The beaches in Los Angeles are places with character. Beyond the immaculate white-sand, clear-water paradise of other resort destinations, LA coastlines are filled with the timeless soul and culture of Southern California. Ranging from skateparks to kiteboarding, iconic piers and little sun-stained beachside dive bars, the beaches of LA offer plenty to do. If you’re in the neighborhood and looking for the scoop on the best place to spend a sunny afternoon, here’s our list of the best beaches in Los Angeles.
El Matador State Beach
Along the south-facing coast of Malibu lies one of the best beaches in the entire county of Los Angeles. El Matador State beach has a rugged feel; stacks of rocks dot the shoreline, some protrude out of the water, and others are big enough to climb on and crawl under. Head to Matador at low tide to fully appreciate the thriving shallow water ecosystem. Although parking is a significant drawback ($8 and very limited in availability), the sunsets are second to none. If you’re in the mood for a leisurely stroll, head north to La Piedra State Beach, or go south along beautiful cliffside homes towards Lechuza Beach.
Just down the coast from Matador is Zuma Beach, a massive four-mile stretch of sand that’s one of the largest and most popular in Malibu and LA county. Although it can get pretty crowded, there always seems to be enough room for everyone. Zuma is a popular gathering spot for a wide range of activities: facilities include surf rental and lessons, an annual beach triathlon, 10 volleyball courts, kiteboarding, stand-up paddleboarding tours, and beach soccer tournaments. If you’re looking to camp for the weekend, head over to Leo Carrillo State Park which offers over 100 campsites with fire rings and restrooms.
As the name suggests, Hermosa is one of the most beautiful coastal towns and beaches in all of California. If you’re looking for a “typical” Southern California experience with a laid-back culture, grungy nightlife, and outdoor activities, this is the gem for you. Ride your bike or rollerblade along the famous strand, join one of the pick-up volleyball games (although it can get quite competitive), or grab a fishing pole and perch yourself on the pier with a cold drink. By night, check out the warm dive-bar atmospheres along Pier avenue in places like Lighthouse Cafe, Sharkeez, the Poopdeck, and Fenner’s Fishshack.
Santa Monica State Beach
Perhaps the most Iconic beach on this list, Santa Monica is just west of downtown LA and arguably the beach hub of Southern California. There’s 3.5 miles of soft sand, a famous pier with a sun-bleached amusement park, strips of posh bars and restaurants, and the Annenberg Community Beach House. If you’re looking to learn to surf, the breaks are pretty spread out so it never gets too crowded. Check out the list of authorized surf instructors in the area before heading west.
There are few places on the planet with as much funky character as Venice beach. Home to a skatepark, basketball courts, and an outdoor gym, Venice offers a rowdy culture that usually accompanies these arenas. Just east of the beach is a collection of fun shops where you can find anything from antique collectible items to chic new fashion. The street performers and friendly creatures roaming Venice are sure to provide an endless supply of people watching — prepare to be entertained.
Malibu Surfrider Beach
Again, Los Angeles isn’t trying to fool anyone with the names of their beaches. If you’re looking for the best place to surf, the Surfrider beach in Malibu is a hotspot for both beginner and advanced surfers. It’s a beautiful location where the mountains of Malibu jut up against the shoreline. The beach is part of a larger public area of 22 acres that boasts an estuary for native and migrating birds, as well as tidepools and a saltwater marsh that make for great exploring. Surfrider beach ticks all the boxes of a worthwhile sunny day on the sand: a big parking lot, bathroom facilities, designated areas for swimming, volleyball courts, cafes, and a pier with nice benches and excellent views. Getting there is fairly easy, just head north from Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast Highway until you reach the Malibu Lagoon recreation area.