Anywhere you go along the iconic Golden State coastline, the beaches work their magic. Some are rugged and inaccessible; others are crowded with people and activities. The beaches here play a role in the California lifestyle that inspires generation after generation to seek their fortune, follow their bliss and get in touch with nature. Travelers who are lucky enough to visit California will find a beach to fit their personality and their dreams.

01Santa Monica Beach

The pier is an essential part of the beach at Santa Monica. stellalevi / Getty Images

A historic coastal city due west of Los Angeles, Santa Monica is justly famous for its beach and pier. Palisades Park, Muscle Beach, Pacific Park amusement park—these locales crop up again and again in pop culture depictions of LA and Hollywood. The beach itself stretches for 3.5 miles of rolling surf and is popular with volleyball players, surfers, and cyclists riding the Marvin Braude Beach Trail.