Some are great for catching a wave, some are better suited to kiddos (of the human and canine variety), and some are great spots to watch the sun set over the Pacific with your special someone. All beaches are not created equal, but they’re all special. Here we’ve shored up (sorry, had to) the best beaches in L.A. for any type of outing.
Beaches are for lovers. With iconic scenery and a bit of a challenge to get to, the extra effort to reach these scenic spots is not only completely worth it, it’s an enjoyable part of the experience.
El Matador Beach
A beach that exemplifies California coastal beauty, El Matador is a cliffside wonder in Malibu. Take the PCH for a beautiful drive, park on the bluffs, and hike down to the beach. Explore the sea caves, pools, and rock arches, and enjoy some epic bird-watching on the Pacific. During low tide, there’s plenty to discover in the tide pools and along the rocks blanketed in mussels, clams, and barnacles. Park either along PCH or in the small metered lot at the top of the stairs (the lot fills up fast, so it’s best to get there early). The stairs down to the beach are a bit on the steep side. 8 a.m.–8 p.m.; 32350 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
Spot dolphins, build sandcastles, fly kites, and sunshine the day away at this classic Malibu beach. Stretching 1.8 miles of soft sand, Zuma offers plenty of space to spread out, as well as an $8 parking lot (but there’s plenty of street parking if you get there early). Also good for: Surfing. Sunrise–sunset, daily; 30000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
A cliffside setting makes this beach a stunning option, no matter which of the many you choose in this resort town. The main beach features tide pools and a boardwalk leading to the paths and gardens of nearby Heisler Park. The rich marine life makes it a fabulous spot for snorkeling, scuba diving, or bodysurfing, but it’s just as lovely to post up on a blanket and get cozy. Or for a dreamy adventure, follow a nearby trail that meanders through coastal canyons in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
There are the beaches of Malibu, and then there is the majestic, development-free Point Dume. It’s an oasis of protected shoreline, with jaw-dropping views from its steep cliffs—which means the descent to the beach involves sandy trails and rickety staircases, so expect a mini hike. Prime viewing for migrating gray whales from December to April. Cliffside Drive and Birdview Avenue, Malibu
These relatively low-key beaches are easy to get to and from, with plenty of parking, meaning the crowds aren’t as bad. Favored by locals and others who get a lot of beach time, these options are great when you want to pack a quick picnic, hang out with friends, or bring a book and casually watch some waves.
Snuggled between Redondo and Manhattan beaches, Hermosa is the chill cousin of the South Bay. Just bring yourself, because anything you need for some outdoor fun is available for rent on the Strand, the long walk/run/bike way by the pier and the beach. After a day of surfing, skateboarding, or boutique shopping, check out the Comedy & Magic Club, where Jay Leno is known to stop in on the odd Sunday evening. Hermosa is beautiful year-round, but if you want to hit up the largest arts and crafts fair in Southern California, come in September for the Fiesta Hermosa. It’s epic. 6 a.m.–midnight
Leo Carrillo State Park & Beach
A picturesque 1.5-mile stretch of mansion-free beach just north of the center of Malibu, with pretty coves and tide pools. Parking in the lot is $12 per day, so pull over on the PCH shoulder if you see a spot. This beach at low tide is chock-full of sea stars, anemones, sea urchins, and crabs. Kids can also climb under rock arches, through tunnels, and inside small coves. There are beautiful campsites (but be sure to book these at least six months in advance). Dogs can run free north of lifeguard tower 3! 8 a.m.–10 p.m.; 35000 West Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
Barely a mile down the coast from the south edge of L.A. proper, Manhattan Beach couldn’t feel more different from the big city, and it’s got something for literally everyone. The laid-back beach-town vibe carries from the breezy hills all the way down to the shore, where locals intermingle with the scattered city folk who made the drive to bike, blade, or jog along the Strand. One thing this chill beach does take very seriously? Volleyball. Arrive early to stake out a court, or check out the summer’s Manhattan Beach Open, one of the sport’s most prestigious annual tournaments, which draws everyone from amateurs to top-ranked pros. It’s also a secret local favorite for a mellow surf day when you don’t feel like competing to catch a monster wave. Pack a picnic if you want to, but know there are plenty of provisions within walking distance, and great dining options if you want to prolong your day along the shore before heading back into the city. Sunrise–10 p.m.
Will Rogers Beach
One of the more chill beaches in the area, Will Rogers Beach has 103 acres of sand and three miles of coastline to sun yourself, swim, surf, or enjoy some beach volleyball. With plenty of picnic tables, you can bring your lunch with you and spend the day at the Pacific.
6 a.m.–10 p.m.; 17700 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades
A beach can be both an intimidating and really incredible place to bring the little ones. These stretches of sand are the safest and most kid friendly, with plenty of activities to keep everyone occupied the entire day.
This sweet and shallow swimming spot in Marina Del Rey is a favorite of moms and tots. There’s even a roped-off area specifically for kids, as well as, a playground, and kayak and paddleboard rentals. Open 24 hours; 4135 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey
Santa Monica State Beach
The pier is right there, for a frenzied experience involving food, an arcade, the carousel, an aquarium, a Ferris wheel…and the ocean! There’s also a solid playground, plenty of bathrooms and changing facilities, as well as a grassy area for when the sand just gets too hot. Ocean Park Beach tower 26 is a good place to set up shop for the day. Sunrise–sunset; Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica
Crustaceans and other critters! They’re part of what makes the ocean so magical. The big ones migrate certain times of the year, but the little ones gather in oceanic microcosms when the tide comes in and out. Fascinating for kids—and adults, too. Here are the areas richest with life.
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park
A beautiful beach with views for miles and tide pools galore. The hike to these tide pools is pretty hilly and the pools are quite rocky, so water shoes are a must. This outing might be better suited for slightly older kids, as it’s not so toddler friendly. 9 a.m.–dusk; 5970 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes
Point Fermin Park Beach
Green crabs, mussels, anemones, sea stars, and even the occasional sea slug come out to hang around these tide pools. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is just down the way and it’s free. 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; 807 Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro
White Point/Royal Palms Beach
Once a location for natural sulfur hot springs, this space is now loaded with sea stars, urchins, sea cucumbers, and a large variety of low-tide marine life. Paid parking on-site, clean public restrooms, picnic tables, a playground, and the stroller-friendly White Point Nature Preserve right across the street make this a top spot for families. Not recommended for swimming. Dawn–dusk; 1799 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro
El Porto Beach
On the far northern limit of Manhattan Beach lies this enclave, kept pretty uncrowded by both location and scenery (the skyline is all industrial facilities, hardly Instagram worthy). However, surfers flock to this spot for what really matters: big waves. The unique underwater topography in this small stretch kicks up waves much higher than anywhere else nearby, with swells reaching 10 to 12 feet. Sunrise–midnight; 4401 The Strand, Manhattan Beach
The peak blend of surf culture and pop culture. Surfrider’s—and, more generally, Malibu’s—spot at the forefront of American surfing mythos means this modest expanse between the Malibu Pier and Malibu Lagoon is always going to be crowded. The long breaks generated by the curl of the coastline leave ample room, however, and designated surfing and swimming areas ensure the two don’t get tangled. Parking (along PCH or in the lot at the Adamson House) can get packed, so arrive as early as possible. 8 a.m.–sunset; 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
To cruise down Venice Beach and its boardwalk is to tour many of the subcultures that make L.A. great (and often pretty strange). Over here, there’s Muscle Beach, an outdoor weightlifting pen where men and women have been pumping iron since Schwarzenegger was a regular. There’s also the Venice Skate Park, which remains a testament to the extreme sport that was pioneered right in this very neighborhood. Weed culture, world-class street ball, vaunted surfing spots, street vendors and artists, buskers, an unofficial drum circle every weekend—Venice’s list of wonderful weirdness goes on and on. Boardwalk open 5 a.m.–midnight; 1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice
Rosie’s Dog Beach
A Long Beach paradise for your pups, Rosie’s Dog Beach sees all sizes of doggos playing off-leash in the sand and surf. Despite the name, it’s not actually a fenced-off dog area, so make sure your best friends are well behaved enough to not bolt off to San Diego before you set them loose. 6 a.m.–8 p.m.; 5000 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach
Huntington Dog Beach
Rules are made to be broken here. Dogs aren’t technically allowed off-leash…but no one’s going to bother you about it unless your pup is causing trouble. As long as they are friendly around others and can handle the water, let them run free along this generous mile-plus stretch of Orange County sand. 5 a.m.–10 p.m.; 100 Goldenwest Street, Huntington Beach