Whether you’re into hang gliding or hanging ten, sifting through tide pools or sunning by the pool, there’s a stretch of L.A. County coast that’s built for your pleasure. From north to south, the action at L.A.’s best beaches.
BY SUZANNE ENNIS AND RILEY CARTER
MALIBU LAGOON STATE BEACH
THE VIBE Surf culture lives on. WHAT’S THERE Surfers in the know go south to Manhattan Beach or north to the sparkling waters of the ‘Bu, particularly the beach still called Surfrider Beach, where surf culture was popularized in the Gidget age of the 1950s and lives on. Instructors like Malibu Mike’s (310.600.6453) offer surfing classes, including stand-up paddle surfing, which has broad appeal: Seasoned surfers can catch more waves in a session, nature seekers can peer into the creature-filled depths, athletes can enjoy core exercise and beginners can enjoy stable rides on smooth water. There’s also bird-watching in the lagoon, or a trip to Malibu Lagoon Museum and Adamson House (23200 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310.456.8432).
SANTA MONICA STATE BEACH
THE VIBE Disneyland meets the beach. WHAT’S THERE The five-acre Annenberg Community Beach House (415 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310.458.4904), open to the public, features a restored guest house that’s open for docent-led tours, a pool, kids’ splash zone, public art exhibits, a playground, volleyball and beach tennis courts, and a cafe. And you can’t miss the storied Santa Monica Pier (200 Santa Monica Pier, 310.458.8900), with carnival rides including a solar-powered Ferris wheel, midway games and stands with an array of junk food. Waders and surfers are better off going elsewhere for clearer water and bigger breaks.
VENICE CITY BEACH
THE VIBE People-watcher’s paradise. WHAT’S THERE “The Playland of the Pacific” attracts some of L.A.’s most colorful denizens—bodybuilders, street performers, tattooed biker dudes and skateboarders among them. They’re best ogled at while you zip along Ocean Front Walk on a sweet beach cruiser, a bicycle built for two or pair of inline skates rented from Boardwalk Skates (2011/2 Ocean Front Walk, 310.450.6634), located on the north end of Venice Beach. The Marvin Braude Bikeway is near the shop, and you can cover the three miles of Venice Beach in about an hour by skate.
MARINA DEL REY
THE VIBE A taste of the good life. WHAT’S THERE Ritzy Marina del Rey is minus a proper sandy beach, but the marina—which is home to some 5,000 pleasure boats—offers some aquatic thrills. Sit-on-top kayaks from Marina del Rey’s UCLA Marina Aquatic Center (14001 Fiji Way, 310.823.0048) offer a safe, stable and thrilling way to get out on the water. Those who would rather observe on dry land can admire the decked-out pleasure boats in the harbor, bust out the binoculars to spy herons and marine life or cheer on participants in the occasional sailboat race.
DOCKWEILER STATE BEACH
THE VIBE S’mores, the Strand and more. WHAT’S THERE Get to Dockweiler, located in sleepy Playa del Rey, before 3 pm to reserve a fire ring for a toasty bonfire; it’s the only beach in L.A. that allows them. As you while away the hours until the sun goes down, you can enjoy the wide sandy beach, volleyball courts and even hang gliding. It’s not L.A.’s most scenic beach, but the Strand—which begins in Malibu and ends in Redondo Beach—never has much traffic in these parts, making seaside biking, cycling and blading all the easier.
THE VIBE A spiker’s delight. WHAT’S THERE Beach volleyball lovers will find no better place to hone their dig, set and spike than in Manhattan Beach. As you walk along Manhattan Beach Pier, you’ll see plaques commemorating winners of the Manhattan Beach Classic, aka the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball.” Grab a game of pickup or call a challenge at one of the 150 courts positioned north and south of the pier. Or you can soak up the sun on your beach chair while you watch the impressive players—amateur and professional—spike balls. Either way, you’ll soak in an integral part of South Bay culture.
THE VIBE Where the wild things are. WHAT’S THERE Cabrillo Beach’s grunion run might be done for this year, but there’s plenty more to see of the wildlife. The Frank Gehry-designed Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (3720 Steven M. White Drive, 310.548.7562) in San Pedro offers plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with sea stars, barnacles and snails. Check the aquarium’s schedule for weekend naturalist-led tide-pooling excursions through the park. A trail near the aquarium leads to Point Fermin State Park, whose plentiful tide pools offer creatures in their natural setting.
LONG BEACH/BELMONT SHORE
THE VIBE All kinds of cruising. WHAT’S THERE Something’s in the water in Long Beach, where locals are into all things boating, on crafts big and small. The Queen Mary (p. 86) is berthed in Long Beach, and open daily for tours; you can also check out the shops on board as well as its restaurant, Sir Winston’s. Beachgoers can be seen cutting through the water on kayaks and windsurfing boards, rented at vendors like Long Beach Windsurf Center (3850 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, 562.433.1014). And though the gondolas long ago left Venice Beach, you can take a romantic ride complete with striped-shirted gondolier through the canals of Naples Island, near Belmont Shore.
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