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An Insider’s Guide to LA’s Beaches

In a land where 90 percent of the year is spent under sunny skies, no visitor should skip a visit to Los Angeles’s splendidly sprawling beaches. To stay a step ahead of the typical sand-strewn tourist track, follow this map for a perfect day at the beach—sprinkled with insider tips from in-the-know Angelenos. Ambitious beachcombers can handle this seaside triathlon in a single day; or, stretch the recommendations over three leisurely Los Angeles days at the beach.


Breakfast & Bike in Venice

Kick off your seaside escape with breakfast at 26 Beach, which boasts 19 French toast concoctions (including those of the s’more, lemon curd, and chocolate explosion variety), as well as a signature California Roll burger, stacked with Angus beef, snow crab, avocado, and shoyu-wasabi-aioli. For a taste of some classic "sipping-coffee-while-talking-about-my-screenplay" Venice, nosh on an egg sandwich or tofu scramble on the bustling patio of The Rose Café & Market.

Next, venture down to the famous Venice boardwalk and rent a beach cruiser bicycle from any of several shops, including Boardwalk Skate ($7 per hour or $12 for two hours). Follow the beachside bike path south through wonderfully diverse Venice, home to bodybuilders, freak shows, and free spirits. When the bike lane ends, flip your cruiser around and pedal north along the ocean, past the parallel bars and "Tarzan" swinging rings of Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach, underneath the bustling Santa Monica Pier, and toward the palm-lined cliffs of the Pacific Palisades. When you reach the end of the road, hit rewind on the breezy vistas and spin your way back to base.

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Insider Tip: Clip-on baskets and locks come free of charge with bike rentals—but you have to request them, so speak up. Arriving just as the bicycle shops open, around 10am, ensures lovely light and more chilled-out crowds. Unless you’re planning to pedal from dawn to dusk, save some dough and book your bike for two hours (plenty of time to tackle the itinerary above) rather than splurging on a pricier full-day rental.


Lunch & Hike in the Pacific Palisades

Hiking to Angelenos is like brunching to New Yorkers—it’s a sacred weekend ritual. And Paseo Miramar is considered the best hidden hiking gem in the city. Ocean views are your near constant companion on the middle-difficulty level trail, a roughly 5-mile round-trip trek just off the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The trailhead begins without fanfare, marked only with a sign for East Topanga Fire Road. The hour-and-a-half-ish journey requires more effort than a stroll on the beach, but your reward awaits on a charming wooden park bench at the Parker Mesa Overlook, providing a welcome breather and stunning views of the sweeping California coastline.

Insider Tip: To reach this unmarked trail via the PCH, head east on Sunset and take the second left onto Paseo Miramar. Follow the winding road uphill for about a mile until it dead-ends near a blue house. Here’s the super street-parking secret—although the curbs near the trailhead are painted red and nearly always devoid of cars, the signs posted above tell a different story. Parking in red zones is only prohibited on "red flag warning days" in some Los Angeles neighborhoods. Use your phone to check that day’s red flag fire danger status: If it’s not a red flag day—and it’s usually not—you’re free and clear to snag the best parking spot in town. (As long as you solemnly swear never to tell a soul!) Note that the red flag trick does not apply to all red curbs in Los Angeles—only for those hillside communities with red flag restriction signs posted above.

After your hike, it’s time to pack a picnic lunch. For the quintessential Santa Monica sandwich, hop back in your car and head just a few miles south on the PCH to Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery. If you’d rather not circle back to Santa Monica, pop into Vons, a charmingly dated outpost of the southern California grocery chain, just down the hill from Paseo Miramar. The shop offers surprisingly good made-to-order sandwiches, wraps, and sides from the deli.

Insider Tip #2: Don’t even think about braving the long lines of famed Bay Cities on an empty stomach. Before heading out for your beach day, place your order—and the time you’d like to pick it up—online. Click through sandwiches like the popular Caprese or the Godmother (Genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, and provolone), and for the love of food, say "yes" to the 10-cent pepper salad topping (served mild or hot, whichever tickles your taste buds). Stash your well-wrapped sandwiches in an icy cooler for a perfect beach picnic.


Beach & Brews in Malibu

El Matador state beach can only be reached via a long drive past most of Malibu, a hike down a 150-foot cliff, and a wade through sea caves. But its dramatic, somebody-pinch-me panoramas are more than worth the trek down to the cove’s clear waters and white sand, dotted with staggering rock formations and tidal pools. The beach is far more secluded than its southern cousins, but you’ll occasionally encounter topless tanners, Frisbee-chasing four-legged friends (both illegal, but frequent denizens all the same), and swimsuit-calendar photographers.

To top off your hard day at the beach, fill your bronzed belly at the Malibu Fish Market & Patio Café (aka "Malibu Fish Shack"). Whether you like your fish grilled, steamed, or deep-fried, this 40-year-old quaint seafood shack and its picnic tables overlooking the Pacific serves up the best catch in the ‘Bu. To mingle with a younger surf set, grab a beer, Mai Tai, and fish tacos at the Barefoot Bar at Duke’s Malibu, where high tides are known to crash against glass barriers, toasting outdoor revelers.

Insider Tip: Barefoot isn’t better for the hike down to El Matador, so pack a pair of tennis shoes and $7 cash for the beach’s honor system parking lot (while street parking on the PCH is free, attempting to cross that zippy highway isn’t for the faint of heart). Time your visit with the tides and surf report and bring a trash bag—visitors must haul out all picnic leftovers. Leave beer and booze in the car (it’s a $200 ticket if you’re caught drinking on the beach)—or make like a local and disguise adult beverages in a fruity punch. Finally, make a pit stop at the Porta-Potties before you hike 150-feet down to the beach. Just trust us on this one.

Thinking of a trip to Los Angeles?

For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our Los Angeles Travel Guide.

Photo Credit:1.Venice, US via Shutterstock;2. Downtowngal, via Wikimedia Commons 3. Beautiful Beach in Malibu via Shutterstock

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