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There are so many beaches in California, each one with its own distinct personality. Manhattan Beach CA, with its busy city vibe, active beaches, chic restaurants, and shops, is quintessential Los Angeles, sans the traffic and pollution.
Great Things to Do in and Near Manhattan Beach CA
When my “baby” went off to college on the entire other side of the country – at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, a 6-hour plane ride across the United States from our home in Connecticut – I knew it meant we wouldn’t see him as often as I would like. So when I got a chance to spend a little time in Southern California, I jumped at the chance to be near him, even if it was final exam week for my freshman student.
Heading to Manhattan Beach always feels a little like a homecoming to me. When my kids were tweens, we would house-swap with another family who lived in neighboring Hermosa Beach, which is more of a beach town. We would spend summer weeks biking the California coastline from El Segundo to Palos Verdes.
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Manhattan Beach, in the southwestern corner of Los Angeles County, is a great spot for exploring the best of southern California. I used it as my base and then spent a week driving back and forth to USC to bring food to my son while he suffered through mid terms. We were able to fit in some time to discover some yummy food and fun things to do in and around Manhattan Beach.
Things to Do in Manhattan Beach CA
1. Stroll the Strand
The best thing to do in this beach city is, of course, go to the beach. You don’t even have to get wet swimming in the Pacific Ocean. You can stay on the sand, playing beach volleyball or just watching all of the games going on.
Biking the Strand is one of my all time favorite things to do in SoCal. The beachside sidewalk and bike path run for miles in either direction. Admire the ocean views or gawk at the multi-million-dollar mansions along The Strand.
2. Walk the Manhattan Beach Pier
This is one of the best places to catch a gorgeous sunset on the Santa Monica Bay. Shop your way down Manhattan Beach Blvd which ends at the pier. There are plenty of parking lots and curbside parking meters nearby. Don’t miss the Volleyball Walk of Fame.
3. Watch the Sun Set from Downtown Manhattan Beach CA
Nicknamed the “Pearl of the South Bay,” Downtown Manhattan Beach is just steps from the beach, which makes it a great spot for enjoying one of California’s classic sun sets while sipping a cocktail or enjoying dinner.
Things to Do Near Manhattan Beach, CA
4. Rock out at McCabe’s Guitar Shop
There is more to Hollywood than movies. It’s also a music mecca. Bars like The Whiskey, Roxy and the Troubadour launched classic rock bands like The Doors, Steppenwolf and Led Zepplin. You can drive by those places with kids, but you can’t go in until they are 21. That made them a no-go with my still-20-year-old college student. (I didn’t ask if he had a fake ID. Some things you just don’t want to know.)
But all ages are welcome at McCabe’s Guitar shop, where they can take a lesson or even take in a concert. McCabe’s has been a Santa Monica icon since 1969. It’s laid back and welcoming, perfect for budding musicians and music appreciators. Decorated with guitars, sitars, banjos and mandolins, it’s fun just to poke around.
The concert series is a line-up of acoustic performances by guitar greats. When we were there, we saw Terry Reid, a veteran performer, who entertained us with music and wonderful stories of what it was like to be in the music business in the Hollywood of the 1960s. It’s also a great spot for a girl’s night out. I took a BFF to see Australia’s Got Talent winner, Joe Robinson, who played two guitars at the same time. If it sounds like I am a fan, I am.
If you’re hungry, grab some authentic Mexican food at Lare’s, located just a few doors down from McCabe’s. Packed with locals, Lare’s has the best guacamole and Mexican menu anywhere. The mariachis play upstairs and downstairs so you won’t miss out wherever you sit.
TravelingMom Tip: Take the stairs! Discover the 2nd floor where classes are taught and the walls are covered in pictures of iconic musicians who have played the McCabe’s stage.
Read More: Fun Things to Do in Redondo Beach with Kids
5. Eat Pancakes at The Griddle Cafe
This Hollywood hot spot sells ginormous pancakes. They are a MUST EAT and a MUST WAIT (like an hour to 90 minutes wait) but oh, so, worth it! This is a fun place to take your college student and their friends when you visit for parent’s weekend. The pancake orders come in threes – three 12-inch diameter pancakes stuffed with all sorts of options: frosted flakes and strawberries (Hear Me Roar); coconut, pecan, butterscotch chips (Scotch on the Rocks); caramel, walnuts and streusel (The Golden Ticket). Filling, fabulous and fun.
6. Shop at Monsieur Marcel in the Farmer’s Market
Shelves are curated with artisanal finds like cucumber jalapeno jam from Vermont, high demand matcha tea ($50), small batch bourbons and delicious chocolates. After you have stocked up on unique gourmet items, go next door to the seafood restaurant and select the fresh fish you would like to have prepared for your meal. Don’t miss the raw scallops (I know, I was scared at first too) and be sure to ask the manager for wine suggestions. She knew it all.
TravelingMom Tip: Ask for tastings and/or a tour and they will oblige. We would have missed out on some of the seasonal and highlighted items if we had not had a tour.
What I Drove
Unless you’re a local, chances are you will fly into LAX and rent a car. After all, this is California, where the car is king. The folks at Chevy loaned me an Equinox and I was thrilled to have it for the week I spent driving back and forth USC and exploring the Pacific coastline of southern California.
Earlier on a road trip in Northern and Central California, I drove the bigger Traverse. Take the Traverse, shorten the length a bit but keep the roomy interior and you have an Equinox.
Chevy and GMC both are owned by General Motors. I leased a GMC Terrain for three years and the Chevy Equinox is basically the same car with a “truckier” body. The Terrain served our family well and we miss it. We had a fully loaded 2016, that fit five adults comfortably, with plenty of cargo room and a sunroof. The price was right and it drove so well, just like the Equinox. We miss everything about it except the low gas mileage (16 city) and the tech. My husband found it frustrating and I agree. It was hard to remember which menu button held which commands.
The 2019 Chevy Equinox blew that away with super easy to use tech and way better gas mileage: 28 city/39 hwy. As an added plus, the shorter car was easy to park and maneuver around LA.