This must be Manhattan Beach
The corner of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Ocean Drive tells a tale of two eras: Manhattan Beach’s surf bum past and its glitzy present. On the south side of the intersection sits Shellback Tavern. Preserved within its blacked-out beachfront windows and memorabilia-covered walls — signed by volleyball gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings and other local icons — is one of the last places in the neighborhood where you can buy a few beers with only the damp, crumpled 20-dollar bill in the pocket of your swim trunks. On the north side, there’s the Strand House, a multistory bar and restaurant built mostly of steel and paneless glass windows, which serves $50 entrees and provides diners with an unencumbered view of the beach, the sunset and the turquoise Manhattan Beach pier.
Get to know Los Angeles through the places that bring it to life. From restaurants to shops to outdoor spaces, here’s what to discover now.
“Manhattan Beach was a small, quiet beach town for most of its history, and many residents like to cling to that image,” said Gary McAulay, a retired policeman and former head of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society, who has lived in Manhattan Beach for 40 years. “In some ways, it actually is still a close-knit community, but skyrocketing real estate prices and hyper-gentrification, as well as burgeoning tourism, have had their effect on the town’s character.”
Angelenos who find themselves in Manhattan Beach may wonder if they accidentally landed in an idyllic beach town instead of an incorporated city off the 405, just south of LAX. Stroll around the hilly, pedestrian-only walk streets to find groups of friends barbecuing in front yards from morning to night. Pop into a cafe for a lemonade or a boutique for a seashell-covered home decor item. Take a bike ride along the beachfront promenade, the Strand, where maybe you’ll stop to watch a volleyball tournament — or just lust after the homes. At the end of a beach day, summit Manhattan Beach Boulevard and take a seat at 厂颈尘尘锄测’蝉 for an ahi tuna starter, burger and sangria.
As in the rest of Los Angeles County, median home prices in Manhattan Beach have doubled over the last 10 years. For better or for worse, depending on who you ask, the upscale-ification has helped make the beach city an even more popular weekend destination. Manhattan Beach Post and Fishing With Dynamite (both helmed by chef David Lefevre) have received numerous accolades, including spots on The Times’ 101 Best Restaurants list, over the years. The Strand House is part of the Zislis Group portfolio, which also owns the swanky Shade Hotel and other restaurants and gastropubs dotting Manhattan Beach Boulevard and the surrounding areas.
The long-standing neighborhood classics are still there — the Kettle and 笔补苍肠丑辞’蝉, for instance — but as blogger and longtime beach cities resident Jennifer Richmond notes, “Those are definitely few and far between from the more high-end, three- and four-dollar-sign restaurants.”
This guide encompasses both the neighborhood’s roots and its modern reality. You’ll find more quaint character in the north Manhattan Beach neighborhood of El Porto, new and old gems in the downtown area and true community both further inland and throughout. And, as befits a beach city, the best things are still free.
“Take a stroll along the ocean and get your toes wet,” advises McAulay. “Watch the sunset. It’s beautiful.”
What's included in this guide
Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolis can tell you that neighborhoods are a tricky thing. They’re eternally malleable and evoke sociological questions around how we place our homes, our neighbors and our communities within a wider tapestry. In the name of neighborly generosity, we included gems that may linger outside of technical parameters. Instead of leaning into stark definitions, we hope to celebrate all of the places that make us love where we live.
Find what you need for the day's waves at El Porto Surf Shop
Come by to learn about surfing, rent boards and wet suits, and meet the sandy-footed owner, Woodrow “Pack” Landfair, and his dog, Porto. Nearby LAX makes the shop a hub for international surfers, says Pack, and to prove it, he displays a pinboard map showing where visitors have come from all over the world. (And the shop accommodates just about any time zone they’re functioning on — it’s open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day of the week.)
You can’t leave without getting an infusion of authentic posi vibes, driven home by the hand-painted message over the stairwell on your way out: “Surf like a champion today.”
Ride, roll or stroll along the Strand
While it can get crowded on sunny weekends, the area generally sees fewer tourists (and drum circle participants) than other L.A. beach hot spots. And the fact that it mostly abuts houses — not parking lots, restaurants or souvenir shops — makes for an overall calmer experience. There are plenty of benches to sit on, happy dogs to admire and beachfront mansions (and older bungalows) to ogle, and you can always amble off the path and into downtown Manhattan Beach for a refreshing drink.
Indulge in a macadamia nut stack at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House
The varieties of pancake stacks include macadamia nut, pineapple coconut and pumpkin spice. If you’re with kids, try the bite-sized “dollar” cakes. Craving lunch? Locals rave about the tuna melt. Expect a wait for a table on weekends, but the payoff is solid classic American fare and the feeling that you’re on vacation in a quaint beach town.
Scarf down the ultimate breakfast burrito at Amigos Tacos
Find the delightful surprise at the end of the pier (Psst, it's Roundhouse Aquarium!)
The aquarium is free to enter and staffed by local volunteers, who will help visitors learn about the area’s aquatic wildlife and ecological challenges and innovations. One exhibit depicts how long different pieces of refuse take to biodegrade (or not) in the ocean. A peephole in the floor gives a glimpse of the ocean, integrating the aquarium with its natural environment.
Get a scoop of Sticky Bun Crunch ice cream at Manhattan Beach Creamery
Lay out a blanket and catch a volleyball game on the sand
Locals say no other beach has a wider expanse of sand or better waves. Scores of volleyball posts and nets make it a popular spot for both professional and amateur tournaments. Plop down by a net and you’ll more likely than not be blown away by the level of play. You can start your own game or get involved in the Manhattan Beach volleyball community through the California Beach Volleyball Assn.
The biggest catch is the parking: Manhattan Beach has multiple public lots, but they are small and fill up quickly. The best bet is to arrive early, do some circles and pray for good parking karma.
Discuss the latest mystery or nonfiction barnburner at Pages: a bookstore
Take in living history at Bruce’s Beach Park
Earlier this year, the city unveiled a new plaque, recognizing the troubling history and the attempt to make things right. It sits atop the sloping park, now named in honor of the Bruce family.
Embrace the old-school ambience (and margaritas) at 笔补苍肠丑辞’蝉
Work up a sweat at Sand Dune Park
Today, just one intimidating sand dune remains, and athletes run, walk, shuffle and do all manner of mind-boggling drills on the steep and unforgiving 100-foot slope. Head on down to give yourself a challenge or simply be wowed by the local talent.
Take in 180-degree views of the ocean at the Strand House
Have a cold beer at Shellback Tavern (where sandy feet and boogie boards are welcome)
Climb a galleon ship at Polliwog Park
Order a round of bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits at Manhattan Beach Post
The restaurant has evolved over the last decade-plus. It underwent a remodel during the pandemic that transformed its sophisticated barn aesthetic into an airy, plant-covered beach house. And it’s no longer the lone fine-dining offering in the area: Chef David LeFevre’s oyster bar, Fishing With Dynamite, is right next door, and upscale steakhouse the Arthur J. is just on the other side of Manhattan Beach Boulevard. But 10-plus years in, the food remains excellent, and it’s still the area’s worthy approachable-gourmet standard bearer. Don’t miss the “world-famous” bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits, which are moist, cheesy and generous in both size and fillings; the “blistering” blue lake green beans that have just the right balance of sweet and spicy; and the decadent chocolate pudding dessert called the “Elvis.”