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Rising seas combined with battering storms necessitate swift action from local governments charged with protecting their jurisdictions and constituents. Currently, there is a wealth of scientific data and predictive modeling information available to city planners and decision-makers, but there has been limited success in proactive coastal adaptation planning and implementation “on the ground.” Furthermore, while many adaptation options for dealing with coastal changes have been identified, there remains a disconnect between many of these strategies and how they fit into an adaptation framework and long-term planning processes for specific areas, and how legally or politically feasible they are. Particularly, the potential legal hurdles and challenges to these strategies are often missing pieces of the coastal adaptation planning and implementation puzzle. This article addresses these deficiencies in several ways. First, it provides a background of the climate science necessitating proactive and reactive coastal adaptation. Next, it explains the importance of place-based coastal adaptation decision-making and how certain conditions limit or enable the feasibility of respective adaptation strategies in certain locations. The article then turns to the strategies, organized into the following categories: (1) legal and regulatory; (2) engineered; and (3) financial. Next, the article identifies and evaluates several representative adaptation strategies, providing real-world examples of them as well as legal hurdles to their implementation and their respective advantages and disadvantages. Finally, it combines the foregoing into a pragmatic framework for future decision-making. This article focuses on coastal adaptation in California with the aim to develop transferable lessons for broader contexts.

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