A guide to Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu, Los Angeles’s main regions for beach lovers
The Los Angeles coast has a unique atmosphere. It doesn’t look like the frantic image of the L.A. highways and the paparazzi at all. It doesn’t look like it and in fact it isn’t. The day starts early, with surfers sliding over the first waves of the morning, and ends late, with a drink.
The relatively short distances, captivating landscape, and almost constant sun provide the perfect conditions to promote the use of bike and scooter sharing apps, which help to decongest the traffic and make the streets more pleasant. Next, check out three beach spots – Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu – that perfectly illustrate the California spirit by the sea.
L.A.’s most famous beach neighborhood is an eclectic mixture: surfers take on the icy Pacific Ocean, children play in the sand, amateur rappers perform on the boardwalk, and skaters exhibit their abilities at the Skate Park.
“Venice is a combination of different ideas and creations,” explains Jared Ingold, owner of the T-shirt brand Vardagen. His pop-up store is one of the many interesting places on Abbot Kinney, the most pulsating boulevard in the area. A little further on is Aviator Nation, whose 1970s-inspired sweatshirts can be seen parading the neighborhood. Two blocks away, Artists & Fleas gives life to a small park where street vendors offer crystals, scented candles, and other handmade items.
More than just a feast for the eyes, the local variety will open your appetite. You can’t go wrong with huevos rancheros at Gjusta, one of the most popular breakfast spots in town. Eating well, incidentally, is serious business in Venice.
That’s probably why the Rose Venice, founded in 1979, has been a beacon in the area for 40 years. Revitalized, it features warm, industrial décor, a trend that can also be seen in chef Jason Neroni’s cooking: sophisticated yet simple. The idea here is to share: scallops, beet hummus, pasta cacio e pepe (not on the menu)… A little of everything, just like Venice.
Santa Monica (a city in its own right, although very close to L.A.) has a demanding clientele and only the best establishments manage to survive. And while street markets are a reflection of local customs, the Santa Monica Farmers Market promises to be a delightful place. On Saturdays, the atmosphere is quiet, with locals shopping to stock their pantries; on Wednesday, it gets more serious: it’s when chefs buy ingredients for their restaurants.
Santa Monica Pier: 200 Santa Monica Pier
The quality is proven at the table: it’s the case of the Rustic Canyon, where California comfort food is elevated to haute cuisine.
Running the place are Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, owners of other successful restaurants in the area – Nathan’s experience as a pastry chef is evident at Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe, famous for its lattes, pancakes, and cakes.
Like in Venice, life is organized around the beach. And there’s no better postcard sight than the famous Santa Monica Pier.
The Pacific Park, with its colorful Ferris wheel, is just one of the attractions; events like artisan and food markets, yoga classes, outdoor cinema, and even sea star feeding sessions are held there. Santa Monica can be sophisticated, but it can also be very relaxed.
Santa Monica Farmers Market: 155-199 Arizona Avenue
Malibu has been immortalized in popular culture - from Baywatch's red bathing suits to Charlie Sheen's house on Two and a Half Men. With an area of just over 19 square miles [50 km2], it concentrates some of the most impressive mansions in the Los Angeles area, less than 12 miles [20 km] from Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast Highway.
The best first stop is the Malibu Farm Cafe. Installed on a pier, it has a relaxed atmosphere, getting crowded and empty as the morning goes by.
Duke’s: 21.150 Pacific Coast Highway
From there, the itinerary can vary: the beach with the pier, Surfrider Beach, is an important surfing spot; Point Dume, 9 miles [15 km] away, is a promontory that juts out into the Pacific; and El Matador, by the end of Malibu, is right at the foot of a cliff, on a short strip of sand filled with rock formations.
Returning to L.A., try the (very fresh!) seafood at Duke's, a seaside restaurant that pays homage to an important Hawaiian surfer, and take a last dip at Carbon Beach, famous for its magnificent mansions, that will make the most skeptical visitor want to stay there a little longer. It's the perfect example of California dreamin'.