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The 10 Best Lakes in Southern California

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A Cook, Software analyst & Blogger.

Best Lakes in Southern California: Southern California features lush natural beauty with diverse landscapes and several natural attractions that draw many tourists to soak in its magnificent surroundings.

The region is most popular for its numerous picturesque lakes.

Whether you are looking for a fun getaway, a thrilling experience, or a relaxing picnic, the lakes in this region won’t disappoint.

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Wondering where to begin?

We’ve got you covered with our list of the best lakes in Southern California: –

Lake Tahoe #1

North America’s largest alpine lake featuring dazzling blue waters in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is one of the most picturesque lakes in the country.

Located on the lake’s Emerald Bay is Emerald Bay State Park, one of California’s best state parks that offers a tranquil escape into nature.

Best Lakes in Southern California

There is no dearth of recreational activities to enjoy here, from helicopter tours to kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, parasailing, and hiking. You can also go swimming on Sand Harbor Beach.

Love hiking?

The 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail circles the lake.

Wish to spend the night?

There are cabins, campgrounds, and luxurious accommodations in the area.

You can even find some exciting nightlife and entertainment options nearby. With so much to offer, it is one of the best lakes in California.

Lake Shasta #2

Located in the Shasta Cascade region of north-eastern California, this lake is the largest reservoir in California.

There is an array of outdoor recreational activities to enjoy here, from fishing, wakeboarding, water-skiing, and boating, to hiking along the trails and soaking in the fascinating views of the Shasta Dam.

One of the must-have experiences is to explore The Lake Shasta Caverns which are accessible by motorized boats.

Best Lakes in Southern California

Keep your eyes peeled for the majestic bald eagles in these fascinating structures.

When hunger strikes, head to the numerous restaurants, bars, and pubs in the surrounding area. 

Big Bear Lake #3

Looking for a fun weekend getaway?

Head to Big Bear Lake.

Fascinating pine forests, beautiful scenery, and endless recreation opportunities abound here. Nestled in the San Bernardino mountains, the lake is known for different kinds of boating.

Best Lakes in Southern California

You can get pontoon boats and stand-up paddleboards on rent from the numerous marinas here.

Seeking something different?

There are many other water sports to enjoy here as well including water skiing, swimming, and fishing. Wish to explore the surrounding area? The Cougar Crest Trail offers scenic hikes.

You can also go mountain biking for a thrilling experience. If you’re a history buff, board the historic Miss Liberty Skipperliner for a 90-minute guided tour of Big Bear Lake’s history.

Lake Elsinore #4

Lake Elsinore, known as a “wakeboarder’s paradise” is Southern California’s largest natural freshwater lake.

There is no shortage of recreational activities here, including swimming, scuba diving, windsurfing, golfing, motocross racing, skateboarding, boating, and fishing.

Visiting with family?

There are numerous picnic areas here, perfect for a fun family outing.

Best Lakes in Southern California

Its public beach area is open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., allowing visitors ample time to enjoy its offerings. 

When hunger strikes, head to Vincenzo’s Olive Tree, to dig into a variety of Italian delicacies.

Wish to spend the night?

Rent tents or RVs and wake up to spectacular views of the Ortega Mountains and Cleveland National Forest.

With so much to offer, it is one of the best lakes in Southern California.

Lake Arrowhead #5

This beautiful lake is nestled between Silverwood Lake and Big Bear Lake, with a stunning forest backdrop.

Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, also known as the “Alps of Southern California,” the lake offers a host of outdoor recreation activities.

From hiking, water skiing, biking, fishing, and camping, there is something here for everyone.

Interested in knowing more about the place?

Hop on Lake Arrowhead Queen Tour Boat for a guided tour. 

While you’re there, make sure you check out the Lake Arrowhead Village which features many dining and shopping options. 

What’s more? Various events are held here throughout the year, adding to its lively entertainment scene.

You can also find many lavish accommodation options for a relaxing retreat amidst lush natural surroundings. 

Lake Gregory #6

Looking for an excellent spot for an adventurous trip?

Lake Gregory is the perfect setting for it.

Located in Crestline, between Silverwood Lake and Lake Arrowhead, the lake has a lot to offer to solo travellers and families alike.

There are various playgrounds, skate parks, sports facilities, and barbeque pits here. From hiking, boating, and camping, to fishing, and swimming, there is a plethora of activities to enjoy here for a fun outing.

What else?

You can enjoy grand celebrations on the Fourth of July with fireworks and various other fun events that are held here throughout the year.

Best Lakes in Southern California

When hunger strikes, head to Cove Cafe for some delectable fare.

The only catch here is that parking and equipment rental can be expensive. But if that isn’t an issue, go for it.

Silverwood Lake #7

Only 90 miles from Los Angeles, in the San Bernardino Mountains lies this impressive reservoir.

It abounds in recreational activities such as water-skiing, hiking, swimming, fishing, and birding.

Best Lakes in Southern California

You can also enjoy hiking and biking on the 13-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail in the northern section of the lake.

If you love birding, you can find many beautiful bald eagles here.

Want to camp at night?

The Mesa Campground has over 130 campsites for tents and RVs for visitors to spend some more time in such magnificent surroundings.

What’s more?

There are numerous cafes and restaurants here. 

Lake Cachuma #8

Surrounded by the picturesque Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains, Lake Cachuma is perfect for a relaxing vacation amidst the great outdoors.

There are numerous picnic areas, campgrounds, and cabin rentals here.

Best Lakes in Southern California

Couple that with a plethora of outdoor recreational activities like boating and kayaking. Even though you can’t swim in the lake, there are numerous swimming pools in the area. You can also hike the Cachuma Sweetwater Trail or fish for trout. 

Visiting with a large group?

Rent a lake house for a comfortable and memorable experience.  

Lake Perris #9

In the Inland Empire of Southern California, just 65 miles east of Los Angeles, lies this large reservoir.

Best Lakes in Southern California

There are plenty of outdoor recreational activities to enjoy in the Lake and the Lake Perris State Recreational Area such as boating, jet skiing, swimming, and fishing to hiking, biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.

During summer, it’s better to get pre-launch permits for boating since the lake has a limited capacity.

If you feel like spending a day is not enough here, there are numerous campsites accommodating tents and RVs.

Castaic Lake #10

Nestled on the fringes of Angeles National Forest and just one hour’s drive from Los Angeles, lies this stunning state’s largest reservoir.

From non-power boating or jet skiing on Upper Lake to kayaking on Lower Lake, there is no dearth of recreational activities to enjoy here.

Best Lakes in Southern California

You can also go hiking, picnicking, and horseback riding.

Love to fish?

The lake abounds in bass, trout, and catfish.

Carry your own food here since you may not find a lot of eateries. If you’re a birding enthusiast, bring your binoculars along since it’s a popular spot for it. 

So, begin with the one that attracts you the most and get ready for a memorable getaway amidst stunning natural surroundings. 

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Q. What is the best lake to visit in California?

Lake Tahoe and Lake Shasta are two of the best lakes to visit in California.

Q. Which lake in California has the best swimming?

Shasta Lake is considered the best lake for swimming in California.

Q. What is the most unique lake in California?

Located near the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake is the most unique lake in California, formed over a million years ago. 

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