What's the best beach in L.A.? Depends what you're looking for. Los Angeles County is blessed with 75 miles of coast, and beyond that, easy access to even more miles of oceanfront sand in Orange County. That means we have no shortage of great spots for swimming, surfing, shell collecting, cute-surfer watching and even — yes! — booze drinking, if you're into that sort of thing.
Here are our picks for 10 great beaches that fit 10 very different moods.
Best Beach for a Workout: Dockweiler Beach, Playa del Rey
Sometimes it's best to escape the madness of the busy beachside trails in Venice and Santa Monica and head to less-populated paths, like the one at Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey. Close to multiple parking lots, and with access to volleyball courts and the Marvin Braude Bike Path, this beach is the quintessential place to work out away from the crowds. Take the Marvin Braude Bike Path north for a gorgeous bike or run past the docks at Marina del Rey. Near the western end of Imperial Highway, 12001 Vista Del Mar, Playa del Rey.
Best Beach If You Hate the Beach: High Rooftop Lounge, Venice Beach
So you like the idea of the beach, but maybe not the sand, and maybe not the water either. Not to worry. Places like High Rooftop Lounge in Venice give visitors the best of the beach without ever having to stick their feet in the sand. Open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, this rooftop bar and lounge is as close as you can get to the real deal without getting all grimy. The relaxed atmosphere and stunning views of the sunset cater to non-beach lovers who are looking to stay dry while enjoying their day or evening. There's plenty of relatively affordable lot parking near by, although good luck getting in and out of Venice on a nice day. Entrance inside Hotel Erwin, 1697 Pacific Avenue, Venice.
Best Beach for Sunshine and Wine: Topanga State Beach
Sunbathe and then sip — or vice versa. Just off the Pacific Coast Highway, south of the oddly placed oceanfront American Apparel, Topanga State Beach may look like an ordinary shore. But what makes this beach so inviting is that it's located across the PCH from Rosenthal Winery. Park in the beach's east or west lot and take the underground passageway, which leads almost directly to the winery's doorstep. There you can taste, buy a bottle and wait for the sun to go down to make your trek back into the city. 18700 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.
Best Beach for a Bonfire: Bolsa Chica State Beach
Located south of L.A. County in Huntington Beach, the Bolsa Chica State Beach shoreline stretches three miles with ample room for sunbathing, swimming and anything in between. Doubling as a campground, Bolsa Chica is one of the few beaches in the area that still allows bonfires. Stop by any day of the year between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to rent a fire ring and enjoy the beach from sunrise to sunset. Parking, however, will set you back $15. Between Sunset Beach and Seapoint Avenue along Pacific Coast Highway.
Best Beach for Spotting Tide Pools: Abalone Cove Beach
Located in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Abalone Cove Shoreline Park is home to Abalone Cove and Sacred Cove. Along the five-mile stretch of rocky bluffs, you will find Abalone Cove, which is perfect for spotting an array of sea creatures. Upon visiting the cove, most are mesmerized by the view of Catalina Island. But if you look closer in, you'll find some of the most impressive tide pools along the coast. Filled with a menagerie of colored sea urchins, these tide pools are surrounded by rocks for visitors to climb for the perfect view. Make sure you bring $5 for parking and check the tide charts before going so you don't miss prime tide pool hours. 5970 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes.
Best Beach to Bring Your Dog: Huntington Dog Beach
Even though there are dog-friendly beaches scattered throughout L.A., Huntington Dog Beach is the fan favorite for dog lovers. Maybe that's because there are no size restrictions and dogs are free to run about without a leash — a rarity in this state even for places considered dog-friendly. Or maybe because Huntington Dog Beach has a non-profit organization that helps to keep it safe and clean for the animals. Make sure to bring change for the parking meters if you're planning on a quick visit. 100 Goldenwest St., between Seapoint Avenue and 21st Street, Huntington Beach.
Best Beach for Drinking: Paradise Cove Beach Café
So technically it's a café, but small details aren't what's important here. What is important is that this is one of the few places in L.A. where you can legally drink alcohol on the beach. Located in Malibu, this secluded café serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and has private cabanas for guests to rent. If you go the cabana route, you also get the option to BYOB. The only problem you'll have at this place is deciding whether to drink cocktails out of coconuts or roll up your own cooler. Good problem to have. One bad problem: Things get crazy on sunny weekends and sometimes the valet parking lot is too full to accept new guests. Plan ahead and beat the rush. 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.
Best Beach for "iPhoneography": El Matador
Keep your eyes open for the tiny brown sign marking the beach, or you could miss this hidden gem between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon roads. El Matador Beach, north of Malibu, is famous for its ridged cliffs and massive rock formations. For years this beach has been a utopia for photographers and models, but lately, they're not the only ones enjoying the view. An Instagrammer's dream, El Matador is an excellent spot to capture photos of waves crashing along the rocks — which are great for making all your non-SoCal friends jealous. But be careful; you'll have a 150-foot trek down to the beach so make sure you're wearing the appropriate gear. El Matador Beach Road between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon roads along Pacific Coast Highway.
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Best Beach to Peer and Pier: Manhattan Beach
Perfect for any beach day activity, Manhattan Beach is known for its pier jetting 928 feet into the water. Not as horrifically over-commercialized as the Santa Monica Pier or as no-frills as the one in Venice, this pier is particularly good for people watching thanks to the surplus of comely local surfers. If you're not ready to catch some waves yourself, there is plenty of fishing, dining or shopping while others test their skills. Western end of Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach.
Best Beach to Ride the Waves: Malibu Surfrider Beach
Although surfers are notoriously reluctant to share their favorite places, we're not blowing up anyone's spot by giving a shout-out to Malibu's Surfrider Beach, famously one of the best places to ride the waves in Los Angeles. North of the Malibu pier, the sandstone reefs at Surfrider Beach create the perfect right break to help surfers jet down the coast. The smooth breaking waves keep from intimidating beginners while still allowing surfers to chose from three different points: Catch a mellow wave at the first point, practice high-performance surfing at the second point, or start at the third point for a chance at riding a quarter-mile all the way to the pier. As always, parking is free along the PCH (if you're fortunate to find a spot) or around $10 during the summer months in the beach's lot. However, if you rent a board or sign up for lessons from the Malibu Surf Shack you can park in their lot for free. 23050 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.