Well-known are the perfect beaches of Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan, Malibu. On any given day, they're littered with hoards of people, predominantly tourists, enjoying the gentle surfs, checking out all the vendors on the concrete boardwalk, and being part of the stereotypical Southern California beach scenes.
But just down the coast, separated only by the mouth of Marina Del Rey and Ballona Creek, lies one of LA's finest gems: a beachside community not infected with all the trendy commercialization of its neighbors. Behold! Playa del Rey.
Fittingly named King's Beach in Spanish, Playa del Rey is a quaint hamlet in the middle of otherwise heavily-populated and typically chaotic beaches. Adjacent to Dockweiler State Beach, Playa del Rey is primarily a locals-only beach, mainly because out-of-towners will naturally flock to the beaches with more to do. And if they're going to come south of Venice, they often skip over Playa del Rey, in favor of Dockweiler or Manhattan Beach.
And the locals who enjoy Playa del Rey couldn't be happier.
Indeed, the seclusion amidst some of the most popular beaches in the nation is a strong part of Playa del Rey's charm. Moreover, there is a genuine sense of community felt in Playa del Rey that simply gets lost in the more urbanized beach towns.
This is not to say there's nothing to do outside of the beach in Playa del Rey, it's just more laid back. The main strip in town is on Culver Blvd, where you'll find a small handful of bars, shops and diners. There's Prince O' Whales, one of the oldest spots in Los Angeles, where on an early Sunday afternoon, you'll find a dozen or so locals sitting around the bar, munching on the scrumptious breakfast or incredible steak, sipping on a beer or bloody mary, watching whatever games happen to be on. Prince O’ Whales is also known for hosting live entertainment pretty much every night of the week, from local musicians to comedy acts.
A block closer to the beach, you'll find Outlaws Bar & Grill, whose namesake burger is quite possibly the best hamburger in all of Los Angeles. If that's not enough, Outlaws has its own lending library, which makes it quite possibly the coolest bar in Southern California. You can go in, pick one of their many burgers (with names as tempting as Nixon, Annie Oakley, Al Capone, or if you're crazy stoned, the Desperado Gang, a 5-pound feast that few have conquered), grab a book off the shelf, and fade away on the sun-drenched patio, enjoying life the way it's meant to be enjoyed. Of course, they serve more than burgers; rumor has it, their Alaskan King Crab and Salmon dinners are silly good.
As you get closer to the shore, you'll find The Shack (the first of the chain), whose ambiance is a marriage of “California Cool, Laid Back Colorado, with more than a splash of Hawaii, mixed with Beautiful Locales, Dude Food, and all you can watch Sports.” Their menu boasts all kinds of delicious munchies, from appetizers to burgers…many of which come standard with a split Italian Sausage atop the patty. Yup.
The best part about all these pubs is, when you go and sit down, you're immediately treated like you're home. The bartenders are all friendly, and unless you're a total introvert, you'll end up having a conversation with somebody sitting next to you. And it's not the shallow talk you'll find in a Hollywood martini bar, but rather down to earth, relaxed talk about real life. The people who go to these places do so to relax, get away from that wretched, soul-sucking rat race that we all play along with to survive, and to enjoy company of people, as opposed to mingling with would-be-colleagues.
If going to a tavern isn't your thing, there's also Cantalini's Salerno Beach Restaurant, serving mouth-watering Italian cuisine in a romantic setting the best movie couldn't top, as well as several other dining and watering holes lining Culver Blvd.
And then there's the beach! The beach here is wide and generally pretty, but it has a noticeably steeper decline than Venice and Santa Monica, and this makes the undertow a little more brutal. Known for intermediate surfing, a day of wading can immediately become exciting when a wave sweeps you off your feet, and face-plants you into the gravely floor of the beach, reminding you of how small you are compared to the vast ocean.
As you go south on this beach toward Dockweiler, you'll find yourself directly under LAX's flightpath, and every 60 seconds or so a jetliner will roar into the sky directly above your head. It's a cool sight, watching planes fly out of California's busiest airport, while the ocean keeps lapping away.
In short, Playa del Rey is one of Los Angele's best local beaches, where it's not too packed to enjoy yourself. There are no vender stands here, and you will not get a cute braid in your hair or go home with a bag of incense at Playa del Rey. You will, however, have a nice, chill day at the beach, with little to worry about other than being pimp-slapped by the sea.
Photography by Wasim Muklashy