SoCal's beach culture just minutes from major L.A. sights
By CARY ORDWAY
Tucked along the shoreline just seven miles south of Los Angeles International Airport, the Redondo Beach area is an ideal place to soak up some Southern California beach culture while never going too far from the many tourist attractions that Los Angeles and Orange County have to offer.
Want to visit Hollywood or Beverly Hills or the Universal Studios? Less than a half hour to the north from Redondo. Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm? Just a tad bit further to the south. Beaches, shopping and fun restaurants? Just look outside your hotel room if you’re staying in Redondo.
After years of passing Redondo right by – it’s a little bit off the freeway and does take a short drive on surface streets to get there – we made a point to book a hotel room with an oceanfront view of the beach at Redondo. In this case it was the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina Hotel which is located just across the street from the epicenter of Redondo – the marinas and piers that were bustling the weekend we visited.
The view out of our fifth floor room was like you might see on the French Riviera – well, okay, the buildings are more modern here and it is, after all, L.A. But looking toward the sunlit hillsides and seaside homes of Palos Verdes and gazing at the calm, clear and vibrant blue sea stretching all the way to Catalina Island does have a way of making you forget you are in the Big City.
If you’re going to experience L.A. beach luxury, the Crowne Plaza in Redondo Beach fills the bill. Today’s luxury hotels pile on the amenities to entice people to stay longer and to help them get more out of their "downtime." This hotel is not only in a perfect location across from the marinas, but it boasts a complete spa facility, an expansive swimming pool, a tennis court, a deck area with magnificent views and – get this – full privileges for guests at Gold’s Gym next door. But remember to ask for an ocean-view room – the view from the fifth (top) floor is the best amenity of all.
Just up the hill from the pier and marina are numerous condo developments, most of them no doubt offering their occupants a spectacular view of the coastline. It’s fairly obvious that Redondo is where you find the L.A. people who thrive on living near the beach and consider the traffic and congestion of the Los Angeles basin worth it if only they can come home to these postcard views of the Pacific. But make no mistake – most of them must be earning decent money someplace with the median home price in Redondo now about $750,000.
A trip to Redondo Beach is all about the waterfront – take your pick between the four local marinas, the Redondo Beach Pier, the funky shops and restaurants along the bustling boardwalk or unique shopping opportunities that pop up in places like South Bay Galleria and Riviera Village.
As you might expect, the marinas are jam-packed with luxury yachts of all sizes. It’s easy to go down and get close-up views of the boats and marvel at how expensive it must be to buy and maintain many of these vessels. On this particular sunny Sunday a steady parade of sailboats, power boats and fishing boats were making their way inside the breakwater offering shore-walkers the chance to dream about what it must be like to put to sea in such opulent craft.
Like other L.A. beach cities, Redondo Beach offers a bike and walking path along its entire waterfront – in fact, you can take this path the entire 27 miles to Malibu. Both young and old take full advantage of this path anytime the sun is out – which is most of the time. We took advantage of it to walk just south of the marinas to the Boardwalk and Redondo Pier areas.
On this weekend, the Boardwalk was a beehive. The many restaurants in this shopping area – which is built around three sides of a small boat basin where both pleasure craft and fishing boats are tied up – were doing a brisk business. Rock and roll music pulsated out of Naja’s Place while a throng of receptive listeners crowded around the stage and whooped and hollered their approval at the end of each song. Down the boardwalk, the sights and smells changed every few feet as we passed storefronts serving up warm churros, hot dogs, pizza, pastries, Mexican, food, Asian food and – in about 70 percent of the restaurants – seafood that’s prepared just hours after it’s hauled in from the boat. In fact, sometimes it’s not even cooked – Quality Seafoods is a busy fish market that offers you more species of live crabs than we thought were in the ocean.
The restaurant choices around Redondo are many, but sometimes the simplest and easiest is the best. We enjoyed grilled sandwiches at Polly’s on the Pier where it’s still possible to get a $7 sandwich with a waterfront view. This is one of those small neighborhood cafes that just happens to be on the water. If you listen to the conversation carefully, it soon becomes clear the wait staff and cooks know many of the customers they are serving.
As you walk along the Redondo Beach Pier, it’s interesting to note that Redondo once was the site of three commercial fishing piers. Eventually tourism began to take over the area and some say George Freeth had a lot to do with that. He was the Redondo resident they called the "Man who can walk on water" and is said to have brought surfing to the mainland U.S.
If the beach and pier aren’t enough to keep you occupied, Redondo Beach also features a couple of popular shopping areas: the South Bay Galleria, a shopping center built on three levels with a variety of stores, shops and boutiques; and the Riviera Village area, a small town within a small town that reminds us of trendy shopping districts near Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The latter is the place to go if you love sidewalk cafes.
And Redondo Beach is the place to go if you want great ocean views, a festive yet relaxed atmosphere and nearly all of L.A.’s famous tourist sites within a short drive.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Redondo Beach is just seven miles south of Los Angeles International Airport and would be an excellent base of operations for visitors who want to see the tourist sights both in Los Angeles and in Orange County.
WHAT: Redondo Beach is a historic beach and pier that has been developed over the years to include a fascinating combination of beaches, boardwalk, shops, restaurants, major hotels, marinas and, of course, gorgeous year-round weather.
WHEN: The sun shines year around in Redondo Beach. Even in the hottest summer months, its location near the water moderates the temperatures to keep it comfortable.
WHY: With all of L.A.’s tourist attractions it’s easy to overlook a gem like Redondo that’s just a little bit off the major freeways. But it’s well worth a few miles of surface streets to see what Redondo has to offer.
HOW: For more information on Redondo Beach, contact the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau at 310-376-6911 or visit www.redondochamber.org. For more information on the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina Hotel, phone 800-368-9760 or visit www.redondobeach.crowneplaza.com.
Photos: A sunset walk on Redondo Pier; the boat basin is surrounded by restaurants and shops; lunch at Polly's; the pool at the Crowne Plaza with Redondo's luxurious condos in the background
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Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway