There are 70 miles of beach in Los Angeles county, and each of the communities along the way has its own distinctive character. For visitors coming to Los Angeles, the easiest beaches to access are Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach. Together, these cities are a microcosm of L.A. as a whole: quirky, diverse, and naturally beautiful.
As an Angeleno, I make frequent trips to these beaches with friends and family. Here is how I’d spend one perfect day in those parts of town.
The first stop of the day, on our way to the beach around 11 a.m., is Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica. Here, we stock up on supplies for our picnic. This eatery’s big submarine sandwiches with freshly baked Italian bread, imported cheeses, and cold cuts are legendary. Most popular is the “Godmother,” which is made with prosciutto, Genoa salami, mortadella, sliced ham, provolone, and “the works,” a punchy assembly of mustard, mayonnaise, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, homemade Italian dressing, and pickled hot or mild peppers.
When I go to Bay Cities, I always get the Caprese sandwich, which includes soft mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and marinated onions with hot peppers, oil, and vinegar. At the deli or the supermarket across the street, I also buy some chips and drinks to bring to the beach.
Viewfinder Tip: Avoid the crowds by scheduling beach days in Santa Monica and Venice during the week.
The walk from the parking lot (near the highway) across the wide stretch of warm sand to the shoreline is a rite of passage here in Los Angeles. Your feet sink in deeper with each step. As you walk, all the noise and hubbub of being in a big city fades away behind your back. Then, relaxation hits—that intoxicating, tranquil feeling that only a beach can bring. My friend and I usually grab a patch of sand close to the sea, where there is a slight breeze that blows off the water. Here, we get down to business: We eat our picnic, we sunbathe, and we enjoy good company.
Later in the day, we usually decide to move our bodies. Conveniently located along the paved Marvin Braude Bike Trail are rental stands where we can rent bikes for the day. Once we’ve acquired our wheels, we point them south toward Venice Beach and start pedaling. Joining the tide of cyclers, runners, and bladders, we pass beneath the beloved Santa Monica Pier and wheel by Muscle Beach (where muscular men almost always are working out and pumping iron). The mixture of sand, sun and beach bodies enchants us. And then we approach Venice.
Biking with friends
Venice Beach is a collision of energy and people of all different kinds. In this sea of activity, visitors from across town and around the world mix with locals, street performers, and artisans selling their wares. Everywhere you look, there are distractions: Skaters performing tricks, graffiti art, basketball players engaged in intense pick-up games. There is even a freak show! Yep, that’s right. There’s a traditional, carnival-style freak show!
If you‘ve never walked along the Venice boardwalk you have to do it at least once. Since we’ve done it before, we usually skip the boardwalk and ride on down to the Venice canals, where it always feel like escaping to Europe.
After the canals, we head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, back near downtown Venice. This street is one of the most active and walkable neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Here you’ll find dozens of great stores and restaurants. On my beach day, I might stroll around to see what’s new in the boutiques and art galleries. If some friends in my group want an afternoon coffee, we stop at Intelligentsia.
The Santa Monica Pier at dusk
As the day winds down, we hop back on the bicycles, ride them back to Santa Monica and return them. We usually go from there to drinks and dinner. But as a visitor looking for the full experience, you may want to wander around the Santa Monica Pier—take a ride on the solar-powered Ferris wheel or try a carnival game. You also might want to take a proper stroll along the shore.
Dinner and beyond
As the day transitions into night, it’s nice to watch the sunset with a drink in hand. Our favorite place to do that: the rooftop deck of the Erwin Hotel, in Venice. From here, once the sun has dipped below the horizon, I like to head next door to Barnyard, a casual, local spot with a cozy interior and fresh California produce prepared by an award-winning chef. Be sure to make a reservation in advance. The meal is a great way to cap a perfect day on the coast of L.A.
What do you look for in perfect beach day?