Los Angeles is a very diverse city. Many other cities in the United States have a definable vibe that’s based on a few landmarks or traditions. Los Angeles is so big, and its citizens and its economy is so varied, that it’s hard to pin a single tag on it. Of course many tourists visit Los Angeles with a specific destination in mind. Perhaps it’s a week in Disneyland, or one of the many movie studio tours in the city. Business travelers often fly in, look for affordable car rental, a comfy place to stay, and a few reliable restaurants they can visit until they fly out again without giving the rest of the city a second thought.
That’s understandable, but it’s a shame. Los Angeles has a lot to offer visitors and locals alike. But if there’s one natural resource that gets overlooked by almost everyone who lives or visits the area, it has to be its beaches. Los Angeles has some of the most interesting and beautiful beaches in the world. Unfortunately, most people forget they’re there.
One of the reasons that Los Angeles beaches don’t get the respect they deserve might be because there are so many of them, and they’re so different from each other. We’ve assembled a comprehensive list of all the major beaches in the Los Angeles area, along with a short rundown on what makes each one special. We hope it makes it easier to find the seaside spot that’s just right for you.
Will Rogers State Beach
We put Will Rogers State Beach first on our list, because it’s the Swiss Army Knife of beaches in the Los Angeles area. The beach itself is a slender sliver of sand, almost two miles long, with the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the Pacific Coast Highway on the other. Will Rogers is closer to LAX and Los Angeles proper than beaches like Malibu, but it’s far enough from the middle of the city to avoid huge crowds.
Even if you’ve never been here before, you might feel like you have. The beach has been featured in so many movies and TV shows that it looks familiar to almost everyone. At the very least, you’ve probably seen the Baywatch beauties run up and down it in slow motion at least once.
Will Rogers is great for most any seaside activity, from swimming to surfing to scuba diving. There’s usually a lot of volleyball, picnics, and bike riding going on, too. That makes the beach a bit noisy for people who prefer quiet strolls by the water. The water quality is generally good, although there are occasional warnings during wintertime months. Use the money you saved on affordable car rental to pay for parking near the beach. There aren’t enough no parking signs to warn unwary out-of-towners, and the cost of a ticket and towing is a lot more than the available parking lots.
Zuma beach is in Malibu, so it’s a little more upscale than beaches closer to the heart of Los Angeles. It’s another beach that’s appeared in countless TV shows and movies, so people on vacation from anywhere might feel like they’ve been there before. Zuma’s iconic lifeguard stations are a great place to take a selfie, but they’re not just for show. Zuma has the best surfing in Malibu, and the lifeguards aren’t ornaments.
Zuma is huge, so despite its popularity, it’s easy to stake out a place on the sandy beach and relax. The local scenery is wonderful, and you’re more likely to spot a celebrity here than at Will Rogers, for instance. If you’re in the mood for a more energetic workout than sunbathing, you can hike up Point Dume and get a view fit for scattering the ashes of Theodore Donald Kerabatsos.
Here’s Zuma Beach from the air:
Technically, Venice Beach isn’t a Los Angeles beach. Venice is its own city, and for many local people, Venice Beach is its own universe. If you’re in the mood for a beach that’s a much a social phenomenon as a seaside retreat, Venice Beach is perfect for you. The beach itself is really big, with wide expanses of unbroken sand to stretch out on. Just off the sand is the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk, a strip of vendors, street performers, weightlifters, skaters, skateboarders, and free spirits.
The beach is one of the few in the area that’s has eating, drinking, and shopping within easy walking distance of the ocean. If you’re in the mood for a lively street scene to go with your sunburn, head to Venice Beach.
Leo Carillo Sate Park might be more your style if you’re more interested in tidepools than getting a tan. The beach has a much more complex mix of cliffs, crags, and inlets than a typical Los Angeles beach. The beach is great for swimming, windsurfing, fishing, or just sunbathing, but it’s especially suited to just poking around for sea life and beautiful landscapes.
There’s a campground at Leo Carillo, but you’ll be disappointed if you think that means you can camp surfside. The campground is well-kept, and you can bring even big trailers onsite, but it’s located across a busy highway from the beach itself. Leo Carillo State Park is located almost 30 miles north of the city, so be prepared to spend a while in your rental car looking at the taillights of the commuter ahead of you. The bright side is the beach is less crowded than beaches located closer to LAX and Santa Monica.
Here’s an overflight view of Leo Carillo:
Oxnard doesn’t fit the description of your usual tourist beach. It’s actually a series of many distinct beaches that make up almost 20 miles of sandy coastline in Oxnard, California, in Ventura County. Oxnard is about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. It’s more of a daytripper’s destination than a short trip to the beach. If you want to get out of the city and enjoy a relaxed vibe and cool seashore temps, Oxnard is perfect.
Oxnard knows it needs to keep you amused to attract you to their beaches, so there’s lots to do. The surfing is excellent, or you can rent jet skis or other watercraft and putter around. The Pacific Coast Bicycle Route wends its way through Oxnard’s waterfront. You can rent beach cruisers, tandem bikes, and assorted pedal mobiles to cruise far and wide.
Santa Monica State Beach
The Santa Monica beach is another location that’s familiar to people who’ve never been to Los Angeles before. The iconic Santa Monica Pier is a miniature amusement park that sticks out over the Pacific, and offers hours of fun for kids of all ages. The beach itself is really, nice, too, with long, unbroken stretches of white sand. Santa Monica is a compact and pedestrian friendly area, so you can venture off the beach to shop and eat without too much trouble.
Hermosa means “pretty” in Spanish, and Hermosa Beach is appropriately named. If you’re looking for a romantic beach getaway, a late afternoon excursion to Hermosa Beach is just the ticket. The views of the sunset over the water from the pier are astonishing. There are lots of walking and biking paths if you feel like stretching your legs. The Strand, a paved offstreet path, runs along the beach from Torrance all the way to Santa Monica. There are plenty of places to shop, eat, and enjoy your favorite mixed drinks.
The Laguna beach is located right in the middle of the downtown area of Laguna Beach, the city. That makes the beach a bustling place almost all the time. Laguna Beach is known for the predictability of its climate. It’s about the same, winter and summer, which makes it a great destination when other beach areas are seasonally too hot or cold. The beach itself is a great people watching destination, although it’s a much more sedate crowd than a beach like Venice or Santa Monica. There are lots of volleyball and basketball games, and a long boardwalk that’s perfect for poking around. There’s a substantial artist colony in the area, so you can mix in some gallery browsing into the general fun.
El Matador gets lumped in with a handful of other beaches in Malibu, but it has a different vibe than all the surrounding areas. It’s usually crowded in the summer. During the off season, you might find you have the place mostly to yourself. It’s a tiny, “pocket” beach, but there’s plenty of room for strolls with picturesque scenery around. There are lots of nooks and crannies in the cliffs, and the sea stacks, towers of sandstone that have been eroded by the surf, make this beach a great selfie destination. The swimming and bodyboarding is great, but El Matador is really shines for long, romantic walks. You can see some great pictures of El Matador here.
Manhattan Beach is a worthy competitor for Hermosa Beach when it comes to sunsets. There’s a big pier and a concrete bikepath, too. The beach itself is really wide and flat, and seems to go on forever compared to some of the pocket beaches we’ve featured. The beach does eventually morph into big sand dunes at Sand Dune Park, but most people stay on the long, flat stretches of soft sand.
If you’re into people watching, Manhattan Beach has been voted the #1 place for the Rich and Single, and placed high on the Travel Channel’s list of the Sexiest Beaches. If you’re a surfer, Manhattan is a kind of paradise, although it can be pretty crowded. The city hosts a yearly volleyball tournament and surfing festival that keeps things hopping.
If you’re staying close to LAX, Dockweiler State Beach in Playa Del Rey is really handy. It’s just a little south of LAX, and it’s easy to find. If you’ve got an affordable car rental deal, the $12 parking fee won’t hurt your budget. Unlike a lot of the beaches in the Los Angeles area, the parking lot is really big, so you’re unlikely to get shut out.
Visitors to everything you can think of at Dockweiler Beach. It’s a long, sandy beach with very clear water, great for surfing, boogie boarding, or just swimming. There’s a bike path that runs for miles. There’s hang gliding for the more adventurous, too. The beach allows beachside barbecues, another treat if you’re looking to spend the whole day at the beach. Even bonfires are permitted on the beach.
Bolsa Chica State Beach is one of the most interesting beaches in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s near Huntington Beach, California, so it’s not a long drive from downtown LA. The beach is popular for family outings, and allows fire rings and grills on the beach. Surf casting is a local specialty. During certain times of the year, you can even catch fish with your bare hands. The beach is popular with wildlife and bird watchers, too. Across the highway from the sandy beach is the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, where you can enjoy wetland areas filled with fish, birds, waterfowl, and interesting plants.
Photo courtesy of the The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division