WHERE TO FIND A PUBLIC RESTROOM IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Sep 24, 2023California, North America, Travel Advice, USA2 comments

A post about where to find a public restroom? You may wonder what that is all about.

But let’s face it – there is nothing more unpleasant than needing the bathroom when out and about and having no idea where to find one.

Have you ever noticed that any organized tour you are on seems to consist mainly of breaks for bathroom and snacks?

Annoying as it can be, the reason for this is that tour operators know that nothing will spoil a trip more than having to go when you can’t.

This cute white clapboard building on the San Clemente pier houses a public restroom

Are there public restrooms in Southern California?

Yes, of course but they may not always be easy to find, especially if you are from outside the US.

Every country is different – in some public restrooms are easy to find, in others not so much. The US has very few official public restrooms – most pay-to-use-restrooms were closed up in the 1970s.

If you are not from the US you may not even be aware of the best places to find public restrooms. In my home country for example grocery stores do not generally offer their bathrooms to the public but in the US this is often the case.

I try to include information about public restrooms in my posts whenever I can. But the world – and even Southern California – is big and of course I can’t name every bathroom in the state.

So I decided to write this post with general information that will help you find a nearby restroom wherever you are.

Many (or most) of these tips will apply anywhere in the US but I have decided to focus on Southern California as this is where I have lived and where I visited most recently.

There may be regional variations I am not aware of. I haven’t been to Alaska, Louisiana, and a bunch of other states yet so can’t really comment on the restroom situation there.

But if YOU do have experience with looking for public restrooms in other parts of the country (or if I forgot something about California) I would LOVE your input!

Your best bets to find a public restroom in Southern California

And here we go – my best tips for finding a bathroom when out and about in California:

Starbucks at San Clemente Outlet Center

1. Starbucks

In 2018 Starbucks was involved in a publicity nightmare when they had two Black men arrested just because they were in a Starbucks without actively buying anything.

As a reaction Starbucks promised to be a third place (a place other than home and work at which people can congregate and feel at home). This included an open bathroom policy.

However, things have changed and recently Starbucks has moved away somewhat from its earlier promise. You can read more about this in this article in the Guardian.

But no matter the actual current rule: Starbucks is likely to be one of your best options to find a clean public bathroom while touring.

In a pinch you could always buy a small drink if you desperately need a bathroom. But of course slurping down a large coffee probably will mean that you will soon be again in search of a restroom!

This cute white clapboard building on the San Clemente pier houses a public restroom

2. Public restroom facilities at the beach

California is known for its many beaches and if you are there as a tourist there is a good chance you won’t be too far from the beach.

That’s good news for your search for a public restroom: Many/most Southern California beaches offer restroom facilities, including showers and toilets.

During my recent trip I saw and used beach restrooms in Solana Beach, San Clemente, Santa Monica, and a bunch of other beach towns.

Now to be honest these are not the most pleasant bathrooms you will ever find – generally they are very basic with metal toilets and sometimes you will have to make do with portaloos.

But I have found them to be usually in fairly decent shape. And while not exactly pleasant, they are better than nothing in a pinch.

The one story building of the San Clemente Public Library with its clock-tower resembles a Mexican church. Inside you will find a public restroom.

3. Restrooms in Public Libraries

One of your best option for a clean restroom is in the nearest public library. These offer the added benefit that you can spend a couple minutes browsing the books there. And who doesn’t love a library!

The biggest disadvantage is that there aren’t that many public libraries (though they are often centrally located) and that the opening times are limited.

But if you find an open library during your bathroom search you are good to go.

Food courts in malls generally have public restrooms for their customers

4. Public restrooms in shopping malls

Shopping malls also are a great option for public toilets. You will almost always find them close to the food court.

Anchor stores (like Neiman Marcus or Macys) often have their own bathrooms for customers as well and these can be quite spiffy.

This plain building made of wooden boards at the entrance of Old Town San Diego houses restrooms

5. Public restrooms in State Parks

Similar to beaches, state parks, like Old Town San Diego, usually have some sort of public restroom. These can be just portaloos or actual bathrooms depending on where you are at.

Unfortunately, these tend to not be the cleanest/fanciest but again – you gotta do what you have to do.

6. Public restrooms in drugstores like CVS

Drugstores like CVS are a great option when looking for a bathroom. There are loads of drugstores around and even if these are intended for customers only it is easy to buy something inexpensive.

Now, I am not sure every drugstore offers bathrooms for customers but it is fairly common. So always good to check.

Cute Halloween costumes for dogs in a Marshalls Store

7. In strip malls, retailers like Marshalls or TJ Maxx are a good choice

Some strip malls have dedicated public restrooms for customers but if not discount stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls often offer bathrooms.

In my experience these are usually well kept and an excellent choice. Of course I also love browsing in these stores so any excuse to visit one is good with me.

8. Public restrooms in grocery stores like Wholefoods

Another surprising option for me – German grocery stores do not usually offer public restrooms.

But they are quite common in California. Especially Wholefoods usually has a bathroom customers can use.

Inside the low black and yellow building shaded by trees next to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum you will find public restrooms

8. Public restrooms in museums

Museums on the other hand are not a surprising restroom location. Almost every museum I have ever been to has had a restroom for visitors.

Now, museums can be expensive and you don’t want to shell out big bucks just to use the restroom. However, you will find a lot of free museums in Southern California like the Getty Museum, downtown LA’s Broad or the California Science Center (for some of them you do need to reserve ahead of time unfortunately).

Luckily, some museums have restrooms attached next to them, no ticket required. This is for example true for the La Brea Tar Pits as pictured above.

Conclusion

It can be tricky to find a public restroom when touring, especially in a foreign country.

However, in Southern California you can usually find a bathroom if you know where to look. 

The desperate need for a bathroom can really spoil an excursion so I hope my list is helpful for you!

Did I forget something? Is there a good restroom option I do not know about or just forgot to mention?

If so please let me know in the comments – the more ideas for public restrooms the better!

Dixie toilets and sinks at Torrey Pines

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!

2 Comments

  1. Becki

    Thanks for the list, we agree that finding a public restroom in SoCal can be difficult. This is why we made this map, check it out! bathrooms.sdsu.edu

    Reply
    • Kitty71

      What a helpful resource! I have definitely visited the one at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach as well as the one in the Del Mar library.

      Reply

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