From shaking the sand out of your shoes to discovering local boutiques, Manhattan Beach is a mecca for surf, sun, and shopping. It has everything you would expect from a California beach scene: volleyball nets, a sunny pier, and surfers riding waves as soon as the sun rises. Only five miles from LAX Airport and about 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles, it's also conveniently located for exploring the area.
In Manhattan Beach, sand is the only thing between the surf and luxurious oceanfront homes. A paved walkway between the two provides an easy oceanfront route for pedestrians and bicyclists to check out the scene in this quintessential California beach town.
Hit the Beach
You can't talk about the best things to do in the town of Manhattan Beach without talking about the beach itself. The eponymous beach is two miles of Southern California coast, and even LA locals consider it to be one of the best beaches in the area. It does get crowded on summer days—just as most beaches around Los Angeles—but it's generally a less-crowded alternative to the more touristy options of Santa Monica or Venice beaches.
August and September see the best weather, since the beginning of summer is usually inflicted with June Gloom fog. However, California's climate is famously mild year-round, and it's not uncommon to see people on the beach on a sunny day in January.
Finding a parking spot in Manhattan Beach is never an easy task, especially on warm summer days when the city swells with visitors. If street parking is unavailable, try the paid city lots which are scattered around town.
Roll Down a 100-Foot Sand Dune
A giant sand dune in the middle of town would be considered a headache in most cities, but the residents of Manhattan Beach have turned this 100-foot beach hill into a city park. The 3-acre park includes a playground and shaded areas to enjoy a picnic, but the towering sand dune is the star attraction where you'll find kids of all ages tirelessly running up the switchbacks and sliding back down again. Once they finish, you're just a couple of blocks away from the beach to cool off.
To use the sand dune, a reservation is required for visitors 13 years or older in order to protect the dune from overcrowding. Reservations can be made online and the cost is no more than a few dollars, depending on if you're a Manhattan Beach resident or not.
Check out the Manhattan Beach Pier
The red-roofed, hexagonal-shaped building at the end makes the Manhattan Beach Pier one of the prettiest piers on the Santa Monica Bay. It's also home to a small but fun aquarium with touch tanks and local marine life on display.
Not surprisingly, given its good looks and location near Hollywood, the Manhattan Beach Pier has appeared in many films. Its cameos include the scene in "Point Break" where Keanu Reeves buys his surfboard, the final shot of "Falling Down" when Michael Douglas' character is reunited with his family, and in the 2004 film "Starsky and Hutch" when Starsky stretches underneath the pier.
You'll find the pier at the end of Manhattan Beach Boulevard. There are plenty of parking lots and curbside parking meters in the vicinity.
Take a Stroll on the Strand
Many people's favorite Manhattan Beach pleasure is a simple one. Walk down to the beachside sidewalk—commonly called The Strand—and take a stroll. You can walk for miles in either direction and never run out of things to see.
North of the pier, you'll walk along the Manhattan Beach waterfront. If you go south, it's about two miles to the Hermosa Beach Pier and downtown Hermosa Beach.
When you see the super-mansions along The Strand, it's not hard to believe that Fortune magazine rated Manhattan Beach one of the most expensive coastal towns in America. While the homes may be out of your budget, fortunately, walking and gawking at them is free.
Play Volleyball on the Beach
You'll find lots of volleyball nets on Manhattan Beach—nearly a hundred of them—and, on weekends, they're quite busy. In summer, beach volleyball tournaments take place in this area near the pier, including the Manhattan Beach Open, a professional event whose winners are honored with bronze plaques in the "Volleyball Walk of Fame" on the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Go Biking, Blading, Running or Skateboarding Beside the Sea
You'll see people biking, running, skating, walking, and using almost any other form of non-motorized locomotion you can think of in Manhattan Beach.
You'll find two separate oceanfront paths, one for the folks on wheels and another for the folks on foot. If you want to rent a bicycle to cruise Manhattan Beach, you'll find several rental shops in nearby Hermosa Beach.
Go Surfing (Or Just Watch)
It's common to find people surfing, boogie-boarding or paddle-surfing near the Manhattan Beach Pier. But it may not be the best place for beginners, with aggressive locals already fighting for a position in the water.
The annual International Surf Festival is held here and in the neighboring towns every summer. If you want to go surfing or learn how, head to the Nikau Kai Waterman Shop on Manhattan Avenue, where you can rent gear, sign up for a lesson, and pick up a super-cute souvenir T-shirt while you're there.
Check out a Manhattan Beach Walking Street
Walking streets are a charming bit of Manhattan Beach living. In the area sometimes called the Sand Section of town, houses face each other across a wide sidewalk, their garage entries banished to the alleys behind them. It makes for a charming look, especially when the homeowners dress their front yards up with lovely landscaping.
You can find some of these streets running between Manhattan Avenue and the beach, south of the pier.
If you're considering a vacation rental in Manhattan Beach and think this looks like fun, you're right. The magic words you'll see in the listing are "walk street" or "walking street," but not all such streets are close to the ocean. Check a map to be sure you know what you're getting.
Go Shopping (or Dining) in Downtown Manhattan Beach
When you want to get away from the water for a bite to eat, head to downtown for some local flavor (pun intended). Just a block uphill from the beach is a charming downtown with streets that are lined with local boutiques and restaurants.
In contrast to other beach towns in the area, Manhattan Beach has an urban vibe that's an excellent complement to the shore. Some local restaurant favorites include Nick's Manhattan Beach for Mediterranean cuisine or Fishing With Dynamite for seafood.
Watch a Manhattan Beach Sunset
In California, the sun always sets over the water, making for postcard-worthy sunsets virtually every day of the year. However, the most colorful sunsets are less frequent than you might think in the summer because the foggy air layer over the ocean swallows the sun's rays long before it reaches the horizon. You're more likely to catch a gorgeous sunset during the fall, winter, and early spring.