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Vintage California
Surf culture alive and well in Hermosa Beach

While Santa Monica, Malibu and Venice seem to get a lot of the media attention, the other Los Angeles area beach area that’s "hidden" in the neighborhoods just south and west of LAX is the scrappy little community of Hermosa Beach.

The beach bunnies in Hermosa Beach have a little more attitude than their counterparts a little farther north – after all, many of them are world-class volleyball players who are not on this beach to just soak up the rays. They and their hunky boyfriends hit balls back and forth all hours of the day, prepping for one competition or another, and just generally flaunting their usually close-to-perfect looks.

This is why the little village of Hermosa Beach attracts a lot of the city’s singles as well as travelers who are single hoping not to remain that way very long. Not that families don’t come here as well – there’s much more to Hermosa than the opposite sex and the area can be an ideal base of operations for couples and families wanting an L.A. beach location that is reasonably close to many of the city’s tourist attractions.

The hotel infrastructure in Hermosa is not huge – if you’re planning on spending part of your California beach vacation here, it’s best to book way ahead. There are a few lodgings sprinkled here and there, precious few on the beach. We stayed a few blocks from the beach at the updated and comfortable Quality Inn where we were close to the action but not so close that the room rates reflected the usual cost of staying "on the beach."

The people who live in Hermosa are young – median age is 32 – and the local architecture is what is typical nowadays for an urban beach setting: small lots and houses, many bungalows, condos and apartments clustered close to the beach area. The residents are also hip: Hermosa was one of the first cities in the country to install free wi-fi internet service for the city’s residents.

Vacationers come to Hermosa because everything is neatly compacted into a 1.3-square-mile area – the shops are all within walking distance of the beach, the beach is wide and beautiful, and the people-watching is some of the best in the L.A. area. The California surf culture is ever-present as you spot many tan young surfer boys and girls strapping their boards on cars, bikes and their bodies. Many of the shops cater to this clientele, and restaurants serve up good helpings of surfer food, an eclectic mix of greasy hamburgers, salads, veggies and, of course, beer.

"We’re a great location where people can stay and not only enjoy the small-town atmosphere, nightlife and beach," explains Hermosa Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carla Merriman, "but also use this as a base to travel to other points of interest. Even if you are attending an event elsewhere, you can come home at night to enjoy the beach, eat outdoors – you don’t even have to get in your car."

The action seems all to be within a few blocks of Pier Avenue where the last couple of blocks – those closest to the beach – have been set aside as a pedestrian plaza with giant palm trees, street benches, several shops and about a half dozen sidewalk cafes. The wide plaza leads the visitor down to "the Strand," the beach path that extends for several miles in each direction offering an opportunity for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists to exercise their way north and south along the waterfront areas of Los Angeles. Stroll the strand and you’re likely to see people of all ages and colors coming at you from both directions – a kaleidoscope of casual L.A.

Out on the beach, the sand seems to go on endlessly. Hermosa lays claim to 1.5 miles of it, but it connects with other beaches to provide plenty of maneuvering room for even those people who don’t want to have anyone sharing the beach with them. At least on weekdays, it’s possible to grab a piece of beach big enough to pretend it’s all yours. Maybe that’s why the Travel Channel recently listed Hermosa as one of California’s "Top 10 Beaches."

For those who want to be entertained while they’re sunbathing, just set up camp close to the dozens and dozens of volleyball nets that are positioned along the eastern edge of the beach. There’s always a group of young and healthy volleyball players who really seem to know what they’re doing. Of course no one can figure out how they can afford to be doing this in the first place – just guessing here, but there can’t be THAT many volleyball players actually making a living this way.

It’s also likely that, on any given day, visitors to Hermosa will get a glimpse of some film crew doing some sort of commercial. After all, this is the California lifestyle that folks back in North Dakota only wish they could live. Young, beautiful people, gorgeous beaches, constant sunshine – it’s all in Hermosa.

Celebrities also find their way to Hermosa. Just up the street a couple of blocks from the beach is the Comedy and Magic Club, famous as the place where Jay Leno often tries out new material. Usually Leno performs on Sunday nights in the small theater – just 225 seats – and it’s a chance to get in and see top-drawer live comedy for just $15 a seat. Other comedians such as Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld also perform at the club.

Live music is a big part of the Hermosa equation – local clubs offer a variety of acts and on our recent weeknight visit there was a professional four-piece jazz ensemble playing for free outdoors in the Pier Avenue shopping district. The music offered a festive backdrop for the diners who were enjoying a pleasant evening meal at one of the sidewalk cafes. Summer concerts are held in Hermosa, offering big-name entertainment in an outdoor beach setting.

During certain times of the year, things get even more festive with the largest arts and crafts festival in California held each Memorial Day and Labor Day. "Fiesta Hermosa" features 270 crafters and artists, a kiddie carnival, beer and wine garden and two stages offering continuous entertainment. In August, the city also hosts the Annual Aloha Days Surf Festival, another event that draws participants from far and wide.

Lest you think that Hermosa Beach is nothing but the young and hip, there’s a historical side to the town that is a little surprising. Visitors can go on a historical tour of Hermosa Beach visiting many locations where well-known people lived or that otherwise offer up a bit of historical flavor. For example:

The former Charlie Chaplan home is at 32 – 10th Street and is where the Chaplan family stayed for several summers.

The Old Hermosa Inn, at Pier and Ocean Avenues, was a frequent hang-out for Errol Flynn.

The Justice Shaw House at 740 The Strand is the former home of Supreme Court Justice Lucien Shaw, founder of the Los Angeles Bar Association.

The Sea Sprite Motel, along 10th Street, has been the vacation spot for people such as Dizzy Gilespie, Tito Puente, Hugh O’Brien, Emilio Esteves, Beverly Sills and many others.

The Berth Hotel, 11th and the Strand, is the only hotel in operation in Hermosa in 1917.

Loreto Plaza is the site of the Insomniac Coffee House and is where the ‘beatnik" generation gathered regularly to listen to jazz and poetry.

The Slim Summerville House at 1820 The Strand, is where the famed vaudeville comedian spent summers.


WHERE: Hermosa Beach is about 10 miles southwest of Los Angeles and about a 10-minute drive from LAX.

WHAT: One of California’s true beach towns – a small-town atmosphere but a surf and youth culture that appeals especially to young singles, although the town also is a pleasant getaway for couples and families.

WHEN: Any time of year.

WHY: Hermosa Beach is a great place to base your Los Angeles visit if you want to be near the water yet close to popular tourist attractions both in Los Angeles and Orange County.

HOW: For more information on Hermosa Beach, contact the Hermosa Chamber of Commerce at 310-376-0951 or visit

Please visit California Weekend for more information on California travel .
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway