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Pressed hard and fast against the densely populated Los Angeles County community of San Pedro, the rocky ribbon of coastline between White Point and Cabrillo Beach looks out over a 20-mile watery gap separating Santa Catalina Island from the mainland. On clear winter days the island seems to float like a dusky shadow over the sparkling surf. The following three-mile hike, easy or difficult depending on the exact route, takes you east from White Point to the mile-long strand of sand at Cabrillo Beach.

Low tides will make it easier to walk well above the water's edge, and luckily there are several opportunities to do this on weekends soon to come. Extreme low tides dip to about minus one foot on the afternoons of February 1, 2, 15, and 16 and March 1, 2, 15, and 16.

Start at Royal Palms State Beach, close to where Western Avenue meets Paseo del Mar in San Pedro. You can park inside the gate for a fee, or outside along Paseo del Mar for free. Down by the water's edge head east (down-coast) past White Point, making your way over tilted slabs of sedimentary rock and small boulders. Here, and on the bluffs above, are the skimpy remains of early-20th-century resorts and spas that capitulated to the 1933 Long Beach earthquake and suffered further pounding by decades of storm tides and heavy surf. The checkered history of this stretch of coastline is interpreted in a display at the Cabrillo Marine Museum, which you'll find at the conclusion of this hike.

At about 1.5 miles, before the shoreline terrace you're following narrows to practically nothing at Point Fermin, you'll spot some metal steps going up the bluff. This is your safe ticket to getting past Point Fermin -- as opposed to following the rocky shoreline. At the top of the stairs, a path leads to the west end of Point Fermin Park, a grassy strip popular among joggers and strollers. Keep heading east along the edge of the cliffs, passing the antique Point Fermin Lighthouse, built in 1874 with materials shipped around Cape Horn.

Farther east, you turn inland a little to reach Shepard Street. Follow this street east, to Pacific Avenue, and continue straight ahead on Bluff Place down to Cabrillo Beach. Here you can enjoy the only true beach for miles in either direction, and pay a visit to the Cabrillo Marine Museum, which features some excellent marine and historical exhibits.M

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