The Best Beaches in Los Angeles for Sunning and Surfing
Our favorite places to enjoy sand, sun, and surf and the snacks nearby.
You probably moved to LA for some other reason—for school, a partner, or to escape your small town and make it big in Hollywood—but the motivation to stay after everything else goes up in flames (hopefully not literally, but maybe literally) is that big blue space on the left side of the map. The Pacific Ocean is the saving grace of this town when things are at their worst, the ideal object of your long contemplative stares, and a perfect place for a grand symbolic gesture.
Whether in LA or further south in San Diego, SoCal beaches are also fun as hell, with refreshingly brisk water temperatures that are an absolute joy during the hot summer months, plus plenty of fantastic restaurants and boardwalks to explore. Here are our favorite beaches and where to eat and drink before, during, and after a beach day.
This quiet, mostly residential beach in Rancho Palos Verdes flies under the radar, despite its abundant beauty and easy access. With plenty of hiking trails and a state ecological reserve with protected bluffs that make for a striking view of the Pacific, Abalone Cove is equally enjoyable whether you decide to make the most of available activities or lounge on the sand. It’s also got some of the best tidepools in California and a couple of large caves to explore.
Know before you go: Sections of the beach and tide pool areas have been closed due to falling rocks and unstable cliffs above so check the map to make sure you’re in an area that’s been deemed safe. Barbecues and fires are prohibited, as are dogs, unless they’re on-leash in the adjacent upper picnic area or on designated trails. Parking is free for 30 minutes then increases to $6 for two hours, and $12 for more than two hours.
Where to eat/drink: The beach’s proximity to Rancho Palos Verdes means that the luxury dining at the oceanfront Terranea Resort is just minutes away. If that’s not your speed, stop in San Pedro on the way in or out for Tolucan green chorizo burritos at The Chori-Man, pastries and bread at Colossus, or brews at Brouwerij West.
After a long stretch of closures, some fire pits have finally been returned to Dockweiler beach and are available to use. Bonfires are illegal in Los Angeles for the most part, and their availability at Dockweiler is just one amenity that sets this beach apart—just make sure you stake your spot early as they tend to fill up fast. If you’re looking for a challenge, take your barbecue game on the road—grab some meat from a local carniceria on your way over, and set up a makeshift grill over the fire.
Know before you go: Alcohol is not allowed at Dockweiler, and you’ll see a few police cruisers prowling around. We would never advise breaking the rules, which means we would never suggest you grab some fast food cups before you arrive and fill them up with the liquid of your choosing, making it much more difficult for any lurking law enforcement to spot. No way we’d ever advise that.
Where to eat/drink: There’s not much near Dockweiler (unless you’re trying to eat at LAX), so it’s gonna be a BYOPicnic kind of day. Stop at a luxury grocery store in Playa Vista or El Segundo to grab supplies, or maybe just snag a pizza at The Slice & Pint.
The sunsets at Hermosa are nearly impossible to top, and you can catch them from the edge of the long pier to end a lovely day or kick off a romantic evening. Hermosa Cyclery is a great place to start your day if you’re in the mood to rent some bikes and enjoy the sea breeze on The Strand. And if you’re a fan of beach volleyball, Hermosa’s got plenty of courts for you.
Know before you go: Don’t expect the Hermosa Beach Pier to be anything like the Santa Monica Pier—no rides and carnival games here, just a chill pier that sports some special views when the sun dips down. Hermosa is smoke free, which means that vaping and smoking of all kinds are not allowed in any of the public spaces.
Where to eat/drink: Hermosa Beach has good restaurants, particularly if you want a drink to go with them. Try Baran’s 2239 for breakfast burritos in the morning or the Indian Egg at night, the Tunisian snacks and crisp Spanish white wine at Barsha, and Palmilla Cocina Y Tequila for Mexican food and (you guessed it) lots of tequila.
This state park is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, but it’s actually north of Malibu, making it far more secluded than Santa Monica could ever be. There are 1.5 miles dedicated to swimming, surfing, windsurfing, and camping. Just 28 miles north of Santa Monica, it feels like getting out of the city, but there are token showers and electrical hookups. Leo Carrillo is popular for locals looking for a long weekend trip. If you prefer geocaching, windsurfing, or doing any activity that isn’t just suntanning? This is the place for you.
Know before you go: Dogs are allowed in day-use areas but not on backcountry trails or South Beach. It’s also the rare beach that allows burning firewood, Duraflame, and charcoal briquettes when fire level permits. A sign near the entrance will tell you whether it’s a fire pit day. You can rent your campground online.
Where to eat/drink: Since this is a state park, it’s a little more removed from civilization. You’ll want to bring things you can cook over a fire anyway! If you do want to leave the campground, though, Neptune’s Net is a popular seafood restaurant with a catch of the day and amazing burgers.
Manhattan Beach is the South Bay’s most grown-up seaside town, basically a country club on the Pacific, and LA’s headquarters for Coastal Grandmothers—the real kind, not a TikTok fit-fluencer in costume. It’s not hard to fill up a day with activities here, like biking The Strand, tossing a disc at Polliwog Park, or checking out the ocean life at the non-profit Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier. Not to mention the wide, sandy beach itself, which often has a friendly break for surfers and boogie boarders, particularly on the north end at El Porto.
Know before you go: With two miles of beach and almost 500 parking spaces, chances are high that you’re in for an easy-going day. South Bay beaches are not quite as densely packed as Santa Monica and Venice, but on a summer weekend they still draw a crowd. The AVP Manhattan Beach Open is an annual summer highlight, and there are ample courts for personal use when the pros aren’t around.
Where to eat/drink: Manhattan Beach has great restaurants, headlined by a trio from Chef David LeFevre—MB Post, The Arthur J, and Fishing With Dynamite (get the Key Lime Pie). It’s also a good beer town, with Simmzy’s, BrewCo, and Culture Brewing all just steps from the sand.
For those of us who may actually be a little sick of the heat, a northern beach like Oxnard is a dream. It’s generally at least 15 degrees cooler and the vibe is undeniably relaxed. Only an hour’s drive from LA, there’s a ton of fun stuff to do in Oxnard, ranging from jet ski rentals to backpacking trips through the Channel Islands—which Oxnard’s beaches provide a stellar view of. Thinking of renting a beach house for a weekend somewhere? You’ll find plenty of beaches along Oxnard’s coast, but Oxnard Beach itself might be the prize. The waves here are absolutely stunning, and it’s just adjacent to the dog-friendly Oxnard Beach Park, which is wonderful for picnicking, kite flying, perching on sand dunes, and creepily staring at other people’s dogs.
Know before you go: Parking is plentiful and cheap, at $5 for the whole day (cash only). You can bring your dog as long as it’s on a leash, and since Oxnard Beach is located on the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, it’s a good place to bring your bike. Reservations are required for group picnics, so give them a call (at 805-385-7946) to grab a spot.
Where to eat/drink: If you skip Carnitas El Rey, you’re doing it wrong. The move here is, of course, the carnitas, which they sell in individual tacos as well as by the pound. Fisherman’s Catch is a perfect spot for fresh seafood on the water, and if you’re into Hazy IPAs and Farmhouse Saisons, Casa Agria Specialty Ales makes some of the best in Southern California, the perfect thing to dilute the salt water you swallowed after your jet ski wipeout.
Most know Black’s Beach in La Jolla, San Diego, as one of California’s only nude beaches, but North Rincon (known by locals as Bates Beach) is another low-key spot where you can get rid of your tan lines, or take advantage of right-hand waves that make this beach the best surfing spot on the Central Coast. The three-mile beach is fairly narrow and rocky in some parts, so head across the street to Rincon Park County Beach if you prefer a wider stretch of sand. A bit further up the coast is the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Reserve where you can take advantage of trails and the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook where you can see seals sunbathing down below.
Know before you go: Naturists fought hard to maintain the clothing-optional section of the beach and in 2017, the County Parks Department and County Sheriff agreed to stop ticketing nudists unless there was a complaint. The “No Nudity” sign remains at the top of the ramp that leads to the beach, but about 1,200 feet to the west you’ll find another sign that warns that you’re “Entering Clothing-Optional Area,” which marks the beginning of their approved area.
Where to eat/drink: Fuel up for the day with breakfast at the Worker Bee Cafe and its menu of hearty American diner fare, or cap off your evening at Zooker’s to sample some locally-sourced seafood and veggies. Teddy’s by the Sea is another local favorite for seafood, complete with a spacious patio that gives you a clear view of the town’s main block Carpinteria Avenue.
Rosie’s Dog Beach is just what you’re imagining it to be—an off-leash paradise for your pooch in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore. Rosie’s plays host to lots of fun dog events too, so any time you’ve gotten a Facebook invite from an ex-coworker for something like “Cowboy Bebop Corgi Cosplay Beach Day,” odds are it was at Rosie’s.
Know before you go: Hours for dogs are 6 am–8 pm, so technically your best friends aren’t allowed on the beach outside of that time. Also take note that the beach is not fenced in and while some poop bags are available from dispensers, it’s wise to bring your own.
Where to eat/drink: Long Beach has a fantastic and rapidly-evolving food culture, including some of the greater LA area’s best Cambodian cooking at A&J Seafood Shack. The pizza down there is killer too, from the New York-style pies at Little Coyote to the modern sourdough stuff at Speak Cheezy and beyond. And don’t get us started on the craft breweries and the LGBTQ bar scene.
The trip to Catalina begins with an hour-long ferry ride from Long Beach, a winning start, and ends with a day on a beautiful island, a winning finish. But if you get seasick or impatient, you can also get there in 15 minutes with Island Express Helicopters. There are plenty of activities on the island, like zip-lining with Zip Line Eco Tours, dolphin-searching boat tours with Ocean Runner Dolphin Tours, or just wading into the clear blue water and snorkeling right off the shore. You can set up a towel on the sand in the main stretch of the town of Avalon, but the Descanso Beach Club is a truly primo lounging spot, with rentable cabanas and a full bar.
Know before you go: The ferry heads to and from Catalina Island about 30 times a day, and each ride lasts about an hour. If that sounds like a hassle, reconsider the image in your head— the ferry has a full bar, and there’s nothing quite like standing on the deck of a boat with a drink in your hand and ocean breeze in your face. An adult round trip will run you about $75. For comparison, the helicopter flight is $159 one-way or $318 roundtrip.
Where to eat/drink: Don’t expect Michelin-quality dining on the island—this isn’t San Sebastian, even if they share a craggy coastal look—but you can eat pretty well at NDMK Fish House, The Lobster Trap, and Bluewater Grill, among others. More importantly, you can drink extremely well all around Avalon, by getting your wiki whacked on classic tropical drinks at Luau Larry’s or knocking back the signature Catalina cocktail Buffalo Milk, basically an alcoholic milkshake with chocolate, banana, coffee liqueur, half-and-half, and vodka with whipped cream and nutmeg on top.
Is Santa Monica touristy? Yes. Is everything generally overpriced? Yes. Is it crowded and judgy and the true source of almost all of the negative stereotypes about LA? Also yes. But it has the ocean. That gorgeous water, and the 20 degrees of temperature advantage that comes with it, is the thing that makes everything else west of the 405 worth tolerating. That, and the fact that Santa Monica manages to keep its mojo as one of the city’s best dining neighborhoods, year after year.
Know before you go: It’s important to know that you’re walking into perhaps the biggest hotbed of LA tourism and transplants. If the Walk of Fame gives you anxiety, Santa Monica is likely to do the same (but then again, you’re at the beach, so how bad could it be?). Santa Monica is also near the starting point of the Marvin Braude Bike Path, which goes all the way down the coast to Torrance, so bring your bike/rollerblades/skateboard and enjoy some world-class West Coast ocean air.
Where to eat/drink: Start your day at Demitasse for outstanding coffee, a perfect pastry, and maybe a breakfast burrito. Don’t sleep on Dono, the new Iberian restaurant from chef Brendan Collins, and end your day at Cha Cha Chicken: a longstanding BYOB Jamaican restaurant with some of the best jerk sauce around. Chances are you’ve already been to Bay Cities for the Godmother—a timeless front-runner for best sandwich in LA—but if you haven’t, now’s the time.
Venice is most famous for the boardwalk, with all of its greasy spoons, kitschy art stands, busking musicians, and souvenir shops, but there’s more to Venice than that. The real Venice lies not only in the shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes that populate Abbot Kinney, but along the beach itself. It’s loaded with LA gems, from pickup basketball games and skate ramps to the always-changing public graffiti walls, and even the occasional collision with somebody on their rollerblades. Venice Beach is a community of artists, and despite the massive changes in the neighborhood—or, perhaps, partly because of them—it’s about as LA as it gets.
Know before you go: There are many public graffiti walls in Venice, but you’ll need to obtain a permit. The rest of the beach rules are pretty standard: no alcohol, smoking, glass bottles, or pets, so you can’t bring your ferret to this one. The sunsets in Venice are legendary—post up at one of the nearby rooftops (like High Rooftop Lounge) and take them in.
What to eat/drink: Venice’s culinary scene is among LA’s best, particularly for modern Cal-Ital and stylish eating. For a beloved divey haunt, hit Hinano Cafe—Jim Morrison famously hung out here, and their burgers are some of the best in the city. Gjelina and Gjusta are two of our most iconic restaurants, and you’ll find them both in Abbot Kinney serving incredible pizzas, bread, and more. Situated below the neighborhood’s iconic VENICE sign, Gran Blanco is perfect for people-watching with Mediterranean-ish bites and a cocktail. And if you’re into pasta, Venice is home to some of the best—at The Tasting Kitchen and also at Chef Evan Funke’s Felix.
Zuma’s the type of place people from the Midwest picture when they think of Los Angeles beaches—a wide sandy stretch under gently crumbling cliffs with clear water that forms a perfect surfer’s break… and they shot a whole lot of Baywatch here. Zuma’s one of the biggest beaches in all of LA, so despite its popularity you should still be able to settle into a nice spot. It’s also where you’ll find Point Dume, a gigantic bluff that juts into the ocean. If you’re a rock climber, get yourself to the top for a truly magical view with sea lions lounging around.
Know before you go: There’s tons of parking, but due to Zuma’s hustle and bustle it can get a bit pricier than other beaches—summer rates can go up to $10 for the day (and no overnight parking is allowed). Be sure to take advantage of the perks though, like usually-not-very-gross bathrooms, showers, and volleyball courts.
Where to eat/drink: There are food stands at either end of the beach, but any wonderful Malibu day could begin (or end) at Malibu Wines—it’s the gold standard for day drinking in Los Angeles. If you prefer to sip wines and eat light snacks with the beach as your background, head to Malibu Farm Cafe and Restaurant on the Malibu Pier. For a more laid-back option, the Malibu outpost of Broad Street Oyster Co. has fresh seafood, funky wines, and great vibes at Malibu Village outdoor shopping mall.
Ashley Ray-Harris is a LA transplant who will only consider herself a native when she has her children here. She’s a TV writer and stand-up comic whose work has been featured in Bust, Vulture, and the New York Times. She was a 2021 HBO Queer Comic to Watch and a 2023 BET Black Woman Comic to Watch. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan.