The beach is made for kids—the sand, the sun, the surf. That last thing can be a worry, though, when it comes to toddlers and smaller children. Parents are forced to play defense all day to prevent their little ones from being tossed, turned, and dragged by turbulent waves. Knowing some beach safety rules is a good start; but there are a few beach areas in Los Angeles and Orange counties that offer the best of all worlds: the sand and sun plus shallow, gentle expanses of water perfect for wading.
These beaches are in protected areas, such as marinas or natural coves, so kids can splash and play and not be pulled down the beach or out to sea. Two caveats: All of these beaches have only seasonal lifeguards, so be sure to check and always keep close to your kids. Also, water quality can be a concern when it comes to beaches with no wave action. You can check with Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, which lists beaches by county, for the most recent letter grades on the water quality at each of these four places.
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A pirate ship for imaginary play is among the offerings at the playground area of Marina Beach in Marina del Rey.
Marina Beach (usually referred to as Mother’s Beach), Marina del Rey
4101 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Parking: Paid parking in lot on Admiralty Way near Via Marina; it does fill up at peak times.
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, roped-off swim area, playground, volleyball courts, lots of picnic tables with barbecue grills in shaded area.
This sheltered spot in the marina, surrounded by hotel and residential high rises, offers swimming in shallow water with no wave action. The water does very gradually deepen, and can get up to six or seven feet deep near the buoy line at high tide, lifeguard Jasmine Hanson said. We spotted a stingray in the water on a recent visit, and Hanson said they appear often; caution and the “stingray shuffle” (swimmers’ shuffling of their feet in the water to make the rays scurry away) is urged. A playground featuring a pirate ship, swings, and lots of climbing equipment is another way to entertain the kids.
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A large roped-off swim area provides plenty of room to play and splash along the shore at Long Beach's Mothers Beach.
Mothers Beach/Marine Park, Long Beach
5839 E. Appian Way, Long Beach, CA 90802
Parking: Paid parking in lot; enter at Appian Way and Attica Drive.
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, roped-off swim area, playground, grass area with shade, extremely limited picnic tables.
This beach on a marina, which can be seen from the 2nd Street Bridge as it crosses to the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach, is cherished among moms for its clean sand and ample calm, shallow swimming area. Boats, paddle-boarders, and personal watercraft riders pass beyond the buoy line, adding to the scenery without disrupting the peacefulness. A top-notch playground with sand play area, climbing rock, and lots of other equipment are welcome accompaniments to the water play.
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The tide pools at Little Corona del Mar Beach in Newport Beach gives kids a chance to see sea creatures in their natural habitat.
Little Corona del Mar Beach, Newport Beach
Ocean Boulevard and Poppy Avenue, Corona del Mar, CA 92625
Parking: No lot; street parking is free but heed street-sweeping signs.
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, and seasonal lifeguards.
This is a well-known secret among parents who want nature to provide activities for smaller children. The gentle surf in the naturally protected cove makes safe wading possible on most days, and the tide pools next to the sandy beach give little ones a chance to see hermit crabs, anemones, sea stars, and other creatures in their natural habitat (sturdy shoes are needed to climb on the rocks). Little Corona is a no-frills place, and the steep paved access ramp could be a little daunting to climb or push a stroller up when it’s time to leave.
Dana Point Harbor Beach (better known as Baby Beach)
24300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629 (Google Maps calls this Dana Cove Park)
Parking: Free parking in a large lot that gets crowded at peak times.
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, roped-off swim area, grass area, shaded picnic tables with barbecue grills.
Baby Beach at Dana Point lures a large small-kids-and-parents crowd with its roped-off swim area in the harbor, far from any pounding surf. Stand-up paddle boarders cruise beyond the buoy line, and harbor boats, a small fishing pier, the historic ship replica the Pilgrim, and surrounding bluffs provide a picturesque backdrop. Lifeguard Sebastian de la Fuente said while the beach is popular, the picnic area draws even bigger crowds, so parking can be problematic at peak times.
Top image: Clean, soft sand and no wave action are the main attractions at Baby Beach in Dana Point. All photos were taken by the author.