10 Best Beaches near Santa Monica, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 16, 2022

Santa Monica is the premier ocean destination for Los Angeles and the surrounding Los Angeles County. Alongside its own beach, bisected by the Santa Monica Pier, the shore extends for miles on either side of the city. This miles-long stretch of sand is what makes Los Angeles world-famous as an oceanfront city.

Santa Monica State Beach is the first place to visit, accessible on either side of the Santa Monica Pier. This beautiful stretch of sand and amusement-laden boardwalk define many Southern California vacations. But don't limit beach visits to only Santa Monica State Beach, as the entire Santa Monica Bay shoreline is one California postcard after another.

Santa Monica State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

While all the best beaches near Santa Monica offer a unique slice of SoCal paradise, they all share some similar characteristics. All the shorelines offer wide and broad beaches to explore, perfect for the crowds that tend to gather. Another common characteristic is the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail, also known as the Strand, that connects them all.

Find the right beach for your Southern California vacation with our list of top beaches near Santa Monica.

1. Santa Monica State Beach North

Santa Monica State Beach North | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Santa Monica State Beach is the primary stretch of sand most accessible from downtown Santa Monica. It extends approximately three miles, spanning either side of the world-renowned Santa Monica Pier. With several things to do on either side of the pier, the beach is often split between a north and south section.

Palisades Park and the Pacific Coast Highway separate the downtown district from Santa Monica State Beach North. Pedestrian bridges spanning from Palisades Park lend access to the beach. Alternatively, visitors reach the beach by heading down the Santa Monica Pier.

Pedestrian bridge to Santa Monica State Beach North | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The sand is wide and welcoming on Santa Monica State Beach North. There's plenty of space for the massive crowds that gather on the weekends. But even with hundreds of towels and umbrellas spread out between the lifeguard towers, there's still plenty of room to find personal space.

The Annenberg Community Beach House is worth a visit north along the beach. This community resource is right on the oceanfront. It offers several amenities like beach chairs, a playground, and a historic swimming pool. All visitors are welcome to enjoy this oceanside public house.

2. Santa Monica State Beach South

Santa Monica State Beach South | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Santa Monica State Beach South extends south from the pier to Venice Beach, connected by the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. It's a flat expanse of sand with plenty of room for the large crowds that gather. And unlike Santa Monica State Beach North, the city is evenly behind the beach, making parking and access easier without going up or down a set of stairs.

The Original Muscle Beach is one of the first attractions encountered heading south from the pier. This outdoor exercise area has several amenities, including gymnastic rings, pull-up bars, and ropes. The site also has playground equipment and picnic benches and tends to be a popular gathering spot.

Other popular things to do on Santa Monica State Beach South include suntanning and lounging on the beach. It's also a popular jumping-off point for the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, where visitors make the short walk or bike ride to Venice Beach.

3. Venice Beach

Venice Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Venice Beach is the first beach south of Santa Monica State Beach. Visitors quickly access this beautiful stretch of sand and artistic community with a short walk or bike ride on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. And it's well worth the commute, as Venice Beach exudes a community flavor unlike anywhere else on the coast.

A signature appeal of Venice Beach, also known as Venice, is the beachfront boardwalk. Here, separating the beach from the rest of the city, a long procession of storefronts and street vendors catches the eye. And on the weekends, gaggles of tourists turn the boardwalk into a moving river of people enjoying the Southern California lifestyle.

Venice Beach Boardwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The beach itself offers several forms of entertainment. The bike trail winds along the coast, connecting iconic attractions like Venice's Muscle Beach and large outdoor sculptures. Also along the route are community resources like playgrounds, basketball courts, and a skatepark.

Public parking is available on the north end of Venice Beach. Visitors can also park on city streets in Venice and make a short and relatively flat walk to the sand. This in-town area is also where to find several local restaurants ranging from casual to fancy.

4. Will Rogers State Beach

Will Rogers State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Will Rogers State Beach is north of Santa Monica State Beach and is the northern terminus for the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail. It offers the same scenic beauty as Santa Monica State Beach with fewer crowds. Not to say the beach isn't busy, though, as its public parking areas do fill up on the weekends.

Will Rogers State Beach spans approximately three miles. A thinner coastline comprises the middle of the beach, interspersed by rock jetties. The beach's southern end is wide and sandy like Santa Monica State Beach, complete with volleyball nets and picnic tables. And at the north end, the sand gives way to the ocean near Gladstones Restaurant, where Sunset Boulevard meets the sea.

With its abundant space a short drive or bike ride from the city, the beach is popular for less-crowded family outings. Everyday activities at Will Rogers State Beach include swimming, surfing, and shoreline fishing.

5. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Manhattan Beach is a laid-back community south of Santa Monica. It attracts residents and tourists for different reasons, many of whom center around its two-mile beach bisected by a pier. This scenic stretch of sand is ripped right from a Southern California postcard and is ready to be framed.

Manhattan Beach is south of Dockweiler State Beach and north of Hermosa Beach. It's accessible from Santa Monica on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, or The Strand, with an approximately 13-mile ride. Driving is also an option, with parking available on either side of the iconic Manhattan Beach Pier.

The beach hosts several activities and annual events. Surfing and volleyball take the forefront, with scores of nets across the sand and plenty of people toting surfboards toward the ocean. But leisurely activities like laying out are also popular. And walking to the end of the 900-foot pier at the middle of the beach is a must-do, where the Roundhouse Aquarium offers free admission.

6. Dockweiler State Beach

Dockweiler State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Dockweiler State Beach is south of Santa Monica and approximately three miles south of Playa del Rey. The state owns the beach, but the county operates it. Besides the massive amount of sand covering this three-mile beach, the other thing noticeable are the planes flying overhead.

The beach lies directly west of LAX, providing quite the underbelly view of planes taking off across the ocean. Some may find the noise of jet engines a bit too loud, but it adds a fun element to the beach experience for those who enjoy aviation.

You'll find several things to do at Dockweiler Beach. Rows of fire pits line parts of the sand, offering the unique opportunity for evening bonfires on the LA coast. Other amenities include volleyball nets, lifeguards on duty, picnic facilities, and restrooms with showers. The beach also features several parking spots for the crowds that gather on the weekends.

RV Campground at Dockweiler State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Dockweiler is also home to the only LA County RV campground on the beach. No tents are allowed at the concessionaire-run campground, but it has over 100 sites for RVs, ranging from full hookups to dry camping. Reservations are recommended throughout the summer.

7. Playa del Rey Beach

Playa del Rey Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Playa del Rey is a Los Angeles beach community south of Santa Monica, on the other side of Marina Del Rey. The beach of Playa del Rey shares similar characteristics to others in Santa Monica Bay in that it's wide and accommodating. However, unique to Playa del Rey Beach is a welcome sense of sleepiness from the lack of crowds.

Volleyball nets adorn part of the beach, while the rest is wide-open sand and lifeguard towers. It's an excellent place to visit for those looking for some privacy next to the waves. The most abundant and easiest parking is at Playa del Rey Lagoon Park, where a few wetland trails also entice exploration.

One of the best ways to visit Play del Rey Beach from Santa Monica is via bicycle. Visitors can hop on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail near the pier and pedal to Playa del Rey. The route heads inland at Venice, east on Washington Boulevard, before connecting with the bike path again near Mildred Avenue. One-way distance to Playa Del Rey on a bicycle from Santa Monica is just under eight miles.

8. Hermosa City Beach

Hermosa City Beach

Hermosa City Beach is a popular stretch of sand between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, south of Santa Monica. It encompasses nearly two miles of broad beach, centered around the Hermosa Beach Pier. The beach is a popular coastal destination for LA County, where western winds take the edge off hot summer temperatures.

Hermosa City Beach is also home to several attractions. Walking the length of the pier and appreciating the long views of Santa Monica Bay is a must-do. Several shops and restaurants also occupy the front-end of the pier, known as Pier Plaza, and palm trees and restaurants line the Marvin Braude Bike Trail in Hermosa Beach, providing plenty of welcome distractions.

And the beach is beautiful, too. One of the most popular activities on the sand is staking out personal space and lounging the day away. Other activities include swimming, fishing, and surfing the milder waves that roll in not too far offshore.

9. El Segundo Beach

El Segundo Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The small slice of oceanfront owned by the community of El Segundo is south of Playa del Rey and north of El Porto and Manhattan Beach. It's a small stretch of sand backdropped by an inland oil refinery. A privacy and security wall buffers the refinery and the beach, and it does well to keep most of this industrialization out of view.

El Segundo has restroom facilities, a lifeguard lookout tower, and a smattering of volleyball nets, but few other amenities. This lack of resources makes the beach not as popular as those to the north or south, but makes it an excellent find for those looking for a little more solitude.

Paid parking is available near the end of W. Grand Avenue, where it meets Vista Del Mar. The beach is also readily accessible from the Marvin Braude Bike Trail at the backend of the sand.

10. Beaches in Malibu

El Matador State Beach, Malibu | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Malibu is a beautiful beach town between the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains, just north of Santa Monica. The city encompasses approximately 30 miles of shoreline, including several postcard-worthy beaches, and these mountain-backed beaches are accessible from Santa Monica with less than a 15-mile drive on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Malibu beaches have a little more variety than the beaches near the Santa Monica coastline. The mountainous backdrop adds a new appeal. And several beaches feel a bit more rugged, with landscapes like giant rocks, tide pools, and sea caves. These scenic environments also cater to dramatic sunsets and postcard ocean scenes.

Topanga Beach is one of the closest Malibu coastal destinations to Santa Monica. Here, beachgoers descend from the parking area to a wide beach with a lagoon. Topanga is a popular spot for surfing, and it's just the beginning of beautiful beaches north of Santa Monica. Other Malibu beaches often visited include Malibu Lagoon State Beach, El Matador State Beach, and Leo Carrillo State Beach.

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