Full disclosure: we’ve been known to plan beach days around our favorite lunch spots. And why not? A day on the sand demands a delicious picnic. From Malibu to Hermosa, from Italian subs to authentic Hawaiian poke, here are our top picks for delicious beach bites.
San Buenaventura State Beach is a chill spot for summer surfing, swimming, and, most importantly, shucking. For two decades, Mark Venus and Mark Reynolds have been sustainably farming organic shellfish, and their Jolly Oyster truck (911 San Pedro St.) offers an ideal way to enjoy the fruits of their labor right on the sand. If your oyster- knife skills are rusty (and whose aren’t?), order your bivalves grilled, fried, or on the half shell so you don’t have to open them yourself. Turn your lunch into a seafood feast by adding an uni tostada or a tray of sea urchin.
Between the potential for traffic and parking issues, Malibu never seems like the easiest beach option, but it has its advantages: beautiful bluffs, beautiful-people watching, a dog-friendly area at Leo Carillo State Park, and the proximity to Broad Street Oyster (23359 Pacific Coast Hwy.). The haute clam shack offers up one of the city’s best lobster rolls, available either hot or cold and topped with uni or caviar if you’re feeling splurgy. The lengthy menu is full of sure bets, from shrimp ceviche to brussels sprouts in anchovy vinaigrette, plus there are options for vegans and those who prefer beef to seafood.
Sure, Santa Monica’s touristy, but it’s also easy to get to, and activities like biking, rollerblading, and enjoying rides on the pier abound—as do delicious food options. Opt for a classic: before heading to the surf, go to Bay Cities Italian Deli (1517 Lincoln Blvd.) to grab its legendary Godmother, a traditional Italian hoagie piled high with prosciutto, capicola, mortadella, ham, Genoa salami, and provolone. It’s served on crusty Italian bread that’s fluffy inside and freshly baked on-site throughout the day. Then walk a dozen or so blocks down Broadway and hit the beach.
At the northern end of Dockweiler State Beach, there’s a surplus of family-oriented things to do. Kids can jump around the playground while watching airplanes land at LAX. Grown-ups can ride bicycles or play volleyball. Plus there’s plenty of perfectly executed, picnic-friendly fare at Top Chef–winner Brooke Williamson’s Playa Provisions (119 Culver Blvd.) dining complex. Try a patty melt, lobster roll, slice of banana bread, or cookie. If the aviation noise is too much, add a cold-brew coffee spiked with whiskey to your order.
While Manhattan Beach has many lovely spots, El Porto to the north tends to be a bit less crowded and features a nice, relaxed neighborhood vibe. It’s also close to Pisces Sushi (3216 Highland Ave., 310-545-3980) the cutest little raw-fish spot you’ve ever seen. Run by a husband-and-wife team, the tiny charmer offers all the classics, including an amazing chirashi bowl packed with fresh cuts of sashimi and costing less than $16. The restaurant feels like a tiny Tokyo takeout shop, and you can round out your picnic with the authentic Japanese sodas and candy on offer.
It’s a bit further afield than other sandy choices, but Hermosa rewards you with an extra dose of tranquility—and the chance to savor some of the best poke around. Jus’ Poke (501 N. Pacific Coast Hwy.) opened in 2013, long before there was a mediocre spot scooping raw fish in every strip mall. Although they’re native Californians, the owners have a strong Hawaiian lineage and prepare their poke the island way, marinating it for hours to give each bite a burst of flavor. Purists opt for the Shoyu, with fresh ahi tuna and soy sauce, while the Spicy tastes like the freshest spicy tuna roll you’ve ever had. Get a Hawaiian Sun to wash it down, and pretend you’ve hopped a flight to Honolulu.
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