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Best Beaches in Los Angeles

You're in L.A., so seeing the coast is a must. Before you pack your picnic, do some planning and pick a beach that suits your needs.

The Pacific can be cold, but swimming is not the only attraction along the coast. Santa Monica Pier is nostalgic fun, with old-school amusement-park rides. Nearby you can rent bikes to ride along the Venice Boardwalk. Or, with more time, take that convertible up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu.

Best All-Around Beach

Santa Monica. A wide swath of sand, plenty of people-watching, good swimming, great views from the bluffs—other than its surfing (nil), this beach hits the key marks. Plus it has the added benefit of adjoining Santa Monica Pier, fun for families during the day and hordes of teenagers at night.

Best For Activities

Redondo and Zuma. Both have volleyball, snorkeling, and fishing. Zuma has a playground, while Redondo's got a pier with places to eat and shop.

Easiest Parking

Venice at Ocean Front Walk. This beach is at the west end of Rose Avenue, and if you're looking for a quick hop in the ocean or a brief surf run, it's your best bet.

Best for People-Watching

Venice City Beach. Check out the scene on its boardwalk, volleyball courts, and nonstop parade of characters. Runner-up: Manhattan Beach, though the people are more cookie-cutter. Note that the crowds here (and the traffic) can be a bit crazy and overwhelming on weekends.

Best for Kids

Mother's Beach/Marina del Rey. A protected lagoon, barbecue pits, and a cool playground mean you can easily make a full day of it. If your kids want to go in the water, though, you should check the water conditions first, as pollution's been on the rise.

In Orange County, Huntington State Beach stands out for its family-friendly facilities and relatively easy parking.

Best Surfing

Malibu Lagoon/Surfrider. The waves are awesomely steady; an annual surfing competition is held here. Looking south to Orange County, the north side of Huntington City Beach is another surfing hot spot with consistent peaks.

Best for Walking

Malibu Lagoon. While it's not a large beach, the natural lagoon here is a bird sanctuary, and the trails are perfect for romantic sunset walks beneath the rocky bluffs.

Quietest Beach

Western end of Leo Carrillo. If it's seclusion you're after, it's worth braving the steep concrete steps of Staircase Beach; the descent leads to an idyllic crescent of sand and water that's rarely crowded. Runner-up: Robert H. Meyer, a trio of rocky coves. (Watch out for high tide.)

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