The beach cities along the Santa Monica Bay north of LAX sit within a small area, but each has a unique personality. You can easily base your weekend getaway in Marina Del Rey, Venice Beach or Santa Monica and sample all three.
You can plan your day trip or weekend getaway in a jiffy using the resources below.
Why Should You Go? Will You Like It?
The North Los Angeles beach cities are popular for all the things you'd expect: surf and sand, water sports, rollerblading, biking and just simple people-watching.
You'll also find a couple of outstanding neighborhood shopping areas featuring local boutiques and a laid-back atmosphere.
Best Time to Go
Los Angeles weather is nice most of the time, but winter can be rainy and overcast. Like all the beach areas on the West Coast, this stretch of sand is prone to "June gloom," when a foggy marine layer hovers over the coast all day long. In the worst years, it can persist into July.
If you've only got limited time, focus on Venice Beach, checking out the unique canals, walking along the beachfront sidewalk and getting a good look at California beach life. Walk south of the pier for some peace and quiet, then dive into the zany, busy part. If you have time, the beachfront trail runs for miles in both directions, and you can walk, run, bike or skate it. Rent a bike or rollerblades in Santa Monica or Venice and you can go all the way north to Malibu or south to Redondo Beach.
5 More Great Things to Do in the North Bay
- Venice Beach: The mix of scantily clad rollerbladers, dripping surfer dudes, street performers and preening bodybuilders makes Venice one of our favorite places for people-watching. This is also a must for Baywatch fans, who probably already know that the original series was filmed here.
- Abbot Kinney Blvd: Just blocks from Venice Beach, Abbot Kinney is a Los Angeles shopping street at its best, with locally-owned boutiques and some terrific restaurants.
- Santa Monica Pier: Home to one of California's three seaside amusement parks, the pier is a great place to have some fun.
- Montana Avenue, Santa Monica: Lined with locally-owned shops and cafes, Montana Ave provides a great place for window-shopping or a serious buying spree.
- Paradise Cove Beach, Malibu: North of the built-up part of Malibu, this privately-owned beach preserves a slice of the Southern California beach life.
Annual Events You Should Know About
- Twilight Concert Series at the Santa Monica Pier, Thursdays July through late August. Always free and always fun.
- During periodic visits, tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain dock in Marina Del Rey and take visitors for a sail around the bay.
- The Holiday Boat Parade at Marina Del Rey is a local favorite, with lighted boats instead of floats.
- One of the area's best New Year’s Eve fireworks shows goes off from the Marina Del Rey South Jetty. You can see them from almost anywhere in Marina del Rey, but locals love the views from Burton Chace Park and Fisherman's Village.
Tips for Visiting The Beach Cities
- Bring an extra layer or two for the evening, even in mid-summer. When the sun goes down, it cools off fast.
- We know it's popular, but we find Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade mundane, lined with chain stores you can find at home, offering too few good places to eat and reports of people begging and hassling passers-by. For a more enjoyable shopping experience, try Montana Avenue between 7th and 18th Streets instead.
- If you have room in your suitcase, bring your rollerblades.
- Save your nerves and stay put during rush hour. Locals say they won't drive east on weekday evenings between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. because traffic backs up for miles on all the major streets waiting to get onto Interstate 405.
- Street parking is available, but it's almost impossible to find it for free in the busy areas. Bring coins for the parking meters.
- Street performers may seem like they're having so much fun that they'd do it for free, but many make their living on the street. If you enjoy them or their art, leave a tip. Fifty cents or a dollar is plenty.
Rose Cafe (220 Rose at Main, Venice Beach) is a local favorite for breakfast, serving homemade granola, pastries, and coffee from a self-service counter, or you can order from the menu. They also have a nice little gift shop.
Favorite dinner spots include Locanda Del Lago (231 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica) and Wabi Sabi (1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice Beach). Cafe Del Rey (4451 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey) has a great reputation and a killer marina view.
Getting to the Santa Monica Bay
The beach cities are strung along California Highway 1. Take any westbound exit off Interstate 405 between I-10 and the airport. From LAX, go west and take Lincoln Blvd (Highway 1) north.
The nearest airport is LAX.
If you're looking for more places to get away along the Los Angeles beachfront, try our getaway to Manhattan and Redondo Beach