The Best Beaches of Orange County

Crowds line the shores along Laguna Beach, California Photo by Anne Ackermann/ Novus Select
By Garth Mueller

The Orange Coast is one of Southern California's best-kept secrets -- a string of seaside jewels that have been compared with the French Riviera or the Costa del Sol. Forty-two miles of beaches offer pristine stretches of sand, tide pools teeming with marine life, ecological preserves, secluded coves, picturesque pleasure-boat harbors, and legendary surf breaks.

Here are nine of our favorites, in no particular order (they're a bit competitive).

Photo Caption: Crowds line the shores along Laguna Beach, California
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Aliso Beach in Orange County, California. Photo by Daniel R Blume
A popular choice for families, this sandy beach has easy waves, fine tidepooling along its rocky promontories, fire pits, picnic tables, playground equipment, and ample parking. It's Laguna's best spot to go skimboarding.

Where: 31131 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach. tel. 949/923-2280; www.ocparks.com.

Hours: Daily 6am-10pm

Photo Caption: Aliso Beach in Orange County, California. Photo by Daniel R Blume/Flickr.com
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Beachgoers and cyclists at Balboa Beach in Orange County, California. Photo by Frommers.com Community
This laid-back swimming beach runs from Balboa Pier to the infamous Wedge, an intense (and dangerous) shore break that draws intrepid bodysurfers.

Where: Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach. tel. 949/644-3044.

Hours: Daily 6am-10pm

Photo Caption: Beachgoers and cyclists at Balboa Beach in Orange County, California.
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Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, California. Photo by California Travel and Tourism Commission
Gorgeous coves set against coastal bluffs make a wonderful rustic retreat, with easy access to tidepooling, snorkeling, and hiking into the hills of El Moro Canyon. Grab refreshments at The Beachcomber or the historic Shake Shack.

Where: Pacific Coast Highway, btw. Corona del Mar & Laguna Beach. tel. 949/494-3539; www.crystalcovestatepark.com. Parking $15.

Hours: Daily 6am-sunset

Photo Caption: Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, California.
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Surfer under a pier at Huntington Beach, California. Photo by Frommers.com Community
The pride of Surf City, the beach surrounding the pier is Huntington's main event beach, hosting the U.S. Open of Surfing and the AVP pro beach volleyball tournament.

Where: 400 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach. tel. 714/536-5281; www.surfcityusa.com.

Hours: Daily 6am-10pm

Photo Caption: Surfer under a pier at Huntington Beach, California.
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Huntington State Beach, California Photo by Frommers.com Community
This flat, long, and wide beach is popular for swimming and surfing, and is a protected sanctuary for the least tern and the snowy plover. Beach bonfires in the concrete fire rings are a major draw.

Where: Beach Boulevard at Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. tel. 714/536-1454; www.parks.ca.gov. Parking $15.

Hours: Daily 6am-10pm

Photo Caption: Huntington State Beach, California
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Sunset at the Newport City Beach pier in southern California. Photo by Frommers.com Community
One of the cleanest in the country, this big, bustling beach was recently named Orange County's Best Beach by the O.C. Weekly. Early mornings, buy freshly caught fish at Dory Fishing Fleet (www.doryfleet.com) at the end of Newport Pier, a state landmark.

Where: Pacific Coast Highway & Balboa Avenue, Newport Beach. tel. 949/644-3309. Metered parking.

Hours: Daily 6am-10pm

Photo Caption: Sunset at the Newport Pier in southern California.
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Approaching the shoreline from 1000 Steps Beach in southern California. Photo by Ian White
Descend 230 steep steps to reach this secluded gem of a beach, a locals' favorite for surfing, bodysurfing, and volleyball. At low tide, poke around in the hidden sea caves. Simple facilities include restroom and shower. Limited parking is available along the north side of the PCH.

Where: Ninth St. & Pacific Coast Highway, at South Laguna.

Hours: Daily 6am-10pm

Photo Caption: Approaching the shoreline from 1000 Steps Beach in southern California.
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Waves coming into Salt Creek Beach at Dana Point in southern California. Photo by Frommers.com Community
This beautiful fine-sand beach is family friendly and rarely crowded; offers great surfing and sunbathing; and has easy parking, concessions, lifeguards, and views of Catalina Island.

Where: 33333 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point. tel. 949/923-2280; www.ocparks.com.

Hours: Daily 5am-midnight

Photo Caption: Waves coming into Salt Creek Beach at Dana Point in southern California.
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