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Family Guide to Orange County Beaches

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You wake up one summer morning and tell the kids, “let’s go to the beach!” As you gather the boogie boards, assemble sandwiches and search for sunblock …you begin to question, “wait, what beach should we go to?” Exactly which Orange County beaches are the right for my family? Which has ample parking, life guards on duty …or, do we just want to rent bikes and go easily into town for lunch and ice-cream? If you can’t decide which beach to pick, here is a guide to help you choose your ideal beach day that meets your expectations. Here are my picks for the coolest family- friendly beaches:

For a full guides to the best beaches in Orange County, visit our beaches category, and guide to the OC tide pools.

Seal Beach
Seal Beach offers a quaint town close to the beach. It is on the Northern most border of Orange County. The entrance is on 8th St. and parking is $3 for for 2 hrs and $6 for the whole day. It is a short walk (about 100 yards) from the parking lot to the beach and has a very nice playground by the pier. It is known for its great soft sand and sand castle contests.

Sunset Beach
This is a secluded beach and it’s beautiful but parking (free!) is first come first serve (non -metered parking) and it has no restrooms. Moms may find this to be a challenge. Otherwise, it is a hidden treasure.

Huntington Beach
Hunting State and City Beaches offer so much for the whole family. Huntington State beach (south side of the blvd.) has bike rentals/surrey and paddle boards @ Jack’s on Huntington street and PCH. There is a big concession stand offering everything you could want, including s’more kits and firewood for your bonfire. This beach is ideal for birthdays and reunions. There are many volley ball nets for active families. There is ample parking but unfortunately, it is a long haul to bring all your beach gear to your prime spot. It is a long walk for some kiddos. It’s roughly 300 yds. from the parking lot to the water. Entrances are on 6th St. and 1st St. There are many restaurants near by. Huntington State Beach has entrances @ Newland, Magnolia and Brookhurst. If you do wish to get a fire pit you must plan ahead and get there early! This is a fun beach with lots to offer every family member.

Parking in Huntington Beach – New Important information!

The first detail to consider of course, is parking. It can be pricey if you do not spend the entire day at the beach @ $15 a day. If however, you are the die hard beach lover and know that you and your family will be going to the beach constantly over the summer and beyond, until it gets cold, you can purchase an annual “Surf Explorer” Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass for $195. It is still cheaper than Disneyland! If this is too pricey of an option, there is a great brand new alternative for parking. You can text message (your license plate will be submitted) 17048172500 code :158 and it will alert you with a text message when your time is almost expired. This is only for weekdays however. There is an hourly day use of $5.50 (1st 2 hours) and $2 for each additional hour. M-Th and it’s only for the Summer season. This is for Huntington City and State beaches. Bolsa Chica will be implementing this really cool App soon. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
the entrance fee is still $15 daily. For questions, please ask the parking attendant for assistance.
www.Huntingtonbeachca.gov

Bolsa Chica
In the Huntington beach area is Bolsa Chica. West, of PCH , South of Warner and the pier. Also $15 for the day. The best Bolsa Chica has to offer is the bike path, hiking, and great surfing. There are also ample restrooms, picnic areas and fire pits.

Newport Beach
Make sure to get here early, especially if you wish to go to the Balboa Peninsula (famous for it’s Fun Zone). Ideal for older kids, take the Ferry @ Jamboree for a fun -filled dream day of pizza, arcade games, shopping..not to mention a ride on the ferris wheel! At McFadden Square there is metered parking …25 cents per 10 mins by the pier and $1.50 per hour @ 22nd St. which is a great deal. There is much to do for the whole family. There are endless things to see (street performers), trendy shops and many places to satisfy your appetite. At 14th St. there is a very nice playground with a black top (bring bikes and scooters) or go across the street and rent from Paddle Power Kayak and Paddle Board rentals. There you can go to the back bay and have access to small boats.. Rentals : (949) 675-1215.. Also there is a nice playground by Balboa pier but remember to get there early. For the wee little ones : check out Ruby Beach @ Balboa Island where there
are no waves (the Bay) but unfortunately no restrooms.

Corona Del Mar
Known for its gorgeous scenic beach (Did you know that Gilligan’s Island and many Disney movies were filmed here) is a lovely place to bike. It is 4 miles west of the John Wayne Airport on the south end of Newport and it is considered to be the most affluent area in Orange county with spectacular views. There is limited parking (you have to search in the neighborhoods) but has a very popular dog friendly beach between the hours of 5 – 9 p.m. Access to the beach is @ Iris St. and Ocean Blvd. There are plenty of lifeguards, restrooms , showers, picnic tables and fire pits. It is a very nice Family friendly environment. Please plan to go early.

Crystal Cove
If you wish to go to a secluded beach to chill with the kids, I suggest Crystal Cove. It is located just North of Laguna. There are tide pools year round and it offers 23 gorgeous miles of hiking and biking trails. The entrance is @ Newport Coast Drive and Los Trancos. It’s $15 a day or you can find free parking below the El Morro Campground (by El Morro school) but plan to get there early to find a spot. Free street parking is available from 6 am. – 10 p.m. Just go to the bottom of the hill & take the path under the highway. New and clean restrooms that parents will appreciate. Note : If you eat @ the Beachcomber Cafe (great for a couple day date!) , they will validate your parking. There is a massive renovation of the cottages there (from the 1920’s) taking place next year, if you would like to scope out a future stay here for a vacation. It literally feels like you are back in time. It’s definitely my favorite, with its sparkling water and
soft sands.

Aliso Beach
This is perfect for the wee ones. Located in the Laguna Beach area, it has close parking and a playground. It’s very accessible from the car to the beach. Parking is $1 an hr. with a concession stand nearby.
Open: Daily 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.

San Clemente
Another kid friendly beach is San Clemente. The best thing about it is that you can pull right up to the sand and unload your beach stuff. Kids will love the occasional train going by. There are nice restrooms, showers, and fire pits. Some people will not care for the abundance of sea weed but the pier, shops and restaurants make up for this!

Mother’s Beach @ Dana Point
This is a great beach for small children with little to no waves. There is a large section roped off for the kids so that moms can relax and not have to worry about waves or boats crashing ashore. Very safe.. ideal for young families.

Re-Cap:
Check out www.parks.ca.gov and southcoaststops@OCparks.com: for the current list of parks where prices are listed and passes are accepted. Also you can enter in the beach you want to go to and see the hours it is open and whether or not camping, fishing or fire pits are permitted. You will also see current events and family activities frequently updated on these sites.

I hope that this will help make that tough (actually, fun!) decision the next time you decide to jump in the car with family in tow and head to the beach!!

Jennifer Jensen is a stay-at-home mom in Fullerton. She has three boys that keep her in constant ‘stand by’ mode in her car. She has been happily married for almost twenty years and she enjoys her chaotically entertaining household. She enjoys traveling, and going to every jazz concert, basketball, and scouting event her boys are in. She loves volunteering every month at a soup kitchen as coordinator and volunteering as an Art Docent for her son’s school. A self described, ‘Summer girl,’ Jennifer lives for sunny days when she can grill (her therapy), and blast her 80’s music in the backyard.
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One Comment

  1. I enjoyed reading your article on the Orange County Beaches. It was very informative! It was interesting to learn what the various beaches have to offer. I am inspired to visit them this summer. Thank you

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