Start with us this tour west of L.A. in Santa Monica. We’ll lead you to Venice and to well-known and famous surfing towns like Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Huntington Beach.
Then discover Laguna Beach, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas & Cardiff. San Diego, of course, check out our articles: San Diego, California — overview for travelers. There you’ll find the top beaches of San Diego, Del Mar, Encinitas & Cardiff-by-the-sea.
It’s obviously what the associations with the expression “Southern California” are: Laid-Back Life, Beach, Surfing, Sun, Fun, … Southern California, that describes the stretch south of L.A. to San Diego.
A classic beach town which started as a resort community about 100 years ago.
Situated west of Los Angeles (just 8mi to LAX Airport and 13mi to downtown LA) is Santa Monica an ideal location to live and for vacation.
The world famous 3.5-mile Santa Monica Beach has appeared in countless movies and TV shows epitomizing the beach life of Southern California. Along the strand people jog, bike, skate, play chess or volleyball, build sandcastles or simply watch the waves as they kiss the shore.
Average high temperatures vary between 65°F/18C to 72°F/22C from winter to summer. Nearly continuous sunshine warms the air, while ocean breezes keep the skies clear.
As you stroll along Ocean Front Walk you’ll come upon California’s original Muscle Beach, the famous outdoor workout venue. Newly restored in 2000, this bit of beach has attracted suntanned fitness buffs since 1930. The combination of gorgeous location and wide array of gymnastic and balance apparatus draw fitness experts and novices alike. There’s even an exhibition area where the fittest are likely to do some flexing for you.
The perfect vantage point to see the sweep of Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific Ocean is from Palisades Park which sits atop Santa Monica’s famed sandstone cliffs. This gathering place for locals and visitors alike is also home to public art installations, a meditation center and the Santa Monica Visitors Center. In this ideal setting, with its majestic palms, lush green lawns and flower-filled gardens you’ll discover the quintessential beauty of California.
What people do on the Pier today isn’t very different from what they did more than 100 years ago. They fish day or night, watch the waves, view the wonders of the undersea world, dance under the stars, ride a carousel horse or a roller coaster, dine at an ocean view restaurant, entertain themselves at an enticing arcade and shop for souvenirs. The Pier is a place for families and fun, for amusement and amazement.
Public Art & Architecture
Santa Monica lives well with art. In public spaces all over the city, local, national and internationally renowned artists are represented by murals, sculpture and architecture that depict the artists’ visions of the issues, events, and culture diversity that impact our lives.
Be sure to keep your eyes open for “surprise” paintings and sculptures on the sides of buildings, in yards and gardens, in public parks and even on our world-famous beach.
You haven’t seen it all until you’ve seen Venice! There is a sandy three-mile beach here, but that is not what attracts visitors. You go to Venice to shop and gawk. During the summer season and on weekends, there is street entertainment at every intersection along Ocean Front Walk.
Street performers include instrumental musicians, singers, jugglers, acrobats, mimes, comics, magicians, prophets, fortune tellers, and other assorted entertainers. You will see people with tricolor hairdos, painted faces, weird tattoos, and outlandish clothing–or lack of it. The Boardwalk is a virtual sidewalk circus, a walk ‘n’ rolling skin show.
There are lots of funky shops, too, if you want to eat out of the ordinary or buy an unusual souvenir or T-shirt. There are courts for basketball, handball, shuffleboard and paddle tennis. Muscle Beach is a special area where fanatic bodybuilders pump iron in a public show of strength.
The Venice Chamber of Commerce maintains an Event calendar while other sites contain historical information and even a home page featuring live photos and facts about the street performers, artist, canals, and the community.
Situated 19 miles southwest of Los Angeles at the end of the Santa Monica Bay is Manhattan Beach definitely one of the famous Surf-cities around the mega city.
Approx. 35.000 residents enjoy the 2.1 miles of fine, white, and sandy beaches year-round.
When visiting don’t miss the 280 m (928 ft) long pier and enjoy either just strolling around, watching a sunset or i.e. fishing.
Lots of sporting activities can be watched here, of course! Beach Volley is one of the most popular ones, beside of surfing. Or just relax in one of the nice cafes near the Hermosa pier. The first entirely wooden pier was built in 1904 but was washed away by the ocean surf shortly after. It was replaced later by other more durable constructions which were only in part of wood.
Average summer temperatures are 21 Degree Celsius (74F) and approx. 12C (55F) during winter.
Our verdict: Hermosa Beach is our favorite spot in L.A.’s closer vicinity.
“Surf City, USA”, this nickname says it all. Expect a lifestyle that focuses on sun, beach, surfing and a fun time.
Approx. 200.000 residents live in Huntington Beach, also referred as ‘HB’, which is located approx. 35 miles south of LAX.
Huntington Beach is the home of the US Open of Surfing Championship (end of July, early August) and other major Surfing events. That indicates that the summer season is also high season, what doesn’t mean that you feel that it’s crowded along the 8.5 miles of great beaches.
Take your pet with you …
Dog Beach between SeaPoint Avenue and Golden West Street on Pacific Coast Highway
Dog Park near Lake Huntington in Central Park, off Edwards Street
Approx. 50 miles south of Los Angeles.
The little town with approx. 26.000 residents is renowned as a jewel among the coastal towns. More quiet and relaxing than its neighbors and a place for artists. A considerable gay and lesbian community exists since many years here too.
A wonderful coast line, beautiful beaches and impressive mansions at the steep coast make Laguna Beach worth to stay a couple of days.
We recommend July and August when you have the opportunity to attend an outstanding arts event: the Festival of Arts – Pageant of the Masters.
This is the largest city among the coastal towns – around 160.000 people live here. Among them probably 40.000 military personal, because just north of Oceanside is one of the largest military bases located: Camp Pendleton, the training facility of the US Marines.
It takes approx. 30 minutes to L.A.’s south boundary and less than 30 minutes to San Diego downtown. All this depends on the traffic on the I-5, which has a bad reputation for traffic jams.
To LAX airport you should easily calculate 2-3 hours.
Should you bring enough time and you want to go to San Diego, take the coastal highway 101, which leads you through Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar and La Jolla.
The scenery is unbeatable!
Oceanside has beautiful beaches and one of the longest wooden piers at the west coast.
Don’t miss some history when visiting: Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, an Adobe and brick construction, was founded in June 1798 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It’s situated approx. 4-5 miles east of I-5 in Oceanside – signs indicate where to exit the Interstate.
It could be an ideal place to live, when there were not some residents, we spoke to who considered their city as not one of the safest places… crime rate is a concern.
Where to dine and eat – our recommendation:
Anita’s Mexican Restaurant
2250 S El Camino Real
621 N. Coast Highway
1050 S. Coast Highway
…, where you also would find the typical timber framing architectural style you encounter here in Carlsbad, California.
The old part orf the town is usually called ‘the village’. It’s a nice neighborhood, where lot of cafes, restaurants and shops can be found.
Anyway, the shops aren’t the main attraction in Carlsbad, as it seems. We never found any place crowded.
Carlsbad means beach, relaxing in the sun, surfing and enjoying life – not shopping. You will find approx. 7 miles of beaches, enough for surfing, swimming, snorkeling and sun bathing.
Legoland is a major attraction and ‘just around the corner’ – ask wherever you want, people will give you directions, it’s easy to find.
A great place to live and a great place to stay for a couple of days during your trip along the coast.
Our favorites regarding restaurants are two unique places:
One of them is the “Pizza Port Brewing Company”, where -what the name suggests- is the right place for pizza and beer. In summer you should try the outdoor yard, we would call it a ‘Beergarden’ – excellent atmosphere and not too hot. Those of you who smoke will choose it anyway, because it’s the place to be then.
Don’t forget to get a taste of their ‘Weizen’ beer, which is a specialty in Germany. The do a real good job here, but all other of their micro brewed beers are good, too.
Tip # 2 is the fish restaurant “Jay’s”, located directly at the Carlsbad Blvd, which is Main Street.
Jay’s is quite small but serves fantastic dishes. You might think that you smell garlic all over the place, which indicates what you can expect. Prices are ok, even if not that low priced as in the Pizza Port.
By the way: you may bring your pet as long as you sit outside. Make a reservation ahead.
PIZZA PORT, 571 Carlsbad Village Dr.
JAY’s, 2975 Carlsbad Blvd
Remember, don’t miss LEGOLAND® which is only minutes away!