From the muscle-bound athletes pumping iron beside roller skaters in Santa Monica to the graffiti artists who stake their claim in the murals around Venice Beach, Los Angeles’s sandy stretches are a world away from the glitz of Hollywood and the concrete of downtown. Whether you’re looking to soak up some quiet time near the ocean or dive into the vibrant scenes of these waterfront locales, there are plenty of things to do in Los Angeles if its water and sun you’re looking for.
Picture a classic California beachfront boardwalk and you’ve got a good idea of what’s at the heart of Santa Monica. With its iconic Ferris wheel and historic carousel, the wooden walkways of Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park are reminiscent of the sort of California found in a Beach Boys song. Learn how this picture-perfect scene has been preserved and check out nearby sights on an easy-to-use electric bike with Pedal or Not Electric Bike Tours.
Beyond the pier, you can browse the art galleries scattered along Ocean Avenue, pop into to check out the undersea creatures at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and swing by Muscle Beach to compare your guns with the pros.
Move south from Santa Monica’s cotton candy stands and postcard-perfect scenes and you’ll find Venice Beach’s eclectic mix of culture. Look for bizarre street performers showcasing wild stunts for passersby on the Ocean Front Walk, watch professional-level streetballers shoot hoops on beachfront courts, and look for the next legendary skateboarders making their mark in the same urban environments that beckoned surfers away from the waves and onto the sidewalks in the 1970s.
Away from the beach, explore the canals that wind through town and keep an eye out for the colorful murals and graffiti work of the city’s acclaimed urban artists, or hop on a bike and tool around town with Santa Monica Bike Center to find the best examples of Venice Beach’s artwork painted on concrete, not canvas.
Home to celebrities past and present, the mountain-bordered sands of Malibu boast massive mansions and sprawling beachfront estates. For a better look at the addresses of the rich and famous, take to the skies for an aerial look at this prized stretch of real estate. With ALG AVIATION, soar over Malibu, checking out bird’s-eye views of other LA sights including Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, and downtown LA.
Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo Beach
Strung between the boardwalks of Venice Beach to the north, and the rugged headlands around Palos Verdes to the south, Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo Beach offer subtle variations sure to please even the pickiest Goldilocks of beach hunters. Whether you choose to swing into the chic, upscale eateries and shops of affluent Manhattan Beach, the never-ending happy hours and college vibes of Hermosa Beach, or the family-friendly pier and waterfront of Redondo Beach, you’re sure to find something to suit your group.
At each, you’ll find plenty of room to stake out quiet spots with your towel, toss around a Frisbee, smack a volleyball, or unleash your inner SoCal surfer. And don’t worry if your wave-catching skills are a little rusty—or don’t exist at all. The pros at Wavehuggers are happy to show you how hang ten with private surfing lessons at convenient locations from Santa Monica to Redondo and beyond.
Half industrial port, half seaside getaway, Long Beach is less known for its sand and more for its ships and waterfront attractions, making it an ideal escape if you’re looking for things to do in Los Angeles beyond the typical sights. Glide through the serene waterways on a Hydrobike tour by Long Beach Waterbikes. Bike by the Queensway Bridge, look for tall ships in nearby marinas, and get up-close views of famous vessels like the WWII ocean liner, the Queen Mary, and a Cold War-era submarine with the all-too-cute name of Scorpion.
Back on land, consider stepping into the Aquarium of the Pacific to examine its shark lagoon and touch tanks perfect for budding marine biologists. Or, check out modern works at the Museum of Latin American Art.
What’s your favorite beach near Los Angeles?