The Golden State is an ideal place to play this fast-growing paddle sport whether you are a newbie or savvy veteran.
There’s no question about it: Pickleball is booming across the nation, and it has become particularly popular in California thanks in large part to the state’s exceptional weather. More than 36 million people have picked up the sport nationwide, and as of press time California has nearly 3,600 courts, making it the state with the most courts in America. You can find pickleball courts and games nearly every day of the week, everywhere from San Diego to San Francisco and beyond. Pickleball is also a fantastic way to meet new people, even if you’re on vacation for a few days. This applies whether you’re in your 60s or in the growing group of younger people under 24 years old who have picked up the sport.
Everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to LeBron James have caught the bug, and the pastime is clearly having a moment. There are even pickleball conventions popping up. Whether you’re looking for the opportunity to practice your drop shot or cross-court dink, connect with other pickleball fans, or compete in some of the most beautiful locations in the country, playing pickleball in California is the right move.
The rules of pickleball are laid out by USA Pickleball, the national governing body in the sport, and they are the same no matter where you play. Pickleball is a paddle sport that blends other sports like tennis, badminton, and ping-pong into one fun-filled event. It’s played on smaller courts that are the same size as a doubles badminton court (20×44 feet), and it was originally invented on Bainbridge Island near Seattle in the 1960s.
Pickleball was started by three dads whose bored kids prompted the creation of the sport. The game was reportedly named after their dog Pickle who liked to chase the ball, though there are conflicting stories about why the game is called pickleball. The first known pickleball tournament took place in 1976, and by 1990 the sport was being played in all 50 states. The real boom in pickleball didn’t happen until 2019, and in 2020 it became a pandemic phenomenon that exploded in popularity.
The equipment you need to play is minimal: a pickleball racket, a pickleball (which is a plastic, whiffle-type ball), a net, and a place to play. Some locations offer tennis courts that have been divided into smaller pickleball courts, while other places have built completely new facilities to accommodate the tremendous boom in the sport. There are even national, professional-level tournaments put on by USA Pickleball.
The rules of pickleball are simple, and are the same whether in singles or doubles format. Players use solid paddles to hit the small, perforated ball over a net, and points are scored when someone fails to return the ball legally (if it hits the net or the ball is hit out of bounds) or commits a fault. The game begins with an underhand serve, and one player hits the ball diagonally to the opposite service court.
Public courts require you to bring your own net and gear, while clubs and luxury locations offer all the equipment you need. Most places require a reservation or booking, which allows you to get in on a scheduled game at a public location. For example, if you’re a solo player looking to get in on a local game at a public court, you can go to Pickleheads, which is run by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, create an account, and find a schedule of games and courts near you. You can also use the Global Pickleball Network to find locations and connect with other pickleball fans.
California is a great place to be a pickleball player thanks to its relatively mild year-round climate and the wealth of public green spaces, resorts, and hotels that have courts (and the fact that many of them are close to the Pacific Ocean doesn’t hurt). Many parks are available for pickleball games, and the following locations, listed from south to north, are some of the best.
The Hub San Diego has 26 dedicated pickleball courts in addition to a location in Silicon Valley, near San Jose. If you’re heading north from San Diego and need a pickleball stop in Encinitas, hit up one of the premier pickleball locations in the SoCal area: The Bobby Riggs Racket and Paddle Club. It has 22 outdoor courts with permanent lines. The Claremont Club in Claremont also offers everything from clinics to drop-in games and has eight courts, pros that can help up your game, and open play.
In Los Angeles, you can grab a game at the oceanfront South Bay Tennis Center in Torrance, which has 17 pickleball courts, or at the Santa Monica Pickleball Center, with its four outdoor, lighted courts. You can also get private lessons at the Beverly Hills Tennis Center and rub elbows with Hollywood’s rising stars.
No pickleball list is complete without naming a few places in San Luis Obispo, which, according to InPickleball Magazine, is home to the celebrated online store, Pacific Pickleball (which does not have a brick-and-mortar shop). InPickleball recommends that you hit up French Park’s seven pickleball courts when in town, and SLO Pickleball Club offers round-robin-style tournaments.
Just down the road from Paso Robles is a well-known and very well-regarded tennis and pickleball club called the Templeton Tennis Ranch. With eight lighted courts, nets, and amenities, it offers plenty of pickleball options. Nonmembers can drop in for a small fee to play.
There are tons of fantastic locations to play pickleball in Greater Palm Springs, many of which are located at some of the area’s famous resorts or in public parks. If you’re looking to get out of the heat and play indoors, check out the eight professional-grade indoor courts at the Pickled Bar in Palm Desert, where they offer everything you need to up your pickleball game—from clinics and pros to equipment and social events.
In Northern California, there are several great places to play pickleball, including Lifetime Activities, which has locations and courts as well as lessons and league play in places like Sunnyvale, Cupertino, San Francisco, Pleasanton, Santa Clara, and Walnut Creek. You can also play in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park at the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Tennis Center or at the indoor courts at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Courtesy Rancho Valencia
California hotels offer some of the best pickleball courts in the state. In San Diego County, be sure to check out pickleball offerings at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, where they have four courts nestled among orange groves and free access if you’re a guest. Omni La Costa in Carlsbad offers a weekly Pickleball 101 class as well as clinics and open play; Mission Bay Resort hosts San Diego Pickleball events; and the Fairmont Grand Del Mar has weekend pickleball clinics.
In West Hollywood, the Kimpton La Peer Hotel has a single pickleball court on the rooftop overlooking the city. On weekends it becomes a “Disco Court” where you can play, listen to a live DJ, and sip cocktails as the sun sets.
In Carmel Valley, you can dive into the sport at the stunning Carmel Valley Ranch, where they have all kinds of weekly and monthly pickleball events that offer options for a range of skill levels–from beginners to experienced players.
Further north, Silverado Resort in Napa Valley offers tennis and pickleball options in a beautiful location, as does Solage in Calistoga. The DoubleTree by Hilton in Sonoma just recently replaced a couple of its basketball courts with pickleball courts and offers access, and you can also play at luxury resorts The Ruse or the Montage in Healdsburg.