At first glance, Dockweiler State Beach looks a lot like other Los Angeles area beaches, but if you look again, you'll find that it has some unique characteristics.
It's the best place to have a beach bonfire in LA. It also has an oceanfront RV park, making one of the few places you can camp next to the beach in all of California. And how many beaches are directly beneath the takeoff flight path for a busy airport?
What to Expect at Dockweiler Beach
It's no surprise that Dockweiler Beach is noisy. Some people hate the airplane noise while others take it in stride. At the same time that hundreds of people are enjoying their bonfires while others are complaining about the smoke. But noise and smoke aside, Dockweiler Beach has some amazing, and very Californian, views.
While you're gazing out over Santa Monica Bay, you are facing west. That's why people flock to the beach just before sunset, to catch that last peach-and-vermillion-colored color in the sky. During the day, look south, and you may spy oil tankers bobbing up and down. They are docked offshore pumping crude oil to Chevron's El Segundo refinery, as they have done for almost a century.
If you turn your back on the ocean, and you'll get a glimpse of the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, which has been operating since 1894. If you're extraordinarily curious about what happens to everything that goes down the drain in LA, you can arrange to take a tour.
The barren clifftops across Vista Del Mar were once covered with expensive homes in a neighborhood called Surfridge. If you love to know about the history of the place you're in, you can read about the rise and fall of Surfridge at the Southbay website.
You might also catch a glimpse of a rare creature or two. The tiny, cute, and very endangered Western Snowy Plover likes to lay its eggs at Dockweiler. The sandy-colored birds sometimes hide in footprints and tire tracks in the sand and might fly up right in front of you. Their protected nesting site at Dockweiler is near lifeguard tower 47. Above the bluffs, you might see El Segundo blue butterflies, which have made their way back from near extinction thanks in part to the butterfly preserve nearby.
Things to Do at Dockweiler Beach
Play in the Water: You can definitely swim at Dockweiler Beach. That is if you can tolerate the water temperature, which ranges from the high 50s degrees Fahrenheit in winter to upper 60s in August. The water is clean and passes water quality tests at least 95 percent of the time. To get current and predicted conditions, you can zoom in on Dockweiler using the map at the LA County Public Health Department. Lifeguards are on duty seasonally during daylight hours.
Play on the Sand: You can find volleyball nets set up just south of the RV park, but bring your own balls. The wide, unobstructed stretch of sand is also perfect for throwing a frisbee, and you can make a sandcastle in the damp sand near the ocean's edge.
Go Sand Sledding: As winter approaches, LA County creates sand berms on the beach to protect against winter storms and rough surf. Those artificial dunes make a great place to go sand sledding. All you need is the cheapest, smoothest saucer you can find or a solid boogie board with a smooth plastic bottom.
Enjoy a Beach Bonfire: Dockweiler has about 40 fire pits, located between the RV park and the ocean. Anyone who has been there will tell you it's not enough to meet the demand—and you can't make a reservation. On an off-season weekday, you might find some of them still available in mid-afternoon, but on holiday weekends, you may need to be in line at the entrance before the sun rises to claim a spot. Each pit is big enough for about 10 people. If you can't get an entire pit to yourself, people are sometimes willing to share.
Explore the Coastline: Dockweiler has 3.7 miles of ocean frontage and a well-paved path that's perfect for biking, skating, or walking. In fact, you can travel on that path all the way north to Santa Monica or south to Redondo Beach.
Go Fishing: Dockweiler provides some excellent angling opportunities, but you will need a California fishing license. You can find a summary of the most commonly caught fish at the SC Surf Fishing website.
Go Hang Gliding: People have been hang gliding at Dockweiler since the 1960s. It provides excellent dune soaring for advanced pilots. If you're a novice, Windsports Hang Gliding offers lessons at Dockweiler, where you can learn to fly on 25-foot-high slopes and make a soft landing on the sand. The hang gliding area is at the south end of the Bluff parking lot.
Camping at Dockweiler State Beach
Dockweiler State Beach is LA's only beach campground, providing 118 spaces (RVs only) in a paved lot that is directly next to the sand. It has complete hook-ups, a pump-out station, hot showers, and a laundromat. Each campsite has a picnic table and barbecue.
Unlike other state parks, Dockweiler's sites are not reserved through ReserveCalifornia. Instead, make your RV reservations through LA County, which runs the beach.
- Dockweiler is technically a state beach, but LA County operates it. You can get details, current hours, and the like at their website.
- There is no entrance fee for Dockweiler Beach.
- No animals are allowed (except service animals).
- No alcohol is allowed.
- There is no natural shade anywhere at Dockweiler, making sunscreen extra important. You might also enjoy the shade of a beach umbrella.
- Tar sometimes washes up on the beach. It's a natural occurrence that you can read about at Heal the Bay. The best way to avoid a mess is to pay attention to where you're stepping, but you're unsuccessful, ice can harden small patches and make them easy to peel off. Experienced SoCal beachgoers recommend removing the gooey mess with oil of any kind: Think baby oil, mayonnaise, peanut butter, even sunscreen may work if it's all you have.
- You will find several restrooms with flush toilets and running water along the bike path.
- The El Segundo Beach Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch at the south end of the beach, next to the Bluff parking lot. The bike path runs in front of it, or if you're driving, it's just below the parking lot.
- Despite being right in the middle of LA, Dockweiler is far away from other sources of food and refreshment. The nearest grocery stores and restaurants are in Marina Del Rey or Manhattan Beach.
- Near sunset, the backup at the beach entrance sometimes resembles rush hour on the 405. Plan to arrive at least an hour before the sun is scheduled to set, or you might wind up watching it through your vehicle's windshield.
- Like all west coast beaches, Dockweiler can be cloudy and foggy all day long during the summer weather condition called June Gloom.
Where to Park
Parking fees vary by day, costing more on weekdays and holidays and less during the week. They are also lower for the first few hundred cars to arrive each day.
11999 Vista Del Mar is the main entrance, where you can access the RV Park and a large paved lot. At this entrance, you pay your parking fee to an attendant.
12000 Vista Del Mar is sometimes called the Bluff lot. There, you pay at a machine and display your receipt on your vehicle's dashboard. The machines take credit cards and cash but do not give change. This lot is above beach level, and you will have to take steps down to the sand or use the ramp, which is to the right of the cafe.
There's a third lot on Vista Del Mar at Grand Avenue, but it is a little past the far south end of the beach and not convenient.
In the past, you could find free street parking along Vista del Mar above the beach. Some out-of-date resource may still mention it, but it no longer exists except for a handful of spots just below Vista Del Mar Park.
How to Get There
The main entrance to Dockweiler Beach is at 11999 Vista del Mar in Playa del Rey, CA.
You can get there by public transit using Beach Cities Transit Line 109 which runs from Redondo Beach to LAX. Get off at the stop for Main St @ Imperial Ave.