Los Angeles has more to offer than freeways, Hollywood studios and Kardashians… promise! America’s second largest city boasts a variety of beaches to lure locals and visitors alike, from the hyper Santa Monica pier to surfer-friendly Manhattan Beach.
On a recent visit to Los Angeles, I discovered how easy it is to spend a day at Manhattan Beach. Even if you aren’t into surfing, this friendly beach town has plenty to offer. Read on for my top 10 activities, and share your own favorites by leaving a comment below!
10. Boogie Board
Not ready to try surfing? Grab a boogie board and head for the coastline. Boogie boarders flock to the stretch of Pacific Ocean by the Manhattan Beach Pier, where the water is downright frothy! If you are over 15, don’t worry; boogie boarding seems to be an adult activity on the West Coast (unlike on the New York City beaches).
9. Play in the Sand
Forgot your sand pail and shovel? No worries– there are plenty of objects in the Manhattan Beach sand that you can play with. A stroll across the shore uncovers piles of rubbery seaweed with water-filled pods. I found a strand the perfect size for jump roping. The seaweed was remarkably strong and had just the right amount of give, but it did smart when it whipped the bottom of my legs! Other objects I came across included a trucker hat emblazoned with the word “surf” and an abandoned watermelon being eaten by a crow. Who says you need money to have a good time?
8. Scope out the Real Estate
Want to gawk at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, while criticizing their taste? Luxury beach homes line the Manhattan Beach boardwalk (known as “The Strand”), and show a broad range of architectural styles. Unlike the palatial estates in the Hamptons, these homes are not surrounded by 8-foot bushes or patrolled by private security teams. Local tycoons seem to want to interact with the common folk on the boardwalk, as most patios have low fences and deck furniture is arranged to face the masses.
The architectural style at Manhattan Beach ranges from ‘new money’ tackiness (think Italian villas with stucco walls painted to look old) to 1960s mod and avant-garde styles. My favorite home was framed by ornate metal walls with flower shapes and stained glass panes.
7. Surf (or Crush on Surfers)
Want to surf for the first time without being accosted by Point Break-style thugs? Pick up a $60 foam surfboard at Costco and head to Porto Beach at the north end of Manhattan Beach. On our weekday visit, the coastline was dotted with surfers but there was plenty of space for newbies to hone their craft. One of our LA-based friends taught himself to surf and honed his craft by coming to this beach every day for several years. If you’d rather stare longingly at surfers than participate yourself, this is also a great spot!
6. Consider Becoming an Environmentalist
Looking for a pristine beach? Well, that’s one thing Manhattan Beach can’t offer. The soft sand and breaking waves are framed by old-school refineries with billowing smokestacks. I’d seen this before in Curacao, where even the most popular tourist beaches offer views of oil refineries and barges. The smokestacks at Manhattan Beach are a bit off-putting, but within a few minutes you’ll ignore (although not quite forget) them.
5. People Watch on the Strand
Looking for the West Coast version of the Jersey Shore boardwalk? Fuhgeddabout it! You won’t find carnival rides or beer bongs on The Strand, Manhattan Beach’s main walkway. This sidewalk is popular with runners, adorable dogs and tourists gawking at the seaside mansions. During a recent visit, I walked down the beach and returned to the parking lot via The Strand– the perfect way to see both sides of Manhattan Beach.
4. Cruise the Pier
Want a 360-view of the beach, sand, homes and hills? Head to the Manhattan Beach Pier, a long elevated walkway that ends at a cute little hut called the ”Aquarium & Cafe.” The aquarium was closed during my visit, so I’m not sure how they squeezed any exhibits into this tiny structure, but I did glimpse a number of fisherman, a group of older men staring intently at a women’s volleyball match, and multiple families hanging out on the pier.
The pier is a great spot to snap photos of the coastline, and offers a chance to watch surfers from a unique perspective.
3. Eat at a Surf Cafe
Don’t usually think of seafood and tacos in the same breath? Lunch at a Manhattan Beach surf cafe will change your mind. There are several cafes a few blocks from the beach, but Four Daughter’s Kitchen caught my eye. I tucked in to a huge vegetarian salad while Jake tried the fish tacos– a dish he was always too sketched out to try in New York City. After finishing every scrap on the plate, he deemed the tacos “excellent.”
2. Splurge on Dessert
Are you unable to pass up a free cookie? Don’t miss the Cake Bakeshop in Manhattan Beach, which offered one free cookie with Yelp check-in during my recent visit. I ended up trying a snickerdoodle cookie (outrageously good!), salted chocolate chip cookie (so salty!) and cake pop (meh!). There is also a popular ice cream shop in town called the Manhattan Beach Creamery, which I did not have a chance to try.
1. Meet a Shark!
Craving some excitement on your LA vacation? You don’t have to get in the water to have a shark encounter at Manhattan Beach. A great white shark sculpture guards the entrance to the aquarium at the pier, and provides an excellent photo op. Just make sure to ham it up for the camera!
What’s your favorite LA attraction?
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