The berms are back!
Rumor has it that in some parts of the country sledding involves getting cold and wet. How very... un-Californian. Oh, sure, there are places near LA to go sledding on snow if that's your thing, but we're raising California kids—and that means beach sledding. Every winter a few Los Angeles area beaches get their annual sand berms—intended as protection against winter storms and violent surf. Or so they say. The real purpose is clearly to lay the groundwork for the ultimate SoCal winter sport.
The most well-known slopes for beach sledding are the Venice Beach sand berms, which will shortly be piled up at the end of Venice Boulevard, near the life guard station, for the 2016 season. The city erects these big sand slopes each autumn, starting around Manhattan Beach and working north toward Venice at a bulldozer's pace until a solid storm wall has been achieved. As of today, the berms have arrived at Dockweiler State Beach, so sledding season has begun.
The ideal sled type for use on the sand is the cheapest, smoothest saucer you can find - typically $10 or less at stores like Big 5 or Target—but a solid boogie board with a smooth plastic bottom can do the trick as well. The berms may not look very high from behind, but the water side is steeper; and the height is actually just perfect for repeating the ride over and over without getting sick of climbing up the sand hill. Kids from the very smallest up through adult can easily enjoy an hour or more sledding these berms.
The most sleddable sand hills are generally in Venice, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey, and at the south end of Dockweiler State Beach. All of these are comparable in size and stature. Lest you feel any concern for local marine life and other sled-less critters, rest assured that the city has marine biologists on hand for the putting up and taking down of these hills. Crews are required to defer to the activities of the snowy plower and the running of the grunion in timing each year's berm season.
If your kids are looking for something more adventurous, there is a year-round sand slope in Point Mugu State Park, on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Sycamore Canyon. This slope is seriously high and steep - of the climb-it-once-and-collapse-in-a-heap variety. It's better suited for older kids, since it leads to some pretty high speeds, but worth the 45-minute drive for real thrill-seekers.
For most kids, though, several trips down the Venice berms is perfect entertainment for a winter's day, with all the fun of that other kind of sledding but without the special clothes or frozen toes. And unlike snow sledding, this winter sport includes the possibility of whale sightings; keep your eyes peeled for migrating gray whales while waiting your turn down the slope!
Originally published December 22, 2012