I'm gonna paraphrase Lady Tezza's " IF YOU WANT A GOOD BEACH IN BALI, STAY ON THE AIRCRAFT TO THAILAND" with: IF YOU WANT A GOOD BEACH IN SOUTH-WEST USA, HOP OFF THE AIRCRAFT FOR THE WHITE SAND BEACHES OF FLORIDA (0R THE CARIBBEAN OR MEXICO'S YUCATAN).......alternatively if you are coming from Asia or western Oceana HOP OFF IN HAWAII OR TAHITI OR FIJI. Of course you could detour to the closer west coast of Mexico, but I reckon you need to be way down the Baja from what I saw of beaches close to Tijuana.
Fact is, the beaches of south-west USA are pretty ordinary.
For a start, they DON'T FEATURE PARTICULARLY NICE SAND ....
....and tend to have LOTS OF WEED....
Pirate's Cove has positives too - see down page in the CLOTHING OPTIONAL section.
I'm not to keen on PAID PARKING either. It's excusable at crowded urban beaches like Santa Monica (where $us78 for large recreational vehicles vs $10 for cars is less excusable), but not so much at.....
$10 is a bit rich for dudes like me who simply want to check the beach - fortunately I was in my pre rental-car phase here and bused/walked to this location. That's the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at top - the nearest bus from the LA area arrives at Trancas about 4km to the right of frame....
I felt sorry for my neighbours at Pfeiffer Big Sur National Park camping area - from inland Phoenix, they just wanted to walk on a beach but were turned away by the ranger. I directed them to GARRAPATA BEACH 27km to the north (see down page), not a better beach but with at least free parking alongside the PCH - a bonus is they had the wonderful scenery of the Big Sur coast along the way. And they did get to walk on quite a long beach (people like me who live 3 minutes from the nearest of 5 beaches in my town take walking on the beach for granted).
I'm also underwhelmed by NOT SO CLEAN WATER. At only one beach could I see my feet in one meter of water - La Jolla's Black Beach pictured up page.
I know a lot of unclear sea water comes from stormwater pollution which you'd think would be minimal more than midway thru California's normal dry season in what is about the 3rd year of drought. So it looks like the murky stuff I saw is down to other run-off from heavily populated areas. After all, California has 39m people which makes my NSW which is appox. twice the size with only 7.5m people seem small time. No wonder the water is clear at home most times.
COLD WATER AND LACK OF SUN. The guide books tell surfing visitors to get a wet suit even for summer. Now I'm a wimp when it comes to cold water (in my youth I'd surf thru winter in the days when wet suits were expensive and we were dirt poor - a football jumper was an inadequate substitute. That has ruined me for cold water for life).
But I'm lucky - summer 2015 was a warm water one for California. Even at San Francisco it felt bearable to me - the further south I got, the better.
Similarly the books say San Francisco, Santa Cruz/Monterey and Big Sur visitors should not be surprised by lots of cloud/fog on summer days. I got sunny days the whole time I was in the area. Further south of course, sunshine rules in summer just about any year.
I'm hard to please. I'm also not whelmed with LOOOONG WIIIIDE BEACHES which I personally find featureless and a pain to cross (sometimes literally - the sand can get real hot in mid-summer). I like compact, narrowish beaches book-ended with headlands and preferably backed by forested hills or at least a park, not housing/shops/roads etc and certainly not crumbling cliffs.
Long and wide - this is looking south from the famous HUNTINGTON BEACH pier which is about half way along the strip of sand which runs more or less continuously 38km from Long Beach (the name fits) to Newport Beach's Balboa Peninsula in Orange County.At least the local authorities groom the beach of seaweed and other litter.
THE ONES I LIKED
For what it's worth, I'm classing Westward Beach as southern/central California's best beach.
Note the relatively good swell. I reckon the general San Diego region tended to catch more summer swell than most Calif places (but winter is normally the best time for California swell).
And Windansea seemed to catch more than other San Diego locations.
Um -- I feel a bit guilty about not going into the water. But the thing is, I was less than half way thru my bicycle trek up to Black Beach (plus I had to ride back) and I'm guilty of over-concentrating on the task at hand - keep on keeping on. So shoot me.
I couldn't sit down for 3 days which led to some hilarity at my backpackers' and on buses, and I had to ditch any biking plans for nearly 3 weeks which made getting around at Long Beach, Orange County, the Grand Canyon rim, Yosemite, San Francisco, Monterey, Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego more time-consuming or expensive than I'd planned (the plan entailed buying a $40 beater at Long Beach, taking off the front wheel and throwing it in the back of my rental hatchback, riding around at most of my stops and giving it to some kid at the end of the trip).
Note the sand in the above shot - about the closest I got to white stuff in California. This was shot at PLAYA DEL RAY just south of LAX and about half way along the strip. Strange on account there is a big sewage treatment plant just behind the beach here.
Sand colour varied markedly along the South Bay trail - at Venice Beach further north it had a distinctively grey tinge.
Note beach width in the above shot. Better take a water bottle on that trudge to the waves. And some French legionaires.
TOP BEACH TOWNS
Surfing started in Hawaii but California developed the surfer lifestyle and those funky surf towns.
**I thought craft beer was for pretentious wankers until I tried those in California. Wow, how wrong was that! And what gets me is how each bar seems to have about 20 on tap.
btw nearby MISSION BEACH and PACIFIC BEACH seemed very similar in character to Ocean Beach. No wonder San Diego is my favourite south-west USA bigger city.
Contenders which didn't make the cut:
SANTA CRUZ didn't seem to have much going on (it may be a bit more lively later in the day than my 11am visit - and when the college kids return to term); SANTA MONICA and SANTA BARBARA are too upmarket and aimed at non-budget tourists; and funky VENICE BEACH was downmarket and aimed at all tourists.
CLOTHING OPTIONAL BEACHES
If you have checked my SPAIN pages will you know I've been a naturist since the 60s. But the bad news is central/southern California is no Spain. In fact the clothing optional beaches are as underwhelming as the beaches in general. Here are my observations of maybe half a dozen clothing optional beaches from north to south:
BAKER BEACH SAN FRANCISCO
This beach is maybe SF's premier naturist location. You would think in a city which has a reputation as a laid back, free lifestyle location the beach would be pretty popular. Well it was - with textiles. I found the naturists were confined to a small group of maybe 20 or so scattered around the far northern end. This was on a Monday afternoon in drop dead sunny conditions (not all that common in SF). But a local told me that if they had those conditions on the previous afternoon (Sunday) there would have been many more nudists.
Both images are modified Google Earth on account my camera battery was dead at this stage.
btw, the beach itself was the typical weed-covered not-too-white or yellow California thing - but the weather was uncharacteristically not cloudy or foggy (lovely sunny afternoon actually) and the water even more uncharacteristically non-chilly. Not all that clear though.
BONNY DOON BEACH
PFEIFFER STATE BEACH
Once again my camera battery was empty so I pinched this image off Google Earth. That red line towards image bottom represents 500m.
I have a pic of this not too attractive beach up page. But it is the one naturist location I really enjoyed. Mainly because the southern half had a good crowd of nudists making me feel I was not offending anyone being naked and partly because on returning from a swim in the very weedy water I found Kara and her man had squeezed in next to my spot. "I hope you don't mind us being here, but there's not a lot of room" said she. I didn't mind on account Kara was not only a very attractive 30s something lady but also bubbly and talkative which was just the ticket after 3 weeks of solo travel. Some of you dudes are probably thinking where's Lady Tezza? Thing is, The Lady has a chronic illness which makes flying more than 8 hours very uncomfortable - we can't afford to break long flights into legs. So THE LEADER OF THE HOUSE gets to go on most of our shorter Asian trips - plus she has discovered a very good value pleasure: short cruises out of Sydney into the South Pacific.
Pirates Cove has a too-small and very rough-surfaced dirt car park high on the headland just left of frame. Dozens of cars were forced to park along the narrow access road where NO PARKING signs indicated a potential windfall for the local cops. The walking track from the car park down to the beach is steep enough to be a good workout but not difficult underfoot.
The distance line on the above image represents 250m. Check out the kelp in the water.
MORE MESA BEACH
I have a pic of this beach up page. It is the one where I moan about the high backing cliffs and light crude oil in the sand.
I forgot to add a distance line. It is 1200m in a straight line from the "N" place marker to that of "parking".
EL MATADOR STATE BEACH
The beach had about the same number of nudists as Pirate's Cove, but the dispersal over a much bigger distance made is more impersonal. Cynics among you are thinking I missed the Kara factor. You are not wrong. This is actually a better stretch of sand than at Pirates Cove, although once again nothing to write home to mum about. I came across a tendril of kelp which was as thick as my leg and at least 15m long. I read somewhere kelp off the California coast can grow 1M in a day.
MOST EXOTIC BEACH
Tijuana is so easy to reach from San Diego - you can get to the border from downtown on a 28km inexpensive trolley (light rail) ride. Centro is a well -signposted 15 minutes stroll from customs/immigration. Centro has a dodgy reputation with some but I found it a kinda much more organised, cleaner version of Kuta Bali's central shopping area with way less hassle from locals.
My thanks to Tanya, the super-informative Ocean Beach International Hostel staff member with the world's best 40 year old legs who told me about Rosarito and the $2 share taxi vans. The ride was fun - locals tend to use the vans as a jump on - jump off bus service - but the suburbs of Tijuana sure are dusty and dirty. Then again, this is a semi-arid area in about the 3rd year of drought and the Mexicans haven't the tax base to harvest/poach water like the Californians.
I notice Google Maps classify Rosarito as a Baja beach, but I think you need to be a fair distance south to hit the picture post card white sand ones seen in surfing movies and travel posters..
IF YOU SEE MISTAKES OR HAVE ADDITIONAL INFO PLEASE MENTION THEM BELOW - BUT PLEASE DIRECT ANY QUESTIONS TO THE FORUM SECTION - I DON'T LOOK AT THESE INDIVIDUAL PAGES VERY OFTEN BUT I CHECK THE FORUM MOST DAYS.