The cheap and easy guide to LA County’s best eight beaches
By Carl Kozlowski 04/14/2011
One of the best things about living in Southern California is the bevy of beaches to hang out on or near almost any time of the year, day and night.
In fact, clean, fun and free beaches are so bountiful that choosing the best one can be a little daunting. So we left that up to you to decide.
Following are some of the sunniest places on earth, along with a list of their attendant charms.
For all else — directions, hours, fees, parking, rules — visit beaches.co.la.ca.us.
Leo Carrillo State Park Beach: Edging close to the Ventura County line, the drive to Leo Carrillo is one of the most beautiful in Southern California. The rugged park and rocky beach, so named for 1930s and ’40s film actor Leo Carrillo, is also a favorite location for surfing, windsurfing, surf fishing and beachcombing, with lots of tide pools and caves to explore. Giant sycamores adorn the nearby campgrounds here, 30 miles from Malibu and just across the Ventura County line.
Zuma Beach: Like anything else, if you want the best you’ve got to put in the effort — and Zuma is widely considered the gold standard of LA County beaches. A three-mile swath of white sand lapped by crystal-blue water, Zuma’s 19 miles west of Malibu but is well worth the drive if you’re looking for beautiful people and great surfing. Plus, it’s near some of the best restaurants in LA.
Will Rogers State Beach: Just west of Santa Monica lies one of the most family friendly beaches in LA County, thanks largely to its public volleyball courts, gymnastic equipment, restrooms, playground, even a bike path that leads all the way to Torrance.
Featuring the Valley Trails Camp for outdoor fun, Will Rogers is close to Castle Rock Beach, Topanga Beach, Las Tunas Beach, as well as Topanga Canyon and Parker Canyon. It’s also a few miles along Sunset Boulevard from the lavish hilltop estate of legendary comedian and newspaper columnist Will Rogers, who died in a plane crash in 1935.
Santa Monica Pier: Due to its iconic status as the end of Route 66 — not to mention the sea of humanity and scores of street musicians, vendors and entertainers who provide endless hours of cheap entertainment — Santa Monica is the Mecca of all LA beaches. Along with a pier full of carnival games, restaurants and fast food shacks, it’s also a fun place to cast a fishing line if you have a license. If you’re looking for even more fun, there’s an old-fashioned carousel, the one made famous in the movie “The Sting” with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and a small amusement park. But be forewarned: The beach below is perhaps LA’s most crowded. That means neither the beach nor the water are as clean as they should be.
Venice Beach: The smell of ganja wafting through the air gets a little heavier the closer you get to this venerable beach, where some of LA’s most colorful people get a little extra freaky. On any given day, visitors might see a massive drum circle doing their thing while people dance and practice mixed martial arts, all as oddball street performers perform on harmonicas and guitars, maniacs juggle chainsaws, urban artists dabble in sand, spray paint and oils, and wannabe athletes work out with weights at world-famous Muscle Beach, former stomping ground of ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, this is where much of LA’s human flotsam ends up, so have fun, but look alive and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Marina Del Rey: The charms to this beach community just far enough away from Venice are numerous. Not only is this the largest man-made marina in the world, it actually has more restaurants jammed into one square mile than any other city except New York. It’s not only a great place to sunbathe, but the Marina offers cheap rentals on kayaks and other small boats. Stick around for nightfall to enjoy and one of the most colorful water-top light shows anywhere in the county.
Hermosa Beach: This beach town is home to a number of popular bars, restaurants and clubs, one of them a premiere comedy club, the Comedy and Magic Club, where Jay Leno performs virtually every Sunday night (and is way funnier live here than he ever is on the “Tonight Show”) for just $30 admission. That’s way below his Vegas prices.
Long Beach City Beach: Long Beach is infamous for the gang life immortalized in countless rap songs, but the city also has a killer nightlife district that during the day has plenty of boat companies sailing to either Catalina Island or taking guests on dolphin-watching cruises. The huge Aquarium of the Pacific is also near the beachfront, along with the historic Queen Mary cruise ship, and there are plenty of terrific restaurants. You really can’t go wrong with a day spent here, although you might want to consider just looking at the water rather than swimming in it.