Marina del Rey
Los Angeles County
Lower-key alternative to Venice and SaMo, good for boat and bird watching
When it comes to beach recs in the heart of LA’s Westside, Santa Monica and Venice get most of the attention. And rightfully so: between them, the adjacent beach towns boast two piers (one with a small amusement park on it), a world-famous beachfront boardwalk, and some of the city’s top places to eat. For a less frenetic afternoon on the sand, though, try cruising a little further south to this quieter, residence-lined beach that runs from the Venice Pier to the north jetty fronting the main channel (which allows boats to access its namesake marina). It’s wide, relatively quiet, and a great place for bodyboarding, swimming, and playing a few good old-fashioned games (there are plenty of volleyball courts but bringing some bocce balls or a beach paddle set is never a bad idea.)
Know before you go: While there’s a massive parking lot at the end of Washington Boulevard, near the pier, that’s also the most crowded section of the beach (though it's good for being steps from the bustling bars and restaurants that line Washington.) Instead, park about a mile south at the metered spaces that line Via Marina along the north jetty, and set yourself up on this mellow end of the beach. If you want to stretch your legs, take a stroll down the Grand Canal’s walking path (which begins just across from the metered parking), where you can gawk at a variety of resident majestic birds and resident rich people’s really nice homes.
Where to eat/drink: An afternoon can quickly turn into a late night while hitting every bar on Washington, but if you only have time for a couple, make sure to hit historic dive bar Hinano, which cooks up the best burgers in town just behind the bar; and The Pier House, a good stop for stiff cocktails and innovative seafood plates. If you’re looking to sailboat-gaze from a marina-fronting venue, try the 3-6pm happy hour at the newly revamped Cafe del Rey, which does discounted dishes like truffle fries and mussels mariniere along with drink specials every day of the week. It’s a bit more upscale, though, so you’ll need to change out of your bathing suit and wash that sand off.