Los Angeles’ South Bay offers three of the city’s most picturesque beaches towns of Redondo, Manhattan and Hermosa, some of the best Japanese food in Gardena and Torrance, and the rugged coastline of Palos Ranchos Verdes. A few weeks ago we decided to make the short drive up from Orange County and spend a weekend exploring and eating our way through the area. Here’s some of my favorite things to do in Manhattan Beach and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Brief History About LA’s South Bay
The South Bay is home to numerous industries including automotive, oil and aerospace, with large corporations like Chevron and Honda in the area. It is also known to be the birthplace of iconic Southern California rock bands like the Beach Boys, who hail from Hawthorne.
As mentioned briefly above, the largest Japanese population in Los Angeles resides in Gardena and Torrance. During World War II many of the local Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps in places like Manzanar. The Japanese American National Museum’s online Remembrance Project is a great educational resource for learning more about this dark period in US history.
Top Things To Do In Manhattan Beach
1. Manhattan Beach
We started out our first day at this iconic beach that is one of my favorite beaches in the area. It always seems well-maintained and always has numerous beach volleyball games going on that are fun to watch. Public parking is always tight, especially on weekends, but we lucked out and found a spot in a nearby metered lot.
2. Manhattan Beach Pier
One of the main attractions of the beach is this adjacent pier that is perfect for a leisurely stroll to take in the panoramic views of the beach and the Pacific Ocean. For me, this is the most scenic pier out of the three, with its sea green railings and Roundhouse Aquarium at the end, speaking of…
3. Roundhouse Aquarium
Learn more about the local marine life that calls the Santa Monica Bay home, including species like the warty sea cucumber and the round ray. This aquarium was created as the Oceanographic Teaching Stations, Inc. in 1979 as a marine science education center. Currently the aquarium is open again, but you need to make a timed reservation ahead of your visit.
4. The Strand (Marvin Braude Bike Trail)
I’m always on the lookout for a good beachside walkway and this one right next to Manhattan Beach doesn’t get any better with views of million-dollar homes on one side and the sand and surf on the other. This path is actually part of the longer Marvin Braude Bike Trail that starts in Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades and ends in Torrance Beach.
5. Downtown Manhattan Beach
The lively center of Manhattan Beach is a great place to get a bite to eat or just walk around and take in the sights. Manhattan Beach Boulevard is the main thoroughfare, but make sure to take the less-crowded side streets to get a feel for what it would be like if you were lucky enough to live a few blocks from the beach. There are numerous public parking structures on the side streets if you cannot find street parking.
6. Nick’s Manhattan Beach
If you’re looking for a nice restaurant for dinner in the downtown area, Nick’s will not disappoint. The menu is American comfort food like baby back pork ribs and buttermilk fried chicken. Make sure to save room for the warm butter cake. Brunch is also a great alternative with additional offers like omelets and mimosas. Bonus points for seating being mostly outdoors.
7. Belamar Hotel
This hotel is an ideal home base that’s a bit removed from the action of downtown, but still close enough to quickly drive over for brunch or a sunset stroll on the beach. On the property, Second Story Restaurant is great for happy hour or grabbing dinner (even if you are not staying there) with small plates, signature cocktails and entrees like the grilled skirt steak and salmon cobb salad. Complementary valet parking is available for restaurant guests.
8. Manhattan Beach Creamery
For dessert grab a scoop or two from this longtime favorite spot that is known for their small-batch ice cream. Crowd favorites include Banana Foster and Cookie Monster. If you are craving something besides an ice cream cone they also have ice cream sandwiches, frozen bananas, cupcakes, milkshakes and sundaes if you are looking to switch up your experience.
9. Manhattan Beach Farmers’ Market
Every Tuesday from 11-3pm, this local farmers’ market sets up shop in the Metlox Plaza behind the Shade Hotel. There is seasonal produce, pre-made food offerings, including Dave’s Korean Foods. If you are there during the summer, the bounty of fresh fruit is reason enough to drop by.
10. Bruce Beach
One of the city’s oldest parks, this beach is a few minutes from the ocean and is a great place to have a picnic with a view. It also has a significant history from its early years as it was a beach club that allowed African-Americans access to the ocean in the racially segregated early 1900s. It was eventually turned into a city park in the 1960s.
11. El Porto Beach
A little bit north of Bruce Beach is this picturesque beach that is ideal for families with its clean restrooms and lifeguard presence. The surf is popular with local surfers and body boarders, since it’s considered to be consistent and great for beginners/intermediates. Parking can get a little chaotic and is limited, so come early.
12. Manhattan Beach Art Center
This small art center offers free admission with intriguing rotating exhibits, as well as community art classes. It’s located on the main thoroughfare and a great place to escape the bustle of downtown. There’s free parking in back or on the surrounding streets.
13. Manhattan Beach Botanical Gardens
Located within Polliwog Park, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it garden is a relaxing place to get away from the crowds of the pier. The space features California native plants, including those that are drought tolerant and thrive in a Mediterranean climate. Admission is free.
Things To Do In South Bay, Los Angeles
14. Hermosa Beach Pier
This unassuming pier is where they filmed the pier scene from LaLa Land (the streetlights were part of Hollywood magic). Park in one of the public lots near the beach right before sunset and join the locals and visitors as the sun sinks into the Pacific. There is a lively restaurant and bar scene right at the end of the pier, including Playa Hermosa Fish & Oyster for fresh seafood.
15. Redondo Beach Pier
Out of the three piers this one feels the busiest, with restaurants and storefronts crowding the beginning of the pier. It kind of reminded me of Fisherman’s Wharf in SF with the bustling atmosphere and seafood restaurants. It’s fun to take in the sights, but in my honest opinion there is better seafood in the South Bay (try Ali’i Fish Company in El Segundo).
16. Jus’ Poke
If you are on the search for poke beyond the trendy chains around Los Angeles, this longtime family-owned Redondo Beach spot is the real deal. The fish is impossibly fresh and the family uses their recipes from their native Hawaii. I usually keep it simple and get the shoyu poke with a side of brown rice and seaweed salad.
17. Tokyo Central
Nijiya and Mitsuwa are popular Japanese supermarket chains around Los Angeles, but Tokyo Central in Gardena is on a whole other level. There is an extensive pre-made food section, all the Pocky and Japanese snacks you can dream of, as well as fresh produce and a large upper section for home/clothing items. We loved it so much we came back the next day to get some more snacks and home decor.
18. Sakae Sushi
One of my favorite discoveries of this trip was this tiny (but mighty) sushi shop that churns out the most beautiful sushi lunch boxes that are wrapped like presents. The thing that makes the sushi stand out is the rice, which is perfectly seasoned and melts in your mouth. Make sure to call ahead since they tend to sell out early and bring cash. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-4pm. Closed on Mondays.
19. Point Vicente Lighthouse
On our way back home, we made a detour to this scenic lookout that includes this historical lighthouse that is rumored to be haunted. The lighthouse is now closed to the public, but walking along the path to the Interpretive Center provides plenty of panoramic views of the lighthouse and the Pacific Ocean.
20. Wayfarer Chapel
Known also as the Glass Church, this stunning landmark designed by Lloyd Wright (son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright) is nestled among the redwood trees. It’s constructed out of large portions of glass that give uninterpreted views of the surrounding seaside cliffs. The church is dedicated to Emanuel Swedenborg, who used his pursuit of scientific knowledge to help him understand Christianity. Usually the Visitors Center is open from 10am-5pm and The Chapel and grounds are open 10am-5pm, but everything is closed due to COVID.
21. Palos Verdes Peninsula
With stunning coastal views that rival those of Malibu, drive along Palos Verdes Drive from Torrance Beach to White Point Beach. There are plenty of spots to pull off and take in the view or go on a hike along one of the many seaside trails. Check out this post for the best hikes in the area.
Where Exactly is LA’s South Bay Located?
The South Bay is located in the Southwestern corner of Los Angeles and is bordered on the West by the Santa Monica Bay, the Pacific Ocean in the South, West LA in the North and South LA in the East. If you have a few hours before your flight, Manhattan Beach is about 15 minutes without traffic from LAX in the north.
The cities that are included in the South Bay are:
- Manhattan Beach
- El Segundo
- Hermosa Beach
- Redondo Beach
- Palos Verdes Estates
- Rolling Hills
- Rolling Hills Estates
- Rancho Palos Verdes
- Harbor City
- San Pedro
- several unincorporated areas
Best Time To Visit LA’s South Bay
When we went in late May it was cold, with the highs only reaching the low-60s. We expected this since during May and June in Southern California there is a coastal fog that makes its way inland and affectionately is known as May Gray and June Gloom respectively. Spring is a nice time to visit with less crowds and usually sunny skies. The holidays are also a fun alternative to see the area decked out in its holiday finest.