Two sisters navigate the thrilling, euphoric early days of California surf culture in this dazzling saga of ambition, sacrifice, and the tangled ties between mothers and daughters from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife.

Domestic abuse, toxic relationships, abandonment.

Southern California, 1960s: endless sunny days surfing in Malibu, followed by glittering neon nights at Whisky a Go Go. In an era when women are expected to be housewives, Carol Donnelly breaks the mold as a legendary female surfer struggling to compete in a male-dominated sport—and her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, bear the weight of Carol’s unconventional lifestyle.

The Donnelly sisters grow up enduring their mother’s absence—physically, when she’s at the beach, and emotionally, the rare times she’s at home. To escape questions about Carol’s whereabouts—and to chase her elusive affection—they cut school to spend their days in the surf. From her first time on a board, Mindy is a natural, but Ginger, two years younger, feels out of place in the water.

As they grow up and their lives diverge, Mindy and Ginger’s relationship ebbs and flows. Mindy finds herself swept up in celebrity, complete with beachside love affairs, parties at the Playboy Club, and a USO tour in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ginger, desperate for a community of her own, is tugged into the dangerous counterculture of drugs and cults. But through it all, their sense of duty to each other survives, as the girls are forever connected by the emotional damage they carry from their unorthodox childhood.

A gripping, emotional story set at a time when mothers were expected to be Donna Reed, not Gidget, California Golden is an unforgettable novel about three women living in a society that was shifting as tempestuously as the breaking waves.

Don't just take our word for it...

“A shimmering rendering . . . pairs the surf culture of the Beach Boys with the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of Daisy Jones & The Six.”
– Entertainment Weekly (“Best Books of the Summer”)

“Benjamin vividly evokes the squalor and splendor of California surfing culture in this richly-textured novel that explores sisterhood, motherhood, ambition and friendship, with characters who rise alive from the page. It’s rare to find such raw, honest sympathy for human beings and their capacity for mistakes and redemption. California Golden is a breath of bracing salt air.”
– Beatriz Williams, author of A Hundred Summers

“California Golden left me breathless. Against the shimmering backdrop of California’s burgeoning surf culture, Melanie Benjamin explores the bonds of sisterhood and motherhood in an era where society, and its expectations of women, are ever changing. The Donnelly women, perfect in their imperfections, will stay with you long after the last page.”
– Shelby Van Pelt, author of Remarkably Bright Creatures

Taste the very first page


The surf giveth, and the surf taketh away—thus said the Surf God every morning, noon, and night in his church, which was the universe, the planet, California, the beach, the waves.
On this holy day, the surf would most definitely giveth.

The sand was cool and soft as sugar between her toes, the California sun tolerable, not blasting, because it was February. Yet the day was warm enough that the girls in their vibrant bikinis, and the guys in their board shorts, weren’t covered in goose pimples as they danced to the wailing electric guitars of Dick Dale and His Del-Tones— twisting, shimmying, hand jiving. One girl’s bikini was covered in long fringe that seemed to pulse with a life of its own as she gyrated so fiercely it was a wonder she didn’t snap her pelvis.

Mindy laughed at the sight, then turned to do a groovy little two- step with one of the hunky boys who’d gravitated into her orbit, for today she was the sun itself, radiating joy and contentment. She danced a little Watusi, a little Pony with a side of Mashed Potato. Raising her face to her fellow celestial being in a sisterly salute, she turned her back on the waves lapping the generous beach of Paradise Cove, tucked between tall sandy cliffs and a spindly wooden pier.

If the sand was sugar, then gumballs and peppermint drops dotted the sky in the form of beach balls. Surfboards stood like totems in the…