Hidden Gems: 6 Lesser-Known Orange County Beaches
Orange County is the ideal area of Southern California to hit to the sandy shores of the Pacific Coast. There are favorite beaches for surfing, walking on the pier, places to see the sunset, but mostly, it’s just 42 miles of continuous coastline beginning as far north as Seal Beach, through “Surf City USA” in Huntington Beach, to the southernmost part of the county, San Clemente. Here you’ll find some of the best waves in the world, tucked-away spots to seek out sea glass and explore tide pools, and serene spaces to bask in the sunshine with endless views of sparkling waters. Locals have their top picks and so do we, so we put together a list of the lesser-known places to dig your feet in the sand and play, or just relax and enjoy a beautiful Orange County sunset.
1. Little Corona in Newport Beach is a hidden gem that is great for families. Without some insight and direction, this beach can be a challenge to locate, but that’s what makes it so special. If traveling down Pacific Coast Highway, park on nearby streets like Poppy or Ocean and navigate down the paved walkway to the beach. The jetty near this shore helps keep the waves at bay, making it a fun place for smaller children to frolic. According to blogger Josh of California Through My Lens, this is the best place for exploring tide pools and sea life. Side note: This location also has bathrooms that are both clean and close by!
2. Bolsa Chica State Beach, just north of Huntington Beach, is a great place to catch some waves during the day and roast marshmallows on a bonfire at night. Overnight visitors often choose this location for camping and RV parking, and the ease of riding bikes along the boardwalk and exploring the ecological reserve just across Pacific Coast Highway. In 2016, SeaLegs at the Beach opened and has transformed the landscape of this boardwalk snack bar location just north of Huntington Beach. While seasonal, it’s still a lesser-known hangout on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, opening at 10 a.m. Think beach club vibe with live music playing during the day and into the night. The best part is, guests who purchase beverages or food can stay as along as they like and kick back on the Adirondack chairs or in a cabana, at no extra cost.
3. The glistening sand and blue waters of Newport Beach beckon millions of travelers each year. Balboa Pier offers plenty of parking adjacent to the boardwalk, with easy access to shops and restaurants as well as bike and beach rentals. A full day can easily be spent exploring this hip beach town. Venture across the parking lot to the Balboa Fun Zone and experience a historic area with arcades and boardwalk activities right on the water of the Newport Harbor. A ride on the Ferris wheel is a great way to get an aerial view of the surroundings. While in this area, take the ferry across the harbor to the Balboa Island neighborhood and experience a hundred years of rich history, where many Hollywood celebrities spent their weekends away from “Tinsel Town”.
4. Treasure Island has the most beautiful vibrant turquoise waters, which are hard to come by on a west coast beach. Located at the base of The Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, adventurous beachgoers will love exploring the hidden coves and tide pools in this area. There are plenty of rocks to climb, and this is even a great place for snorkeling! Access to this beach is by a paved pathway alongside the resort. Read some tips to know before you go from people who have reviewed this on Trip Advisor.
5. Crystal Cove is located just south of Newport Beach adjacent to a state park. A visit here is truly a step back in time where dozens of restored beach cottages line the cliffs facing the ocean. Bring lunch and set up at one of the many picnic tables on the sand, and join other visitors and locals for a waterfront hike along the beach and cliffs. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center and store for maps of the area. This is also a great beach for exploring tide pools. On occasional weekends, local naturalists are on hand offering educational chats about the ocean, sea life and biology. A local hotspot is The Beachcomber Café. Walk-up visitors may be lucky enough to get a table for brunch, or dinner, but reservations are usually a good idea. This restaurant has a patio and bar overlooking the cottages and ocean and is a great way to enjoy the views. Parking is across Pacific Coast Highway, where a shuttle then takes visitors over to the beach side.
6. San Clemente is known as the “Spanish village on the sea,” illustrated by the many beautiful homes and buildings that incorporate Spanish colonial architecture. While this community has its own pier, it also has 10 other spots to set up for a day at the beach. San Clemente is also known for its ocean views from the hills and mountaintops. For an extra treat, take the train from one of many stations throughout Orange County and enjoy the picturesque Orange County coastline along the way. You’ll arrive at the San Clemente Station right on the beach. A weekend day pass on Amtrak is just $10.
If you’re wondering how to make the most of a visit to Orange County, stay in the heart of OC, Costa Mesa. You’ll discover some of the country’s best shopping at South Coast Plaza, Broadway shows and concerts at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and experience award-winning chefs serving up the county’s best steaks, oysters, paella, sushi and so much more in Costa Mesa’s hot dining scene. You’ll be in the mood for dining and relaxing in Costa Mesa, just a short drive away, after enjoying some of these great hidden spots on Orange County’s beaches!