Travel

A Definitive Guide to LA's Best Beaches

It’s summer in LA, and while we may take it for granted, every other city is losing their mind wishing they could spend their time on our beaches. We’ve got excellent water, food, bars, and (far too many) Instagram influencers in bathing suits, which is exactly why we should be beach bumming it as often as we can. Happy summer everybody: Here are the shoreline spots you need to hit in and around Los Angeles, and the things you should be eating while you’re there.

Oxnard

Low-key beach town with tons of activity options

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. 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 Oxnard Beach Park, which is wonderful for lounging/bringing the kids/creepily staring at other people’s dogs.

Know before you go: Parking is plentiful and cheap, at $5 for the whole day. You can bring your dog as long as it’s on a leash, and since Oxnard Beach located on the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, it’s a good place to bring your bike. Reservations are required for a picnic, so give them a call (at 805-385-7946) to grab one.

Where to eat/drink: If you skip Carnitas El Rey, you’re doing it wrong. The move here is, of course, the carnitas, which are just about as good as anything you’ll find anywhere. They’re also the only thing on the menu, so it stands to reason they’d be good. Fisherman’s Catch is a perfect spot for fresh seafood on the water, and the home of some truly life-affirming clam chowder.

Dockweiler

LA’s go-to beach for bonfire parties

Bonfires are illegal in Los Angeles for the most part, but Dockweiler gives nary a care about that, because you can bonfire it up all you want over here. Grab your gear and hit one of the many bonfire pits laid out along the beach, but be warned: They tend to fill up fast, so arriving early is key. If you’re looking for a challenge, take your BBQ game on the road -- grab some meats from Belcampo on your way up, 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 advise you grab some fast food cups before you arrive and fill them up with the liquids 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.

Zuma

Famous Malibu shoreline with even more famous surfing

Arguably Malibu’s premier surfing destination, Zuma’s the type of place people from the Midwest picture when they think of Los Angeles beaches -- in other words, 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.

Know before you go: You’ll be dealing with some colder-than-average water, but with the intensity of LA’s summer weather, that’s never a bad thing. 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’s allowed). Be sure to take advantage of the perks though, like usually-not-very-gross bathrooms, showers, and volleyball courts.

Where to eat/drink: Any wonderful Malibu day needs to begin (or end) at Malibu Wines -- it’s the gold standard for day drinking in Los Angeles. The grounds are completely gorgeous, and the clientele even moreso. If you’ve got the cash to burn, grab dinner at Nobu for an omakase tasting menu experience you won’t forget from perhaps LA’s most storied chef.

Ventura

Sleepy-yet-populous beach town packed with great food

A little farther up the coast from Oxnard sits Ventura Beach, a coastal town that somehow manages to retain a quiet and easygoing vibe despite its larger-than-a-town population -- the beaches are some of the cleanest and loveliest you’ll find, especially Surfer’s Knoll. The surfing is extremely choice here, but even if you don’t surf, the Knoll is a beautiful spot to lounge and go beachcombing (if that’s your thing).

Know before you go: In the summertime, when the weather is hot, you can walk right up the beach and go to the Ventura County Fair: it’s just like the county fairs you know and love, except it’s by the ocean instead of a 200 degree dirt patch, so it’s infinitely better. If you’re a watersports maniac, kitesurfing, jetskiing, kiteboarding, and paddleboarding are big here, with lessons and rentals being offered on the beachfront. Oh yeah, and free parking.

Where to eat/drink:Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company is an elite-level spot for cold beers and fish & chips (don’t skip on the fish tacos either). Ventura is also home to the dog-friendly Poseidon Brewing, and its Grapefruit IPA is absolutely something you need in your life. For a Nepalese meal that’ll rock your bones, make Himalaya a part of your trip. That Sherpa Curry Chicken is out of this world. And whatever you do, don’t skip out on great tapas and even greater wine at local haunt The Cave.

Santa Monica

Worthwhile tourist haven consistently buzzing with life

Is Santa Monica touristy? Yes. Is it generally overpriced? Yes. Is it full of attractive people and also a fun roller coaster and Ferris wheel that you just can’t hate no matter how hard you try? Also yes. That gorgeous water, paired with gorgeous people along the beach, is the number one thing Westsiders have on Eastsiders. Yet, despite the overload of tourists, Santa Monica manages to keep its foldhold as one of the city’s most powerhouse dining neighborhoods, year after year.

Know before you go: It’s important to know that you’re walking into perhaps the biggest hotbed of all LA tourism. If the Walk of Fame gives you anxiety, Santa Monica Beach is likely to do the same (but then again, you’re at the beach, so how bad could it be?). Santa Monica is essentially the starting point of the Marvin Braude Bike Path, which goes all the way down the coast to Torrance, so bring your bike/rollerblades/souped up wheelchair, and enjoy some world class west coast ocean air.

Where to eat/drink: Start your day at Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern for a top-tier brunch that includes the legendary Meal Mary: a beastly bloody mary garnished with a blue cheese olive, pepperoni, jack cheese, shrimp, pepperoncini, and a deviled egg. Don’t sleep on the Santa Monica Proper Hotel and its new rooftop restaurant/lounge Calabra, and make sure you end your day at Cha Cha Chicken: a BYOB Jamaican restaurant whose spicy jerk sauce is simply too delicious to be real. 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. We've got a whole other article on Santa Monica's best restaurants, too, in case you need more options.

Venice

An an artist and chef-driven neighborhood hidden behind a touristy eyesore

It’s unfortunate for Venice (and at times, the rest of LA) that it’s most often associated with the Venice Boardwalk. California’s marijuana legalization has helped loosen the monopoly that many of the Boardwalk’s “doctors” had on the green stuff, but it’s still a generally unpleasant place. But that’s not Venice; not really. The real Venice lies not only in the shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes that populate Abbot Kinney, but along the beach itself. It’s always loaded with LA gems, from the White Men Can’t Jump-style pickup basketball games that never seem to end, 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 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, like no alcohol, smoking, or glass bottles, but unfortunately they also don’t allow animals, so you can’t bring your pet ferret to this one. The sunsets in Venice are legendary -- you should post up at one of the nearby rooftops (like High Rooftop Lounge) and watch ‘em.

What to eat/drink: Venice’s culinary scene is far and away one of LA’s best, so you’ll do very well here. 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. Feeling like some oysters and wine? Try the newly renovated Dudley Market. And if you’re into pasta, you’d be remiss to skip Felix, where Evan Funke is serving what most people refer to as the best handmade pastas in the city.

Rosie’s Dog Beach

Hound-friendly beach that hosts many canine events

Rosie’s Dog Beach, we’re happy to say, is just what you’re imagining it to be. Completely off-leash, you’ll find it in the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach. Rosie’s plays host to lots of fun dog events too, so any time you’ve ever received a Facebook invite for something like “Corgi Beach Day,” chances are it was at Rosie’s. It’s for sure the only place where you can actually enjoy a wet dog.

Know before you go: Hours for dogs are 6am-8pm, so technically your best friends aren’t allowed on the beach outside of that time. Respect the rules… (don’t say it) you don’t want your little friend (just don’t say it) to end up in (oh no we’re definitely gonna say it)... paw-rison.

Where to eat/drink: Long Beach, which is technically LA county, has a surprising number of grand slams in the eating and drinking department. Any craving for Mexican food should lead you to Lola’s: it’s extremely hyped, but deservedly so because the food is terrific. If you’re staying at the Westin, check out their fun, naval-themed spot for small plates and liquid nitrogen cocktails, Navy Proof Food & Spirits. And of course, if you’re of the “drinking on a rooftop” persuasion (who isn’t?), Bo-beau Kitchen + Rooftop is for you: board games, live music, great beer, and impossibly crispy Brussels sprout flatbreads await.

Hermosa Beach

Southern LA beach showcasing incredible sunsets

The sunsets at Hermosa are nearly impossible to top, and you can catch them from the edge of the long pier -- take somebody you love, and we can confidently say things will go well. 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. If you’re a comedy or magic fan, Hermosa Beach also has the Comedy & Magic Club, where Jay Leno still makes regular Sunday night appearances.

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 smoking and vaping (regardless of what it is you’re smoking) are not allowed in any of the public spaces. If you’re a volleyball or tennis fan, Hermosa’s got courts for you.

Where to eat/drink: Hermosa Beach is riddled with top-notch food and drink, especially Baran’s 2239 (try the Indian Egg), and Palmilla Cocina Y Tequila (grab a cucumber jalapeño margarita and stare longingly at the ocean). For a one-stop shop for all your various needs, hit Abigaile: the place starts as a brewery and restaurant downstairs, and turns into a rooftop dance rager upstairs.

Manhattan Beach

Beautifully maintained shoreline backed by upscale dining

Not to be outdone by Hermosa, Manhattan Beach will also showcase some crazy colors in the sunset department. It’s not hard to fill up a day with activities here, what with the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, Polliwog Park (a superb place to disc golf), and Sand Dune Park, which is exactly what it sounds like. People use the huge hill for exercise, but you know what’s more fun than exercise (besides everything)? Sandboarding.

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 the buzzy explosion of tourism that you’ll find in Santa Monica and Venice, but that might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re going in the summer, keep your eyes peeled for pro volleyball at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, which is free and an absolute blast.

Where to eat/drink:Manhattan Beach Post is a heavyweight brunch champion, with enough bacon cheddar biscuits and chimichurri skirt steak to defeat any hangover. Fishing With Dynamite is another must, thanks to what might be the best raw bar in the city.

Santa Catalina Island

Long Beach-adjacent island worthy of an entire weekend

The trip to Catalina begins with a ferry ride from Long Beach, which is always a winning start, and ends with a day on a beautiful island, which is always a winning finish. Since it’s an island, the beach is essentially in every direction, and you have prime real estate to set up shop anywhere and just lie on the sand. The Descanso Beach Club is a primo beach lounging spot, with rentable cabanas and a full bar. There’s plenty of more active stuff, too, like zip-lining with Zip Line Eco Tours, helicopter tours with Island Express Helicopters, and of course, dolphin-searching boat tours with Ocean Runner Dolphin Tours.

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 long to you, change that perspective: the ferry ride is actually great, and there’s nothing quite like standing on the deck of a boat with a drink in your hand (there’s a full bar) and ocean breeze in your face. An adult round trip will run you about $75.

Where to eat/drink: Mt. Ada was once a palatial retreat owned by the Wrigley family, but now it’s been turned into a friendly little B&B; spend the night, and you’ll have access to a fully stocked butler’s pantry with wine, beer, Champagne, hard liquor, and more. Oh, and you can’t consider your Catalina trip a success unless you’ve had some Buffalo Milk, which is sort of a Catalina icon (it’s basically just an alcoholic milkshake). Find ‘em at the Descanso Beach Club, or basically anywhere else.

Newport Beach

Orange County shoreline famous for fishing and surfing

Newport Beach is pretty much the quintessential Orange County beach: You can whale watch, peep some seals from the Newport Pier, and even go all Point Break on the waves during a storm at The Wedge. Fishermen/fisherwomen/fisherpeople are also in luck, as deep-sea fishing is a big deal in Newport -- and consequently, boat rentals are a big deal here as well, so get ready to start living that #yachtlife. Or, if all else fails, just take in the majesty of the place where they shot lots of Arrested Development.

Know before you go: Dogs aren’t allowed between 10am and 4:30pm, so you can enjoy the sunrise/sunset with your little friend, but nothing in between. And great news for all you lovers out there: weddings are allowed, as long as there’s no alcohol or sound equipment (what an un-fun wedding). Because of all the aforementioned seriousness about fishing, you’ll need a license if you want to partake.

Where to eat/drink: We've spoken at length about Newport Beach's restaurants, and it's pretty obvious why. The food from Eddie V's Prime Seafood has probably popped up in your Instagram feed at some point, but that’s a good thing since the dishes are picturesque as hell, and even better tasting (be sure to order something from the raw bar). To amp up your nightlife experience, hit Johnny’s Saloon: an outstanding dive bar with both a killer whiskey menu and some extremely dank pizza. It’s pretty hard to top.

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Wilder Shaw is a native Angeleno, which means he’d rather go camping. Convince him to join your beach cult on Instagram and Twitter.