There’s a reason why Los Angeles has enjoyed a lofty spot in guidebooks and in the imaginations of travelers: the beaches.
Oceans forever sparkling and serenely lapping against golden sand—this is the stuff of which inspires the artistes and nourishes the soul. From coves tucked into bluffs to sweeping stretches of sand carved into idyll coastal towns, all dotted with swaying palms, the best beaches of Los Angeles draw surf nuts, beach lovers, and followers of the barefoot lifestyle. Kick off your shoes and drop anchor.
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El Matador Beach
Throngs of people flock to Malibu’s worst-kept secret, from selfie-taking tourists to locals hoping for quiet spots to call their own, if only for a couple of hours. But pay the heavy foot traffic no mind, as El Matador’s sweeping, sea-meets-land panoramas—dotted with rock formations jutting out to sea and sky, graced with birds soaring about—are more than enough to make up for it. Instagrammable spots are in abundance–this is L.A., after all–and the sunsets are stunners, naturally.
On weekends, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a good place to lay your blanket, let alone secure a decent parking space at this Malibu hotspot. It’s a popular beach, perhaps one of L.A.’s most, with almost two-miles of zigzagging shore made even busier by boogie boarders, body surfers, and windsurfers riding the small swells. Facilities abound so it’s excellent for those who prefer to keep their modern conveniences close.
Relentless yet wildly tantalizing waves crash against the rocky, wind-carved bluff along the trail that meanders through this state beach and nature reserve in Malibu. As far as L.A.’s beaches go, this one has one of the best panoramas, occasionally made better by sightings of migrating whales. If you have no interest in dipping your toes is, the hike is more than enough and gives you ample opportunities for sightseeing and selfie-taking. But if you’d like to get your feet wet, tide pools, surf swells, and swimming opportunities are on hand, as well.
There are two sets of people that frequent the sandy Malibu outpost—the surf nuts (hence, the name) and the anglers. This section of the Malibu Lagoon State Beach has its share of busy days, but it’s mostly quiet, interrupted only by the morning surfers honing their craft, the hungry birds that have meandered over from the nearby estuary, and the fisherman patiently waiting for a bite on the Malibu Pier.
Leo Carrillo State Park
Pitch a tent and stay for the sunrise. Part of Leo Carrillo’s appeal—or perhaps, the bulk of it—is its serene early pastel mornings when all there is are the soft lapping of the waves and the quiet calls of birds. In the rush of the daytime, there are things to be done and places to be explored, swimming and windsurfing, sea caves and tide pools. Inland, there are several campsites to spend the night and slumber under the stars.
Will Rogers State Beach
Though pink-blooming succulents scatter about on its sand dunes in the spring, it’s the sand-and-sun chasers that riddle this sandy stretch in Pacific Palisades, taking on a game or two of volleyball while waiting for the epic sunsets this beach is known for. Out of L.A.’s top beaches, Will Rogers is probably the quietest, which means it’s Elysium for folks who cannot stand the crowds. If sitting on a beach chair all day sounds like a dull prospect, activities are on hand.
Venice Beach has come a long way from its gritty past and has been glossed over by the neighborhood’s almost complete gentrification (for better or worse). Its colorful, artistic past lingers on, however, with vibrant street art adorning modern retail and gastronomic spaces while tech bros rub elbows with sun worshippers and bohemians alike. With the neighborhood transformed, its wide and long stretch of sand has become one of L.A.’s most popular to laze around.
Dockweiler State Beach
Is there a dreamier way of topping off your day at the beach than a bonfire at twilight? In Los Angeles, where beach bonfires are largely illegal, you can have that along Dockweiler’s 3.7-mile stretch. Here, lighting up isn’t just permitted, it’s practically encouraged, thanks to the fire pits that pepper it. It’s probably for this reason that the beach is almost always a scene where young 20 and 30-somethings are roasting jumbo marshmallows on long, makeshift skewers as they guzzle beer in red solo cups.
Though blazing orange sunsets usually draw sunning crowds and shutterbugs alike, the real draws are the right- and left-breaking waves that bring in the surfing set. This is, without a doubt, a surfing beach. Even its famous landmark—the statue of Tim Kelly riding a swell—feels like a declaration of that. But the waves aren’t too strong, and swimmers and splashers can also have their day of fun in the water. If you’d rather stay dry, rent a bike and take a tour of its boardwalk.
Practically a hop, skip, and a jump away from Hermosa Beach is Manhattan Beach, where a day at the beach might involve taking your cruiser for a spin along the bike trail, a bit of retail therapy, and noshing on Californian and seafood fare at a nearby restaurant. Sunsets are spectacular and you can also try your hand at surfing. But if all you want to do is take a leisurely day out, people-watching, sunning, meandering about in a coastal town, you’re in the right spot.