Lanikai Beach in Kailua, Oahu

Best West Coast beach towns to live in

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June 14, 2022
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Best West Coast beach towns to live in

“I’m going to give up everything, move to the beach, and take it easy.”

That’s the recurring theme of many country songs, and not just those of Jimmy Buffett. For many of us, this fed-up announcement never goes beyond talk, but for a handful of people, it actually inspires one to relocate—or at least explore the prospects of relocating. For those stressed-out city folks, or anyone with an interest in moving to the beach, Stacker compiled a list of the 25 best West Coast beach towns to live in.

Stacker used data from WalletHub (released in June 2021) comparing U.S. beach towns in six categories: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life. All cities had to have at least one local beach listed on Tripadvisor. You can read the full methodology here. Overall, rankings were determined by comparisons between 191 cities across 62 key indicators of livability.

Judging by recent data, it seems stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased opportunity for remote work of the last couple of years is driving more and more people to make big, life-altering moves. The West has shown the second-highest population growth between 2010 and 2021—up 6.7 million from 2010, just behind the South’s increase of 12.6 million—according to the Domestic Migration Report released on Feb. 15, 2022. Overall, some of the states people moved to most in 2020 were Florida, North Carolina, and Maine—all of which are in the top 10 states with the largest coastlines.

It appears we’re all in need of a little more of that laid-back beach vibe these days. So here are the 25 best towns Pacific Coast states have to offer.

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Laguna Beach, California
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#1. Laguna Beach, California

- National rank: #2
- Total score: 63.6
- Affordability rank: #83
- Weather rank: #53
- Safety rank: #20
- Economy rank: #10
- Education & health rank: #24
- Quality of life rank: #19

Nestled halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach is a city of about 23,000 known for its mild, year-round climate, thriving artist community, and unique topography. Across the town’s 7 miles of coast, you’ll find rocky coves and sandy beaches, sea caves and natural tide pools, and more beachfront lodgings than anywhere else in California. Additionally, the area boasts more than 200,000 acres of protected wilderness, making Laguna an outdoorsman’s dream.

Ka'anapali Beach in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
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#2. Lahaina, Hawaii

- National rank: #3
- Total score: 63.4
- Affordability rank: #64
- Weather rank: #31
- Safety rank: #17
- Economy rank: #71
- Education & health rank: #59
- Quality of life rank: #5

Once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Lahaina saw its population boom in the mid-1800s when it became the prime location for sailors on whaling ships to take their leave. Herman Melville famously spent time here and used aspects of the city as inspiration in his classic work “Moby Dick.” Today, the city continues to draw in an enormous number of tourists each year—80% of all Maui tourism comes through Lahaina—as folks flock to the region to enjoy the historic sites, white sandy beaches, and never-ending sunshine.

Newport Beach harbor during its annual boat show
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#3. Newport Beach, California

- National rank: #4
- Total score: 63.1
- Affordability rank: #73
- Weather rank: #57
- Safety rank: #25
- Economy rank: #63
- Education & health rank: #7
- Quality of life rank: #16

Formerly a major maritime hub, Newport Beach is now an upscale coastal community with one of the largest recreational harbors on the West Coast (Upper Newport Bay has a 10-mile coastline). The city’s proximity to LA means its drawn a number of celebrity residents over the years—John Wayne notably moved to Newport in the 1960s. But it’s the bustling atmosphere and thriving surf scene that incentivizes people to stay. Bodysurfers especially should take note of this city, as it’s home to a bucket-list spot called “the Wedge” that frequently sees 20-foot waves.

Lanikai Beach in Kailua, Hawaii
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#4. Kailua, Hawaii

- National rank: #7
- Total score: 62.4
- Affordability rank: #67
- Weather rank: #102
- Safety rank: #1
- Economy rank: #3
- Education & health rank: #21
- Quality of life rank: #23

Located just 12 miles northeast of Honolulu, Kailua is a quaint little seaside town with two world-renowned beaches, Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach. Hemmed in by the Koolau Mountains on one side and Kailua Bay on the other, the town holds the largest wetland in the Aloha State, which happens to be the natural habitat of four of the area’s endangered bird species. Unlike many of the other Hawaiian cities on this list, Kailua doesn’t cater to tourists nor is it home to any massive resorts. It has a much more locals-only feel, perfect for those who actually want to settle down in the state.

The Santa Monica Pier at night
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#5. Santa Monica, California

- National rank: #10
- Total score: 61.3
- Affordability rank: #123
- Weather rank: #38
- Safety rank: #72
- Economy rank: #57
- Education & health rank: #49
- Quality of life rank: #3

A massive beach city located in the heart of Los Angeles County, Santa Monica averages 280 days of sunshine per year. Its gorgeous climate makes it a huge tourist destination. It’s said to get around 7 million visitors each year, as does its iconic pier. First opened in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier is one of the most photographed in the world, and its amusement park, complete with a massive Ferris wheel, has appeared in countless TV shows and movies.

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Morro Rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Morro Bay, California
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#6. Morro Bay, California

- National rank: #13
- Total score: 60.2
- Affordability rank: #96
- Weather rank: #54
- Safety rank: #5
- Economy rank: #74
- Education & health rank: #3
- Quality of life rank: #50

Morro Bay gets its name from the massive, volcanic rock morro—which means “hill” in Spanish—that sits just off the shoreline. The rock rises nearly 550 feet into the air and provides a refuge for birds of all varieties. The fishing village-turned-suburb has 6 miles of sandy beaches to walk, calm waters to swim, and enough fowl to land it a place on the Audubon Society’s list of best places in the country for birders.

View of Santa Barbara, California, from the pier
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#7. Santa Barbara, California

- National rank: #15
- Total score: 60.0
- Affordability rank: #118
- Weather rank: #78
- Safety rank: #7
- Economy rank: #69
- Education & health rank: #92
- Quality of life rank: #10

Frequently touted as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara experiences a Mediterranean-like climate thanks to its south-facing location. While it may not be small in terms of population—estimated at just over 88,000 residents—it is small in terms of size, which imbues Santa Barbara with a charming, easy-going feel. The city itself is home to a handful of sandy beaches perfect for lounging and is frequently filled with students from its four colleges. But there is world-class surfing to be found just a short drive down the road at Rincon Point.

Carlsbad village and miles of beach
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#8. Carlsbad, California

- National rank: #16
- Total score: 60.0
- Affordability rank: #27
- Weather rank: #79
- Safety rank: #24
- Economy rank: #43
- Education & health rank: #17
- Quality of life rank: #38

For tourists, Carlsbad’s main draw is the Legoland theme park and the city’s many PGA-approved golf courses. For beach aficionados, it’s the three unique lagoons waiting to be explored and the top-notch surfing available at Tamarack Beach. But regardless of the reason you’re visiting this California beach town, you’re sure to fall in love with its community feel, oceanside cliffs, and year-round mild climate.

Kihei Beach
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#9. Kihei, Hawaii

- National rank: #17
- Total score: 59.7
- Affordability rank: #52
- Weather rank: #31
- Safety rank: #17
- Economy rank: #47
- Education & health rank: #27
- Quality of life rank: #25

Decades ago, Kihei was a favorite destination for Hawaiian royalty. Today, the beach town’s 6 miles of dry, sunny beaches are beloved by visitors who want to surf, swim, snorkel, whale watch, and bird-watch. Kihei’s location on the island of Maui also makes it a perfect excursion destination for those looking to step off the beaten path.

Surfers in Encinitas
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#10. Encinitas, California

- National rank: #18
- Total score: 59.3
- Affordability rank: #43
- Weather rank: #77
- Safety rank: #11
- Economy rank: #22
- Education & health rank: #39
- Quality of life rank: #46

National Geographic once declared Encinitas, California among the 20 best surfing towns in the world. With 6 miles of beaches to choose from, there is plenty of space for everyone—from novices to pros—to catch a wave or two. And on days when the weather isn’t good enough to surf, visitors can enjoy the town’s laid-back, hippie vibes or check out the San Diego Botanic Garden located on the edge of town.

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An aerial view of Santa Cruz
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#11. Santa Cruz, California

- National rank: #19
- Total score: 59.1
- Affordability rank: #135
- Weather rank: #70
- Safety rank: #50
- Economy rank: #60
- Education & health rank: #64
- Quality of life rank: #7

Legend has it that Santa Cruz, is the place where three Hawaiian princes first introduced U.S. citizens to surfing back in 1885. In addition to being world-renowned for its surfing culture, the beach town is also famous for its boardwalk, which is home to one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the country. The city also has an excellent wine scene and coastal redwood forests. Thanks to Santa Cruz’s location, just 90 minutes south of San Francisco, residents can enjoy the best of both worlds—small-town beach living and big city life.

Houses on the coastline of San Clemente, California
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#12. San Clemente, California

- National rank: #20
- Total score: 58.5
- Affordability rank: #35
- Weather rank: #49
- Safety rank: #15
- Economy rank: #45
- Education & health rank: #29
- Quality of life rank: #68

When Ole Hanson set out to build San Clemente into a town back in 1925, he envisioned it as a “Spanish village by the sea.” The Spanish-inspired architecture remains a staple of the beach town today, but the area never fully blossomed into the booming metropolis he imagined it could be. Instead, the quiet, almost sleepy Orange County town is best known for its beaches with decent surfing.

Hermosa Beach, California
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#13. Hermosa Beach, California

- National rank: #21
- Total score: 58.2
- Affordability rank: #71
- Weather rank: #47
- Safety rank: #36
- Economy rank: #87
- Education & health rank: #14
- Quality of life rank: #42

Flanking both sides of the Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach is a tiny town of just under 20,000 people. Despite its lack of permanent residents, the city is often bustling thanks to the thousands of tourists who flock to its 2 miles of sandy beaches each year. Like many other California towns, Hermosa has great surfing, but it’s also an excellent destination for swimming and beach volleyball.

San Mateo, California
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#14. San Mateo, California

- National rank: #23
- Total score: 57.6
- Affordability rank: #117
- Weather rank: #30
- Safety rank: #39
- Economy rank: #6
- Education & health rank: #67
- Quality of life rank: #40

Less than half an hour’s drive from San Francisco is San Mateo. Unlike the cities in more southern parts of the state, San Mateo gets quite cool, meaning its beaches aren’t always the most hospitable for swimming and sunbathing. Still, residents can enjoy walking the San Francisco Bay Trail alongside the ocean or taking boats and kayaks out into the bay.

An aerial panorama of Hotel del Coronado and other buildings in Coronado, California
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#15. Coronado, California

- National rank: #26
- Total score: 57.4
- Affordability rank: #33
- Weather rank: #81
- Safety rank: #10
- Economy rank: #93
- Education & health rank: #13
- Quality of life rank: #77

A small island located just across from the heart of San Diego, Coronado is a resort town perfect for a sunny getaway. The warm water is ideal for swimming, sailing, stand-up paddling, and plenty of other outdoor sports. The quaint downtown is packed with shops and restaurants, and a public golf course is considered one of the best in the country. But the crown jewel of the Coronado experience is visiting the Hotel del Coronado, which was built in 1888 and is the rumored inspiration for the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz.”

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A sunset in Dana Point, California
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#16. Dana Point, California

- National rank: #29
- Total score: 57.3
- Affordability rank: #41
- Weather rank: #51
- Safety rank: #14
- Economy rank: #29
- Education & health rank: #97
- Quality of life rank: #52

In 1966, the surf documentary “The Endless Summer” revealed to the rest of the world what Dana Point residents had known all along—it was the country’s premier destination for surfing. But it’s not just the surfing that makes this Southern California city so great. The laid-back atmosphere, whale watching opportunities, luxury resorts, abundance of water sports, and world-renowned spas mean there is something here for everyone.

Beachfront beige cliffs in Goleta, California
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#17. Goleta, California

- National rank: #30
- Total score: 57.2
- Affordability rank: #115
- Weather rank: #37
- Safety rank: #4
- Economy rank: #26
- Education & health rank: #42
- Quality of life rank: #76

Known as “The Good Land,” Goleta is just south of Santa Barbara and shares the better-known city’s warm waters and year-round mild climate. Swimming, surfing, biking, paddle boarding, hiking, camping, and golf are among the area’s most popular activities. And at the end of the day, locals enjoy hard-earned, award-winning beers and wines that are crafted at the city’s many breweries and vineyards.

People jogging and cycling on sunny day in Redondo Beach
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#18. Redondo Beach, California

- National rank: #31
- Total score: 57.0
- Affordability rank: #95
- Weather rank: #69
- Safety rank: #31
- Economy rank: #73
- Education & health rank: #37
- Quality of life rank: #35

Best-known for its horseshoe-shaped pier, Redondo Beach is an outdoorsman’s paradise. Nearly any outdoor activity you could think of, from hiking to fishing to windsurfing, can be found in the LA-adjacent city. You can also find excellent shopping and award-winning fine dining. The city is also a prime location for gray whale sightings, as the marine mammals pass by each year during their migration.

Manhattan Beach, California
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#19. Manhattan Beach, California

- National rank: #34
- Total score: 56.6
- Affordability rank: #98
- Weather rank: #67
- Safety rank: #28
- Economy rank: #27
- Education & health rank: #25
- Quality of life rank: #64

The surf and sun in Manhattan Beach are nearly unmatched, as evidenced by the pure number of visitors the town receives annually. Many tourists come for the Manhattan Beach Open, a professional beach volleyball tournament, and the International Surf Festival, though the mild climate makes it an ideal destination year-round. The town isn’t all beach, either; it has a thriving downtown district with plenty of local and national businesses to choose from.

An aerial view of Alameda Island, California
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#20. Alameda, California

- National rank: #36
- Total score: 56.5
- Affordability rank: #85
- Weather rank: #85
- Safety rank: #64
- Economy rank: #11
- Education & health rank: #38
- Quality of life rank: #49

Another town located on an island, Alameda lies within the San Francisco Bay, and as described by The New York Times, “evokes a Norman Rockwell vision of America, but with more diversity.” This laid-back, family-friendly area is entirely residential and gets almost no tourists, nor does its geography allow for things like surfing. Still, its bay views and easy access to the water certainly qualify it as a beach town.

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The beach and seaside cliffs in Half Moon Bay, California
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#21. Half Moon Bay, California

- National rank: #39
- Total score: 55.9
- Affordability rank: #68
- Weather rank: #33
- Safety rank: #35
- Economy rank: #12
- Education & health rank: #104
- Quality of life rank: #34

Described as “a sleepy little beach town with a strong connection to the ocean,” Half Moon Bay lies about an hour south of San Francisco. Best known for its world-class surfing, the area is also home to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, where visitors can meet harbor seals and explore tide pools. The area’s economy is dominated by commercial fishing and tourism. The Ritz Carlton is a major source of tax income for the city.

Waves in the Pacific Ocean and the beach at sunset in Seal Beach, California
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#22. Seal Beach, California

- National rank: #42
- Total score: 55.6
- Affordability rank: #106
- Weather rank: #52
- Safety rank: #23
- Economy rank: #96
- Education & health rank: #6
- Quality of life rank: #89

Seal Beach is home to two distinct communities that each play a huge role in shaping the town’s culture: Leisure World, the country’s first planned retirement community of its type, and the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach military base. Its scenic, sandy beaches and 920-acre wildlife refuge are huge draws for residents and tourists alike.

The coastline of Monterey, California
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#23. Monterey, California

- National rank: #43
- Total score: 55.4
- Affordability rank: #128
- Weather rank: #62
- Safety rank: #33
- Economy rank: #59
- Education & health rank: #130
- Quality of life rank: #22

Once the capital of Alta California, Monterey was a fishing town until the mid-1950s, when overfishing put an end to its largest commercial sector. These days, the city is known for its large artist presence—John Steinbeck lived and wrote here, and several of his novels, including “Cannery Row,” are directly influenced by the city. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-visit for anyone who finds themselves in the region, their collection of sea life is incredible as is their dedication to preserving and protecting our oceans.

Benicia, California
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#24. Benicia, California

- National rank: #44
- Total score: 55.2
- Affordability rank: #32
- Weather rank: #3
- Safety rank: #40
- Economy rank: #81
- Education & health rank: #46
- Quality of life rank: #107

A small town of just 28,000 residents, Benicia is centrally located between San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Sacramento, and California’s wine country. Its rocky beaches may not be ideal to lay out on, but they provide a perfect launching point for boating—thanks to the city’s full-service marina—fishing, and kayaking. Originally a blue-collar working town, Benicia has flourished into a family-oriented suburb.

The Anacortes Marina
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#25. Anacortes, Washington

- National rank: #47
- Total score: 54.2
- Affordability rank: #62
- Weather rank: #76
- Safety rank: #78
- Economy rank: #33
- Education & health rank: #44
- Quality of life rank: #58

Located halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada, Anacortes is located on an island in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a huge fishing town and the home base for the Washington State Ferries that service the nearby San Juan Islands. The town’s cold waters don’t allow for year-round beach activities, but residents spend time kayaking and paddle boarding in the spring and summer, whereas the winter season makes it a prime viewing spot to watch whale migrations.

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