swimming. Of course, many people still swim year-round. Most surfers prefer to wear wetsuits but they aren’t needed in late summer!
For The Crowds
If you want to plan a trip to California beaches you’ve likely thought about the crowds. You might like crowds because people watching is fun. But crowds also mean more competition for beach space, higher hotel prices, and more traffic.
Planning a beach trip around crowds is easy, whether you’re okay with crowds or want to avoid them. How so? School schedule!
It’s easy, just look up the local school schedule and plan your trip around those dates. One week in August or September the beaches will be packed, and the next week they will be virtually empty (the difference is shocking). This holds true for holiday weekends too.
If you want to avoid the crowds plan a trip for the week after Labor Day. The second week of September you’ll get empty beaches, perfect weather, and warm ocean temperatures.
Many hotels and beach rentals lower their prices after the Labor Day weekend too (you might actually save money by avoiding the crowds).
For The Waves
Don’t get me wrong, there is great surfing year-round in California but there are certain times when the surf gets big. While surfing in the summer is probably a warmer and more pleasant experience, those seeking the big waves should flip their calendar up-side-down.
November-March is generally the best time for big waves. If you’re planning your trip around surfing California beaches, then visit in the winter!
Chances are it won’t be the winter you’re used too (it will likely be great sunny weather, but not super hot).
The Best Time Of Day To Visit California Beaches
What’s the best time of day to visit California beaches? It depends, but if you’re like most people and coming in the summer, mid-morning is the best time to get to the beach.
There are a few reasons why it’s important to get to the beach in the morning.
Parking and Traffic
Parking can be difficult and costly at California beaches. Arrive after 10 am and you’ll either be walking far or paying to park. Why pay and why walk?
Arrive earlier than the masses and you’ll find a great spot, close to the beach.
If your concern is ultraviolet radiation, which is understandable, the worst time of day is between 10 am and 4 pm. UV radiation is cancer causing and we’re susceptible to it every day, even when we’re not at the beach.
If you grew up before the 2000’s you likely received a lot of harmful solar radiation and sunburns (read my article on the basics of sunscreen 101).
What’s unfortunate about UV radiation is the time of day it’s at its worst. 10 am – 4 pm is the prime time of the day!
The good thing about avoiding these times is that there won’t be crowds at the beach before 10 am (although the beach will still be crowded after 4 pm) (here are the best natural sunscreen for kids and adults).
Get A Spot
If you’re visiting the beach in the summer, or on a holiday (like July 4th) you’ll be competing with other beachgoers for a spot on the beach.
Get there early and you can stake out your preferred area without having to settle for the spots that are leftover.
Recommended Beaches In California (my picks)
Picturesque Beaches In California
- Laguna Beach – amazing, clear water and path along the ocean
- Del Mar Beach – San Diego community with a nice park and beach area
- Moonlight Beach – picturesque beach in Encinitas
- Carmel Beach – quaint town, beautiful beach views, with a beach you can drink on (read about the 5 California beaches that allow alcohol)
Beaches For The Masses
- Pismo Beach – Central Coast beach where people flock
- Ventura Beach – great beach for sunbathing and swimming
- Zuma Beach – largest beach in Malibu, you’ll likely see a few movie stars
- Redondo Beach – large beach ana d great boardwalk, often hosting professional events (surf and volleyball)
- San Onofre – a long stretch of protected beach that allows camping and surfing
- Mission Beach – the place to be during San Diego summers
More Recommended Beaches In California
When is the best time to visit California beaches? It depends on your group, what you’ll be doing (surfing, camping, relaxing). It also depends on whether you want crowds, perfect weather, or warm ocean temperatures.
Once you narrow it down, it’s easy to pick a month and place to visit.
Remember, the weather in California will differ depending on if you’re in the North or South. In winter, the weather in Northern California will become cold, but even in summer, the afternoons are usually windy. In Southern California, the weather will be a more consistent temperature but there will be months that are more overcast than others (May, June etc.).
Let us know in the comments what time of year you chose and if you enjoyed it. If we missed something let us know. We’d like to keep this list updated and add to it over time. Thanks for reading another Beach Life blog post! Enjoy your time at the beach.