SantaMonicaLos Angeles County’s diverse beaches offer many ways to enjoy family playtime in the sun and surf. Whether you prefer wide, sandy beaches for swimming and throwing a Frisbee or rocky shores for tide pooling, check out Heal the Bay’s “A” list of L.A.’s cleanest beaches.

Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card measures the level of bacterial pollution at more than 500 California beaches. For more information on the following beaches, visit http://beaches.lacounty.gov.

Manhattan Beach

Pick any spot along The Strand to swim and play on 40 acres of recreational beach space. With more than 50 volleyball courts on this stretch of coastline, it’s no surprise this beach is considered the volleyball capital of SoCal. But you certainly don’t have to be a volleyball player to embrace this section of beach.  The ocean is ideal for swimming and boogie boarding or surfing at El Porto.

There’s also a children’s play area, restrooms, showers and a bike path that follows the coast north to Will Rogers State Beach. A walk along the scenic 928-foot-long pier leads to the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium where visitors can learn about sea life. Free but $2 donation requested. Fishing along the pier is allowed year-round. A rental shop provides all the gear you need

Venice Beach

Famous for its funky boardwalk, Venice Beach has ideal waves for boogie boarding and spacious beaches for picnics, flying a kite or catching rays. Watch or join surfers at the Venice Breakwater, a popular, local surf spot located north of the Venice Pier and Lifeguard Headquarters, and south of the Santa Monica Pier. Lifeguards are on hand during daylight hours.

Beyond the surf, people watching is always entertaining. Stroll the boardwalk or dine at an eatery with a front row view of street performers, jugglers, musicians, tarot card readers and roller-bladers.

Santa Monica

After years of poor water quality, the city of Santa Monica cleaned up those issues near the iconic pier, housing Pacific Park, a seaside amusement park. If you’re looking for a super-sized, action-packed beach this is the place. The sound of the waves is somewhat muffled from music and people shrieking from the nearby Ferris wheel, coasters and other rides but all that just adds to the festive ambiance at this iconic California beach. Salty ocean air mixes pleasantly with aromas of grilled burgers and hot dogs.

Rent a bike from the shop on the pier or bring your own to cruise along the bike path. Learn about marine life and ways to keep the ocean clean at the Santa Monica Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at sea level beneath the pier. Feel a sea star or sticky anemone, and find rockfish in a kelp forest exhibit. The jellyfish exhibit shows why plastic debris is deadly for sea creatures. $2-$4 donation, kids 12 and younger admitted free with paying adult. www.santamonica.com.

Zuma, Malibu

This quintessential California beach has lots of open space, good waves for body surfing, lifeguards and ample parking making this a popular summer spot for families. To park in the larger lots and get close to food huts, turn right from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Before setting up beach chairs and umbrellas, make sure you find a place 100 yards away from the Zuma creek outfall.

Amenities at Zuma include two food huts serving rather tasty grilled burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, salads, chips, candy and drinks. There are also restrooms and outdoor showers (with cold water).

At nearby Point Dume, you can take an easy hike to the newly created marine protected areas (http://www.healthebay.org/about-bay/current-issues/marine-protected-areas. In spring, you get great views of migrating whales.

Royal Palms State Beach, San Pedro

Pack a picnic and wear sturdy shoes for scampering over the rock shoreline and tidepools teeming with sea urchins, starfish, anemones and other marine life at this Palos Verdes Peninsula spot. Staffed by lifeguards, this unique beach is San Pedro’s hidden gem and is revered for its beauty and views of Catalina Island. Amenities include a picnic area, restrooms and showers. A children’s play area and a small park are nestled at the top of the bluff.
1799 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro, CA 90731

Heal the Bay Beach Safety Tips:

  • Stay 100 yards from storm drains.
  • Avoid enclosed beaches with names like Mother’s Beach. The lack of waves may be reassuring but the lack of circulation creates a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Download Heal the Bay’s mobile Beach Report Card app so you can check the latest water quality before you hit the sand. Grades are updated weekly.

Mimi Slawoff is a California native and writes a monthly family travel column for L.A. Parent magazine (www.laparent.com). She also writes for Trip Advisor and the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. Follow Mimi’s travel stories on Twitter @mimitravelz, and on her website, www.writemimi.com.