Surfing and sunbathing are a given, but Los Angeles has far more to offer than saltwater and sunburn. From beach bonfires to 10,000-foot peaks, there are endless ways to enjoy the natural beauty of Southern California.
8. Have a Campfire/Cookout on Dockweiler Beach
The ongoing drought might be limiting opportunities in the hillsides and mountains, but having a campfire on the beach is not only OK, it’s one of the best ways to experience California’s kickback culture. Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey is the only place that it’s legal to have a bonfire on the beach in Los Angeles County, and the shoreline has dozens of fire pits where residents of all ages gather. Get there early in the day to secure a ring, and bring plenty of wood, food, drinks and entertainment to last you well past sunset. Keep your eye out for hang gliders and planes taking off from nearby LAX.
7. Drive Route 1 to El Matador Beach
There’s a reason Route 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, is America’s most touted coastal drive, so don’t make the mistake of writing it off as a tourist trap. It is an absolute must-do when you visit California, and the segment that runs through the Greater LA area happens to be one of the most scenic. Drive north into Malibu, and keep going about 6 miles past Paradise Cove to El Matador Beach. The sharp rock formations and tide pools are sure to impress, and if you go during the offseason, you might even have it to yourself.
Venice and Santa Monica are 2 of LA's most iconic beach towns (and definitely worth visiting), but if you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, head south to explore some of the city’s lesser-visited beach communities, including Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo. One of the most scenic and engaging ways to do this is via bike along the Marvin Braude Trail, which runs under the palm trees at the edge of the sand. Rent a lock so you can make stops along the way, and take notice of the way the towns transition. Each is compact and sports its own attitude and interests, and seeing as many as you can back to back is a good way to gain perspective on their different personalities. Be sure to watch (and participate in) the large surfing and volleyball communities that dominate LA's southern shore.
5. Sail to Catalina Island to Snorkel
A part of the Channel Islands archipelago, Catalina Island is located off the coast of Southern California. Only an hour from the mainland by boat, it is a great day-trip option for those looking to escape the city crowds. The protected waters surrounding Catalina are ideal for snorkeling, since they feature tall kelp forests, healthy coral reefs, clear water and an abundance of outgoing fish. There are several daily boat departures, as well as a handful of outfitters for snorkel gear and tours. Consider spending the night at a campground or one of the hotels in the town of Avalon.
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Also known as Mount San Antonio, Mount Baldy is the highest peak in Los Angeles County, topping out at 10,064 feet. Its name comes from the lack of trees — its bald terrain — which allows for sweeping views that go as far as Catalina Island on a clear day. Part of a ski area during the winter, the defrosted trails make for great hiking during the summer. For experienced climbers, the hike to the summit is 11 miles round-trip. If you’re short on time or stamina, cut a few miles off the trek by riding the lift up to 7,800 feet. From there, it is only 6 1/2 miles to the summit and back. Either way, stop in and have lunch at Top of the Notch Restaurant on the way down.
3. Paddleboard Around Balboa Island
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Technically a group of 3 artificial islands, the Balboa Island community is located in the harbor of Newport Beach. Some locals say it has lost part of its charm as a result of rising rent prices that have replaced mom-and-pop stores with chain establishments, but none of that matters once you get on the water. Rent a paddleboard and enjoy exploring the calm waterways that run through and around the islands. Don’t be afraid to gawk at the beautiful real estate or stop off for a break at one of the small beaches. Local tradition says that no visit to Balboa Island is complete without devouring a chocolate-covered frozen banana.
2. Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Remember what absolute silence sounds like? Most days, neither do we. That’s when we escape into the Mojave Desert to Joshua Tree National Park, a treasure trove of its namesake Joshua trees and rock formations like Skull and Arch Rock. Kinga Philipps, our resident National Parks expert, suggests "spending days bouldering among Martian-looking landscapes, exploring the palm-fringed oases, watching [fiery] sunsets and experiencing silence so golden that you can hear the rush of air through a bird’s feathers as it flies overhead."
Deep-sea fishing tours depart every day of the week and are certainly popular with tourists (especially in Dana Point). But what you’ll notice up and down the coast of California is the number of locals who gather at their neighborhood piers to toss in a line. Why? Well, first off, it’s inexpensive. Perhaps more importantly, it’s social, scenic and practical. Whether it’s Venice, Redondo, Balboa or Santa Monica, all you need is a rod, a cooler and a chair