Beach bonfires are a treasured tradition along the California coastline. Locals head out first thing in the morning (at least by Californian standards) to stake a claim on a coveted beachfront fire pit. As the sun goes down, fires light up the sand for an evening of hot dog roasting, s’mores, and what seems like an endless summer.
For those who grew up on the West Coast, there’s just nothing better than digging your toes into the sand and listening to the crash of six- to eight-foot waves on the shore while roasting a sticky marshmallow over an open flame.
The decades-old tradition is one relished by natives but spurned by environmental regulators who see bonfires as a health hazard and propose to ban them across Southern California beaches. Californians are fortunate to be able to light up a fire on the beach, as most states enforce restrictions on where and when a bonfire is permitted on the beach — if at all — and in many cases, a permit is required. But in California, bonfires are still a beloved ritual that we hope will never burn out.
In ranking for the best beaches for bonfires in California, we considered a few criteria: the accessibility and number of fire rings, additional beach amennities like volleyball nets and picnic tables, natural features like rock jetties and tide pools, and proximity to iconic landmarks like piers and boardwalks.
Locals stake out their territory as early as 10 a.m. to claim one of Huntington Beach’s hundreds of fire pits that line the sand for miles. Carmel Beach — known as one the world’s most romantic places — is the spot for couples who want to cuddle up next to a beach fire, look for sea otters and dolphins that make regular appearances, or explore nearby tide pools and kelp forests. You may have seen Corona Del Mar Beach on the famous TV show Gilligan’s Island. Tucked away at the bottom of a cliff, it’s also a favorite spot for bonfires with a few rows of fire pits lined nearby a locally-beloved rock formation known as “Pirate’s Cove.”
California knows it’s home to some of the best beach bonfires in the country, from Los Angeles’ Dockweiler Beach to Orange County’s Newport Beach to San Diego’s Mission Beach.
#10 Dockweiler Beach — Los Angeles
For out-of-towners, a bonfire at Dockweiler Beach is just a 15-minute walk from the Los Angeles airport. Due to its proximity to the airport, the beach is not the quietest beach for a bonfire as the loud roar of planes are heard flying overhead every couple of minutes. But after a few hours, you won’t notice it at all.
#9 Grover Beach — San Luis Obispo
Not your typical California beach, Grover Beach allows visitors to drive their cars on the sand right up next to a bonfire spot if they like. Locals can be seen horseback riding on the beach, skating at the beachside skate park, or just meandering through the sand dunes.
Haley Willard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.