Los Angeles is known for long wide sandy beaches with picturesque piers jutting out into Santa Monica Bay. These are world-class beaches that draw thousands of visitors every day. They are filled with families playing at the water’s edge, building sandcastles, and resting in the sun.
Surfers bob in the water next to the piers, and volleyball players enjoy the sand courts. All of these reasonably homogeneous bayside beaches are excellent destinations. Still, LA is lucky to have some more diverse options nearby on the Malibu shoreline and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. There you will find cove beaches with a much different feel.
Best Los Angeles Beaches
1. El Matador State Beach
Small and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador my not fit your typical idea of an afternoon on the sand—but it’s far and away SoCal’s most beautiful beach. Wear shoes and don’t bring too much gear; the western Malibu spot is only accessible via a steep gravelly path. Spread your towel in the cupped hands of the rocks—watch out for high tide. Arriving early or staying late should reward you with memorable dawn or sunset. El Matador and nearby El Pescador and La Piedra beaches collectively form the Robert H. Meyer Memorial Beaches.
2. Zuma Beach
Make the drive past Will Rogers and Surfrider beaches, and you’ll be rewarded with a clean, wide patch of sand and surf at Zuma. A popular spot on weekends and holidays for locals and destination beach-goers, this Malibu beach can hold crowds with plenty of onsite parking (pay at the lot or for free along PCH and Westward Beach Road) and lifeguards on duty. Surfers can catch some waves at this sandy beach break, but waves tend to close out, making this a perfect spot for boogie boarders and body surfers. Venture to nearby Point Dume for pleasant hikes and repelling.
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3. Leo Carrillo State Park
Leo Carrillo State Beach has the best of both worlds: a well-equipped stretch of sand plus seclusion and scenic beauty. Longboarders can paddle out for mellow waves—it gets no more than chest-high at this point break—while nature lovers can explore tide pools on the rock-dotted coastline and a nearby trail. Groups can use the onsite camping grounds, picnic area, RV lot, and token-operated showers. And don’t forget Fido: This is one of the rare beaches where dogs (leashed) are allowed to roam.
4. El Porto Beach
Try to ignore the Chevron refinery and the occasional plane coming in and out of LAX and instead focus on the consistent waves that make this a favorite for surfers who make the trip from all parts of SoCal. Newbies love the sandy beach break (watch out for the occasional flying board). At the same time, winter wave hunters can brave overhead waves. Enter the parking lot from 45th Street, and note the five-hour limit. Early birds get the worm (and less crowded waves) with free parking before 8 am. Those that prefer to stay on land can make use of the bike path and volleyball courts.
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