What do you think of when you picture Southern California (SoCal)? I’d guess that “the beach” is near the top of the list—that iconic SoCal beach scene immortalized by 60s tunes like California Dreaming and Surfin’ U.S.A.
So, on a recent trip, passing through Los Angeles for just one day, we decided to check out the famous SoCal beach culture. A really fun, and efficient way to do this is hopping on a bike and riding all, or at least a portion, of the 22 mile Marvin Braude bike trail. It’s also referred to as The Strand or The South Bay Bike Path.
The trail runs along the greater LA coast from Will Rogers State Beach in the north to Torrance Beach in the south. The majority of the well-marked, paved trail is directly on the beach and passes through popular spots like Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, and the long string of gleaming beaches stretching south of Los Angeles airport.
Many travel guides will tell you to avoid this trail on weekends when it’s busy with locals and tourists. Unless you are riding the trail purely for exercise, I’d give the opposite advice. A warm, sunny weekend is precisely the time to see SoCal’s beach culture at its best.
Yup, you’ll have dawdlers in front of you, weekend warriors speeding by you, and you’ll need to dismount in high pedestrian areas, but you’ll be in the middle of a vibrant sea of humanity enjoying all kinds of beach pursuits.
Surf was up and beach volleyball tournaments were in full swing as we pedaled along Manhattan Beach. The gorgeous beach homes in this tony neighbourhood had me drooling. An antique car display drew a crowd at bustling Hermosa Beach, while the gentle waves at Redondo Beach attracted large families who had schlepped massive amounts of beach paraphernalia and picnic supplies.
There’s nothing quite like Venice Beach on a beautiful weekend afternoon. You won’t be doing much riding in the busiest sections, but you’ll be kept entertained by the colourful characters. Check out the body builders at Muscle Beach and the skate board dudes at the park. Further along at Santa Monica, park your bike and walk the historic pier.
Hats off to the creators of this trail. It would have been so easy to stop the trail for wee obstacles like a canal, parking garage, or the LAX flight path. But no, they found creative ways to form a continuous path. Boat fans will enjoy the beautiful yachts as the trail takes a break from the beach, crosses a pedestrian/bike bridge over the canal, and winds its way through Marina del Rey. The trail through the Redondo Landing car park is ingenious.
No bike? No worries. There are umpteen bike rental places along the trail, especially in the Venice Beach area. You really don’t need a map of the trail as it is clearly signed, but I’m a map fan and found a good one. There’s no best part of the trail; it’s all good and surprisingly different from one neighbourhood to the next. Start out early and get in as much as possible. There are hundreds of “refueling” possibilities so you won’t go hungry or thirsty.
Where to Stay Recommendations:
We’ve rented at two spots in the last year and they were both great.
This Flipkey rental is in Marina del Rey. It is gorgeous and really well located just off Washington Blvd. a couple of blocks up from the beach. You can walk to restaurants, Venice Beach, and there is a bike rental place where Washington meets the beach.
This Airbnb rental is great value. It’s located in Playa del Rey in a condo complex. The unit is large, very comfortable, and comes with two bikes. The immediate area doesn’t have much charm and it’s about a mile to the beach (5-10 minute bike ride), but you can save your money for some fine dining.
If you’re spending more time in the area, check out some other recommendations.