When I first started playing tour guide when people came to Los Angeles, our second stop after doing Hollywood was always Santa Monica. I preferred driving west on Sunset, pointing out UCLA, Bel Air of the Fresh Prince of, past the section of eucalyptus trees that fill your car with a relaxing sweet smell, and coming down the hill passing by the Self-Realization Fellowship that gives a stunning reveal of the Pacific Ocean.
I realized though very quickly that I was going through the motions and just taking people to Santa Monica because I thought that is what they wanted. Don’t get me wrong, Santa Monica is a great itinerary option for tourists and first time visitors, there is a lot to do and see. It is just that when I think of the beach, maybe you feel this way too, it is less about spectacle and more starring out into water, feet in clean sand, watching surfers take waves, and hearing the sounds that one can only hear at the beach. Some place not so … overwhelming.
If you instead take the 405 or Pacific Coast Highway just south past Venice, the airport, and El Segundo, you will find Manhattan Beach. I love taking people here and walking or biking the Strand, gaping at all of the beach houses (which you can rent), watching the big waves roll in from the pier, without the hassle of someone trying to sell you something or bullying you into clapping for their show, like the magic of your clapping helps acrobats jump higher and further.
I also take people to Manhattan Beach who tell me that they don’t like Los Angeles. I do it to change their mind. Although it can be crowded, it seems to me more approachable for first timers. It feels more isolated from its busy loud neighbors to the north, small town in feel with its main street filled with non-chain shopping and restaurants. (I just read that the mayor has established office hours. Adorable and very Portlandia.) The compact downtown area is walkable and has really great window shopping, dining at very instagram-able brunch spots, but has a good mix of mom and pop ice cream counters, bike rentals, and pancake houses.
I always bring my camera along when I visit Manhattan Beach. I love photographing L.A. (As you can see from my instagram page and this blog,) There is something very photogenic about this place in particular. A favorite of mine is the section of beach underneath the Manhattan Beach Pier [Pictured above] a popular place to take engagement photos, I love being a spectator of awkwardness and joy of those moments. I could watch the waves crash into the pillars for hours. The pier itself offers a great panorama to the north, larger waves roll in on this side, the stacks of the Chevron refinery, and on clear days you can see the piers of other close-by beaches. To the south fields of beach volleyball courts and beach houses as far as the eye can see.
It isn’t often th at I get to play tourist in my own city anymore, so when I revisited this place to do research for this post, I decided to do something I hadn’t in almost two decades, I decided to rent a bike and bike the Strand. Although I hadn’t forgotten how, I did forget to stop because I was having so much fun. Walking was pretty painful, but worth seeing the area in this way.
[Getting there: drive or uber/lyft. The amount of inter-region transfers would be headache inducing.]
COMING NEXT….WHERE TO EAT IN LOS ANGELES