Making summer plans? What to know about California’s cleanest — and dirtiest — beaches

·5 min read

Looking for some fun in the sun at a West Coast beach this summer? You may want to check a recent “report card’ released by an environmental group that ranks the cleanest, and yes, the dirtiest beaches up and down the Pacific coast.

Heal the Bay, an environmental nonprofit, released its annual report, initially created over 30 years ago, on Wednesday, June 22.

The report card is the result of weekly and annual water quality grades based on bacterial pollution from over 700 beaches from Washington to Tijuana, the report says.

Each beach receives three separate grades: a Summer Dry Grade, Winter Dry Grade and Wet Weather Grade, the report says.

During the Summer Dry Grade period, from April to October 2021, 94% of California beaches scored A and B grades, the report said. For the Winter Dry Grade time frame, from November to March 2022, 88% of California beaches scored A and B grades.

“Wet Weather Grades for the past year were a little above average with 66% of the beaches receiving A and B grades,” the report says from April 2021 through March 2022.

Grades are derived from the concentrations of “fecal indicator bacteria” found in the ocean, the report says. Though the bacteria is not harmful itself, it points to the presence of other “pathogen-containing fecal matter” that can pose potential “acute health risk.”

“For all beach users, we recommend using the Beach Report Card to understand your risk of getting sick,” the report says.

If visitors avoid beaches with poor water quality, it is less likely they will come into contact with other pollutants and bacteria, according to the report.

When compared to last year, 16 more beaches made the “Honor Roll” list, bringing the total to 51, the report says. The below average rainfall may have created a small improvement in beach water quality, as less rainfall equates to fewer pollutants reaching the ocean.

Nonetheless, the West Coast has been hit by several major spills in recent years, the report says.

“Unfortunately, this past year saw an unprecedented 30 million gallons of sewage enter waterways in coastal areas of California, and this figure does not include the millions of gallons of sewage that regularly enter the ocean through the Tijuana River,” the report states.

Some of the major spills referenced in the report include a sewer main rupture that resulted in 7 million gallons of sewage in the Dominguez Channel, the 13-million gallon sewage spill from Los Angeles’ Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and 25,000-gallon oil leak from a pipeline off the coast of Huntington Beach, according to the report.

To earn a spot on the “Honor Roll,” a beach must be monitored all year and receive an “A+” grade for water quality during all seasons and weather conditions, according to the report.

The list is typically dominated by beaches in Southern California, as many Northern and Central California counties do not monitor beach water quality year-round, the report says.

Orange County beaches topped the list for a second year in a row with 19 beaches making the cut, the report says. San Diego County followed with 15 beaches making the list. The majority of beaches to make the list in Los Angeles County are in the Palos Verdes Peninsula or the Malibu area.

Here are the California beaches that scored the highest in the report:

L.A. County:

  • Venice City Beach, at Brooks Ave. drain

  • Rancho Palos Verdes, Long Point

  • Royal Palms State Beach Los Angeles

  • Palos Verdes Estates, at Malaga Cove trail outlet

  • Las Tunas County Beach, at Pena Creek

  • Nicholas Beach, at San Nicholas Canyon Creek

Orange County:

  • Dana Point Harbor Youth Dock

  • Dana Point Harbor Guest Dock

  • Poche Beach

  • Doheny Beach

  • Doheny State Beach, End of the Park

  • Doheny State Beach, at Last Campground

  • Corona Del Mar

  • Crystal Cove

  • Marine Science Institute Beach

  • Dana Point, Capistrano County Beach

  • Doheny State Beach, Pedestrian Bridge

  • Dana Strands Beach

  • Huntington City Beach, at 17th Street

  • Bolsa Chica Reserve, at Flood Gates

  • Surfside Beach, at Sea Way

  • San Clemente, at Avenida Calafia

  • Salt Creek Beach

  • Laguna Lido

  • Treasure Island

San Diego County:

  • Del Mar, at 15th Street

  • Carlsbad, at Tamarack Avenue

  • Carlsbad, at Poinsettia Lane

  • Carlsbad, at Encina Creek

  • Carlsbad, at Palomar Airport Road

  • Carlsbad, at Cerezo Drive

  • Oceanside, at Forster Street

  • Oceanside, Harbor Beach at Harbor Drive

  • Point Loma, Lighthouse

  • Point Loma, Point Loma Treatment Plant

  • Sunset Cliffs, at Ladera Street

  • Mission Beach, Belmont Park

  • La Jolla Shores Beach, 1000 ft south of Scripps Pier

  • La Jolla Shores Beach, 250 feet south of Scripps Pier

  • La Jolla Shores Beach, 500 feet north of Scripps Pier

Santa Barbara County

  • Guadalupe Dunes

  • East Beach, at Sycamore Creek

  • El Capitan State Beach

  • Sands, at Coal Oil Point

San Luis Obispo County

  • Cayucos State Beach, downcoast of the pier

  • Pismo Beach, at Ocean View

  • Pismo Beach, at Wadsworth Street

  • San Simeon State Beach, at Pico Avenue

  • Morro Strand State Beach, at Beachcomber Drive

  • Pismo State Beach, 571 yards south of Pier Avenue

  • Pismo State Beach, 330 yards north of Pier Avenue

In its report, Heal the Bay deemed the following beaches with the poorest grades as “beach bummers:”

  • Erckenbrack Park, San Mateo County

  • Marlin Park, San Mateo County

  • Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles County

  • Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach at lifeguard tower, Los Angeles County

  • Moonstone County Park, Humboldt County

  • Newport Bay, Vaughn’s Launch, Orange County

  • Lakeshore Park, San Mateo County

  • Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach, between lifeguard tower and boat dock, Los Angeles County

  • Tijuana Slough, North of Tijuana River Mouth, San Diego County

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