A group of young men and women surround a Ford Mustang convertible, circa mid-1960s.Tom Kelley/Getty Images
Beachgoers sit around a bonfire in San Onofre. July 1950.Loomis Dean/Getty Images
A couple enjoys some privacy as they embrace in a hole in the sand on a beach in Santa Monica. July 4, 1950.Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A hippie couple looks out to sea. 1967.Lynn Pelham/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
The Beach Boys pose for a portrait with a vintage station wagon on the beach in Los Angeles. August 1962.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Actress Elaine Stewart poses as she washes her hair at the beach in Los Angeles. 1957.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
View of parents sitting inside a beach cave while watching their daughter in their red Mercury Monterey convertible. 1959.Tom Kelley/Getty Images
Actress Elizabeth Taylor poses for a portrait session on the beach in Malibu. July 4, 1956.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Bikini-clad girls frolic in the surf. 1970. Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Students next to a Barris surf car, while wearing the latest fashion in Jantzen bathing suits. 1966.Tom Kelley/Getty Images
Atomic bomb shelter being built into the ground at a private home at Hermosa Beach. February 1951.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
American surfer Obert Rod stands on the beach, a cigarette in one hand and a mug in the other. July 1950.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Student Judd Grant rides a unicycle while balancing his friend, Carole Lee, on his shoulders in Santa Monica. 1956. Gene Lester/Getty Images
A working Volkswagen made out of white wrought iron sits on the beach in Los Angeles. October 29, 1969.Bettmann/Getty Images
A group of people on the beach throw balls into the air. Circa 1950. FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Image
Unidentified man in a diving mask as he holds a large lobster at the beach in San Onofre. July 1950.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A group rests under a beach umbrella in La Jolla. June, 1952. Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A group of young women in bikinis on a beach near Malibu. 1970.Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
An unidentified surfer plays a ukulele and wears a large straw hat in San Onofre. July 1950.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
American surfer Robert Gravage stands on the beach in San Onofre. July 1950. Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A young woman in a bikini eats a Butterfinger as she sunbathes on a beach near Malibu. 1970.Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Girls walk on the beach in Santa Monica. 1965.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Actress Natalie Wood dances with actor Hugh O'Brian during the Thalians Beach Ball in Malibu. July 15, 1956.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
DeForrest Most, supervisor of the Muscle Beach area for Santa Monica Parks, flexes his muscles. 1956. Gene Lester/Getty Images
Model Joy Niven poses at the beach in Los Angeles. September 3, 1954.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A bodybuilder on the beach in San Francisco contemplates his quart of Bordens milk. Circa 1953.Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Beachgoers have a picnic in San Onofre. July 1950. Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Beach bum Obert Rod and his girlfriend at the beach in San Onofre. July 1950. Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A surfer plays guitar to a woman next to a grass hut on the beach in San Onofre. July 1950.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Surfer Warren Miller gets his hair cut by friend Myra Roche. July 1950.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A young woman sits on the sand beside her car as she cooks over a campfire near Pismo Beach. April 1969. Garth Eliassen/Getty Images
A trio of unidentified models in various beachwear at Surfrider Beach in Malibu. January 1966.Susan Wood/Getty Images
Surfboards rest against a thatched hut built by "beach bums." July 1950.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
California is arguably the birthplace of surfing culture, which has always been one of the chief engines of beach culture as a whole.
In 1950, photographer Loomis Dean tracked a group of California's newly emerging subculture of "beach bums" at San Onofre Beach for LIFE magazine, which later reported the following:
On the beach the bums spend every minute they can surfboarding, sunning, guzzling beer, making friends with people who come down to be weekend beach bums. By taking jobs nearby as packers, lifeguards, bartenders, they earn just enough to fill their cups and stomachs and gas tanks of the trucks in which they live and sleep.
The beach bum subculture only grew from there. In 1961, 100 miles northeast of San Onofre, Malibu Point was renamed Surfrider Beach. And retail sales of surfing-related goods grew like a killer wave, slowly, from $70 million in 1960 to $200 million in 1970.
Meanwhile, the Beach Boys forged their sound under the heat of this scene, even though only one of the five founding members actually even surfed. And in 1966, Tom Wolfe wrote the following about surf culture in La Jolla, 150 miles south of the "surfriders" of Malibu:
Pretty soon the California littoral will be littered with these guys, stroked out on the beach like beached white whales, and girls too, who can't give up the mystique, the mysterioso mystique, Oh Mighty Hulking Sea, who can't conceive of living any other life.
The gallery above captures glimpses of California surf and beach culture from this time, photos of beach bums, athletes, celebrities, tourists, and natives not conceiving of living any other life.
Next, check out the world's most beautiful beaches. Then, explore Hawaii's hidden beaches.