In the South Bay, the cities of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach occupy an idyllic coastal stretch renowned for surfing, volleyball and expensive real estate. Farther south beckon the rugged bluffs of the Palos Verdes peninsula, and beyond them, the bustling waterfronts of San Pedro and Long Beach. Longing for a laid-back vibe? Scenic beaches? Premier shopping and dining? Outdoor adventure? You’ll find all of them and more.
Nineteen miles southwest of downtown, Manhattan Beach boasts two miles of beaches with sand so fine that developers from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu imported it in the 1920s. One of the more affluent cities in the county, Manhattan Beach is home to many professional athletes: You may spot an L.A. Kings player as you walk along the Strand, the pedestrian promenade sandwiched between multimillion-dollar homes and the beachfront bike trail. At the end of the 928-foot-long Manhattan Beach Pier, the Roundhouse Aquarium delights with touch tanks and terrifies with a lifesize great white shark replica. The pier features bronze plaques commemorating winners of the Manhattan Beach Open—the South Bay is die-hard beach volleyball country. It’s also a playground for water-sport enthusiasts, including boogie-boarders and surfers who congregate near the pier and at El Porto Beach. East of the pier, casual cafes, laid-back bars and upscale boutiques radiate from the intersection of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue. Metlox Plaza is a popular gathering spot, with such shops as Wright’s Baby and the Beehive and hot spots such as Zinc at the Shade Hotel.
Heading south on Manhattan Avenue brings you to Pier Avenue, the heart of Hermosa Beach. Hermosa shares many characteristics of Manhattan Beach, including a scenic two-mile stretch of beachfront punctuated by volleyball nets, fitness buffs weaving along the Strand (here merged with the bike path), and a pier studded with bronze plaques, this one commemorating surfing legends. Come late afternoon, the pedestrian plaza at Pier Avenue west of Hermosa Avenue becomes a different kind of South Bay scene, thanks to spillover from hopping bars and restaurants. Beyond Pier Plaza to the south, on Hermosa Avenue, Jay Leno draws crowds to the Comedy & Magic Club with Sunday night shows. To the plaza’s east, the ecofriendly cafe/boutique Gum Tree is a standout among the specialty shops and bistros that line Pier Avenue. Across the street, Becker’s carries surfboards and beachwear apropos for the town’s reigning pastimes.
The largest of L.A. County’s beach cities, Redondo Beach is home to the 1,457-seat Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center and a recreational waterfront featuring two miles of sandy beaches, the popular Redondo Beach Pier and King Harbor. Sepulveda Boulevard becomes Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) as it enters town; signs point west to King Harbor’s Redondo Beach Marina, one of four marinas in the harbor. Here, you’ll find businesses like Redondo Sportfishing offering recreational fishing excursions and whale-watching tours, while other local outfitters rent kayaks, paddle boats, bicycles and wave runners. South of the harbor, the historic Redondo Beach Pier has had its ups and downs, but it keeps rising from the ashes to attract locals and visitors to quick eats, amusements and souvenir shops. South of the pier, the gentle waves and somewhat narrow beach of Redondo State Beach draw crowds during the summer, while the bike path meanders by on its way to its terminus at Torrance State Beach . One block east of the beach, the Riviera Village shopping district has a small-town feel, with restaurants and specialty boutiques like Lisa Z. covering a six-block radius.
PAlos Verdes peninsula
Beyond Redondo Beach rises the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a rugged 26-square-mile area known for majestic bluffs that afford sweeping views of the Pacific and Santa Catalina Island. Hugging the coast on Palos Verdes Drive West brings you to Rancho Palos Verdes’ Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a marine museum and popular gray whale watching site during the annual northbound migration. Eight miles inland on Crenshaw Boulevard sprawls the 87-acre South Coast Botanic Garden in tony Palos Verdes Estates. Just beyond the interpretive center on Palos Verdes Drive West is the Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank. The impressive Swedenborgian “glass church” is a popular wedding venue.
Golfers, take note: The Mediterranean-style Terranea Resort, just south of the chapel, has a public nine-hole course. A couple of miles south, the 18-hole public golf course at Trump National Golf Club is top-ranked.
The multicultural city of San Pedro, on the southeastern side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, was once the largest commercial fishing port in the nation. Today, it’s home to the Port of Los Angeles, a major container port that also serves travelers on the Catalina Express and more than 1 million cruise passengers annually. From the port’s World Cruise Center, a vintage trolley takes visitors downtown to the waterfront restaurants and shops of the New England-style Ports O’ Call Village, and then to the marina, part of the Cabrillo Beach Recreational Complex. The complex includes a historic bathhouse and the Frank Gehry-designed Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, located next to Cabrillo Beach. Windsurfers of all abilities congregate here, with outfitters including Captain Kirk’s (525 N. Harbor Blvd.) offering rentals and lessons.
Covering 50 square miles in the southwest corner of L.A. County, Long Beach boasts a busy commercial port, an attraction-packed waterfront and more than five miles of beaches. Among its most popular draws is the 1,020-foot-long Queen Mary, an historic, supposedly haunted ship-turned-hotel, dining and shopping attraction permanently moored in Long Beach Harbor. Alongside it is the Cold War-era Russian Foxtrot Submarine.
The Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center and the Pike at Rainbow Harbor entertainment complex are nearby, as is the Aquarium of the Pacific and the family-friendly Shoreline Village. From the village, you can rent bicycles and follow the Shoreline Pedestrian bike path 3.1 miles along the water, passing the Long Beach Museum of Art. The path ends at the tony Belmont Shore neighborhood. Here you’ll find restaurants and shops along 2nd street, Bay Shore Beach, the Belmont Pier, windsurfing and kite-surfing lessons, and even gondola rides through the canals of Naples, a neighborhood situated on islands in Alamitos Bay.
Downtown, along 4th Street between Junipero and Cherry avenues, vintage furniture and clothing shops like the Vintage Collective make up funky “Retro Row.” In the emergent East Village Arts District, hip galleries and boutiques are sprouting where Linden Avenue meets Broadway, while farther east, an impressive collection of modern and contemporary works decks the walls of the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA).
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