Hermosa feels like a small town stop, and that's the appeal. Go sand sledding (you'll have to wait for winter for that one), hike the 3.7 mile Hermosa Valley Greenbelt, explore the Hermosa Beach Pier, hit the Farmers Market, and learn about the local history and surf culture at the Hermosa Beach Historical Society & Museum. Who knows? You may get inspired to grab a board and catch a wave. Biking the Strand and stopping for pancakes make you look like a local.
Manhattan Beach is considered the most family-friendly of the Beach Cities with some of the best schools in the country, over two miles of pristine beaches, and oodles of activities for kids and adults alike. With spacious parks and nautical playgrounds, a compact and walkable downtown area by the beach, and a historic pier and aquarium, it's a great city to experience with kids. Manhattan Beach is also famous for its volleyball tournaments and the International Surf Festival, so try to time one of your visits during those iconic beach fests.
It's crowded; parking isn't easy (to say the least); the rides on the Santa Monica Pier are expensive—and it's world-famous for a reason. Where else can you ride a Ferris wheel (at sunset, if possible) and a historic carousel, swim in Marion Davies' old pool and see her guest house (at the Annenberg Community Beach House), go to an aquarium, watch acrobats at the Original Muscle Beach, and get amazing food at any number of places on 3rd Street or Main? No wonder the Zimmer transformed into the Cayton Children's Museum and moved here. Make a weekend of it and venture into Venice Beach for a gander at the colorful locals and boho scene...
The Bohemian beachside community has several claims to fame, most notably the strand by the beach and the canals. First stop is always the beach, where you can rollerblade, bike, or walk along the beach path, poking in shops and snacking on treats. It’s some of the best people watching anywhere in the city. Then visit the canals which were built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney. For lunch or dinner, swing by the street named after Kinney for amazing, innovative food (Gjelina and Plant Food and Wine are favorites) and if you need a quick bite, kids adore Abbot’s Pizza. That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much to do in Venice. Mark your calendar for the Abbot Kinney Festival on the last weekend of September, when you can sample the best that Venice has to offer all at once.
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Bring your dog for a beach day at Rosie's Dog Beach. Photo courtesy of Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau
What sets Long Beach apart besides the Queen Mary (which is currently closed while the city takes possession and renovates)? How about a spectacular aquarium, the three-acre Rosie the Riveter Park, gondola rides around Naples Island, and an Aquabus to make getting around more fun? There is an actual beach you can visit, of course—Mother's Beach at Marine Park is perfect for kids!
Malibu has some of the best surfing in SoCal, but access to some revered spots can be tricky (though there's usually free parking available along PCH) if you pick a patch of beach behind the house of someone rich and famous. It can be easier to head to Zuma Beach, Point Dume, or El Matador State Beach, explore the tide pools at Leo Carillo Beach, or hike the Grotto Trail to get some exercise. Want a taste of the Malibu lifestyle? Stop in at the Malibu Country Mart, where your kids can enjoy the new playground while you sit at a shaded bench. Be sure to visit the Malibu Pier and see the birds at Malibu Lagoon State Beach, right next to the Adamson House historic house and gardens (which are filled with spectacular Malibu Potteries' tile).
There's something for everyone between Marina del Rey and Playa Vista. Older kids can try parasailing or paddleboarding around the marina, while younger kids can splash around (but stay safe) at the surf-free Mother's Beach. The Marina del Rey Waterbus ($1 for a one-way ticket) can ferry you around the area, so you can park once and still explore. Summers are for watching movies or hearing a concert at the park, and no visit to the Marina is complete without dinner at C&O Trattoria.
The Palos Verdes Peninsula has rocky beaches with critter-filled tide pools, a sandy cove with a rock-climbing-friendly sea cave (Pirates of the Caribbean filmed a few scenes here), lush green cliffs hopping with bunnies, and ocean breezes. It’s not a seaside town with tons of shopping or activities, it’s where you come to recharge and relax. Hit the beaches, hike, and take in the views. Stop by the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, which is one of the area's most popular spots for watching Pacific Grey whales from shore. For local points of interest, see the lighthouse (which is on the National Registry of Historic Sites) and the glass Wayfarers Chapel. If you can stay overnight, Terranea is a gorgeous and very kid-friendly local resort.
Avalon is the southernmost city in LA County and is the only town on Catalina Island. While getting here (via ferry or helicopter) is half the fun, once you arrive on the island, you’ll never want to leave. From zip lining to hiking to tracking the famous Catalina bison, there's more than enough to keep little ones and grown-ups happy for a day or a weekend trip. Those excursions all leave from Avalon, but if you want to stay right in town, you’ll never get bored. Kids adore seeing that there are no cars allowed on the island, so rent a golf cart and start sightseeing. Take an undersea sub expedition, visit the Catalina Island Museum, play mini golf, see a movie at the Casino, climb the climbing wall, and hit the beach. You can pack a lot of fun into one long day or stay for a week exploring the whole island.
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Laguna's Picnic Beach is easily accessible, with nearby parking and bathrooms. Photo courtesy of VisitLagunaBeach.com
Beach Town Day Trips from Los Angeles: Orange County Getaways
While this enclave is best known for its art festivals and the amazing, one-of-a-kind Pageant of the Masters, that's not all that's here. There's great hiking, kayaking, and even a full-moon drum circle (perfect for that noisy toddler/future hair-metal drummer in your life). The playgrounds are pretty phenomenal, too, as you might expect from a creative community like this one. Try Crystal Cove State Park or 1,000 Steps Beach (though don't forget anything in your car, cause it's a long trek to go back and get it).
Sure, the beach is fine, but don't stop there. Where else can you book a makeover with a real Cinderella mermaid (Once Upon an Island)? Newport Dunes beach has an exciting inflatable water park in the cove, as well as paddle boards and kayaks galore. There are a lot of upscale resorts and restaurants (Newport Beach is one of the most expensive communities in the whole country), so throw down a towel and enjoy the multi-million dollar views. Then head back to the beach at night, where you can book a firepit and make s'mores.
Don't tell anybody, but Seal Beach is the place to go in the OC if you want a low-key beach outing that's less crowded than other SoCal beach towns. While you're not likely to see actual seals, there's a pier, and locals praise the clean sand—though small kids should not play in the waves unattended, as the water can be rough. Walk up the quaint Main Street for a bite and window shopping. Arrive early, and not only will you get a parking space, but you may also have the sand to yourself. Feel yourself relaxing? That's the SoCal beach experience we all dream of.
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Whale watching in Dana Point. Photo courtesy of visitdanapoint.com
Dana Point is a relaxed and welcoming little town. The gorgeous beaches, great restaurants, and a huge variety of entertainment and activities make it perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway. Book a whale-watching cruise, visit the Ocean Institute, or just sit by the beach and enjoy the casual surf-town feel. Tide pools, ocean-front art classes, and fishing lessons keep little ones happy; and there is sailing, parasailing, and stand-up paddleboarding for older kids. Stay at one of the numerous local resorts (all of them have great activities for kids), and definitely plan to visit for the Tall Ships Festival—it's one of the best fests in all of SoCal, taking place in early September each year. Riding the funicular at Strands Beach is also a favorite beach activity for kids. It's typically open weekends, holidays year-round, and every day beginning Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Huntington Beach is a beach town that feels different enough from LA that a visit here feels like a true vacation. With 10 miles of sandy beach and one of the longest piers on the West Coast, you won’t want to venture far from the ocean. So don’t! You can get food on the pier, go fishing off the pier, and buy a kite to fly on the beach. You can also build sandcastles, rent a bike by the beach, and take surf lessons—in fact, little surfers will also want to visit the International Surfing Museum. There are plenty of family-friendly hotels if you want to spend more than a day here.
If you like sandy white beaches, gorgeous Spanish architecture, hiking & coastal trails, and perfect weather, San Clemente makes for a great day trip. A little more quiet and sleepy than neighboring towns, San Clements is for taking it slow and spending the day at the beach, hiking the cliffs, and hopping on the (free) San Clemente Trolley for a tour of town. Be sure to stop at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens for movies, music, art, and more—or just for a walk at sunset.
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Hop on a gondola is Oxnard, not Venice! Photo by Meghan Rose
Beach Town Day Trips from Los Angeles in Ventura County
If you're driving the Ventura Highway in the sunshine, you really ought to stop in Ventura—a coastal town that offers a pier, a harbor village bustling with family activities, memorable beaches, and even a historic mission. Channel Island Harbor is a great launching point to explore Channel Islands National Park, or you can take in the views from the town's iconic Serra Cross Park. Beaches worth a visit include Surfers' Knoll, San Buenaventura State Beach, and the popular Emma Wood State Park, where families can cook up s'mores over a fire pit. The local fish tacos are not to be missed!
Oxnard is often overlooked, even by locals, and that’s to your advantage. It means that beautiful beaches like Oxnard State Beach and Mandalay Beach are never crowded. You can take boats to go whale watching or to the Channel Islands from Channel Island Harbor, which is in Oxnard. Rent a surrey or a kayak to explore the harbor on shore or by sea. Play at the pirate-themed playground at Oxnard Beach Park or visit the Channel Islands Maritime Museum. Little car lovers adore the Murphy Auto Museum (especially on weekends, when the trains are turned on), while young drummers enjoy a factory tour at Drum Workshop. And how’s this for hidden: did you know that Oxnard has canals? It does, and you can even take a gondola ride through them. (Take that, Venice!)
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Play at MOXI The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of the museum
Beach Town Day Trips from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County
This beach town is the furthest north on our list, but it is so, so worth it. In addition to an amazing zoo, there's a historical mission, a museum of natural history, and a botanical garden—and you can even visit the Channel Islands. Horseback ride right on the beach, and see if you can catch a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl—which might be even better than the Hollywood Bowl. Oh, and the restaurants and shops are top-notch as well. Don't miss MOXI, the Museum of Exploration + Innovation to expose your little creatives to next-level tech. Got a dog? Take furry family members to Arroyo Burro County Beach Park. Otherwise, little kids will appreciate the playground on the sand at East Beach.
Far sleepier, and fancier, than Santa Barbara, Montecito is perfect for a beach town excursion. While famous for its famous inhabitants (think Oprah, Prince Harry & Meghan Markle, and Rob Lowe), Start the day with breakfast at Jeannine’s Bakery & Restaurant, spend the day at Butterfly Beach, get an ice cream at Rori’s, and feel your cares melt away. Montecito has some gorgeous vacation rentals if you want to extend your stay.