When your vacation travels take you to Los Angeles, the trip wouldn’t be complete without checking out at least one of the beaches… regardless of what other LA tourist attractions drew you to sunny Southern California.
But which one? There are so many great beaches to choose from. We’ve put together a guide to the top ten beaches in Los Angeles to help you choose.
1. The Most Beautiful Beach: El Matador
When it comes to beauty, El Matador beach is hands down our number one beach. The beach is known for the beautiful arches and caves in the rock formations on the beach and near the beach in the water.
The sight of the beautiful Pacific ocean near sunset with the sun peaking around the many arches and rock formations near the beach is something to behold. Some of the most iconic photos of California’s beaches were taken here. This however is one of the drawbacks. If you hit the beach with a camera that looks too professional, be prepared to spend some time explaining to the lifeguards that you are really just a tourist!
There are a couple of drawbacks to consider before heading to El Matador. Located 6 miles northwest of Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway, it is the second farthest beach to get to (but the drive is beautiful). The parking lot is small and there is really no where else to park if it is full. The biggest thing to consider if you are thinking of putting El Matador on your things to do in LA bucket list is the hike down to it. The hike is long and steep partially by a dirt trail and partially by steep stairs. If you’re out of shape it might be too much for you.
There is also one caution if you go. While the caves are beautiful, be sure to observe the state of the ocean for a while before playing in them. While many are open on both sides, when the waves are high a sudden big wave can easily fill the caves with water.
The address is: 32350 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
2. Most Secluded Beach: Point Magu Beach
Another 9 miles up the Pacific Coast Highway from El Matador is Point Magu Beach and State Park. It is adjacent to the Naval Base with the same name. It’s far enough out that you won’t have the crowds at the beaches closer it and part of it is extremely beautiful.
The northern portion of the beach features swimming, body surfing and surf fishing. Drive through the parking lot to the south end of it and work your way by foot a bit beyond that in the same direction and you will see beautiful rock formations in the water. While not quite as spectacular as the ones at El Matador, they won’t disappoint and you don’t have the hike. The same cautions apply here as well regarding the waves and the rocks.
The Point Magu State Park also features more than 70 miles of hiking trails. Note: top photo on this post is taken at Point Magu.
By the way, this is the camera gear I used to get the shots of the model on the rocks when the wave hit him. I was using my Nikon D750 with a 70 – 200 mm VR lens. I couldn’t have gotten the shot with a lesser camera.
3. Most “Artsy” Beach: Venice Beach
I was almost going to call Venice Beach the most popular with tourists, but I think that distinction goes to the Santa Monica Beach and Pier.
Venice Beach has a couple of different vibes. The artsy, bohemian portion of it is the Venice Boardwalk where street performers, artists, quaint shops and great restaurants line the boardwalk. It’s a never ending show of fascinating people watching. Also is this area is the famed Muscle Beach.
Head south on the boardwalk about a mile and you come to the Venice Pier. This is right where Washington Street meets the ocean. The 1,310 foot pier is one of the top tourist attractions in Southern California and it is a great “cool down” spot. I’ve felt the temperature be a good 15 degrees cooler out on the pier than on the land. The area isn’t as bohemian as the boardwalk, but you will find plenty of cool restaurants on Washington Street where it dead ends at the pier.
While you are here, check out the Venice Canals. The canals lie just east of Pacific Street between the boardwalk and pier. There are walkways between the homes cutting back to the canals. The Venice Canals were built to resemble their namesake in Italy and are both the most beautiful residential neighborhood in Los Angeles and a popular tourist destination.
To reach this area, take Washington Street to the ocean. If you are headed to the pier, you’re there. If you want to check out the boardwalk area head north on Pacific to about 17th Street.
4. Most Famous Beach: The Santa Monica Beach and Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is an amusement pier with the Pacific Rim amusement park. It’s iconic entrance has appeared in more movies and travel brochures than I could list along with the amusement park. The lights of the ferris wheel can be seen for miles in all directions at night.
The pier is packed with restaurants, cool shops and fun things to do. And crowds. It is always packed with people. Caution again with cameras. If you look “professional” someone will be calling you aside. The Santa Monica State Beach runs to both the north and south of the pier. The beach to the south will connect with Venice Beach. North of the pier is known as North Beach and it runs north to where it connects with Will Rodgers State Beach. Also North of the pier on the bluffs along Ocean Ave is Pacific Palisades Park where you can enjoy peaceful breathtaking views of the Santa Monica Bay.
The pier is a definite top contender for your things to do in LA bucket list, but it and Venice Beach are the most crowded.
The official address is 200 Santa Monica Pier. Not very helpful. But it’s right where Colorado Ave meets the water.
5. Best Beach to Watch Planes Takeoff: Dockweiler Beach
Dockweiler State beach has 3.75 miles of shoreline and a hang gliding practice and training area. It is considerably different from the other beaches we mention for three reasons.
The first is that part of the beach is directly under the flight path for planes taking off out of Los Angeles International Airport. If you don’t mind the noise and enjoy watching airplanes taking off then this is an added benefit.
It is also the only beach with fire pits where you can burn a wood fire. And if you are looking for a beachside spot to park your RV, the beach has a recreational vehicle park with 118 full hook-up spaces. I
12001 Vista Del Mar, Playa Del Rey, CA 90293. It’s right where the Imperial Highway hits the water.
6. Closest Beach to the Rich and Famous: Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach
Ok, I guess the title isn’t fair. The rich and famous live near most all of the beaches in Southern California. But Mailbu has the designation of being where the most expensive homes of all are (though I’m not entirely sure that is true either).
I love the Mailbu Pier. It has a different, more spacious feel than the pier in Venice or Santa Monica. It has great restaurants on either end of the pier (both of which are owned by Malibu Farms) but other than that it is mainly a fishing pier.
If laying in the sand is your top priority, Surfrider Beach isn’t the best pick. The beach here is rocky, not sandy. There are spots that without rocks but there are better beaches if laying in the sand is the game plan.
To me, the only thing that makes me hesitate to go to Mailbu Pier is the parking. The lot by the pier is quite small and the parking overflow on the Pacific Coast Highway fills up fast.
23050 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
7. The Ultimate Beach: Zuma Beach
Zuma is said to be the ultimate Southern California beach. It’s wide and extends for 1.8 miles with 8 parking lots and about 2000 parking spaces.
Zuma Beach is about 10 miles northwest on the Pacific Coast Highway from the Mailbu Pier and it is between the pier and El Matador Beach. There are food stands are located at each end of the beach. There are also restrooms, restaurants, showers, volleyball nets, and a bus stop.
This beach has become popular for both swimming and body surfing; however, it is also known for its rough surf and riptides. Zuma also has fishing, surfing, and windsurfing. Zuma is also a great place to watch grey whales make their winter migration
8. Will Rodgers State Beach
Will Rogers State Beach picks up where the North Beach in Santa Monica ends. It extends one and three-quarters mile along the shore. The beach features swimming and skin diving. Facilities include volleyball courts, playground and gymnastic equipment, as well as a bike path and walkway. A number of movies and TV shows have been filmed at this beach.
The beach is located off the Pacific Coast Highway, near the intersection with Temescal Canyon Road. Truthfully, if you are visiting Los Angeles from somewhere else in the world, I don’t recommend this beach. There is nothing wrong with it. There are just others that are much more memorable.
9. Best Beach Near LAX: El Segundo Beach
Often when in Los Angeles on business or an overnight layover, you can find yourself staying in a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. If you want to enjoy a sandy beach that is not far from the airport, but far enough away not to be listening to the roar of airplanes directly overhead at Dockweiler, then check out El Segundo Beach.
It doesn’t have a pier or an artsy boardwalk, but the sand is great and the lack of crowds and easy parking are heaven. There is a power plant on the north end, but it doesn’t seem at all disturbing.
Ignore the little pin on the Google Maps when you search for it. It’s close but not the area I’m talking about. From LA, get on the Imperial Highway and take it west to Vista Del Mar and head south past the power plant to 45th Street and head west. That will take you into the parking lot.
If you do want a pier, the Manhattan Beach Pier is just down the road (or the beach path if you are up to waling a mile or so).
10. LA Beach With the Best Sand: Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach is just south of El Segundo Beach. The sand is the cleanest and finest of any beach I’ve been to. The Manhattan Beach Pier is the oldest standing concrete pier in Southern California and it houses the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab & Aquarium in an octagonal shaped building at the end.
The beach is basically just a beach, with a lot of volleyball courts. But there are plenty of restaurants and shops just off the beach.
We also recently wrote about the town. The town of Manhattan Beach is considered one of the most desirable places to live in the greater Los Angeles area.
11. Best Beach to go Tidepooling: White Point Beach
White Point Beach is one of Southern California’s most beautiful undiscovered treasures. Located in San Pedro, it’s just enough off the tourist beaten path that you can enjoy a beach without parking hassles or elbow to elbow people. Yet it’s near a number of places you’ll want to visit on your trip to Los Angeles including the Queen Mary, the Korean Bell of Friendship and the Point Vicente Lighthouse.
If your goal is to lay in the sand, this rocky beach isn’t the beach for you. But you’ll find breathtaking views from the top of the cliffs, and you can explore the marine life caught in the tide pools at the bottom. There is no steep hike down the cliff either. You can drive your car from the upper level to the lower level where the tide pools are!
There you have it. We arranged these in rough order of which ones we like best. But for a little inside info from a local, here are my picks.
If I want to get away and get a sense of peacefulness and space I head north to Malibu or Point Magu. Point Magu is a long drive but the traffic dies out past Malibu and the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway is beautiful and relaxing. White Point Beach offers the same sense of peacefulness and space on the south end of Los Angeles.
If I am taking out of town friends to a beach they will remember for a long time after they go home, I head out to Venice Beach or Santa Monica Pier. When I want a hassle free day at the beach for myself and some local Angelenos, I pick El Segundo or Manhattan Beach.
Enjoy your visit to Los Angeles. Be sure to share this post with your friends so they will know the best beach to go to in LA too.
This site does contain some affiliate ad links from various companies including Amazon and I do earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend products and services I believe are of good value.