Best beaches in LA: Top coastal escapes to surf, swim and play

Looking for the best beaches in LA? Check out the city's top coastal retreats from family-friendly shores to a surfer's paradise.



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Zuma Beach

Zuma Beach

With 80-degree days year-round, Angelenos can enjoy the great outdoors from January to December with LA's best hikes (scenic views included) and even hikes with waterfalls to boot). And with miles of pictureque coastline from Malibu to the South Bay, the best beaches in LA are aplenty for outdoor enthusiasts, surfers, families, sun worshippers and beach bunnies. From Venice and Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach and Playa Vista, here are the top spots to sunbathe, surf and play.

El Matador State Beach

Small, beautiful and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador looks not unlike a European beach. Six miles north of Malibu and 25 miles from Santa Monica, it's past just past Leo Carrillo Beach, accessible via a steep gravelly path. Wear shoes and don't bring too much gear. 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 of sunset. El Matador and nearby El Pescador and La Piedra beaches collectively form the Rober H Meyer Memorial Beaches. All three are worth a visit. Pony up $8 in the self-pay parking lot or snag a spot on PCH.

  1. 32350 Pacific Coast Hwy
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El Porto Beach

  • Critics choice

The view of the Chevron refinery and the occasional plane coming in and out of the nearby LAX may not make this South Bay beach the prettiest of beaches, but consistent waves make this a favorite for surfers of various levels (re: crowds) who make the trip from all parts of SoCal. Scope out a spot along the wide stretch of surf with various breaks marked by jetties on either side. Newbies love the sandy beach break (just mind your etiquette and watch out for the occasional flying board), while winter wave hunters can brave overhead waves. Remember to bring those quarters for the coin-metered parking lot—enter from 45th Street—with a five-hour limit. Early birds get the worm (and less crowded waves) with free parking before 10am. Those that prefer to stay on land can make use of the bike path and volleyball courts.

  1. 45th Street, (The Strand)
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Leo Carrillo State Park

Leo Carrillo State Beach has the best of both worlds—a well-equipped stretch of sand plus seclusion and scenic beauty. Stretching one and a half miles across the north tip of Malibu, you'll find enough quite from the riff-raff of Santa Monica beach warriors and crowds of Surfrider. 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 onsite camping grounds, picnic area, RV lot and token-operated showers. And don't forget Fido: This is one of the rare beaches where dogs (leashed) are allowed to roam.
Good for: nature lovers, surfers, groups
Facilities: showers, camp site, RV lot, picnic area, restrooms, fire rings
Parking: $12 parking lot

  1. Malibu
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Zuma Beach

Make the drive past Will Rogers and Surfrider beaches and you'll be rewarded with a clean, wide patch of sand and surf at Zuma. A popular spot on weekends and holidays for locals and destination beach-goers, this Malibu beach can hold crowds with plenty of onsite parking (pay at the lot or for free along PCH) and lifeguards on duty. There are also restrooms, showers and concession stands. Surfers can catch some waves at this sandy beach break, but waves tend to close out, making this a perfect spot for boogie boarders and body surfers.
Good for: families, groups, boogie boarders
Facilities: restrooms, showers, lifeguards, concession stand, bike path, volleyball courts, swings
Parking: paid parking lot and free parking along PCH

  1. Malibu
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Dockweiler State Beach

Great for families and road trippers—there's an RV parking lot—this South Bay beach is outfitted with everything you need (paid onsite parking, restrooms, showers) for a day at the beach. Never mind the occasional plane (and noise) looming overhead as you take in sun, surf and sand. The wide, sandy beach is good for spreading out on beach towels and water sports from swimming to surfing, while picnic areas and permitted bonfires (one of the few sites in LA) make for fun all-day outings at the beach.
Good for: families, groups
Facilities: restrooms, showers, lifeguards, picnic areas, parking, volleyball courts, bike path, fire rings
Parking: $3-$10 parking lot, RV lot, free on the street

  1. Playa del Rey
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Users say


Whoever wrote this has not read the health report on beaches in Los Angeles County. I am truly grateful that my local beach isn't on this list just to keep its A clean status and less people. :)

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