Los Angeles: 4 great beaches

Santa Monica Beach, just north of the pier. (Cristopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Santa Monica Beach, just north of the pier. (Cristopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

In Los Angeles, it’s beach weather all year-round. But in January you don’t have to compete with nearly as many people for prime towel spots. All L.A.-area beaches are managed by the California State Parks Department, sometimes in cooperation with county or city governments.

1. Santa Monica: Santa Monica State Beach celebrates America’s love affair with the ocean-theme park combination. The 3.5-mile long stretch of sand starts just north of the iconic Santa Monica Pier, with its aquarium, arcade games and an old-fashioned roller coaster and Ferris wheel. Multiple pay parking lots available. 380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica.

2. Zuma: When people think of a classic California beach, they might be imagining the 3-mile-long Zuma Beach in Malibu, and perhaps that’s because a lot of the original “Baywatch” TV series was shot here. But it’s also a favorite spot for surfers, as well as families, sunbathers and anglers. There’s a parking lot and street parking. 30000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

3. El Matador: If you arrive early or stay late, the romantic El Matador is a great place to catch a memorable dawn or sunset. Ten miles north of Malibu and part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Matador is only accessible via a steep gravel path, but the reward is a lovely stretch of sand where you can enjoy a sense of privacy amid rock arches and hidden coves. Parking is available in a self-pay lot or on the highway.

4. Leo Carrillo: Farther up the Pacific Coast Highway, Leo Carrillo State Park offers the best of beach-combing worlds: a generous stretch of sand, mellow waves for longboarders, tide pools, reefs and coastal caves for nature lovers, and backcountry for serious hikers. There’s also an on-site campground, RV lot and token-operated showers. Parking is available for up to $12 a day. 35000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.