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Surf Served: South OC’s Awesome Public Beaches

The Pacific coast of California has a bit of an unspoken friendly competition going on up and down the entirety of its 840 miles. (Fun fact: only Alaska and Florida boast longer stretches of uninterrupted shores in the U.S.) The battle: who has the best beaches? Los Angeles County can flaunt the iconic Malibu area or Santa Monica Pier as contenders. Further north, surf spots like Santa Cruz and the picturesque vistas of Mendocino County will create postcard-ready images to make their claims. And if you travel to the edge of the Mexican border, San Diego’s sunny waterways beckon beach bums from the world over. Seems like you may have reached California’s limit of ocean-bound beauty.

Yet amid all the hoopla, Orange County can often be pushed down the list. But we won’t let that happen here! The fact is, southern OC is actually home to some of the best-kept beach secrets in all of the Golden State. The sweet spot between the crowded sands of San Diego and the often more industrial northern reaches of the county – think Long Beach and Newport Beach –can be unfairly forgotten. This means folks miss out on a great deal of the beauty and majesty of SoCal’s shores.

Ready to explore some seaside gems? Here are a few of southern Orange County’s best public beaches.

Listening for Lost Winds

Everybody’s heard of San Clemente, but the little piece of it on the southern reaches of the area is known mostly to locals and is a bit off the beaten path. Lost Winds Beach (a.k.a. Los Alamos Beach or Lasuen Beach) takes a little effort to get to. The shore is located far below some high bluffs and deceivingly camouflaged by residential homes. Seek out the intersection of Calle De Los Alamos and Calle Lasuen, then prepare to descend a steep set of stairs (which, of course, you’ll need to climb back up later). Once there, you’ll find a quiet spot to bathe, play volleyball and while the day away. Be sure to carry in your own refreshments, as you won’t find vendors here. The tradeoff: lovely seclusion.

Table Rock Beach: The Perfect Setting

Laguna Beach is a favorite hot spot – and why not? This seaside town is home to literally dozens of beaches, one just as beautiful as the next. Combined with its hippie vibe and exquisite cuisine scene, it’s a lovely getaway for Angelenos and weary world travelers alike. But there’s a great little spot, in particular, to check out while exploring the artsy city. Table Rock Beach features bubbling tidal pools, soft sand and lots of beautiful rock formations of all sizes. Call it the “cozy cove” of Orange County’s southern half, and try to remember: this isn’t Portugal’s Algarve, it’s pure SoCal! Bring a picnic and be sure to take lots and lots of pictures. This is one destination that will take your breath away.

Tracing the Sands at Dana Strand Beach

Dana Point is one of the best-known coastal areas in southern Orange County. It’s home to a huge harbor and has a legendary break. Perhaps the most easily accessible beach here is Dana Strand Beach. For those who can’t walk up and down the bluffs too easily, there’s a funicular tram that goes from the north end of the parking lot. There’s also a nice boardwalk, and of course, loads of sunbathing space on the sands. This is a favorite local spot for surfers, so be sure to bring your board and wetsuit! Yes, there will be more people here. But you get plenty of beauty along with the convenience.

Peering into San Clemente Pier City Beach

If you’re not into seclusion, and maybe need a decent alternative to all the hiking and beachcombing, then San Clemente City Pier Beach might just be your ticket in southern Orange County. Think palm trees, grassy areas and of course, a lovely pier you can stroll along to take in the ocean views. And that’s not your imagination – there really are train tracks at the edge of the park – and it stops right on the sand! This is a favorite spot for fishermen and surfers alike. Plus, there are some nice seafood options for those looking to fill their bellies. If you’d rather not haul your picnic stuff and just need some easy relaxing, this is just the ticket.

A Storybook Ending at the Mysterious Tower

A more famous slice of Laguna Beach is Victoria Beach, home of one of the more eye-pleasing structures in Orange County. The secluded stretch of sand is favored by skimboarders and those who enjoy the man-made tidal swimming pool. But if you’ve got the heart of a pirate, you’ll be rewarded for trekking here! Expect to find caves to explore; perhaps some hidden treasure awaits. But most astounding of all is the so-called Mysterious Tower. The concrete structure starts at a home at the top of the bluffs and goes all the way down to the shore. Looming at 60 feet and crowned by a cone of shingles, this 1926 edifice feels like you’ve turned a page in some storybook – right by the volleyball courts!

Birding and Camping at Doheny State Beach

While not quite so picturesque as many of the other local area beaches, Doheny State Beach has some important allures for those seeking a different type of experience. For one thing, it is among the prime spots on the coast to check out our feathered friends. Its proximity to a freshwater lagoon and creek mouth attracts a lot of seashore birds that come here to nest, feed and fly. And despite the relative lack of shade trees and amenities on the beach, we have good news for overnight adventurers: you can pitch your tent near water’s edge and be lulled to sleep by the ocean’s crashing waves. Talk about happy campers!