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Orange County (OC) beaches have been compared to the French Riviera and are one of the best kept secrets in California. Aliso Beach Park, located in the city of Laguna Beach, is where many locals go to set out a picnic, relax at the beach and watch the skim boarders who are drawn by how close to the shore Aliso’s waves crash. Although the parking cost is steep at $15, Corona del Mar State Beach delivers a quintessential Southern California beach experience and the locals consider this neighborhood jewel the best kept secret in the OC. Fans of old beach movies flock to Crystal Cove, where movies like Beaches and Treasure Island were filmed.
Huntington’s City Beach is the home of several national surfing competitions, which is part of why Huntington is called “Surf City USA.” This city beach near the pier has the advantage of restaurants and shopping in close proximity and an eclectic farmer’s market every Friday. Beach volleyball abounds at Laguna’s Main Beach, which sits across the Coast Highway from the main downtown area. Newport Municipal Beach has miles of biking trails that take visitors past everything from restaurants to million-dollar homes to an elementary school with its playground and basketball courts right on the beach. Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point is a haven for OC surfers, hosting several adult surf competitions each year.
Shaw’s Cove, renowned among local Orange County SCUBA divers, is tucked into a residential neighborhood at Ninth Street and Cliff Drive in the northern part of Laguna Beach. It came as no surprise that this little treasure took out the top spot – as anyone who has been here can tell you, Whites deserves it. You’ll find this beach at one of Australia’s most popular destinations, Byron Bay, but even though it’s just down the road from million-dollar Main Beach, it feels a world away from anywhere. To get here, you need to drive down a dirt road through rainforest, stop at an unmarked spot, and wander down a quiet, tree-filled path onto the white shoreline – a bit of an effort, but it’s worth it, says Rickard, who gave this beach a 9.5. The rest of the panel agreed, with Ross, Franks, Rafter and Brown all giving it scores of 9 or above.
Just a short hop from the UK, Mallorca has long since been a place synonymous with an easy island getaway, attracting avid sun-seekers, a yacht-residing glitterati and cultural enthusiasts alike. Situated on the south coast, Es Trenc may be the most surprising of Mallorca’s beach offerings. There’s no driving up to Cala en Basset; you need a boat or a good pair of legs to reach this secluded spot. Cala Deia is located on the north of the island and is just 70 metres in length and 10 metres wide (depending on the tide). This former fishing village is located within Palma’s eastern outskirts and has seen a recent rejuvenation that leaves it sprinkled with independent boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
This unique part pebble and part sand beach is located on Mallorca’s north east coast, at the very end of an impressively steep gorge. Great waves and dependable weather, along with decent parking for most of them, make these nine beaches shine. Although it is not the best place in the OC for swimming, the scenery is difficult to beat.
Corona del Mar has everything from grassy picnic areas to bonfire pits, from volleyball nets to an out-of-the-way cave. This state-run beach, located just north of Laguna, has a 1930s feel with a historical museum and refurbished cottages in addition to tide pools, walking trails and more than three miles of beach. The restaurants around the pier include the Longboard Restaurant and Pub, located in the oldest building in Huntington Beach, and ocean view local favorites like Duke’s, Ruby’s, Spark Woodfire Grill and Fred’s Mexican Cafe.

Although the beach is popular with swimmers and body surfers, there is no surfing in the summer.
Although parking is sparse along this part of the Newport Peninsula, the beachfront stretches for miles.
As the largest of the Balearic Islands, it boasts miles of intriguing coastline, from stark and imposing cliff faces to seemingly endless stretches of powder white sands.
Its long stretch of bright sands and clear turquoise water alludes more to the Caribbean than it does to the Balearic Sea. Situated on the west coast near the popular village of Sant Elm, you’ll pass through the village and park up on Calle Poppia (where the tarmac turns to dirt-track) to continue your travels on foot. This shingle, pebble and rock beach extends into the bay’s wonderfully clear waters and the surrounding cliffs make for some particularly pretty scenery. The road from Palma eventually winds around Es Portixol marina and continues along the coast. Don’t be fooled upon arrival, the first pebble beach you come to isn’t the main attraction here – take the path to the right and follow the (handily lit) tunnels to emerge at Sa Calobra’s rustic sands.
A local trick is to park on Balboa Island and take the ferry across to the Balboa Fun Zone. Parents with small children might appreciate that the parking lot is adjacent to the beach, making trips back and forth easier than it is for some of the other locations on this list. On Wednesday mornings and some weekends, there is a table open where visitors can receive instruction to make their own jewelry from beach glass. The two basketball courts on the north end of the beach sit just below the cliff that houses the well-known Las Brisas restaurant, a cliff side park and a gazebo that features prominently in the city’s lore.
Plenty of quarters are recommended for parking meters as there are few non-metered parking spaces on the peninsula. From sunbathing to tide pools, body surfing to swimming, this California beach has plenty to do and is almost never crowded. Although this beach is not a good fit for those who cannot climb, it offers a very private experience for those who can, especially during the week. This attractive contrast, teamed with a healthy smattering of simply charming historic towns and its beautiful capital city – Palma, keeps Mallorca in the travellers’ limelight. As it’s not part of a resort, you won’t find a concrete backdrop to this secluded gem, but a protected area of sand dunes and wetlands.
Following a series of carefully laid stone piles, the route winds you up into the pines and takes in some seriously stunning views over Dragonera Island. The snorkelling here is impressive, with swimmable tunnels and fish-filled caves all waiting to be discovered underwater.
Park up early and continue to explore on foot – it’s the best way to appreciate the former fisherman’s cottages that line the waterfront. Further ahead, you’ll find the larger, pebbled beach of Torrent de Pareis which is picturesquely flanked by the gorge’s imposing cliff faces before the water opens out into the sea.
Open only to foot traffic, the parking for this beach is located up on the cliff above the beach at the Los Trancos parking area off Pacific Coast Highway. There is regular bus service around the city streets, including and a trolley that shuttles between downtown and the art festivals Laguna Beach is famous for.
Morning is the best time for walkers on the bike trail, since traffic flow is a bit lighter.

If you make the effort to explore the islands’ varying landscapes – you won’t be disappointed with what you discover. What the beach lacks in depth is easily made up for in width, and the shallow shore stretches out for some way to the anchored boats bobbing in the distance, making it great for children. Take a small detour to visit the 16th-century Tower of Cala en Basset – one of Mallorca’s many defence towers (and an excellent orientation point should you find yourself off track).
For a lovely view over the beach and beyond, take the path that leads up to Sa Pedrisa watchtower – one of the island’s old defences against pirate invasion. What’s more, you’ll give yourself the chance to peruse the menus of local restaurants and make a reservation for lunch. It’s best to visit this beach out of season, as it becomes extremely popular with coach-loads of tourists during the high season. On the harbor side of the peninsula, the Fun Zone has everything from whale watching to arcades and a Ferris wheel.
For the fee of $1 each way there is a shuttle, or there are two main walking trails – one lets visitors cross over the road, keeping the beach in eyesight, the other goes under the road, ending right near the shuttle bus stop. Plenty of quarters are recommended for downtown parking meters and parking around the festivals. In addition to outdoor showers and restrooms the concession building is open all summer for food and beach supplies.
You can access Es Trenc through Ses Covettes or through the salt flats at the south, which makes for an interesting drive.
You should arrive after 20 minutes or so and, when you do, jumping into the clear waters from the rocky beach makes a serenely satisfying end to your dusty voyage.
Combine an early Saturday morning at Soller’s energetic artisanal market nearby, with some time on Cala Deia before lunch – just be sure to make a reservation at one of the two cliffside restaurants to avoid disappointment over the busier months.
It’s also worth noting that the drive here winds up and down a mountain road and takes more time to navigate than you might imagine.
On the other side of the peninsula is the beach with Balboa pier and miles of sand to wander. This rarely crowded beach is a worthy addition to “the best kept secret beaches” in the OC and well worth a trip for any who visit California. Combine an afternoon on the beach with a morning at Campos’ lively market (Thursdays and Saturdays) – it’s just a 10-minute drive away. The beaches here can be surprisingly quiet and, although small in depth, they extend along the coast for some way and offer plenty of shallow waters. Finally there is the local classic set above the cove on the Coast Highway, Ruby’s Shake Shack.
When the winds are low, it’s a great place to try out paddle boarding, with rental facilities readily available. Although regular surfing is not allowed, body surfers throughout Southern California visit the Wedge to test their skills.

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