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Sun, sand, and surf: These are the best Los Angeles beaches to explore this summer

Turns out the City of Angels has some pretty heavenly beaches. These are the best, locals-approved spots

The Point Vicente Lighthouse on a cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Nhostetler/Wikimedia

With the stunning skyscrapers of DTLA, the bright lights of Hollywood, the paparazzi cameras staked out to catch glimpses of celebrities all over town, and so much more to see and do, it’s easy to forget that the Pacific Ocean is one of L.A.’s next-door neighbors. In fact, Los Angeles County boasts about 75 miles of coastline with a wide variety of beaches to please almost anyone.

Thankfully, summer is officially here, and we’re ready for sun, sand, and surf! Yet, since LA is such a huge city with so much going on 24/7, it can feel daunting to know which way to go to find your new favorite beach. So which beaches should you visit during your next L.A. trip? Because the City of Angels is so massive, we’ve put together a cheat sheet of the best Los Angeles beaches to make your beach days a little less stressful. From Malibu’s glamorous shores to Palos Verdes’s hidden gems, here are the best L.A. beaches worth exploring.

A sunset at Leo Carrillo State Park near Malibu, California.
Jim Helvey/Wikimedia

Leo Carrillo State Park and County Line Beach

If you’re down for a long drive away from the city — and even a long drive from the main attractions of Malibu — you’ll be rewarded with the spectacular sights and sounds of Leo Carrillo State Park. This northwestern corner of L.A. County boasts some of the region’s cleanest ocean water, multiple point breaks with good northwest swells, several sea caves and tunnels, and pretty tide pools at the south end of Leo Carrillo. 

This is an especially great stop if you’re doing an extended road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Santa Barbara, Big Sur, and San Francisco. If you’re planning to stay in the LA area, it’s probably a good idea to make a day trip of visiting the beach here, hiking the Santa Monica Mountains, and cruising the PCH in Malibu. 

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The beach at Zuma Beach in Malibu, California.
Dave Parker/Wikimedia

Point Dume State Beach and Zuma Beach 

If you want almost two miles of wide and sandy beach close to the center of the action in Malibu, then you’ll probably want to go to the legendary shores of Zuma Beach. While this area tends to be less crowded than the beaches closer to the I-405 Freeway, you probably still want to go as early as possible to find parking, your spot on the sand, and your perfect spot to enter the water. After all, local surfers love the close-to-shore breaks here. 

For even more beach for you to enjoy, Point Dume State Park is right next to Zuma. The water here is great for swimmers and scuba divers, and landlubbers can still have a great time at the nature preserve on top of the bluff.

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A clear sunset at Will Rogers State Beach in Los Angeles, California.
AllyUnion/Wikimedia

Will Rogers State Beach and Sunset Point

For many on L.A.’s Westside, this beautiful expanse of coastline in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood is basically their extended backyard and their window to the sea. Don’t get too worked up over potential celebrity sightings here (you’ll probably have better luck in Malibu or heading inland to Brentwood), but do get excited about a long and broad stretch of sand that opens up to the area’s calmest and gentlest waves — particularly at Sunset Point, right where Sunset Boulevard meets PCH. This beach is perfect for stand-up paddleboarders and novice surfers, and you’re sure to enjoy stunning views of the entire “Queen’s Necklace” of Santa Monica Bay from Malibu to Palos Verdes. 

You’ll find more amenities on the south side of Will Rogers (closer to Santa Monica), while the fancier oceanview restaurants are on the north side of the beach, closer to Malibu. 

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The entrance to the world-famous Santa Monica Pier after sunset.
web4camguy/Wikimedia

Santa Monica Pier

This feels more like the world-famous L.A. “beachy B-roll footage” we all know and love. Though Santa Monica is an independent city, its beaches are more accessible to more Angelenos and way more tourists, so there’s almost always a huge crowd here. Regardless, Santa Monica is worth visiting for the very wide beaches with amazing views of the entire “Queen’s Necklace,” as well as a long, wide pier that functions as the local open-air market and amusement park. 

Though the water quality directly under and by the pier tends to be rough, you’ll find cleaner water and better surfing a little south in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood. 

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Birds at the beach in Venice, Los Angeles, California.
Blake Everett/Wikimedia

Venice Beach

No list of the best Los Angeles beaches is complete without mentioning the one L.A. beach that’s known the world over for legendary bodybuilders, the grooviest countercultural vortex this side of the city of San Francisco‘s Haight-Ashbury, and a richness of cultural diversity that we don’t find in most other Southern California coastal communities. Of course, we’re talking about Venice. 

If you want to try out the kinds of workouts that burly legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and Frank Zane did, or if you simply want to — ahem — “take in the views,” head to Venice’s Muscle Beach for all the flexin’ and admirin’. For a radically different set of aesthetics, saunter along the boardwalk and enjoy the prime opportunity to watch street performers, skateboarders, artists of all stripes, and so many more people march to the beat of their own drums. For the actual beach and ocean water, you’ll catch some surfers at Breakwater near the skate park. For a quieter stretch of sand, head south of the pier and towards the Marina del Rey Jetty. 

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A view of the beach facing south towards the Palos Verdes Peninsula at Manhattan Beach, California
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Manhattan Beach

Located south of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the infamous Chevron oil refinery, Manhattan Beach and the rest of the South Bay communities simultaneously feel so close to the big city and so removed from the rest of the LA scene. Instead of movie stars and paparazzi, you’re more likely to find a ton of surfers, a whole lot of beach volleyball action, and the kind of “chillaxed” vibes that are more common down in neighboring Orange County

Fortunately for ocean lovers, Manhattan Beach’s water quality tends to be quite high (despite whatever assumptions travelers have based on seeing the nearby Chevron refinery). El Porto on the north end attracts more surfers, while the pier draws more casual beachcombers and revelers. For a particularly fascinating look into California Black history, head to Bruce’s Beach between the pier and El Porto to learn more about how a family of trailblazers and local civil rights activists successfully prevented the erasure of Southern California’s most storied Black-run beach resort. 

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A view of Lunada Bay at Palos Verdes Estates, California
Homeispv/Wikimedia

Flat Rock Beach and the Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve 

While the Palos Verdes Peninsula attracts fewer visitors than the more famous L.A. County beaches to the north — and perhaps even the Orange County beaches to the south — you’re missing out if you sleep on this picturesque stretch of California coastline. In Palos Verdes Estates, you can enjoy a particularly scenic drive, walk, hike, or bike ride along the Bluff Cove Trail and the Shoreline Preserve. 

At Bluff Cove Trail, you can access the rocky yet pretty Flat Rock Beach. Amenities are sparse, and this isn’t really a good spot for swimming or surfing, but this is a prime location for hikers and rock climbers who appreciate stunning scenery with their exercise.

Continuing south, the blufftop trail at the Shoreline Preserve will lead you to another small beach loaded with vibrant tide pools. If you continue south, you can even check out the remains of the SS Dominator, a freighter ship that crashed here in 1961. 

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Exploring the Pelican Cove area of the Palos Verdes Peninsula
Scarlet Sappho/Flickr

Terranea Cove and Abalone Cove

Situated right by the Terranea Resort in the understatedly luxurious enclave of Rancho Palos Verdes, Terranea Cove offers an amazing sea cave and a small rocky beach to enjoy. It’s not the best beach for sunbathers and swimmers, but it does connect to a nice blufftop trail that runs along the perimeter of the resort. If you continue east, you’ll land at Abalone Cove, where you’ll find more amenities, a wider sandy beach, a spectacular vantage point to spot Catalina Island, and some of the area’s best tide pools.

On the west side of the resort is Pelican Cove and the Point Vicente Lighthouse. Across Palos Verdes Drive from Abalone Cove, you can see for yourself the famed Wayfarers Chapel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright. Even better, you can connect to more trails in the area that reveal more of Palos Verdes’ natural beauty.

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Surfer in a wetsuit walking away from the water on Los Angeles' Torrance Beach.
Matt Burt/Unsplash

“Rat” (Torrance) Beach

Despite the rodent-inspired name, there’s nothing “ratty” about this Los Angeles County beach. It’s actually an acronym that most locals use to abbreviate “Redondo and Torrance” or “right after Torrance,” depending on who you’re talking to.

Regardless, it’s among the area’s best beaches for skin diving, free diving, snorkeling, and even scuba diving. You’ll find surfers and fisherpeople here, too. There are plenty of amenities right on the beach, including restrooms (with showers), concessions, volleyball courts, a bike path, and more. And, when you get bored of all the Pacific sun, sand, and surf, the surrounding town has a laid-back, multicultural vibe and a happening beer scene that make it worth a day or two of exploring.

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A look at Zuma Beach from Point Dume in Malibu, California
tmastro/Wikimedia

Before we go, here are a few tips for a better day at the beach

Los Angeles’ best beaches don’t always get the love they deserve, so we wanted to do our part to change this. No matter which beaches you visit, please make sure to respect the beaches and the wildlife that depend on them by cleaning up after yourself (as in, don’t litter) and taking good care of yourself (as in, make sure you have water and a good reef-safe sunscreen). For more information on SoCal beaches, including up-to-date water quality reporting and detailed environmental records, check Heal the Bay’s interactive map. The Surfrider Foundation is also a valuable resource for in-depth environmental data on California’s beaches.

While there are plenty of reasons to explore on dry land, let’s not forget the beaches that made this region famous in the first place. Whether you prefer dramatic bluffs, great surfing waves, tide pools teeming with life, or wide stretches of sand, there’s a beach here that’s right for you. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey across “la-la land” to discover L.A.’s best beaches. For more awesome content to help plan your next adventure, check out the 20 best national parks to explore, Lake Tahoe’s best outdoor adventure spots, and our favorite San Diego beaches.

OK, that’s enough talking — it’s time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors!

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Andrew Davey
Andrew Davey is a writer who has spent a long time in "hard news" journalism, but who has also pursued interests in food and…
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