It can be easy to forget that L.A. is an oceanside city. Brutal traffic and busy schedules prevent regular visits to the coast. But having a destination in mind makes the Pacific more accessible -- and when that destination also features a happy hour discounting wine, cocktails, beer and the occasional appetizer, your excuses for staying inland get swept out to sea. The waves crash, the seagulls squawk, the sun sets and the salt air dances with an aromatic mai tai or pale ale. What's not to love?
Also captivating: the chance to observe a rare breed of beachgoer, to be found only in its natural habitat. Whether you're watching a theater of absurdities on the Venice Boardwalk or taking in the lofty Pacific view from a hotel bar, the following happy hours by the beach marry deeply discounted drinks with the sublime vastness of the sea and some truly interesting people watching.
When you venture to Malibu, it's not usually to find the cheapest drinks in town. Yet even this affluent beachfront community has something close to working-class booze prices at Duke's, at least during Aloha Hour at its Barefoot Bar. There's plenty of dated kitsch at this Hawaiian-themed mainstay, but you'll hardly notice it when you're spellbound by the crashing waves and setting sun. Few places in town have such amazing proximity to the water -- from certain seats in the bar area (both outdoor and in), you could swear you were on a boat. Look for specials ranging from $3 beers to $5 mai tais, depending on the day, and $5 Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch. There are plenty of bar snacks to pull you from your rum-induced stupor and prepare you for the long drive home -- especially the fish tacos. Happy hour Mon., 3 p.m.-close, Tues.-Fri., 4-6 p.m. 21150 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; 310-317-0777.
Rowdy drinking is the status quo for the second-floor patio at the Venice Whaler Bar & Grill, perched where Washington Boulevard meets the Boardwalk. A true dive bar, the Whaler looks like Venice and feels like Venice, even if it's technically in neighboring Marina del Rey: Maxi dresses abound and no guy's look is complete without Oakleys on the top of his head. Not only can you see the little fishing pier extending out to sea, but you can also spy all the way up the boardwalk, where life plays out like a grungy soap opera stuck in the mid-'90s. Sip on $6 house wine and spirits and $4 draft beers -- look out for Lagunitas and Venice Beach Beer. Better yet, buy a pitcher for $15. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.; Mon.-Thurs., 10 p.m.-mid. 10 W. Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey; 310-821-8737.