Spread along almost 50 kilometres of coastline, Los Angeles’ beaches are famous for their movie-star good looks and enviable lifestyle and offer visitors a laid-back introduction to the City of Angels. People travel to this part of LA to escape the frenetic pace of downtown and indulge in life’s pleasures: good food, good fun and some serious shopping.
Santa Monica’s picturesque historic pier is home to Pacific Park, the only free amusement park in LA. Visitors can ride one of the world’s only solar-powered ferris wheels or saddle up on a merry-go-round dating back to the 1920s. The Pier is a magnet for Hollywood film shoots and a top pick for celebrity spotting.
Nearby you’ll find Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only mall filled with popular US stores such as Anthropologie and Gap. It’s a must-visit on weekends when air-kissing locals and talented buskers provide plenty of free entertainment.
Built by tobacco mogul Abbot Kinney in 1905, Venice Beach was once a gaudy pastiche of canals and colonnaded buildings known as the ‘Venice of America’. While the Venetian architecture and most of the canals are gone, the vibrancy and visionary creative spirit of this slightly weird yet wonderful area remains in the cheeky tricks of a passing skateboarder, rainbow colours of its street art and crazy buzz of its famous beachside boardwalk.
Zip along the boardwalk on a Segway tour, move to the rhythm of a sunset drumming circle or join the locals for a First Friday Art Walk when the shops stay open late. Venice Beach is so hippie you can almost smell the ganja and there’s always something exciting going on.
If you prefer a beach experience that’s a little more genteel, head to the ritzy beachside suburb of Malibu, which is home to a blockbuster number of Hollywood A-listers. For some unusual yet authentic LA entertainment, you can hang out with the paparazzi on the beach in front of the fancy mansions and indulge in some celebrity spotting.
Don’t be intimidated by the burly security guards – provided you stay below the high-tide line you’re free to be there. Experienced surfers can rent a board at the Malibu Surf Shack and strut their stuff at Surfrider Beach, an iconic break ideal for those who know how to surf and want to prove it.
Hermosa Beach is another popular hangout for surfers and much better suited to beginners. Hermosa means ‘beautiful’ in Spanish and the laid-back, casual vibe makes it a favourite with locals, who insist it’s one of the best beaches in California. Whether or not you agree, it’s definitely worth checking out, particularly if you enjoy surfing.
Hermosa boasts some of LA’s best waves, especially during the winter months, and is famous for beach volleyball. Even the so-called ‘social matches’ are exciting to watch. If you’re after some nightlife, head to one of the lively bars on Pier Avenue or the Comedy and Magic Club where Jay Leno performs most Sunday nights.
Manhattan Beach is ideal to visit during a layover at LAX. Catch the $US5 Ocean Express trolley bus from nearby Century Boulevard and you can be strolling along the sand in 20 minutes.
Allow a couple of hours to watch the surfers performing aerials from the pier, wander along Manhattan Beach Boulevard and have a meal with the locals at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, which has been here since the 1960s.
If time is short or you can’t decide which beach to visit it’s no problem. Simply hire a bike and cycle from one glorious stretch of sand to the next along the picturesque, 35-kilometre South Bay Bicycle Trail, one of the world’s longest beach paths.
*Featured image: Venice Beach with Santa Monica Pier in the distance.
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