California is famous for a lot of things, from Hollywood and the Golden Gate Bridge to Disneyland and Napa Valley. However, perhaps most of all, California is famous for its gorgeous beaches lining the state’s 840-mile coastline (the longest in the country!).

There are quite literally hundreds of public beaches in California to choose from, with upbeat, sunny surfing hotspots in Southern California, picturesque and pristine coastlines in Central California, and mysterious beaches cloaked in mist and surrounded by trees in Northern California. There is definitely a beach in California for every type of traveler!

However, with so many beaches in California to choose from for a vacation, you might ask yourself, “Which California beaches are the best to visit?” In this post, we’ll share all the best California beaches, starting in Southern California and stretching up the coast to Northern California, so you can plan the perfect beach vacation to The Golden State!

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Best California Beaches – Map

Before we describe what to do and see at all the best California beaches, here is where you can find them along The Golden State’s coastline:

Best Beaches in California – Southern California

1. La Jolla Shores Beach, San Diego

A girl in a white tank top and pink shorts standing on a rocky beach in La Jolla with the ocean in the background.

There are dozens of incredible beaches to visit in San Diego — this city is home to some of the best California beaches! If you’re planning to spend a week or weekend in San Diego and are trying to decide which beach to visit — La Jolla vs. Coronado Beach or Ocean Beach vs. Mission Beach — you should consider visiting La Jolla Shores Beach!

Spending one day in La Jolla is a must during any trip to San Diego. This coastal town has many things to do, from saying “hello” to the sea lions at La Jolla Cove to shopping and dining on Prospect Street. However, the beach is (of course!) one of the top attractions in La Jolla, and for good reason!

At La Jolla Shores Beach, beachgoers can enjoy sunbathing, swimming, and water sports like kayaking and surfing. This mile-long beach is protected by La Jolla Bay, so it’s also an excellent spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. To see more marine life in La Jolla, head to the La Jolla Tide Pools to see crabs and fish hiding in the rocks during the low tide.

2. Huntington Beach, Orange County

The blue ocean with a pier and a red restaurant at the end of a boardwalk at Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach, just a short 20-mile drive from Disneyland and a 38-mile drive from Los Angeles, is not only one of the best California beaches for tourists — it’s also one of the top surfing destinations in the world! Nicknamed “Surf City USA,” Huntington Beach is the home of the Vans US Open of Surfing, the world’s largest surfing competition!

There are plenty of other things to do in Huntington Beach besides surfing. You can hang out on the beach, go boogie-boarding in the waves, walk up and down the pier, rent bikes to cycle along the coast, or walk up and down Main Street to pop into the surf shops like Jack’s Surfboards and Rip Curl. You should also grab a delicious Mexican dinner at Fred’s Mexican Cantina. Sit on the balcony — it overlooks the beach!

If you’re looking for another great place to visit in Huntington Beach, head to Pacific City for boutique shopping and local dining. One of my favorite places to stop in the mornings is Philz Coffee, a popular local chain for pour-over coffees. Huntington Beach is a must-visit on any Southern California road trip itinerary!

3. Coronado Central Beach, San Diego

A girl wearing a green swimsuit and a white dress standing on a sandy beach in California

Coronado Island might only be a short seven-mile drive from Downtown San Diego. Still, when you arrive on the island, you’ll feel like you’ve been swept away into another world — one with boutique shopping, upscale restaurants, old-timey hotels, and pristine beaches.

Coronado Central Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego (and the best California beaches!) for relaxing in the sun. Though you won’t usually find huge waves here, the calm waters and golden sand are gorgeous and relaxing, and this beach is immaculate. There is also a popular dog beach just west of Coronado Central Beach, so bring your furry friends!

While on Coronado Island, explore Hotel del Coronado, a recently renovated hotel steeped in history and tradition. For over a century, it has been a popular vacation spot for significant historical figures, like presidents and celebrities. This is also a great place to stay on Coronado Island (even if it is a bit more on the pricey side!).

You should also stroll up and down Orange Street shopping and dining. The Henry is one of my favorite spots to eat, and be sure to grab fresh-made gelato across the street at Bottega Italiana for dessert!

4. Carlsbad State Beach, Carlsbad

Seaweed and plants in front of a cliff in front of the beach at Carsbad State Beach, one of the best California beaches
Photo Courtesy of Jennifer of Seeking Stamps

If you are looking for one of the best beaches in California, visit Carlsbad State Beach in North County, San Diego. Exploring Carlsbad State Beach is one of the best things to do in Carlsbad. This famous beach offers breathtaking scenery and a plethora of outdoor activities. 

Carlsbad State Beach provides an idyllic landscape with stunning golden sand and gentle waves. In addition, colorful sunsets create a mesmerizing backdrop for strolls along the shore. 

The beach caters to a diverse range of interests for outdoor enthusiasts. Its spacious five-mile shoreline offers beachgoers an area for picnics, beach volleyball, and swimming. Surfers flock to its shores to ride the waves, while snorkelers, fishermen, and paddle boarders revel in the crystal-clear waters. The option for camping along the bluffs adds an adventurous twist to the beach experience.

One of the best reasons to visit Carlsbad State Beach is its proximity to the shopping, restaurants, and nightlife in vibrant Carlsbad Village. Rent e-bikes and cruise along the seawall, explore the nearby Carlsbad Oyster Farm or venture inland to spend the day at Legoland or the Carlsbad Flower Fields.

During your stay in Carlsbad, consider staying at Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach or Alila Marea Beach Resort. Carlsbad State Beach offers a quintessential Southern California beach experience, combining natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and convenient access to nearby attractions. This beach has it all, whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or fun in the sun!

Recommended by Jennifer of Seeking Stamps

5. Venice Beach, Los Angeles

A blue and pink sunset behind palm trees at Venice Beach, one of the most unique beaches in California

One of the best beaches in California is also one of the most talked about and visited beaches near Los Angeles, Venice Beach. It’s not your typical beach. It’s an excellent beach for people-watching, immersing yourself among eclectic people, and getting a taste of the LA arts culture. From watching skateboarders and bodybuilders to eating carnival food and shopping, Venice Beach is filled with life and one of the most unique beaches you will ever visit. 

You can walk Abbot Kinney Boulevard just a few blocks inland, filled with shops and food establishments. But if you’re looking for something more calming with fewer people, head to the Venice Canals, where you’ll feel like you’re in Europe. You really can’t get bored at Venice Beach.

If you’re looking to stay overnight around the area, Inn at Venice Beach is a quaint hotel that’s clean and comfortable but doesn’t break the budget. It’s within walking distance of the beach but not right on it, so you can avoid loud noises from the main boardwalk. 

Recommended by Vanessa of Fun California Itineraries

6. Laguna Beach, Los Angeles

Several plants and red and pink flowers in front of a gorgeous cove at Laguna Beach with palm trees in the background and turquoise waves.

Laguna Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in California. It not only has a main beach but also several coves that are part of Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach has seven miles of beautiful coves to explore and enjoy. 

Laguna Beach is not only popular for sunbathers, it is also a famous beach for scuba divers. Diver’s Cove in Laguna Beach is one of the best coves for scuba diving. It is also an excellent spot for snorkeling as well. If you enjoy visiting tidepools, Shaw’s Cove and Treasure Island are great places to view Southern California’s marine life up close. 

Laguna Beach is more than a simple beach town; it is an artistic town known for the annual Pageant of the Masters festival. The festival showcases living art, in which live models recreate artistic masterpieces. It is held annually during July and August.   

If you want a great restaurant with a beautiful view of Laguna Beach, The Cliff Restaurant is the perfect place. At The Cliff Restaurant, you can dine while enjoying a lovely view of Laguna Beach. If you would like to stay for a weekend or more, there are several hotels to choose from, such as the Hotel Joaquin, which is within walking distance of the beach.

Whether you stay for one day or a weekend, you will enjoy everything Laguna Beach offers!

Recommended by Rosby of RoseBee and Reya Adventures

7. Rosie’s Dog Beach, Long Beach

A golden-sand beach with several people and dogs on it and buildings in the background against the skyline

One of the best beaches in California isn’t even for humans. Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach, California, caters to canines big and small, giving them a little slice of that coastal California lifestyle. Dogs can run free on the beach, splash in the waves, and play catch with the frisbee, just like their owners. 

Part of what makes Rosie’s Beach so special is that it’s one of the few beaches in Southern California that allows dogs. The four-acre off-leash recreation area is located south of Ocean Boulevard between Granada Avenue and Roycroft Avenue. Please note that dogs must be on leashes outside of the recreational area. The beach is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 

Stop at the nearby Irish pub, The Red Leprechaun, to continue your dog-friendly beach day. This pub features fantastic comfort food, live music, and a “pawtio” for dining with your dog, complete with a special dog menu. 

If you’re visiting the Long Beach area and looking for a great hotel, consider Hotel Maya, A Double Tree Hotel in the popular Belmont Shore neighborhood. And yes, in case you had any doubts — Hotel Maya does offer pet-friendly rooms. 

Recommended by Jenn of Sick Girl Travels

8. Zuma Beach, Malibu

Turquoise waves lapping onto a golden sand beach with golden rocks reaching out onto the sandy beach.

Zuma Beach is located along the Pacific Coast Highway and offers a beautiful, natural respite from Los Angeles’s frantic pace. A trip to Zuma is necessary for anyone planning a day in Malibu. The beach is framed by rocky cliffs, separating most residential areas from the shoreline, making it an ideal spot for outdoor activities.

Recognized for its excellent surfing conditions throughout the year, the beach benefits from the strong offshore winds channeled by Zuma Canyon, producing consistently good waves. This beach attracts crowds of sunbathers and volleyball players during summer, though it remains relatively less congested and cleaner than many other beaches in LA. However, swimmers should be wary of strong currents and rip tides, not to mention throngs of surfers in the water.

Zuma Beach is approximately an hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles and is best reached by car. Parking is free along Pacific Coast Highway, and a paid parking lot is available. Visitors should climb the surrounding hills and cliffs for the best panoramic views, especially at sunset, and visit Malibu to see all this beach city has to offer.

Recommended by Monica of This Rare Earth

9. San Clemente State Beach, San Clemente

Blue ocean waves lapping onto a golden sand beach framed with palm trees in San Clemente, one of the best beaches in California

San Clemente is the quintessential California beach town. Its strong surfer vibe makes it an excellent destination for a day trip from Los Angeles or a more extended stay. San Clemente is different from other beach towns because the train runs right next to the beach. You might even have to cross the tracks to get to the water!

Two highlights of San Clemente Beach are the San Clemente Pier and the Beach Trail. The Pier is the ideal spot to watch the local surfers braving the waves. And what better place to enjoy fresh seafood than at Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar right on the Pier?

During the summer, you can catch the free trolley that will take you up the hill to the restaurants and shops along San Clemente’s main streets. Don’t miss the secondhand shops and wonderful used bookstore, Beach Town Books.

If you plan to stay overnight, San Clemente Inn near San Clemente State Beach offers small apartments with a kitchen and is an excellent base from which to explore this “Spanish Village by the Sea.”

Recommended by Kitty of Kitty Meets World

Best California Beaches – Central California

10. East Beach, Santa Barbara

The pier stretching out into the ocean at East Beach, one of the best beaches in Santa Barbara

North of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara provides a great getaway, and the journey to reach it only takes 90 minutes. Contrasting the metropolitan cities, Santa Barbara is a relaxed destination with vintage shops, patio restaurants, and miles of sandy beaches.

East Beach, which fronts the main road, has complimentary parking and is easily accessible from nearby hotels. The beach has a volleyball area, picnic tables, and restrooms. Vendors on the beach offer paddle board and kayak rentals.

Nearby, State Street is a popular tourist area with patio dining at some of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara, museums, and numerous vintage theaters. Alternatively, Sterns Wharf has a small aquarium adjacent to East Beach for those traveling with children. The Harbor View Inn near State Street gives easy access to the beaches, Sterns Wharf, and shopping.

One of the best ways to enjoy the waterfront is by bike. Several rental shops have two- and four-wheeled bicycles. The four-wheeled Surrey bikes are popular, and the double Surrey can carry up to six people (four adults and two children). There are many riding options, but the beachfront boardwalk from Cabrillo Park to Santa Barbara Harbor is a must.

Recommended by Karen of Forever Karen

11. Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Bright blue waves on a white-sand beach with lush greenery all around.

Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the best beaches in California. It is known for its soft sand and cliffside backdrop, offering a unique blend of natural beauty and seclusion. The beach cliffs have an accessible walking path for those who prefer not to get sandy.

It’s also one of California’s top dog-friendly beaches, where your pet can enjoy freedom off-leash. This alone makes it a destination worth visiting. The ambiance of Carmel Beach inspires visitors to create memorable experiences.

This picturesque setting isn’t just limited to the beach. Carmel-by-the-Sea is filled with art galleries, local boutiques, and delicious dining. For an overnight visit, the Cypress Inn, initially founded by Doris Day, mirrors the captivating essence of Carmel, making it a perfect stay for those drawn to the area’s storybook charm.

Recommended by Emily of Pets Around the World

12. Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo

A golden sand beach with rolling hills in the background and blue waves calmly lapping on the shore.
Photo Courtesy of Maggie of The World Was Here First

Though it is not always the place that tops the list for those looking for the quintessential California beach town, Pismo Beach is an iconic stop along the PCH. Situated only about 12 miles south of San Luis Obispo, it is perfect for those looking to hit the waves, lounge on the beach, or simply enjoy the laid-back vibes of the town itself.

The highlight of Pismo is, of course, its vast and expansive beach. Perfect for surfers, it’s also a pure joy to visit, even if you’re not one to hop on a board. Those who don’t want to get on the sand can enjoy a stroll over the long pier, giving you great views of the beach and the surrounding scenery. The town is also filled with plenty of kitschy shops and fun boutiques. They can be a great place to stock up on saltwater taffy or souvenir seashells.

If you’re looking for a quick and delicious place to eat, consider popping into Shin’s Poke for a poke bowl. And if you’re looking for a great place to rest your head for the night, the Shell Beach Inn is a highly-rated choice!

Recommended by Maggie of The World Was Here First

13. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

A rocky outcropping on a golden sand beach in Central California on a cloudy, overcast day
Photo Courtesy of Janice of Where’s Janice

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the must-see beaches in Big Sur, California. People often stop by here along their Pacific Coast Highway trip to see the Keyhole Arch and witness the “purple sand” on the beach. 

It’s also a photographer’s dream when the arch perfectly frames the setting sun and creates iconic photo opportunities. You could also go hiking nearby in Andrew Molera State Park or the Ventana Wilderness. Don’t forget to check out other famous viewpoints, such as McWay Falls. 

When it’s time to refuel, check out Big Sur Bakery, known for its fresh pastries and cozy atmosphere. Nepenthe is also a popular lunch stop with a million-dollar ocean view, perfect for taking a slow day along Big Sur. Alternatively, just pack along a picnic for your visit to Pfeiffer Beach and enjoy this hidden and rugged beach as you eat.

If you’re looking to stay overnight near Pfeiffer Beach, one of the best places to stay in Big Sur is the iconic Alila Ventana Big Sur. With spa treatments and delicious dining options, immersing yourself in Big Sur’s coastal landscape has never been more comfortable.

Recommended by Janice of Where’s Janice

14. Santa Claus Beach, Santa Barbara

Bright blue waves rolling onto a dark sand beach with gorgeous hills in the background and cliffs covered in trees.

Santa Claus Beach, located between the charming towns of Montecito and Carpinteria (and not too far from Santa Barbara), earns its reputation as one of California’s best beaches for its picturesque beauty and the variety of experiences it offers.

This beach is a haven for those longing for serene ocean views while lounging on soft, sandy shores or engaging in exciting water sports like surfing and paddleboarding. Its family-friendly atmosphere makes it a perfect spot for beachgoers of all ages and species (yup, dogs are allowed, too).

Nearby, the eclectic mix of shopping options in Montecito’s Coast Village Road caters to those looking for unique finds, from high-end boutiques to quirky local stores. The area lacks a variety of dining options directly on the beach, so many opt for picnics. Padaro Beach Grill offers fresh meals with breathtaking ocean views not far from the beach.

Your best choice of accommodation is the Inn on Summer Hill, located in picturesque Summerland just a short drive from Santa Claus Beach. In addition to its proximity to Santa Claus Beach, the Inn offers easy access to nearby hiking trails and wineries, allowing visitors to explore more of the beautiful California landscape.

Santa Claus Beach and its surrounding area are the perfect destination for a beach getaway!

Recommended by Giorgy from Sabiduri

15. Carpinteria State Beach, Carpinteria

A set of wooden stairs leading down to a beach in Carpinteria

Carpinteria is one of the best California beaches with a laid-back vibe. One of the best things to do in Carpinteria is visit Carpinteria State Beach for swimming, sunning, beach volleyball, picturesque sunset walks, and the coolest tide pools.

Nature enthusiasts and bird watchers love Salt Marsh Nature Park, a coastal habitat. For a more active pursuit, take a scenic bike ride on the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail, which offers stunning ocean views and a chance to spot seals lounging on the nearby seal rookery.

Shopping in the local stores on Linden and Carpinteria Avenue is part of the charm of this cute beach town. Rincon Designs has beach and surf gear, Robitaille’s Fine Candies offers sweet treats, and Heritage Goods and Supply has great home decor.

For dining, start your day with a fresh brew from Lucky Llama Coffee House, enjoy a classic burger from The Spot, indulge in a happy hour at Sunburst Wine Bar, and cap the evening at Siam Elephant Thai Restaurant on the cozy outdoor patio.

The campgrounds in Carpinteria are very popular. While hotel options are limited, Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn is comfortable, and Summer Lillie is a beautiful ocean-view vacation rental in neighboring Summerland. 

Recommended by Jenifer of The Evolista

Best Beaches in California – Northern California

16. Gold Bluffs Beach, Redwood National and State Parks

Two Roosevelt elk in a lush green forest in Northern California

Gold Bluffs Beach, in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park along the northern California coastline, is a stunning ten-mile stretch of waterfront surrounded by lush coastal forests and rugged cliffs and offers absolutely epic sunsets. 

Gold Bluffs Beach is primarily known for its first-come, first-serve campground, which is less than 200 yards from the water and offers nice sites with fire pits and bear-proof storage. One of the best parts of camping here is that you’ll get to partake in incredible stargazing —given Prairie Creek’s remoteness, light pollution is quite limited here, so you can enjoy the spectacular night sky.

While Gold Bluffs Beach is remote, there’s still quite a bit to do nearby. For example, this is one of the best places in northern California to spot Roosevelt elk, the largest elk species in North America. You’ll also be right near the Fern Canyon Trail, one of the best hikes in the redwoods that traverses a dramatic canyon whose walls are dripping with lush ferns. It looks so prehistoric, in fact, that it was used as a filming location in Jurassic Park: A Lost World.

Even if you don’t camp here, each car is charged a $12 daily use fee to access Gold Bluffs Beach unless you have an America the Beautiful or similar interagency pass for the U.S. National Parks. During your visit, consider a stay at View Crest Lodge in the nearby charming town of Trinidad. This hotel offers a series of cozy cabins with stunning ocean views.

Recommended by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler

17. Santa Cruz Beach, Santa Cruz

A colorful boardwalk on a beach in California with roller coasters and amusement park rides

Santa Cruz Beach is an absolute blast! The waves are gentle, and you can spend hours playing in the sand and water,

The iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a highlight. You can grab meals at classic boardwalk spots like Marini’s or upscale seafood at places like Jack O’Neill Restaurant right on the water. The boardwalk also has quirky shops selling beach gear, souvenirs, and more. But the real draw is the huge amusement park. You can go on all the rides, play carnival games, and soak up the lively atmosphere.

Having a rental car also makes it easy to venture into downtown Santa Cruz and explore the historic neighborhoods lined with homes, quirky vintage signs, and eclectic boutiques like Crossroads Trading and Berdel’s.

Santa Cruz has such a laid-back, beachy vibe but still offers plenty to do. It is the perfect family-friendly getaway. The whole trip has the warm, nostalgic feeling of those small lakeside towns, like the beaches in Union Pier, Michigan, but with the added excitement of the boardwalk amusement park.

Recommended by Tanya of Travels & Treasures

18. Muir Beach, Muir Woods National Monument

A golden sand beach with bright blue waves and green trees and houses overlooking the beach.

Muir Beach, nestled along the rugged coastline of Northern California, is a picturesque haven for beachgoers seeking tranquility and natural beauty. Renowned as one of the best beaches near Sacramento, Muir Beach captivates visitors with its pristine sands, rolling waves, and breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Muir Beach offers many activities, from strolls along the shoreline to invigorating hikes through the adjacent Muir Woods National Monument. Surfing, picnicking, and birdwatching are popular pastimes, while the nearby Muir Beach Overlook provides a stunning vantage point for whale watching during migration seasons.

After a day of seaside adventures, visitors can explore the charming coastal town of Stinson Beach, just a short drive away, known for its eclectic shops and seafood eateries. Notable landmarks such as the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Golden Gate Bridge are within reach for those craving further exploration.

For accommodations, the luxurious Pelican Inn offers a quintessential coastal retreat near Muir Beach. Nestled amidst lush gardens and adorned with English Tudor architecture, this historic inn provides a cozy ambiance and top-notch amenities for a memorable stay.

Whether basking in the sun, indulging in coastal cuisine, or immersing oneself in nature’s wonders, Muir Beach promises an unforgettable seaside escape for all who venture to its shores.

Recommended by Trijit of Cheap Travel Trail

19. Baker Beach, San Francisco

The red Golden Gate Bridge stretches over the sand and water at Baker Beach in San Francisco

While there are a handful of beaches in San Francisco, Baker Beach is the one you must visit if you only have one to pick. Baker Beach is where the Bay meets the Pacific Ocean, and it’s famous for its picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlines. Since San Francisco has unpredictable weather, so you must bring layers to keep warm. You should also watch a live webcam to check weather conditions. That way, you can plan to visit Baker Beach on a beautiful sunny day.

Baker Beach is the perfect spot for families and couples. You’ll see groups of children making sandcastles with their parents. It’s also a romantic spot for a picnic lunch. On the streets, you can go on a go-kart tour and whiz through San Francisco’s most iconic spots, including Baker Beach.

A few blocks away, you can find different restaurants in the Richmond and Pacific Heights neighborhood that feature American, Mexican, Asian, and Italian cuisines. For a chic and cozy stay, check in at the Infinity Hotel San Francisco, just a few miles away from Baker Beach!

Recommended by Hannah of Hannah on the Horizon

FAQs –  Best California Beaches

What is the prettiest beach in California?

Many travelers consider the romantic sunsets in Malibu to make the beaches here some of the most beautiful in California, while other travelers think the picturesque coastlines in Big Sur are the most breathtaking. You’ll have to visit all the best California beaches to decide for yourself which is the prettiest!

Which California beach has the clearest water?

Many of the popular beaches in Southern California, like La Jolla Shores Beach and Coronado Central Beach, have the clearest, bluest water in California. In fact, the water at La Jolla Shores Beach is clear enough for snorkeling and scuba diving!

How many beaches are in California?

According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, there are 427 public beaches in California and 631 miles of beaches along the coast.

Explore the Beach California Beaches for an Epic Beach Vacation on the Coast of The Golden State

Is California on your travel bucket list? If so, there is no doubt you’ll have a memorable beach vacation when choosing from this list of the best California beaches. Whether you’re looking for a sunny, sandy beach where you can surf and sunbathe or a rugged beach that is ideal for camping and cozy beach bonfires, you’ll find all that (and more!) on the California coast.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Brit! I'm a writer from Phoenix, AZ who loves coffee, golden retriever puppies, and obviously, travel! I help ordinary women (like me!) dream, plan, and do extraordinary travel experiences.