L.A.’s Beach Towns
You and your friends have plenty in common, yet you each bring something unique to the party. That’s the way it is with California’s 100+ beaches—they’re all beautiful, they all share the sunshine, surf, and sand, and each has its own unique personality.
With 75 miles of coastline in Los Angeles alone, there’s a beach nearby for everyone. Maybe you’re the sporty type. Maybe you’re partial to the wonders of nature. Or maybe you just want a quiet place to sunbathe. Family-friendly? We’ve got that. Singles? Couples? Check and check.
So how do you know which one’s for you? Only you can make that decision, but we may be able to help you customize your own personal Endless Summer.
Sun and Sand
Speaking of Endless Summer, the Beach Boys used to hang out at Manhattan Beach, and they know a thing or two about sun and sand. There’s also something about Escondido and Playa del Rey Beach that attracts sunbathers like seagulls to a picnic. But visitors to Zuma Beach in Malibu are greeted with wide, open stretches of pristine sand, making it a paradise for sun worshippers and surfside strollers—and one of L.A.’s most popular beaches. Swimmers may want to think twice about plunging in, though: Zuma’s strong currents and waves are notoriously gnarly (more about that later). When you’ve reached your daily intake of sun, you can cool down in a shower and take respite in the shade of a concession stand.
Those surf-worshipping Beach Boys found plenty of inspiration at Manhattan Beach, and brave insiders love tackling the intimidating waves at Lunada Bay. But SurferToday calls Malibu Beach, a.k.a. Surfrider Beach, “a true longboarder’s heaven” and declares Venice Beach “a classic Californian surf break.” The unusual topography of El Porto makes for massive wave action (underwater canyon + sandbars = whoa!). The tamer conditions at Topanga Beach and Zuma (see above) may be a better choice for beginners looking to get their feet wet, so to speak. Hang ten, dude!
The ultimate beach experience on two wheels—or on two legs, for that matter–is the Strand, a 22-mile path along the coast stretching from Will Rogers State Beach, north of Santa Monica, to Torrance County Beach in Torrance. The flat, user-friendly bike/walking/jogging trail is accessible to all the beaches; just hop on and off as you like. There are lots of bike rental places along the way, especially around Santa Monica.
In Santa Monica, the aforementioned Strand (see biking) covers nearly 3.5 miles of coastline with a straight and easily walkable shot to Venice. Then there’s Santa Monica Pier. Okay, so it’s not an idyllic walk in the warm, soft sands, but this is the closest thing to a Coney Island experience you’ll see west of Brooklyn, so just roll with it. An amusement park, penny arcade, trapeze school, carousel, and aquarium, plus free walking tours and more will all vie for your attention. Of course, there are also tons of food and shopping options.
People not your thing? Get your canine fix at Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach, the only off-leash dog beach in L.A. County, where you can squeal at the sight of frolicking pups who can’t believe they have four acres of freedom. North Beach at Leo Carrillo State Park is a good alternative for those who like their furry friends to be a bit less out of control. Designated doggie zones indicate where the pooches are allowed to romp (as long as their people are on a leash).
Imagine a front-row view of the sun while practicing your Sun Salutation. At Santa Monica Beach, Beach Yoga with Brad offers drop-in classes right at the water’s edge all year long. The fresh Pacific breeze and soft sands add an extra layer of karmic inspiration to this seaside studio. Let Brad guide you through your morning moves every weekend or help you find your Zen—complete with spectacular sunset view—most weeknights. Bring your own towel or yoga mat.
This night-time beach ritual isn’t allowed (read: legal) in many places, but Dockweiler State Beach, with more than 70 fire pits, actually smiles on it. There’s another dozen or so at Cabrillo Beach; best to get there early to stake out your claim. A bit further south, there are fire rings aplenty at Huntington Beach and Bolsa Chica Beach. Just grab one and get the party started!
Step into one of the hidden caves at El Matador State Beach in Malibu, and you can almost hear the theme to A Summer Place. The crashing waves, the dramatic rock formations, the tidal pools, the technicolor sunsets…Malibu’s secluded cliff-side beaches have “amour” (or perhaps “ooh-la-la”) written all over them. El Matador also happens to have one of the most photogenic beaches anywhere in the world. Not that your beloved has eyes for anyone but you.
Muscle Beach, the world’s most famous outdoor gym, was the springboard for America’s fitness craze. Athletes still converge here, although “here” actually refers to two different strongholds for getting physical. Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach is a gymnast’s playground equipped with parallel bars, chin-up bars, and rings. Muscle Beach Venice is all about exercise. There’s an outdoor weightlifting area where hardbodies can show off and spectators can ogle. Plus, there are indoor training facilities everywhere. Which to choose? You’ll have to work that out (sorry) for yourself.
On an online forum about Southern California living, a former Hermosa Beach resident posted: “Hermosa is full of singles on the make. They are younger, athletically inclined, and drunk (on craft beer) more often than not.” True, Hermosa’s nightlife can be a magnet for frat types, and yes, beach volleyball is a Thing here. It’s also one of the priciest towns in the area. In short: this is a place to meet young, affluent professionals.
Sorry. There’s no way around the fact that birthday suit bathing is prohibited in L.A. County. But remember those sheltered coves at El Matador? Well, not that we’re suggesting it in ANY way, but if you MUST skinny dip, you can find additional rocky alcoves—and thus more opportunities for privacy—at Matador’s neighboring Malibu beaches. So if there’s one corner of L.A. where you’re less likely to get arrested for indecency, this might be the place. We’ve got you covered.
Marine life has been in L.A. a lot longer than we have, and many species have been kind enough to stick around. For example, seals and sea lions love to hang out at King Harbor in Redondo Beach, and pelicans sometimes congregate at Marina del Ray. Sequit Point in Malibu’s Leo Carrillo State Park is a great place to find anemones, sea stars, and crabs (oh my!) at low tide. You might spy some whales at Zuma Beach during migration season (December to March), and Point Dume State Park may have some dolphin-spotting moments. Your best bet, however, for seeing these majestic ocean mammals is to go offshore with one of the Newport Beach tour operators who know just where to look. The one thing you probably don’t want to see at the beach is a shark. Just FYI, they’ve been known to make an appearance around the Newport Beach area. But sightings are very rare—and attacks are rarer still—so don’t let that stand in the way of fun in the Pacific playground.
There may not be much buried treasure in L.A., but you’ll find a decent haul of intact seashells, many of them tiny, and maybe an anemone or a sand dollar or two at Long Beach. Gorgeous wedge shells in every color of a California sunset are known to wash up on the shore at Redondo Beach, and while northern California is better for hunting sea glass, some jeweled-hued specimens do turn up on our beaches from time to time.
Beaches and kids are usually synonymous, which explains why nobody can agree on L.A.’s best family beach. Some swear by Manhattan Beach, where there’s an abundance of family-friendly amenities plus 50 beach volleyball nets. On the other hand, the aptly-named Mother’s Beach in Marina del Ray has calm waters, no tide, plenty of lifeguards, and a play area where your little pirates can climb aboard an “abandoned ship.” For a noisy but truly unusual beach day, wow them at Dockweiler Beach in El Segundo, less than two miles from LAX. What kid can resist the excitement of a plane soaring right overhead?