The best beaches in Los Angeles: 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.

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.

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Malibu

El Porto Beach

Critics' pick

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.

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Manhattan/Hermosa/Redondo

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

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Malibu

Zuma Beach

Critics' pick

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

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Malibu

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

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Playa del Rey

Surfrider 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, the most sourthern end bordered by the Malibu pier, is the most well-known, so be prepared to brave crowds and fight for waves. (Novices need not be deterred as the vibe here is friendly and laid back.) Second and third points are better bets for shortboarders. Park along PCH and trek past the lagoon onto the vast stretch of beach. Other nearby attractions include the Adamson House, a historic Spanish-style home-turned-museum, and Malibu Pier, which is enjoying a comeback. Spend the entire day at the beach with plenty of eating options—check out Malibu Country Mart for lunch and Nobu Malibu for dinner—then rest your head at the Malibu Beach Inn.
Good for: surfers, tourists
Facilities: restrooms, showers
Parking: free parking along PCH

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Malibu

Venice Beach

People-watching is the raison d'être at Venice Beach, 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. Street parking is usually jammed, but there are several beachside lots.

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Venice

County Line Beach

The northernmost beach bordering Ventura County, this stretch in Malibu offers easy parking along PCH, an escape from the crowds, crystal clear waters (don't be surprised to be out in the water alongside dolphins and tiny reef sharks) and a playground for surfers and kite surfers. The wide beach break is perfect for surfers of all levels while afternoon winds are perfect for kite surfing. Neptune's Net is across the street for beachside grub.
Good for: surfing, kite surfing, escapism
Facilities: none
Parking: free parking along PCH

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Malibu

Santa Monica State Beach

This big beach, which effectively runs the length of Santa Monica itself, is usually crowded and has a festive, summer holiday feel to it. The big attraction is Santa Monica Pier (on level with Colorado Avenue), roughly three city blocks in length and packed with typical and endearingly low-tech distractions: pier fishing, video arcades, free twilight concerts in summer, fortune tellers, fairground games, rides and a Ferris wheel.
Good for: groups, families, tourists
Facilities: restrooms, showers, pier, bike path, concession stands, lifeguards
Parking: paid parking lots

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Santa Monica

Comments

2 comments
Tony D
Tony D

Believe it or not, I have never gone surfing before. I made it my goal of the year this year to learn. My wife and I are heading down to LA in May, and we'll be returning again in August. It's nice to get some background on the beaches before we go down there. I really can't wait. http://www.costa-rica-surf-adventures.com/surf_camp.html

Sparklepony
Sparklepony

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. :)