Los Angeles's beaches may almost be as much of an icon as Disneyland or the Hollywood sign. With almost two dozen beaches in Los Angeles County to choose from and miles of pure California coastline, the hardest part is deciding which ones you want to visit—or possibly finding parking.
The Truth about Southern California Sunshine
The Beach Boys weren't quite telling the truth when they crooned about West Coast sunshine. If you've never been here before, you may find Southern California less sunny than you expected, especially at the beaches.
When temperatures rise, so does the air, pulling cool, moist marine air inland onto the beaches like a foggy blanket. It's so predictable in early summer that local residents dub it "June gloom," but it can start in "May Gray" and sometimes extends into "No Sky July" and "Fogust", too.
Some days, the fog and low clouds disappear early, but on other days, like a carefree beach bum, the sun may not put in an appearance until mid- to late-afternoon. Don't forget to layer on the sunscreen even on these overcast days because the UV light goes right through the clouds.
Will Rogers State Beach
Will Rogers State Beach is a long, narrow beach that's nearly two miles long, sandwiched between Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean. It's closer to Los Angeles than the Malibu beaches, but not as crowded as those further south.
This beach may invoke a feeling of deja vu: Even if you haven't been here before, you've probably seen it in movies and television, including the classic "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and early seasons of "Baywatch."
Will Rogers State Beach is just west of Santa Monica on Pacific Coast Highway, near its intersection with Temescal Canyon Road. You can park in any of several paid lots along the highway, including the one at Gladstone's Restaurant. Don't try to park along Temescal Canyon Road, though. There is some free parking, but tow-away signs aren't always visible and the ticket and towing fees are far higher than what the parking lot charges.
You can get to Will Rogers State Beach using public transit on LA Metro Bus #534
Will Rogers State Beach is best for: Beach volleyball, walking or biking, surfing, scuba diving. Its mild right point break is good for beginning surfers. In 2010, The Nature Conservancy gave Will Rogers State Beach an "Ocean Oscar" for Best Swimming, saying it's "one of the nicest beaches in California to take a dip in the ocean and bask in the sunshine on a beach towel."
Leo Carrillo State Beach is one of the most scenic beaches in Los Angeles, with a 1.5-mile-long, sandy beach, caves, and interesting rock formations.
If you're traveling with your four-legged friend, then Leo Carrillo is one of the only beaches in Southern California that allows dogs on the beach. The beach is divided into two sections, North Beach and South Beach, and dogs are welcome on any part of the North Beach section.
There's a large paid parking lot near the North Beach section, although on warm summer days it may fill up by early afternoon. To get to South Beach, you can either park in the lot and walk across the beach to get there or look for free parking on the side of Highway 1 closer to the South Beach entrance.
Leo Carrillo State Beach is best for: Tide pooling, beachcombing, swimming, surfing and windsurfing, surf fishing, scuba diving. Photographers like Leo Carrillo State Beach and others nearby for sunset photography. Because the beach faces south and not west, it provides more even illumination.
Point Dume State Beach
Point Dume State Beach is located—as you might guess from its name—on a promontory that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The sand isn't all on the beach at Point Dume but also piled up in a sand dune that forms a bluff protecting the beach. Not only are the views from the top of the bluffs expansive, but they provide a great spot to watch migrating gray whales in the winter.
Sheltered between sand dunes and the ocean, Point Dume provides not only a nice, sheltered beach but also some nice vistas from the top of the sand. The final scene of the original "Planet of the Apes" movie was filmed at the location in this photo. Other films that used Point Dume are the Normandy landings in "D-Day the Sixth of June ," Tony Stark's seaside mansion in "Iron Man," and the ashes-scattering scene from "The Big Lebowski."
There's a very small parking lot right next to the beach entrance, but if you aren't one of the first people to arrive then your chances of getting a spot are low. You're better off leaving your car in the parking lot at the end of Westward Beach Road, and from there you can take the short—and scenic—path over Point Dume to the staircase that leads to the beach.
Point Dume Beach is best for: Fishing, swimming, scuba diving, tide pooling, whale-watching (in winter).
El Matador Beach
El Matador Beach is one of the cliff-foot strands known as a "pocket beach" for its size, and it's part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach on the west end of Malibu. It's small, so this south-facing beach can get crowded during the summer. However, on weekdays or during the off-season it's less visited and makes for romantic strolls, sea cave explorations, or gorgeous picture taking. In fact, the beach is a favorite for local photographers and there's a good chance you'll some newlyweds taking their wedding photos.
El Matador has its own dedicated paid parking lot and you'll see a sign right off of Highway 1 to enter. Like this pocket beach, the parking lot is also pocket-sized, so make sure you arrive early on weekends or you may be stuck looking for another beach.
El Matador Beach is best for: Romantic walks, photography, swimming, bodyboarding, and bodysurfing
Malibu Lagoon State Beach is a white, sandy beach with a lagoon and wetlands nearby that draw marine life and shorebirds. The part of the beach closest to the lagoon offers something different from the "typical LA beach scene," and taking a break from the waves to trek around the wetlands and look for wildlife is a nice to break up the day.
If you prefer the Pacific Ocean and quintessential California beach, then head to the farther end of the beach to the area known as Surfrider Beach. The waves here bring out surfers from around the world, although occasionally there are so many that they leave little room for those who want to swim.
You can get a sense of the area's past at the Malibu Lagoon Museum or tour the Adamson House, a luxurious 1920s Spanish-style home featuring locally-made Malibu tile and tons of fantastic artisan touches.
Look for the Malibu Lagoon State Beach parking lot, which is located next to the Adamson House off of Highway 1. If you just want to explore the wetlands, there's another Malibu Lagoon parking lot just a couple of minutes further north on Highway 1, but it's farther from the beach.
Malibu Lagoon is best for: Tide pooling, swimming, fishing, wildlife-watching, walking. Beach volleyball and surfing at Surfrider Beach.
Venice Beach isn't just one of the most popular beaches in Los Angeles, it's one of the most visited attractions in the entire city. Famous for its bohemian vibe, there's a lot more to do than sit out on the sand or splash around in the water. The Venice Beach Boardwalk is over a mile long with quirky shops, places to eat, and street vendors that draw in millions of tourists each year. At the outdoor gym known as Muscle Beach, you can either lift some weights or just people-watch. The outrageous array of humanity that regularly appears on this beach can upstage even the best day on the sand and water, and the mix is irresistible.
If you're feeling active, pick up a beach cruiser and ride along the bike path that runs parallel to the beach. It continues on for 9 miles and goes all the way down to Redondo Beach at the southern end of the city.
The beach is located in the hippy community that's also called Venice Beach, and parking isn't easy. You may get lucky and find street parking within a few blocks of the beach, otherwise you'll have to look for one of the small lots around the neighborhood that often charge exorbitant prices. Try the Venice Beach lot at the end of Washington Street or one of the nearby paid parking lots off Rose Avenue, Bay Street, or Venice Boulevard.
Venice Beach is best for: People-watching, bicycling, shopping, and walking.
Manhattan Beach may well be the prototype for the quintessential Los Angeles beach. A Beach Boys' hangout in their early days and the birthplace of beach volleyball, this west-facing urban beach attracts a broad mix of visitors.
There's always a lot going on at Manhattan Beach, which makes it feel lively, fun and lived-in. Plus, the beachfront homes here are among the nicest along the coast (good for gawking at and daydreaming about).
This urban beach is always busy. It can be hard to find parking and nearly impossible to find a free parking space. Street parking here is scarce, so be prepared to feed the streetside parking meters or those in the parking lots and don't push your luck by overstaying your time limit. Parking enforcement is diligent.
Manhattan Beach is best for: People-watching, beach volleyball, surfing, swimming, fishing, walking, and bicycling
Abalone Cove, Palos Verdes
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, as the area is officially named, is in the town of Rancho Palos Verde and closer to Long Beach than the city of Los Angeles. There are two beaches in the park, Abalone Cove and Sacred Cove, and their location on the peninsula gives them both some of the best views of Catalina Island on the entire coastline.
The diverse wildlife at the park makes it one of the best places to go tide pooling. Take a look in the crevasses and rocks and see if you can spot starfish, hermit crabs, sea slugs, periwinkles, anemones, sea urchins, and more. Remember that the entire park is protected as a State Ecological Preserve, so you can peek at the wildlife but don't pick anything up or remove it; it's best to let them be.
There's a parking lot at the entrance to the park with several different hiking trails for exploring the area. It is a trek to get to the beach from your car, so make sure you're up for walking and don't overpack your day bag to lighten the load.
Abalone Cove is best for: Swimming, tide pooling.
First of all, if you want to sound like a local, drop the "beach" and just call it "Zuma." This northernmost Los Angeles beach has lots of room and, if you're lucky, you may get to see dolphins in the surf. With white sand and clean water, Zuma Beach is a perennial favorite with residents and visitors alike. This south-facing beach attracts lots of visitors on summer weekends, but Zuma is relatively quiet during the week.
Zuma has level sand and a shallow surf, so it's great for kids who want to go swimming or bodysurfing. Just be sure to look at the safety flags before getting in to make sure they're green, since yellow or red signifies there could be riptides.
Zuma is one of the most northern beaches in LA County, but the huge parking lot with over 2,000 spaces removes the headache of looking for parking from the equation. If you get there early enough, you may even find free parking on the side of the highway.
Zuma Beach is best for: Surfing, swimming, beach volleyball, whale-watching (in winter).
Because the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe extends onto the beach itself, this is one of the only beaches where beachgoers can drink alcohol on the beach (as long as it's beer or wine and nothing stronger). After sitting out at the beach, there's no better way to end the day than getting a table at the cafe and enjoying some drinks or snacks while watching the sun set over the ocean.
This small beach, located north of Malibu just off Highway 1, is framed by bluffs and looks out on boats moored nearby. Don't be surprised if it looks familiar, since television programs "The OC," "Baywatch, and "The Rockford Files" were filmed here, and movies "American Pie 2" and "Beach Blanket Bingo."
There's a paid parking lot owned by the restaurant and you can even make a reservation for a guaranteed spot. Otherwise, there is free street parking along Highway 1—if you can find a spot—and from there you can just walk onto the beach.
Paradise Cove is best for: Swimming, fishing, beach volleyball, people-watching