You’ve never heard someone regret catching a sunset after a long day. It’s the perfect way to relax both mentally and physically, and has been proven to combat stress, anxiety, and depression. Sunsets are a gift from nature that we can enjoy for free every single day.
While you can catch the last embers of the sun from anywhere, nothing quite matches a California sunset. The Golden State has some of the best nature in the entire country and the virtually endless coastline provides several great viewing spots. Whether you want a mountain or sea view, you’re spoilt for choice.
Best Places to Watch the California Sunset
Watching the sunset in California is a must-do activity for both locals and tourists. Forget about restaurants, the Hollywood Hills, or other leisurely activities, and pick a hot spot for the golden hour. We’re sure the experience will be one of the highlights of your day.
While you can catch the sunset from a wide variety of locations, there are extra special spots where the view is simply mesmerizing. To boot, California’s fabulous year-round weather ensures you can take in the view comfortably, without worrying about wrapping up. Without further ado, here are our picks for the best California sunsets:
Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory is one of Los Angeles’ many gems, offering cinematic views of the city. Often referred to as the “Gateway to the Cosmos”, the observatory stands aloft California’s steep hills. A distinct feature of the view is the distance from the city. There is just enough space to create a limitless horizon, free from smog.
The air around the observatory is fresh and clear, providing an instant sense of calm when you arrive. If you come early enough, you can spend several hours inside the observatory itself, where you’ll find fascinating exhibits, live demonstrations, and telescopes from which you can gaze at the cosmos.
Aside from the views, another great benefit to watching the sunset from Griffith Observatory is its accessibility. You can get there by car, taxi, or ride-hailing service (e.g. Uber or Lyft). The DASH public bus service also takes you straight to the location.
If you’re an outdoorsy type, Griffith Park is home to some 53 miles of hiking trails. Consider spending an afternoon walking the trails then reward yourself with a beautiful California sunset to finish the day. There’s no better way to work up an appetite for a nice downtown dinner.
Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
Santa Monica is a great place to visit at any time of year if you’re in the L.A. area. The beach is hands down, one of the best in the state, and there are a ton of fun things to do there, from riding the Ferris wheel to trapeze classes. It’s also a great place to shop, whether you’re looking for clothes or novelty gifts.
“Perfect” is perhaps the best way to describe the sunset in Santa Monica. We recommend catching it by the pier with ice cream or sitting on the golden sand at the beach. There are also several hotels and rooftop bars that offer a fantastic view. Order your favorite cocktail, sit back, and watch the sun melt into the pacific.
Just remember, Santa Monica is a popular place and it tends to get busy, especially in the high season (summer). If you plan on watching the sunset from a bar or restaurant, be sure to make a reservation.
Dillon Beach, Bodega Bay
If you fancy a California sunset by the beach but want to avoid large crowds, Dillon Beach at Bodega Bay is a calm and serene option. The beach lies right on the edge of the town (also called Dillon Beach) at the border of Marin County. Around sunset, the only sound you’ll hear is quiet chatter and soothing waves.
Since the beach is privately owned, you’re required to pay a small entry fee, which is valid for the entire day. Trust us, it’s worth the money. In fact, the small fee puts a lot of people off coming to the beach, making the sunset experience all the more exclusive. If you’re a surfer, take your board along and enjoy a full day at the ocean.
There’s not a lot to see in the quaint town of Dillon Beach. However, you can hike several trails, catch multiple viewing points, like Tomales Point or Reyes Peninsula, or have lunch at a local cafe. If you want an extended visit, you can rent cabins and stay overnight.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
One of the most memorable places to catch a California sunset is through the Keyhole Arch “Light Show” at Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur. However, to see this natural phenomenon, you’ll need to be there during the winter months. For the best experience, aim to experience the Pfeiffer Beach sunset in mid-January.
At this time of year, the sunlight passes through Pfeiffer Beach’s iconic Keyhole Arch at such an angle that onlookers get a spectacular natural light show. Since the sunsets change from day to day, it’s difficult to pinpoint the best time to visit. However, in the middle of January, you might be lucky enough to catch the dreamlike haze.
If you don’t get the opportunity to visit in winter, don’t worry. Pfeiffer Beach still offers spectacular views of the sunset. The large waves, ocean rocks, and purple sand make for beautiful backdrops when taking photos. It’s a great place to enjoy an evening stroll as you watch the sun go down.
Oceanside Pier, San Diego
If you’re spending time in sunny San Diego, there’s a very special place to enjoy the golden hour. Oceanside Pier is a historic landmark of the city. The wooden walkway is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, whether you want to fish, people watch, or take a leisurely stroll.
With a seemingly endless horizon, it’s also the perfect backdrop for taking in the sunset. Situated right along the beach, the tranquil atmosphere is enjoyed every single day from morning until sundown. It’s also an extremely photo-friendly location when the boardwalk is lit up at dusk.
San Diego is famous for its multicolored sunsets that incorporate shades of orange and blue. The glistening Pacific Ocean breathes tremendous life into the sky, creating a scene that must be viewed in person. The oceanside sunset is perfect from virtually every angle.
Twin Peaks Boulevard, San Francisco
We can’t complete a list of California sunset spots without mentioning San Franciso. The city is a magical place at any time of year but is especially beautiful when bathed in sunlight. While there are several places to catch the sunset in the Bay Area, our unanimous pick is Twin Peaks Boulevard.
Located in the hills to the south of the city, Twin Peaks has some of the best views the Bay Area has to offer. Moreover, the 64-acre park is very walkable and essentially offers panoramic views of San Francisco. Although it’s a beautiful place to be at any time of day, the sunset is particularly beautiful.
One word of warning ahead of your Twin Peaks adventure: plan transportation ahead of time. It’s difficult to get to via public transportation so you’ll likely need a car or cab. Our advice is to arrive early and take in the surroundings before sundown.
To round out our list, we’ve chosen a location that’s a true representation of California. Huntington Beach, located just outside L.A., is a popular beach town that fully embraces the California culture. This surfing hotspot has earned the nickname “Surf City” and boasts 8.5 miles of charming beach.
The great thing about catching the sunset at Huntington Beach is that there are great views from virtually anywhere along the oceanfront. However, since it’s so spacious, the sandy beach is the go-to. If that’s not your thing, make a reservation at one of the many restaurants and enjoy a beautiful California sunset meal.
California Sunset Times
The sunset only lasts for around half an hour so it’s important to know when it occurs or you’ll miss it. Depending on your precise location and the season, the sun can set at very different times so be sure to do a quick Google search on the day you plan to catch one.
Since the top places on our California sunset list are located along the coast, we’re using San Louis Obispo as a guide to sunset times throughout the state. It’s located in the middle of California’s coast so the exact time might be slightly off if you’re further inland or in the extreme north or south.
- January: 5:10 pm
- February: 5:40 pm
- March: 6:05 pm
- April: 7:30 pm
- May: 7:55 pm
- June: 8:15 pm
- July: 8:20 pm
- August: 7:55 pm
- September: 7:15 pm
- October: 6:30 pm
- November: 5:00 pm
- December: 4:40 pm
Why are California sunsets so colorful?
California sunsets are colorful for a variety of reasons, including the water from the Pacific Ocean, atmospheric particles, and a light dispersion phenomenon called Rayleigh Scattering. Due to the cleanliness of the air, California sunsets are often extremely vivid.
What time does it get dark in So Cal?
Sunset times vary in So Cal, depending on the time of year. In spring, it gets dark between 6 pm and 7:30 pm. In summer, it gets dark between 7:30 pm and 8:20 pm. In fall it gets dark between 8:20 pm and 5:30 pm. In winter, it gets dark between 5:30 pm and 4:50 pm.
How long is the longest day in California?
The longest day in California, called the summer solstice, takes place on June 21st every year. While the exact length of the day (in terms of sunlight) can vary slightly from year to year, it’s typically around 14 hours and 50 minutes.
How late is golden hour?
Golden hour refers to the final hour of sunlight before it gets dark. The exact time varies depending on the season. It can vary by as much as four and a half hours or more between winter and summer.