The beaches of California always rank highly on those national lists of best beaches, but a good beach does not necessarily make a good beach town. Not all beach towns are created equal, and the Golden State runs the gamut from quaint to upscale.

So maybe the best barometer for choosing your beach town is charm — in other words, it makes you feel like this is a true getaway, and it's where you get a real sense of place. You want it to be someplace special for someone special on that special getaway weekend.

There are many choices, but here are three of the best:

Del Mar

Technically it has only about 4,500 residents, but the San Diego County beach town Del Mar has just the right combination of legend, lore and beach access to draw literally millions of visitors each year. Despite the onslaught, this distinctive little burg still registers high on the charm scale.

With the median price home in Del Mar well above most other San Diego suburbs, the city bestows upon its new residents a certain status that you just don't find in most other beach communities.

Chalk that up to Bing Crosby who, along with his buddy Pat O'Brien and Paramount Studios, opened the Del Mar Race Track back in 1937. Soon the stars were traveling south from Los Angeles to enjoy big-time thoroughbred racing "where the surf meets the turf."

Nowadays, race season is 43 days long, from mid-July to early September. People visit the town during that time and book short-term apartments for astronomical prices just so they can take part in the racing action. Meanwhile, those who have no interest in horse racing whatsoever still find Del Mar's beaches and upscale shopping an irresistible draw.

The beach is close to downtown. City fathers have put together a park with lots of grass and strolling paths on the bluff overlooking the Pacific below. It's just a few steps from there down to the wide beach. Whether you're on the beach or browsing the shops in the Del Mar Plaza, the Pacific sunset from most locations in Del Mar is well worth the price of admission.

For more information on Del Mar, visit http://www.delmarchamber.org or phone (858) 755-4844.

 

Cambria

A trip to California's Central Coast is all about replenishment and reflection and an appreciation of the spectacular natural beauty here that never seems to grow old. And what better place to get a new perspective on your daily life than a storybook cottage footsteps from the pounding surf and amazing energy of the Pacific Ocean?

If long walks along a driftwood-strewn beach are your idea of a trip to the sea, then Moonstone Beach in Cambria is probably a good candidate for your next outing to the California Coast. Cambria is a place where you can spend hours each day walking — on the beach, on the boardwalk and through a quaint, historic artist's colony chock-full of art galleries as well as unique shops and good restaurants.

Cambria is in San Luis Obispo County and located in an area that gives visitors several options for short daytrips. The wineries are just a few miles east, Hearst Castle just a few miles north. Some of California's best beaches are a short drive to the south. And San Luis Obispo is just a few miles south and inland.

On our most recent trip to Cambria we discovered a charming group of cottages on Moonstone Beach that seem especially well suited to honeymoons or romantic getaways. The cottages are not part of a big resort so you won't be sharing your getaway with other travelers.

We settled for good, long beach walks where we found plenty to explore including tide pools, small caves, interesting rock formations, abundant driftwood and, of course, the constant backdrop of the ocean waves crashing on shore with incredible fury.

We also walked the town itself, enjoying the many galleries and historic buildings such as the Squibb House, originally built in 1877. Shops downtown are often located in historical buildings, or have motifs designed to highlight the historical nature of the village. Some shops are quite stylish and are located in relatively new shopping centers with historic designs.

We took a short drive and noticed the scenery in this part of San Luis Obispo County is what really makes it appealing. The combination of rolling hills, quiet winding roads and towering pines makes this getaway a feast for the senses.

For more information on Cambria, contact the Cambria Chamber of Commerce at (805) 927-3624 or go to http://www.cambriachamber.org.