After one of my LA Lyft drivers told me her favorite thing to do on a day off was go to Manhattan Beach, I thought I should check it out. I also decided to check out all the major Beach Cities piers while I was at it since they’re not too far from each other.
There is a bike/running path that is 22 miles long and passes from the Redondo Beach Pier and extends through Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. While it continues all the way up to the Pacific Palisades, it too has a nickname from locals, The Strand. It’s technically not a boardwalk because it’s not made of wood, but outsiders sometimes refer to it as such.
When asking people which of the three beaches is their favorite, the response was practically unanimous that Manhattan Beach has the best sand. Now I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, which is also considered a beach town. At no point has anybody asked me when wondering which beach to go to in that area, “Well, which one has the best sand?” That really isn’t a factor in making that decision.
So naturally I needed to find out what the heck everybody was talking about. I started with Manhattan because it was the most northern of the three. I entered Manhattan Beach Pier in my GPS and it took me on Manhattan Beach Blvd, which leads you directly too the pier. Knowing that parking near the ocean is hard to come by, when I passed an area with parking signs, I followed them. There are two garages I’ve used. One is outdoor, multi-level, and painted green. The other is across the street from that one, and is underneath buildings. Both are run by meters, which you will take your credit card or change. The meters typically only go up to two hours at a time though, so you do have to go back to the meter to feed it if you are sticking around longer than that amount of time.
Then I headed down Manhattan Beach Blvd., which is lined with coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques. It’s also definitely a hill down to the pier. There is parking right off the pier, however every time I’ve been, it’s been full. The pier has teal railings with coral benches scattered throughout. At the end is a cafe with standing room only. On the other side of it is the Roundhouse Aquarium, but I honestly wouldn’t consider it a typical aquarium. It’s more like a room with some tanks of water and people to answer questions. I haven’t officially gone in it, but I have seen inside of it, it’s that small. They also don’t charge, but rather accept donations (They mention $2 an individual and $5 for a family). There is a shark sculpture that sits outside of the door that looks perfect for a photo opportunity, but they have signage letting you know not to climb on top of it. I’m always tempted.
I’ve gone to each pier by myself first, and then when guests come into town, I try to take them to the piers as well because they’re usually landlocked or want a nice way to see the ocean without getting in the water (so far I haven’t had summer guests who wanted to take a dip, but “winter” guests who are surprised when they touch the water and it’s freezing). I mention this because I also let them know there is a weird comparison that goes on in the area where people think the sand at Manhattan is the best. My visiting friend Natalie best described it through mashed potatoes. She said Manhattan is when you get nicely whipped, smooth mashed potatoes. We’ll come back to her analogy at each of the other beaches.
So after walking the pier and touching the sand, I went under the pier, which has a really simple structure. Many people take pictures underneath or beside it. Then it was time to head back to the car because I only put an hour on the meter. This is where you realize you parked uphill. It was easy going down on the way to the pier, and then it’s like you’ve never worked out a day in your life on the way back up.
Travel a few minutes down the road, and you’re in Hermosa. This has been described to me as the “young people beach.” At first I didn’t understand that description, but now I know it’s because of the night life. Manhattan is on the richer side, and is boutique-y. Hermosa is not as fancy, but it has a cool vibe to it. It’s definitely a hangout for 20-30-year-olds. The main area is blocked off from cars and has string lights going back and forth between the buildings. It’s lined with restaurants that feature bars, and every night of the week there are people enjoying the patio of each one.
Again, I walked on the pier and again I tested the sand. This pier had more benches than Manhattan, which is nice because each time I’ve gone, I’ve been able to hang out on a bench and take in the scenery (whether that be the landscape or everyone’s favorite crowd hobby, people watching). One time I saw a lady with a backpack walk up to the water, pull out a salad, and stand in ankle deep in the water eating her lunch for about 30 minutes. Then she put it away and left. That’s a dream lunch break. On the end of this pier is just a giant open area. At all hours of the day there are people fishing there. On the sides of the pier are what seem like dozens of beach volleyball courts.
The interesting part of the sand at this beach is they made giant dunes right next to the pier and pretty close to the water. Kids boogie board down it instead of in the water. At one point the sand was so high, you could climb over the pier railing and onto the top of the mound. It’s stretches from the pier to the first lifeguard stand on each side, and I have no idea why it’s there. Anyway, back to Natalie’s analogy. She described Hermosa sand as the mashed potatoes where the skin is left on when beating them in the mixer. It’s slightly textured, even though the potatoes are finely whipped.
Some fun facts about Hermosa before we move on to Redondo. When you go under this pier, the height isn’t nearly as tall above you as Manhattan. The pier is where a scene from LA LA Land was filmed (Ryan Gosling whistles his theme song after catching a guy’s hat in the wind and dancing with his wife). One of the building in the plaza area before the pier is also in the movie. However you have to go around back to find the neon sign for the Lighthouse Cafe.
For Redondo, lets start with the fun facts. It is the pier that was in the tv show “The O.C.” There are four major locations used in the filming: the pier cafe (Redondo Coffee and Bait Shop), Sandy Cohen’s beach office, the Bait Shop (which on the show was a music venue), and the pier itself where Ryan rides his bike and Seth skateboards. It also has two churro shops. I’ve only been to one, which was very highly praised, and I agree. Oddly both are called Pier Bakery, but the one I went to is off of Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s a really interesting, old arcade called the Redondo Beach Fun Factory. The games are all old, and the prizes are odd. You can cash in your tickets for bottled water, mystery boxes, and the highest ticketed prize is a meat slicer. Yes, a real one.
The pier itself smells like fish everywhere you go. It’s definitely the grungiest of the three locations. The water below isn’t as clear, and the people on the pier are what Natalie described as “her kind of people.” She liked that she could wear sweatpants, a hoodie, a backpack, and have her hair tied up and not feel judged. It’s the longest pier of the three, and it’s in a triangular shape. People were also fishing at certain spots of the walkway. Again there were benches scattered throughout. The main attraction compared to the others is the fact that there are shops and restaurants all along the pier. Families can spend all day fishing on the pier and grab food in the midst of it, for pretty cheap means of entertainment.
Finally the sand test. It was described a lumpy mashed potatoes. After all the accounts, I agree with Natalie and really appreciate her analogy whenever I have to explain the difference to other visitors or friends who aren’t from the Beach Cities.
Personally, I find myself gravitating toward Hermosa because there is a Starbucks, pizza shop, gelato shop, and ice cream shop all within walking distance that doesn’t involve a hill. Reading that back, it makes me sound fat, but hey, I like simple things and am a creature of habit. There’s a parking garage behind Starbucks that’s relatively cheap. Sometimes after work, I’ll grab a Peach Green Tea Lemonade, walk about a block and grab a giant $2.50 slice from Paisanos (I prefer the Hawaiian or BBQ Chicken), and have dinner on the pier for $7 or less. Before I head back to my car, sometimes I stop at either Paciugo for their mint chocolate chip gelato or Paradis for their vegan hazelnut ice cream. There’s also a guy who rides a bicycle that he completely decked out with lights and a sound system. What more could you ask for in a beach city?