Everything about Manhattan Beach exudes sun, surf, sand and fun living.
I have been living in the beach cities community for more than 15 years and not sure if I would be able to live somewhere else (I am sure I can but, at the moment, I am too attached to the area).
I invited you to learn, and visit, Manhattan Beach, one of the gems of Los Angeles County!
About Manhattan Beach, California
Manhattan Beach is located 19 miles southwest of Los Angeles in the south end of the Santa Monica Bay.
Its 35,000 residents occupy four distinct neighborhoods which are often referred to as sections (sand, tree, hill, and east). The majority of the attractions described in this article are located on the Downtown part of the Sand Section. I will indicate if an attraction described is located away from the beach.
Things to Do in Manhattan Beach, California
In here, I have tried to provide as much detail as possible about the things to do in Manhattan Beach. I am presenting the city as an isolated entity even though there are many more attractions in the surrounding communities. I will give you an idea about these other attractions later on. For now, let’s concentrate on what Manhattan Beach has to offer.
Stroll the Pier
Many consider this pier the prettiest in Los Angeles County (even Sunset Magazine shows love in this issue). This is the first Californian pier I set foot on and it is still one of my favorites.
The setting is unrivaled. You get views of the entire Santa Monica Bay, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Catalina Island. The airport is so close that you see tons of planes flying into the clouds. Then, when you look back at the land, you see an army of buildings covering the higher ground.
The main attraction here is the two-story Roundhouse, with a terracotta-colored roof, which houses a café and aquarium. When in Manhattan Beach, you have to visit the pier!
Manhattan Beach has hosted the Manhattan Beach Open for more than 50 years. The tournament has defined the beach volleyball sport. Winners of the tournament are memorialized with bronze volleyball-shaped plaques in the “Volleyball Walk of Fame” which spans the length of the pier.
Since the city has become synonym with volleyball, you can imagine there are plenty of nets awaiting sports lovers. Even if you do not play, it is fun to watch tournaments (which are common during the warm months) or regular folks playing a set or two.
Visit the Roundhouse Aquarium
As mentioned, the Roundhouse on the pier is home to an aquarium. Entrance is free but donations are encouraged.
This place has the objective of teaching visitors about the oceans, marine life and the environment. They have several tanks with local fish and mollusks, interpretative signs and staff willing to explain what is on display. Some creatures can be touched on the open tank.
Note: The Roundhouse Aquarium is currently under renovation. Exhibitions have been moved to a trailer parked in front of the pier. You are welcome to visit the temporal grounds. The aquarium is expected to open in Fall 2018.
Walk or Bike The Strand
The Strand is a 22-mile paved path extending from Pacific Palisades (close to Santa Monica) to Torrance.
The section belonging to Manhattan Beach has a length of about 2 miles. You can choose to walk or bike as much of the path as you want.
One of our favorite things to do is the “Pier to Pier” walk. This refers to the 2 miles section between the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach piers (4 miles roundtrip). This is a great way to see what is happening at the beach and, at the same time, exercise. Plus, there are plenty of places to eat and drink at both ends of the walk.
When we want to keep things varied, we walk from the pier to the northern part of Manhattan Beach. This is a 1.5 mile, one-way, walk. Again, there is plenty of action along this section of beach.
If you prefer, you can bike The Strand. This will allow you to check out the nearby cities (El Segundo to the north and Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach to the south). The closest bike rental shop is located in Hermosa Beach (Hermosa Cyclery, 20 13th Street).
Enjoy the Ocean
The cool thing about Manhattan Beach is that you have 2 miles of beachfront to pick a spot to call your own.
During summer, crowds congregate close to the pier. If you want to escape the madness, choose a spot between Marine and Rosecrans Avenues or 1st Street and 9th Streets. There are restrooms along the waterfront.
Do not Forget about El Porto
For many decades, El Porto was an unincorporated community administered by the Los Angeles County. In 1980, the City of Manhattan Beach annexed it. However, the small area still reflects a surfing and independent spirit vibe.
El Porto Beach is protected under the State Park system and it is one of the most famous surfing spots in the South Bay. The beach has parking lots, restrooms, showers and snack bar facilities. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and surfing businesses along Highland Avenue.
Mingle with the Locals while Surfing
As mentioned, a lot of locals surf at El Porto Beach or next to the Manhattan Beach Pier.
The following businesses offer surf lessons:
- One Wave Surf School
- Soul Surf Lessons
For surfing gear, you can visit the following stores:
- Nikau Kai Waterman Shop (919 Manhattan Ave)
- Spyder Surfboards (1116 Manhattan Ave)
- El Porto Surfboards (3804 Highland Ave)
Have your Sweets and Ice Cream Fix
This where things start getting delicious!
I believe a visit to the Manhattan Beach Creamery is a must while in the city. You have to try their signature Cream’wich, an ice cream sandwich made with artisan cookies and premium ice cream.
But, it doesn’t stop there, they have cupcakes, frozen bananas, candy, macarons, caramel apples and all sort of frozen treats available. Plus, the actual store evokes a party atmosphere.
Exercise on the Greenbelt
Ok, I know you may not want to think about exercise while vacationing but hey, some people do like to exercise while away from home. So, I am throwing an activity in here for those who like to sweat.
The Greenbelt or Veterans Parkway is a 3-mile long path extending from Hermosa Beach to Manhattan Beach. This shaded path, full of benches and picnic tables, may be of interest for those staying in the city for some time (a week or more).
The walk is considered easy and you will pass Downtown Hermosa and Manhattan Beach and make it all the way to Manhattan Beach Village (Shopping Mall). The path runs parallel to Valley Drive.
Take the Family to the Sand Dune Park
This park features a 100-foot high sand dune, trails, play area, picnic tables, restrooms, and drinking fountains.
It is a favorite among families with small children and those training for athletic events. To ensure the health of this ecosystem (plants, birds, small mammals) the park usage is kept under control using a reservation system and time slots. You can make reservations in here.
Indulge in Some Wine Tasting
The Beach Cities are not wine country but that doesn’t mean wine tasting is not present in here. Right at Downtown Manhattan Beach can stop by Bacchus, a shop offering tastings in a friendly atmosphere. Their flights feature five wines and they change the menu every three days. Plus, things are very relaxed here. You can talk wine (or other topics) with the folks pouring for you.
The other option is Barsha, a store that serves wine and beer flights, cheese, charcuterie, and small plates. Locals love this place! You will need your car to get here (it is a bit away from Downtown). However, it is worth the effort because this is a great place to visit with friends after a day at the beach.
Check Out an Independent Bookstore
With the proliferation of digital devices, it is less and less common to find a bookstore nowadays. The good news is that Pages, located a couple of blocks from the beach, has been thriving for many years. The store sells books, gifts and greeting cards. They host author events and children’s story time.
If like me you enjoy browsing among books, this is the place for you.
Get Some Good Food at the Farmers Market
This city has probably one of the best markets in the area. Every Tuesday, 45-50 vendors meet Downtown from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
You can find things such as cheese, vegan cheese (made from cashew), dates, honey, berries, orchids, olive oil, ice cream, hummus, fish and prepared food. They have activities for the kids too (mini-train, face painting). It is just a great place to visit!
Learn About the City’s History at Polliwog Park
The Manhattan Beach Historical Society is located at Polliwog Park. This museum is located inside a beach cottage and features photographs and artifacts showing the evolution of the city along 100 years. It is open Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Even if you are not interested in the museum, the park alone is worth a visit. It has 18 acres of open space, a pond, gazebos, play areas, a rose garden, a pool, an exercise station, amphitheater, restrooms, and drinking fountains.
Polliwog Park is located about 2 miles from Downtown Manhattan Beach.
Enjoy the Botanical Garden
If you want to enjoy a bit of peace and quietness, stop by the city’s Botanical Garden featuring native trees, sages, succulents, wildflowers, grasses, butterfly habitat, children’s garden of discovery, meditation garden, interpretative signs and much more
Admission to the garden is free and tours can be arranged (Friday mornings). The Botanical Garden is located about 1.5 miles from Downtown Manhattan Beach.
Take the Kids to the AdventurePlex
The AdventurePlex is an indoors park equipped with a 5-level play structure, ropes course, a climbing wall, sports course, reading room, and other fun facilities. They have a special area for toddlers, offer classes and camps.
They are open daily and offer different levels of admission. Check out their website for specific details.
Go on a Shopping Spree
Manhattan Beach offers a wide array of shopping options.
Those who like to support small, local businesses should start by checking the stores located Downtown. My favorite store is called Tabula Rasa (919 Manhattan Ave). They have candles, jewelry, books, plush toys, stationery, entertainment goods, signs and much more. I recommend checking out this store.
Outside of Downtown, you can find the Manhattan Beach Village and several shopping centers along Rosecrans and Sepulveda Avenues.
Manhattan Beach Restaurants
Some restaurants in Manhattan Beach join the ranks of “Best in Los Angeles.” That is a huge achievement in a city with such an enormous pool of culinary talent.
As a consequence, you can eat very well here. I am giving you a brief overview of where to eat.
Fine and Trendy Dining
In this category, we can include the Manhattan Beach Post, The Arthur J, Fishing with Dynamite, Darren’s Restaurant, The Strand House, Love & Salt, and Nick’s Manhattan Beach.
Now, get prepared to pay top dollar at these places. They may offer food specials during happy hour.
Now, if you want to save some money but still have a delicious meal I recommend eating at Simmzy’s, Lemonade, Mama D’s Kitchen, Jimmy’s Kouzina, The Kettle or Le Pain Quotidien.
One of the favorite breakfast spots in the city is Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Many of the restaurants in Downtown offer breakfast and brunch options.
In North Manhattan Beach, the places to go are The Local Yolk and North End Café.
Coffee Shops and Juices
There are plenty of coffee shops along Manhattan Beach Boulevard. I am sure you will find one that you like. My favorite place for pressed juices is Kreation Organic Juicery (to die for!)
Restaurants Outside Downtown
There are good restaurants in other parts of the city. I like the Tin Roof Bistro and India’s Tandoori. For those looking for fine dining spots, Houston’s, Fleming’s and Paul Martin’s are located on Rosecrans Avenue.
For delicious cakes, you got to visit Nothing Bundt Cakes (really, go to this place).
Manhattan Beach Parking
In Downtown Manhattan Beach, there are several parking options.
Parking on the street is available and paid for using meters. The meters give a max of two hours. I recommend keeping an eye on the time since the city aggressively gives tickets to cars on the red (they have employees dedicated to checking the meters).
You can park right in front of The Strand and Pier (1125-1199 North the Strand) or on the Upper Pier Lots (1121 Ocean Drive or 1123 Ocean Drive). Due to the proximity to the water, these lots fill quickly.
Other options right in the heart of Downtown include Lot 1 (224 10th St), Lot 2 (222 12th St), Lot 3 (12th Street) and Lot M (1210 N Morningside Dr). Google Maps can provide more information about parking.
If you want a lot that gives you more than 2 hours, you can check the Civic Center Lots (around 15th Street).
In North Manhattan Beach, there are lots at 224 36th Pl, 3738 Highland Avenue and 116 45th St.
There is a section of free street parking on Highland Avenue. This is a good option for those who do not want to worry about meters and do not mind walking a bit to either Downtown or the North section.
Manhattan Beach Weather
Manhattan Beach is blessed with an excellent year-round weather. In summer, temperatures reach the 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures oscillate around the 60 degrees.
Summer is the prime season to visit the city and area. Take into consideration that during the months of June and July we have a phenomenon where we get fog coverage until midday (we call it June Gloom). The cloudy conditions start to clear up around 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m.
The beach gets crowded during summer weekends. I recommend arriving early to secure a parking spot. Even though the weather is pleasant all the time, some businesses observe shorter operating hours during winter.
Due to its location in southern Los Angeles Country, Manhattan Beach is located close to places such as Downtown Los Angeles (20 miles), Santa Monica (12 miles), Venice Beach (10 miles), Hollywood (30 miles) and Disneyland (30 miles).
If you want to explore more of the South Bay (and I highly recommend this), you can check Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance. Below, I am placing links to my in-depth guides to these cities.
- Redondo Beach Pier: What to Do, See and Eat
- Terrific Things to Do in Torrance
- Hermosa Beach Restaurants
- Hermosa Beach: Things to Do, See and Eat
Nature and hiking lovers would enjoy the great views of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Check out the following article to learn more:
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