Drive California’s northern and central coast and you’ll mostly see surfers in wetsuits, beachcombers and sand sculptors. But along Southern California’s sunny and warm coast, you’ll see more sunbathers and people splashing in the waves. Summer water temperatures average from about 50 F in Northern California to 70 F in southern California, making the southerly beaches the most swimmable. Water quality and waves also play a role.
Summer’s surface near-shore waters in Southern California range from the mid- to high-60s, with the exception being Newport Beach, which reaches 70 F in August. If you’re going for a quick swim, you’ll likely be fine with just a swimsuit or swimsuit and rash guard. If you’re swimming for an a half hour or more, you may need a shorty or full wetsuit. In summer, surfers where shorties and full wetsuits. According to the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force website, it only takes two to seven hours in 60 to 70 degrees water to become exhausted and lose consciousness. Know and respect your limits.
The Natural Resources Defense Council ranks 200 of the nation’s more popular beaches. To earn five stars a beach must run a bacteria test more than once a week, notify the public promptly when tests reveal bacteria levels violating health standards, post closings and advisories both online and at the beach, and have less than 5 percent water samples exceeding national standards in the last three years: 2009, 2010 and 2011 – the most recent reports available at time of publication.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (registered trademark) analyzes water at West Coast beaches and posts weekly grades from A to F. Heal the Bay also provides a summer report card, based on dry days because run-off pollution is so common at California’s beaches after a rain. Never swim in the ocean the day after it rains.
Huntington and Newport
Only 12 beaches out of 200 nationwide met the NRDC’s 5-star criteria in 2012, and four are in California. These four are all in Orange County and practically adjacent to each other: Bolsa Chica, Huntington State Beach at Brookhurst Street, Newport Beach at 38th Street and Newport Beach at 52nd to 53rd Streets. Huntington City Beach earned four stars, and it was named on CBS Los Angeles’ “Best Kids Beaches in OC.” The city beach, which separates Bolsa Chica from Huntington State Beach, earned from Heal the Bay straight As at various water testing locations over the summer of 2012 summer. The water quality and the sandy beaches make these nice for swimming when the surf’s not big.
In Orange County’s Laguna, Aliso Beach has gentle surf, making it a favorite among families and swimmers. All three sections of Aliso Beach earned an A+ over the summer of 2012. Also in Laguna, swimmers and snorkelers enjoy the coves, which are protected by reefs. All of Laguna’s beaches tested by Heal the Bay, including Crystal Cove and Treasure Island Beach, both also good swimming beaches, earned As.
San Diego’s Coronado Beach with its calm water is perfect for swimmers, and it provides a view of the Hotel del Coronado (hoteldel.com). A favorite beach among families, Coronado is also a favorite of Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, who ranked it America’s Best Beach for 2012 in his 22nd annual Top 10 Beach List, which is based on 50 factors including water quality, beach cleanliness and swimmer safety.
Dolphins and swimmers enjoy Zuma Beach, one of L.A.’s cleanest beaches. Zuma earned an A from Heal the Bay. Go when the surf’s not big. Another good L.A. swimming beach when surf isn’t up is Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles, which earned four stars and straight As. Southern California has several four-star beaches, many that met the five-star standards in the last reporting year, at time of publication.
If you get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you’re free of the current. If you can’t break out if it, float with it. When it disperses, swim at a diagonal to shore. Before you go in, know how to recognize a rip current. And do not swim when the surf is big. A 3-foot wave is nine times more powerful than a 1-foot wave.
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