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L.A.’s Best Beaches
We combed the coast for places you could escape to—without a boarding pass. Check out our top 10
Doggy Day Care
Arroyo Burro Beach
» The sight-seeing is lovely at this Santa Barbara locale (also known as Hendry’s), but it’s that rare prospect of a leash-free dog beach that brings in many of the day-trippers. Signs will direct you to the south, past the striking tree-topped cliffs of the Douglas Family Preserve, where your friend can also roam sans leash. He’ll soon forget he’s a kept beast. Getting there: Take the Las Positas off-ramp from the 101 north and turn left; turn right at road’s end. The large parking lot is free. Feeling flush: At the Boathouse restaurant adjacent to the beach, you can load up on a traditional breakfast or a seafood lunch.
The stacked lines of waves rolling into the Ventura County site remind us of Waikiki, the other perfect beginner’s surf spot. Should the water become as crowded as Honolulu’s, jump continents. A ten-minute walk north leads to a cluster of palm trees marking Pitas Point (sounds like “Midas”). The ultralong right wave is Southern California’s answer to Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, where on a good day you can ride for miles. Getting there: Take the 101 north to the State Beaches off-ramp and cruise the parkway; a quarter mile past the Faria Beach sign, watch for a wide beach. Feeling flush: The tasty veggie burger at the Faria Beach Park café is a mere $4.50.
Hide and Seek
El Matador State Beach
» Those wedge sandals are cute, but they’ll never make it down the steep trail and two sets of stairs to this untrammeled sanctuary in Malibu. The quiet cove is alive with natural sculptures: rock arches and pinnacles jutting from the sand and sea. Wander south to gawk at the splendid homes of Broad Beach, or take a dip in the clear waters. During the week you may have the beach to yourself. Getting there: Proceed north on PCH; the entrance is well marked. The lot can get full in summer, but parking along the highway is allowed. Feeling flush: Happy hour starts at 2 p.m. on weekdays at the Coral Beach Cantina at nearby Zuma.
Million Dollar Baby
Carbon Beach East
» The entrance is flanked by an elegant boxwood hedge and a white lattice gate that could easily be mistaken as belonging to one of the mansions lining this section of PCH in Malibu. Sharp eyes will spot the coastal access sign, and jaws will drop at the sight of the generous, soft, clean sand that you’ll share with the owners of the scenic homes. The beautiful Cape Cod-style compound by the entry is worth the trip alone. Getting there: Head north on PCH and look for parking as soon as you pass Carbon Canyon Road; the access site is within a half mile. Feeling flush: Go back south to Duke’s for a mai tai , coconut shrimp, and a little ukulele music.
» After the raucous crowds on the Venice boardwalk, it’s soothing to come to this tranquil shoreline where, we have it on good authority, the county lifeguards bring their families to play. Sheltered between a jetty at one end and the pier at the other is a patch of water that stays calm no matter the prevailing conditions. With the lifeguard headquarters—housed in a space-age tower—looming a few yards to the north, you can assume this is one of the safer beaches. Getting there: Take Venice Boulevard to the county parking lot at the end. Feeling flush: Wander over to Ocean Front Walk for a sausage sandwich at Jody Maroni’s.
» You don’t have to play beach flag football to tap into your inner adolescent. Watching the twenty- and thirtysomething men and women (four on a team) compete in the leagues at Hermosa can be an equally satisfying immersion in the youthful culture. Find a comfortable perch near the Strand and check out the fit joggers, cyclists, and skaters, or just sink onto a towel on the fluffy, deep sand. Getting there: Take the 405 south to the 105 west; exit at Sepulveda Boulevard and continue until it turns into PCH; make a right at Pier Avenue, then a left at Hermosa Avenue. Park in the structure at 13th Street. Feeling flush: Join in postgame food and drink at Sharkeez bar.
Ocean Trails, Trump National Golf Club
» It may be hard to believe, but L.A.’s most beautiful seaside trail was created by the real estate mogul known for his questionable comb-over as a condition of building the golf course. The hike is fairly easy, though the switchbacks down the cliffs to the rocky beach can be a challenge. Getting there: The 110 south turns into Gaffey Street. Turn onto West 1st Street, then left at South Western Avenue. Go right on West 25th Street, which becomes Palos Verdes Drive South. Turn into the course entrance and look for the beach access trailhead. Feeling flush: An 18-hole round at the course can run $275.
» San Pedro’s shoreline draws dedicated wind worshipers, thanks to its location on an outcropping of land that gets strong, consistent gusts (locals have nicknamed the place “Hurricane Gulch”). Expect to see as many as 100 wind surfers on busy days. Cabrillo is also a draw for other water-borne adventurers. Stand-up paddlers and kayakers traverse the rocky inlets during the morning calm. Getting there: After reaching Gaffey Street from the 110 south, head left on 1st, then right on Pacific, which ends at the beach. The lot fills up quickly on weekends. Feeling flush: Captain Kirk’s rents equipment and offers lessons in a variety of water sports.
Crystal Cove State Park
» Long before McMansions dotted the coast, families flocked to this oasis to camp or rent the quaint beach cottages. You can still relax on the expanse of white sand, which looks as it did back when the cottages were built between the 1920s and ’50s. The Crystal Cove Alliance recently spearheaded a major restoration. Getting there: Take the 5 south and exit at Highway 73 south. Exit 11 merges onto Newport Coast Drive, where you’ll turn left at El Camino Real/PCH. A lot across PCH from the beach is serviced by a shuttle. Feeling flush: Cottages are nearly impossible to rent, but try through ReserveAmerica.com.
Montage Laguna Beach
» A graceful wooden ramp descends to the sandy bay fronting this luxe hotel, but we’d rather enjoy the view from a comfortable (read: grassy) remove. Locate the large open-air fire pit, stretch out on an Adirondack-style chair, and sip a libation from the bar, while bunnies who call the property home hop by. Getting there: Follow the directions to Crystal Cove State Park, but drive south on PCH for ten minutes more; the entrance to the hotel is on the beach side. Feeling flush: At the Mosaic Bar & Grille, order the So. Cal Cooler, a mix of Grey Goose L’Orange and Le Citron, lemonade, Sprite, and muddled citrus—not cheap at $14.
Illustrations by Delicatessen