Head To One Of California's Prettiest Beaches That's Somehow Still Off Tourists' Radar

If ever you're craving a picture-perfect vision of sand, sea, and sun, consider the small coastal town of Laguna Beach — a patch of paradise wedged between the sun-soaked regions of San Diego and Long Beach. With no shortage of bougie beach bars, trendsetting shopping streets, and quirky coffee shops, visitors to this seaside village will be enthralled by the picturesque ambiance that awaits. Miles of coastline parallel the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), giving way to stretches of soft, golden sand populated by collections of fringed umbrellas and beachcombers indulging in the SoCal sunshine.

Speaking of beaches, there are a few in Laguna Beach that should be on your radar, and the pinnacle of this town's beach scene may be Thousand Steps Beach. While it may not actually require a trek down a thousand steps, it's certainly a step up from a leisurely stroll down to the shoreline. Unlike beaches like Table Rock and Victoria Beach, which tend to get swarmed by crowds, Thousand Steps Beach remains an underrated California beach in the heart of this sleepy SoCal town. However, its rising popularity has attracted an influx of attention, particularly during the summer months. Spring and fall promise the best chance of a photo op without tourist crowds in the background. 

A pool of paradise

Located on the southern end of Laguna Beach and boasting 400 yards of glossy, golden sand, Thousand Steps Beach is home to one of the largest stretches of seashore on the south end of Laguna Beach. Tucked within some of the most upscale neighborhoods in the greater Laguna Beach area, beautiful sea caves and magnificent coastal cliffs aren't the only captivating views this beach offers — the multi-million dollar mansions offer a glimpse into the extravagant lifestyles of Laguna Beach locals. 

Tide pools, sea caves, and rugged cliffs frame a backdrop of crashing waves, creating a quintessential California beach retreat. One of the sea caves also leads to an adjoining beach known as Totuava Beach, although the entrance is only accessible at low tide. Backed by vertical sandstone cliffs, it's a popular spot for those looking for a beachside sweat sesh, body surfers, and skimboarders. 

Not only is Thousand Steps Beach an under-the-radar local's spot, the strenuous trek required to reach the pools often deters visitors from venturing down to the sea caves. Turning off of PCH, the entrance to the staircase is located off of 9th Street, with plenty of parking in the local neighborhood. After descending a case of 219 stairs, your reward is a blanketed patch of golden sand and glistening turquoise waves. The sea caves are located on the left side of the beach, but it's always recommended to check the tide schedule and make sure the waters are low enough to explore the caves and pools. 

Beach, sleep, eat, repeat

Thousand Steps Beach might be the pinnacle of coastal beauty in Laguna Beach, but it's worth taking a few extra days in this California beach town to explore the surrounding areas. While Thousand Steps Beach is situated on the southern end of Laguna Beach, it's no more than 15 minutes from the heart of Laguna Beach — and its premier shopping, dining, and hospitality icons. 

What's a bougie beach getaway without treating yourself? Just three minutes away from Thousand Steps Beach is the iconic Montage Laguna Beach resort. This upscale hotel takes posh living to a whole new level. A deluxe hotel brand, Montage Laguna Beach offers luxury suites and world-class dining, all within a two-mile radius of the best beach in town. Laguna Beach House is an excellent budget-friendly alternative. Only 12 minutes north of Thousand Steps Beach, this hostel-turned-surf shack offers direct beach access, outdoor patios, and living quarters that boast cozy furnishings and beachy decor.

All that cardio up and down Thousand Steps Beach's steep cliffside entrance is bound to leave you craving a well-deserved meal. Urth Caffe is a quaint and cozy, European-style, and plant-based cafe on PCH, just steps from the water. Ten minutes from Thousand Steps Beach, it may not fall under the category of "hidden gem," as there's often a breakfast line wrapped around the block (particularly on weekends), drawn in by the smell of their Famous Pecan Sticky Buns.