Officially called the South Bay Bicycle Trail, the Strand runs 22 miles up the coast from Redondo to Santa Monica.
  • Officially called the South Bay Bicycle Trail, the Strand runs 22 miles up the coast from Redondo to Santa Monica.
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Off the radar for most visitors to Los Angeles County is the South Bay area — since for beaches, people generally seek out the well-known spots of Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice.

However, just below LAX airport are the traditional beachside communities of El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. (Although having said that, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach have over the past decade or more been somewhat overrun by out-of-state college graduates, who have relocated here and gradually gentrified the local SoCal vibe). Nonetheless, these neighborhoods retain a community-oriented atmosphere where everyone seems to get along in a friendly manner. Actually, they are technically cities in their own right, autonomous from Los Angeles proper despite merging into the massive greater-L.A. sprawl.

Hermosa Beach promenade.

Hermosa Beach promenade.

Hermosa: beach & promenade action

Focusing on Hermosa Beach: Hermosa is defined by its pier and adjacent promenade, a pedestrian-only street that's packed with bars and restaurants. The promenade gets crowded on summer weekends, but has activity on any given day or night. Considering how expensive the rents are in this area, it's a pleasant surprise that these bar/restaurants all have some great happy hours for food and drinks, especially on weekdays.

Off the pier promenade, Pier Ave and Hermosa Ave have a decent number restaurants for varying budgets, including some trendy new spots such as the stylish Mexican Dia de Campo, with a unique food and drink menu.

The beach itself is good for surfing, volleyball and just hanging out — centered around the pier, but continuing for a mile or so south, and miles north. The boardwalk/bike path known as "The Strand" is packed with bikes and skateboards on weekends and is obviously less crowded during the week. But on weekends it's certainly a great place for people-watching, drinking discreetly out of plastic cups and staring with envy at the luxurious new houses that have recently been constructed, turning what was once a laid-back surfer and punk rock community... into a coastal version of Beverly Hills.

Manhattan Beach

Riding north to Manhattan Beach, there's another pier where most of the beachside action is centered.

While Manhattan Beach Blvd slopes upward into a central commercial district — charming with its numerous restaurants and cafes and shops, including a nice independent bookstore called Pages — the main streets to explore are within the immediate radius of the pier along Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Ave and Highland Ave, with their pedestrian-friendly tiled sidewalks.

There are a few bars here, but they're more restrained and calm in comparison to the rowdier Hermosa Beach. The demographic here is also a little more upscale than Hermosa Beach and slightly more family-oriented, but is still fun and worth checking out.

Where to stay

Riding south back to Hermosa, the pier is a good spot to take in the sunset, dropping behind the ocean's horizon — or behind the Santa Monica mountains, depending on the time of year. For a place to sleep, if you're younger and don't mind sharing a room (they do also have private room options), there's Surf City Hostel located right here on the pier promenade and steps from the beach.

Literally on the beach are two more accommodations: the retro-looking Sea Sprite, complete with decades-old signage and logo, is just south of the pier, while immediately north of the pier is the upscale Beach House. Something for everyone, depending on your budget and preference. Further away from the beach on the traffic-choked Pacific Coast Highway are more accommodations, a little far from the action but still within walking distance.

While Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice are also worth a look, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach (as well as Redondo Beach and El Segundo, if you have time) offer a glimpse into a different aspect of the L.A. area, capturing what's left of its traditional SoCal beach life.

Hermosa Beach pier

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