No visit to Southern California is complete without a trip to the beach.

Not only is Santa Monica Beach one of the best, it’s also one of the most fun. In fact, it was named one of the “10 Great Public Spaces in the U.S.” by the American Planning Association.

It’s also easy to reach. If you’re flying into LAX, Santa Monica Beach is less than 10 miles away. And you can get there without getting on a freeway, which is always an advantage in SoCal.

A huge swath of golden sand, Santa Monica Beach stretches for 3-1/2 miles up the coast. With 340 sunny days a year, it’s no wonder that so many movies are shot here. And chances are, it will be gorgeous for you too.

The beach is cleaned and raked every day, and lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. If all you want to do is relax, bring a beach towel or a folding chair and enjoy watching the people. Or let one of the Perry’s beach butlers set you up with a chair, a table, and an umbrella. Just be sure to use plenty of sunscreen.

And keep your eyes peeled for celebrities. Even if you don’t see one, you’ll see plenty of guys and gals who could pass the physical.

When you get hot, take a dip in the water – it’s always cool, even on hot summer days. You can surf in designated areas, usually between lifeguard stands 18 and 20 and 28 and 29, but check with the guard first. If you don’t have a board, Perry’s rents them, and boogie boards too.

Once the estate of William Randolph Hearst, the Annenberg Community Beach House opened last year on five acres of Santa Monica beachfront. There’s a beach café, rentals, and a beautiful pool that’s open to the public during the summer. It’s very popular, so you’ll need to make reservations in advance.

Another fun activity is to rent a bike and go for a spin. The coastal trail runs from Torrance to Malibu – 22 miles in all – and it’s one of the longest beach paths in the world. It’s open to anything that’s non-motorized, so you can roller blade, skate, or skateboard, it you prefer.

The Santa Monica pier recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Today, it’s packed with shops, restaurants, street performers, a ferris wheel, and a 1922 carousel. You can buy bait and rent fishing gear at the end of the pier and try your luck fishing. The truly adventurous can take lessons from the trapeze school on the pier.

If you’re headed to Southern California, even on a brief business trip, Santa Monica beaches are some of the most enjoyable in the world. Plan to spend at least a few hours enjoying the sun, surf, and scene here.

Find more California travel tips here.

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