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What to Know about L.A.'s Beaches

Ocean Activities
What to Know about L.A.'s Beaches
L.A.'s bustling, bohemian beach life puts a premium on wellness and independence. Local bars and homegrown live music are also essential in fostering the strong sense of community that is central to the city's proud oceanside identity.
By Susan Mason, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Rene Mattes/agefotostock
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    Ocean Activities
    Ocean Activities
    The ocean is a calming force that beckons some to jump in and join the dolphins that frequent its waters. Temperatures are warmest in August and September, but wet suits are available to rent year-round. Take a surf lesson or rent a paddleboard to fully appreciate the SoCal spirit and connection to the waves. For a more passive yet still exhilarating way to enjoy the coast, parasail above the sea or join a sailing trip from Marina Del Rey.
    Photo by Rene Mattes/agefotostock
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    Fun in the Sun and Sand
    Fun in the Sun and Sand
    Take to the sand for a day of relaxation or activity in the sun. Lay out on the beach for a peaceful nap or catch up on some reading with the sounds of the ocean in the background. Be sure to try a bag of mango slices seasoned with chili powder and lime, which are sold by vendors threading their way through all the people soaking up the rays. Exercise with a community yoga class or make new friends at a pickup dodgeball game or volleyball match near the Santa Monica Pier. For the more adventurous, hang-gliding lessons are available off the dunes of Playa Del Rey. And, for a true California experience, join the drum circle as the sun sets on Venice Beach, or host a barbecue with friends and family at the bonfire rings of Dockweiler State Beach.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    Seafood by the Seaside
    Seafood by the Seaside
    The best seafood in L.A. is by the beach, as are some of the hottest bars. Fresh fish is served at an array of atmospheric establishments, from casual shacks like Malibu Seafood and Reel Inn to fancier eateries like Moonshadows and Geoffrey's. There's also Salt Air and Shima on chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard, as well as Sunny Spot, which serves its signature crispy Baja-style fish tacos most hours of the day. Venice's Chaya rounds out your choices with just-caught fish prepared in traditional Japanese style.
    Photo courtesy of Chaya
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    California's Colorful Sunsets
    California's Colorful Sunsets
    Nothing beats the bursting color of L.A.'s sunsets, especially when the endless ocean horizon is the backdrop. Claim a spot at a lifeguard stand on the sand, at the top of a building with a view, or at a roadside lookout spot along the cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway to take in the serene moment of the day's end. Watching the vibrant oranges, purples, and pinks fade into a pastel palette is a magical experience that changes every day and is always astounding. Hotel Erwin in Venice and Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica have two of the few roof bars with ocean vistas, and the two oversize Singing Beach Chairs—public artworks near the Santa Monica Pier—are a unique addition to the boardwalk and the beach.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    Beach Bars Gone Hollywood
    Beach Bars Gone Hollywood
    Santa Monica's Bungalow is the perfect laid-back beach bar, but it's not the only place to grab a drink just steps from the ocean. The Craftsman Bar & Kitchen, located just a couple blocks from the shores of Santa Monica Beach, is a cozy space with board games, a giant Jenga, and an insanely good happy-hour deal ($6 cocktails from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.). James' Beach, right off the Venice Boardwalk, is lively with a younger crowd on the weekends, and serves a mean mahi-mahi taco to boot.
    Photo by Brent Bolthouse
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    Sweet Bites by the Beach
    Sweet Bites by the Beach
    Nothing goes better with a hot L.A. day at the beach than an ice cream cone, and innovative, tasty options near the coast keep things fresh. Venice's Salt & Straw uses seasonal and local ingredients in unique flavor combinations—think avocado plus Oaxacan chocolate fudge, or black olive brittle plus goat cheese. If you're not interested in leaving your spot on the sand, you can still partake in frozen treats: Just wait for the inevitable roaming vendor selling ice cream truck classics out of a rolling cart.
    Photo courtesy of Salt & Straw
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    Beach Picnic Favorites
    Beach Picnic Favorites
    Sometimes—oftentimes—the weather on the coast is so perfect that it feels like a shame to leave, even for a bite to eat. Luckily, beach picnics are encouraged in L.A., and a certain amount of on-the-sand snacking is expected. Some veteran beachgoers bring their own tents, mini grills, and coolers full of frozen meats and sodas. But for the rest of us, there are places like Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, a mere 20-minute walk from the shore. The gourmet-food market doubles as a local haunt for lunch thanks to its freshly made sandwiches and breads. In-N-Out Burger is a classic California experience, and one is conveniently located between Venice and Marina del Rey to help you get a fix of beach burgers and fries.
    Photo by Jason Zollan
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    Simple Pleasures in the South Bay
    Simple Pleasures in the South Bay
    The main beaches of the South Bay—Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan—are an authentic alternative to the ever hip and crowded Venice and Santa Monica. Pretenses of the city hold no sway here. Dive bars mix with delicious dining destinations, and a laid-back vibe permeates the atmosphere. Enjoy live music on the Redondo Beach Pier, browse for surf-style classics like board shorts and bikinis, or even pick up a board and hit the waves. Surfing lessons from locals are the best bet for beginners—and a fantastic way to learn more about the area's culture and community firsthand. It's all easily accessible thanks to the Pacific Coast Highway, which is a stunning drive to make in the evening as the sun sets.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Peaceful and Private in Malibu
    Peaceful and Private in Malibu
    The beaches of affluent Malibu are more pristine than their urban counterparts. Public pathways here lead to sandy stretches in front of private coastal homes, but all-public beaches like Point Dume and Zuma Beach often feel just as secluded. Surfrider Beach and Topanga State Park boast some of the best surf breaks in California, and the mountains of Malibu offer beloved hiking trails. Start your day at the shore and end it by driving inland to Malibu Wines, known for its sunny outdoor seats and well-priced tastings.
    Photo courtesy of Discover Los Angeles