Grab your sunscreen and your towel, because LA has more than 75 miles of coastline and 33 public beaches, so you can always find a stretch of sand to snatch and plenty of waves to catch. But don’t forget your appetite, an extra suitcase and a sense of adventure, because LA’s coastal cities are more than just a bunch of pretty places. From the quiet enclave of Malibu with its celebrity residents to the funky ambience of Venice with its offbeat street performers, each of these waterfront wonders offers its own personality and its own take on dining, shopping, attractions and activities.
Got a hankering for fresh seafood? How about a healthy entrée salad? Or a greasy burger? Our beach cities have them all. Representing diverse coastal cuisine is the spruced-up Mexican fare of celebrity chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, hosts of the Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales,” at Border Grill Santa Monica. For even more celebrity watching, head to The Lobster in Santa Monica or Geoffrey’s on the beach in Malibu.
Artist types like the Asian fusion cuisine at Chaya Venice, where local artists, musicians and movie industry moguls hang out. Meanwhile, couples enjoy romantic dinners overlooking the marina and its million-dollar yachts at Café del Rey in Marina del Rey.
More casual fare can be had at a number of local hot dog and hamburger stands. And several eateries at San Pedro’s Ports O’ Call Village serve up freshly caught seafood cooked on outdoor grills.
If you’re looking for that perfect bathing suit or pair of sunglasses or a chic, antique accent table for your living room, you’ve come to the right place. Head to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade for several pedestrian-only blocks full of well-known retailers such as Pottery Barn and Urban Outfitters, as well as one-of-the-kind shops, plus three multiplex cinemas and a slew of restaurants, cafes and bars.
Nearby, the hottest celebs — Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney among them — shop at Fred Segal. Equally alluring is Montana Avenue, where you’ll find high-end designer boutiques, including some that are owned by celebrity clans.
And if it’s quirky you want, go straight to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice for antiques, vintage clothing, funky collectibles and locally created art — all set in the neighborhood's laid-back beach atmosphere.
When you get tired of sunbathing and surfing, there’s always something fun to do. For classic serenity, visit the Getty Villa, presiding on a promontory overlooking the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. It has an exquisite permanent exhibition of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.
Partake in good old-fashioned fun and take a ride on the 1916, fully restored carousel inside a National Historic Landmark hippodrome building on the Santa Monica Pier. The pier also is home to Pacific Park, where you can hop onto a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and other rides and play arcade games over Santa Monica Bay.
Just south of the pier, there’s plenty to gawk at along the Venice Beach boardwalk, from the off-the-wall street performers on Ocean Front Walk to the washboard stomachs and bulging biceps at the Muscle Beach outdoor gym. Or rent some skates and draw some of your own attention.
If you’re farther south, visit the spectacular wood and glass Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Lloyd Wright, Frank’s son, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean just south of Palos Verdes. While you’re in the area, stop by the pristine Trump National Golf Club for a round of golf and breathtaking views.
If it’s family fun you’re looking for, you can get an up-close-and-personal look at the Pacific Ocean’s inhabitants at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach. In San Pedro, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium recently had a $10 million facelift and features a hands-on Exploration Center and an aquatic nursery. While you’re in San Pedro, catch the fantastic views from Point Fermin Lighthouse, one of LA’s most historic landmarks. Or better yet, take a stroll on the new San Pedro Waterfront Promenade, lined with magnolias, peppermint trees and colorful gardens.
If you’d rather be on the water, you can take a cruise with Hornblower Cruises & Events in Marina del Rey or with Spirit Cruises & Yacht Parties in San Pedro. Dinner cruises are available, and if you want to celebrate a special occasion with 40 to 400 of your closest friends, you can charter yachts from Hornblower, Spirit or FantaSea Yachts & Yacht Club. You can even get away to Catalina, the “island of romance,” in less than an hour and a half from San Pedro or Long Beach via the Catalina Express ferry.
After a day in the sun, there are plenty of places to relax and get a good night’s sleep. At the 1929, cottage-style Casa Malibu Inn on the Beach, you can watch the ocean from your balcony or soak in your in-room Jacuzzi tub while a fire crackles in the fireplace.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica Beach is virtually the backyard of Shutters on the Beach and Casa Del Mar. Just steps away are Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and Le Merigot, a JW Marriott Beach Hotel and Spa. Nearby, the Viceroy Santa Monica is a hip, urban, boutique retreat, while the historic Fairmont Miramar Hotel Santa Monica.
For a little vintage style, stay at Venice Beach Suites & Hotel, right in the midst of Venice’s bustling scene. Farther south, the Marina del Rey Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey overlook thousands of yachts moored in one of the world's largest man-made recreational marinas.
Discover more great activities, restaurants and hotels in our 24-hour itinerary of the beach cities.