It shouldn’t come as a surprise that southern California is renowned for sun, sand and surf. After all, who doesn’t like hanging out on the beach? The heart of surfer culture offers up a great number of beaches all along the Golden Coast. With so many different activities to choose from, it can be difficult to pick just one destination! So whether you want to catch some waves, explore underwater reefs or just relax and soak up some rays, these are the best spots in and around LA to dip your toes in the Pacific.
1. Venice Beach
If you want to go to the beach for sand and surf, avoid Venice Beach; people do not come to this beach to go to the beach! Venice Beach is more like a 3-ring circus, with tons of fun, food and games. The carnival-like atmosphere also makes it a great spot to people watch, which effectively continues from the southern end of Santa Monica Beach without a break. Jump into the flow of the winding Venice Boardwalk, where you can skate or cycle, watch or play volleyball or basketball, and check out the pumped-up gym bunnies who work out at Muscle Beach. Surfers may want to opt out of less than pristine waters with inconsistent waves. Biking, walking and sightseeing are also popular activities. Be sure to get there early as parking lots fill up quickly.
2. Santa Monica Beach
Located next to Santa Monica Pier, this classic strip of sand mixes the best of Venice Beach with more of the traditional beach-going excursion. There’s no shortage of food or fun, including rides like a Ferris wheel and games. For those who want to kick back, they’ll find a gorgeous sandy beach and great surf. The more ambitious can try their hand at activities like scuba diving and snorkeling. This beach has so much to offer for both tourists and locals. Are you a fitness enthusiast? Rent a bike or rollerblades to cruise along the beachfront sidewalk. On a family vacation? Check out the arcade and carnival at the end of the pier. Foodie? Grab a burger and a shake on the boardwalk or check out the many restaurants on the 3rd Street Promenade. Just enjoy people watching? Explore the outdoor gym located right on the sand at the south side of the pier. This beach has a little bit of everything!
3. Surfrider Beach
Cowabunga, dude! Just like the name implies, Surfrider Beach is a popular spot to catch some waves in Malibu. It’s such a popular surf location that it was actually renamed from “Malibu Lagoon State Beach.” Those seeking escapism and romance may want to find another beach, but the payoff for fighting the crowds here is enjoying a stretch of sand deemed a World Surfing Reserve made famous by Gidget and other surf legends. A quintessential Malibu beach, this prime location makes for great people watching and three point breaks make this a perennial hot spot for both longboarders and shortboarders. First Point, which is popular with longboarders; Second Point, used for high performance surfing; and Third Point. In August and September, catch a south swell and ride all the way to the pier!
4. El Matador State Beach
If your dating profile starts with “I like long walks on the beach,” El Matador is the place for you. Small, beautiful and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador looks not unlike a European beach. Wear shoes and don’t bring too much gear; the western Malibu beach is only accessible via a steep gravelly path. This beach is usually less crowded than some of the more popular destinations like Venice Beach and Santa Monica. The cozy atmosphere is complimented by a number of coves and sea caves that are ripe for exploration. A stroll along the beach at sunset with the water lapping at your feet will make a hopeless romantic out of even the most hardened of hearts. . There are no lifeguards or other facilities so you should be able to find some privacy on the beach; spread your towel in the cupped hands of the rocks—watch out for high tide. Arriving early or staying late should reward you with a memorable dawn or sunset.
5. Zuma Beach
Follow the highway north past Will Rogers State Park and Surfrider beaches and you’ll be rewarded with a clean, wide patch of sand and surf at Zuma. Since it’s one of the northern-most beaches in the LA area, it’s the perfect spot for beach-goers looking to get away from the crowds at the larger beaches. This hidden gem of a beach couples the quieter, more sedate atmosphere with a chance to glimpse dolphins in the surf, so it’s worth the drive, even if the water’s a little colder. There are lifeguards on duty. Surfers can catch some waves at this sandy beach break, but waves tend to close out, making this a perfect spot for boogie boarding and body surfers.
6. Leo Carillo State Beach
This beach is 1.5 miles of fun! Activities are numerous and varied: swim, surf, fish, windsurf or beachcomb to your heart’s content. There are also tide pools, caves and reefs just waiting to be explored. Longboarders can paddle out for mellow waves—it gets no more than chest-high at this point break—while nature lovers can explore tide pools on the rock-dotted coastline and a nearby trail. Groups can make use of the on-site camping grounds under giant sycamores, picnic area, RV lot and token-operated showers. Its natural beauty has also made it popular with photographers and a number of movies and TV shows have filmed there, including Grease and Inception. And don’t forget Fido: This is one of the rare beaches where dogs (leashed) are allowed to roam.