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  • Sonoma Coast State Beaches: Stretching 10 miles from Bodega Bay to Jenner, these sands draw 300 bird species. Look for osprey from December to September, seal pups from March to June, and gray whales from December to April.
  • Santa Cruz's Beaches: Santa Cruz has 29 miles of beaches, varied enough to please surfers, swimmers, fishers, sailboarders, the sand-pail-and-shovel set, and the bikini-and-biceps crowd. For starters, walk down the steps from the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the mile-long Main Beach, complete with summer lifeguards and golden-oldie tunes drifting over the sand.
  • Pismo Beach: Pismo's 23-mile stretch of prime beachfront has been an annual destination for generations of California families. Fishing, shopping, surfing, and renting dune buggies are just a few of the many outdoor activities here. Even dogs are welcome to play on the beach.
  • Santa Barbara's East Beach: This wide swath of white sand hosts beach umbrellas, sand-castle builders, and volleyball games. On Sundays, local artists display their work beneath the palm trees.
  • Malibu's Legendary Beaches: Zuma and Surfrider beaches inspired the 1960s surf music that embodies the Southern California coast culture. Surfrider is home to L.A.'s best waves. Zuma is loaded with snack bars, restrooms, jungle gyms, and other amenities. The beach affords some of the state's best sunbathing, in front of the Malibu Colony, a star-studded enclave of multimillion-dollar homes.
  • La Jolla's Beaches: La Jolla may be misspelled Spanish for "the jewel," but this is no mistake: The bluff-lined beaches here are among the state's most beautiful. Each has a distinct personality: Surfers love Windansea's waves; harbor seals have adopted the Children's Pool; La Jolla Shores is popular for swimming, sunbathing, and kayaking; and the Cove is a top snorkeling spot -- and the best place to spot the electric-orange California state fish, the garibaldi.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.