What to Know about L.A.'s Beaches

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What to Know about L.A.'s Beaches
LA's bustling, bohemian beach life puts a premium on wellness and independence. Local bars and homegrown live music are also essential to fostering the strong sense of community that is central to life at the beach.
By Susan Mason, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Susan Mason
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    Ocean Activities
    The ocean is a calming force that calls some to jump in and join the dolphins that frequent its waters. Temperatures are the warmest in August and September but wet suits are available to rent year round. Take a surf lesson or rent a paddleboard to more 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 Susan Mason
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    Beach Hopping along the Boardwalk
    The boardwalk and bike path from Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades to Torrance County Beach in Torrance is a 22-mile stretch of activity. Rent a bike, Segway, roller skates, or roller blades, and cruise as much of the coastline as you please. The Venice Boardwalk portion is packed with colorful characters, shops, and vendors, and is perfect for picking up a souvenir. Marvel at the strips of contemporary beach houses, like the one designed by Frank Gehry just north of the Venice Pier, and then stroll down the pier to watch surfers and enjoy the panoramic views.
    Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
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    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. Make sure to try a bag of sliced mango seasoned with chili powder and lime, sold by vendors threading their way through sunbathers. 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 Venice drum circle as the sun sets, or host a barbecue with friends and family at the bonfire rings of Dockweiler Beach.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    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 restaurants like Moonshadows and Geoffrey's Malibu. There's also Salt Air and Shima on the chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard, as well as Sunny Spot, which serves its signature crispy, baja-style fish tacos all day long. Venice's Chaya rounds out your choices with fresh fish prepared in traditional Japanese style.
    Photo courtesy of Gladstones
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    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, a rooftop with a view, or 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 Shangri-La in Santa Monica are two of the few rooftop bars with an ocean view, and the two oversized "Singing Beach Chairs" between Pico Boulevard and Santa Monica Pier are a unique alternative to lifeguard stands, the boardwalk, and the beach.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    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, located just a couple blocks from the shores of Santa Monica Beach, is a cozy space with board games, giant Jenga, and an insanely good happy hour deal ($6 cocktails from 5 till 8 p.m.). James' Beach, right off the Venice Boardwalk, is lively with a younger crowd on the weekends, and serves a mean fish taco to boot.
    Photo by Madeline Morehouse
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    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, local ingredients in unique flavor combinations—think avocado plus strawberry sherbert and black olive brittle with goat cheese—while Santa Monica's Stickhouse gives the Popsicle a modern twist. Strawberry, chocolate, and green tea gelato are just a few of the sticks for sale, but the best part is being able to dip your favorite in toppings like chocolate syrup, pistachios, coconut flakes, and more. 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 by Susan Mason
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    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 Deli, 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 is a classic and conveniently located between Venice and Marina del Rey for beach burgers and fries.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    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 Pier, shop for surf-style classics like board shorts and bikinis, or even pick up a board and hit the surf. Surf lessons from locals are the best bet for beginners—and the best way to learn more about the 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
    The beaches of affluent Malibu are more pristine than its urban counterparts. Public pathways lead to the private sandy beaches outside of oceanfront homes, but public beaches like Point Dume and Zuma Beach often feel just as secluded. Surfrider Beach and Topanga Canyon State Park have some of the best surfing breaks in California, and the mountains of Malibu have some of the best hiking trails. Start your day at the beach and end it by driving inland to Malibu Wines, known for its sunny outdoor seating and well-priced tastings.
    Photo by Kyle Sparks/age fotostock