Located in Malibu 28 miles north of Santa Monica on Pacific Coast Highway, Leo Carrillo State Park offers a beach that stretches for more than a mile, dotted with sea caves, tidepools and other beach-combing delights. The park is named after the actor and preservationist who served on the California Beach and Parks Commission for 18 years. A small visitor center offers interpretive displays, as well as guided nature walks and campfire programs. Picnic areas, campsites and RV facilities are also located in the park, so if you’re looking to set up shop for a while and enjoy the scene, this might be the perfect spot.
Depending on how hard you try, you might be able to find a more romantic experience in L.A., but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more romantic beach than El Matador. Located about 10 miles northwest of Malibu, this secluded pocket beach has rocky shores, robust waves and some of the clearest water in L.A. But don’t be deterred by the lack of facilities or the rugged path to the shore; once there, you’ll find that it’s the perfect place to enjoy a sunset dinner in one of the hidden coves.
When it’s time to get out the surfboard, apply a new coat of wax and zip on the wetsuit; there’s no better place to be than Surfrider Beach in Malibu. As the waves roll in and begin to curl near the shore, surfers paddle furiously to catch those perfect waves of ocean bliss. You don’t have to be an experienced surfer to appreciate the act of surfing, the cool vibe at the beach or the toned bodies of the surfers. In fact, sometimes it’s better to just be a spectator when the crowds get hectic and you’re fighting to catch a wave.
Located just north of the historic Santa Monica Pier, this is one of the most popular beaches in L.A. At two miles long, Santa Monica Beach seems to go on forever and offers plenty of space to stretch the legs, set up for a game of volleyball, or go for a bike ride. Bring the sunscreen, a little cash for parking and a beach towel or blanket. Let the sun, sand and surf do the rest.
Venice Beach is one place where it’s almost as much about the people as it is about the surf or the sand. In fact, the world famous Ocean Front Walk often upstages the Pacific Ocean. As you’re strolling the boardwalk, keep an eye out for Harry Perry, the turbaned guitar player on roller blades who has appeared in numerous films and TV shows. This is also the place to see bodybuilders, chainsaw jugglers and a full complement of palm readers, folk artists and other colorful characters.
At Manhattan Beach, it’s all beautiful people, shiny cars, big sunglasses and little lap dogs. But that’s in the trendy area of town next to the shore, where scenes from many television shows have been filmed. On the sand, you’ll find beach volleyball at courts that seem to go on for miles, and bodysurfing near the pier. Check out the aquarium at the end of the pier, with its interesting sea creatures and touch pool. When it comes to getting in the water, you should know that surfing is limited to the south side of the pier and boogie boarding is confined to the water north of the pier. Swimming is prohibited in the areas immediately adjacent to the pier.
There’s a certain hipster vibe at Hermosa Beach and its surrounding seaside community that you won’t find at other L.A. beaches. You’re just as likely to see people shopping and relaxing in outdoor cafes as you are the tanned and toned beach gods and goddesses that frequent the sandy shoreline. Pier Plaza is the place to hang out when you’d rather skip the sunscreen and beach towels. Once you’re on the shore, a pristine expanse of sand awaits, with volleyball nets, plenty of space for sunbathing and sandcastle building, and a paved walkway for strolling or biking.
Popular among travelers and locals hitting the beach with kids in tow, Cabrillo Beach is a tranquil setting near San Pedro, with everything you need for the perfect family outing. Located on a thin peninsula near Point Fermin Park, the beach actually has two sides — one outside the breakwater that’s open to the surf, and one that’s open to the harbor. Depending on the activity, you can select either side and enjoy some adventure or some well-deserved relaxation. After you’re finished with the beach, head to the nearby Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and enjoy the interactive exhibits, tidepool touch tanks and other unforgettable attractions.