Just five miles from Los Angeles International Airport is one of the best beach communities in all of America.
I live just five miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) so I know what I would do if I had a long layover there. I always tell my friends and family transferring through LAX on their way to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Asia…you know, all the places that make you jealous…to break up their trip and get out of the airport and go to Manhattan Beach. Nothing is worse than just mulling around an airport for hours. If your layover is three hours or more, jump in a taxi and take a mini vacation. Better yet, spend a night or two on each end of your trip so you can recharge your batteries—literally and figuratively.
Manhattan Beach is a home of surfing and both beach and indoor volleyball. It’s a special community that used to be filled with pilots and flight attendants in the 70s, 80s and mid-90s until the housing market exploded and priced all the fun people out. I used to live right on the Strand (the first row of houses on the beach) and when I first moved there in 1992, in a tear-down house on a single lot, it was selling for $750,000. Today, that same old house is priced at $10,000,000. I made a HUGE mistake not rustling some money together to buy it. Many believe that Raleigh Studios is one of the main culprits behind the explosion since they built a movie studio down the street. Raleigh produces all kinds of shows and films like CSI Miami and Avatar (here’s a complete list).
The easiest way to get to Manhattan Beach from LAX is to take a taxi. Tell the driver you want to go to Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Highland Avenue (the heart of downtown). It should cost no more than $26 including tip and less on the return since there’s no $4 airport surcharge. Tip: If you’ll be traveling during rush hour, tell them to go down Imperial Highway. If it’s not rush hour, then go down Sepulveda to Manhattan Beach Boulevard (they’ll know the way). As you go down the hill you’ll see the famous Manhattan Beach Pier. It’s been in a lot of movies and was always featured in NBC’s coverage of the Manhattan Beach Open, the Wimbledon of beach volleyball, before the sponsors pulled out.
Be prepared for the taxi driver to give you a bit of attitude, as he will probably have been sitting in a line for two hours and will be bummed that he’s going only a short distance. If you don’t want the attitude, you can call my personal driver Ramez, a very nice Egyptian man who sometimes picks me up—on time and in a clean new car (usually an SUV). He charges $30, only a few bucks more than a taxi, to and from Manhattan Beach. His number is 310-938-7240.
Ocean Express Trolley
A cheaper alternative is to take the Ocean Express Trolley which offers hop-on and hop-off shuttle service every 30 minutes to Manhattan Beach (and El Segundo) for $5.
What to do
Once in Manhattan Beach the best thing to do is stroll around the Strand and the pier (there’s a little aquarium at the end). I highly recommend renting a bike and cruising the bike path (you can go all the way south to Torrance or north to Santa Monica). Try Fun Bunns Beach Rentals, accessible at 1116 Manhattan Ave and by phone at 310-372-8500 ($8 an hour, $24 a day).
Where to eat
This is one of my favorite parts about Manhattan Beach—the restaurants. There are so many to choose from and most are within walking distance from where you’ve been dropped off, so I’m just listing my favorites.
- Uncle Bill’s Pancake House (1305 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-5177). It’s a diner that’s open for breakfast and lunch only and has super long waits on weekends/holiday mornings. I’ve eaten here so many times my picture is on the wall (to the right of the front door).
- Le Pain Quotidien (451 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-546-6411) Yeah, it’s a chain but it’s darn good and they serve some healthy (and non-healthy) food. Get the mint tea and don’t try their hazelnut spread—it’s addicting.
- Local Yolk (3414 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-546-4407) It’s located in North Manhattan Beach (about a mile away) and has an extensive menu and award-winning omelets. You won’t leave hungry.
If you are looking for something quick and light then go to Noah’s Bagel and/or Jamba Juice or Peet’s Coffee. All three share the same building in downtown Manhattan Beach. I usually will grab a wheatgrass juice or smoothie from Jamba and a bagel from Noah’s and eat on the pier. There’s also a Coffee Bean and Starbucks within a block.
There are so many places I don’t know where to start, but here’s a quick list:
- My favorite is The Izaka-ya By Katsu-ya (1133 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-796-1888). It’s a very well-run Japanese restaurant and even though I don’t eat sushi, I still frequent it often and get the apple ginger chicken, which comes with miso soup, rice and salad ($8.50).
- Almost anytime PR people want to take me out to lunch or dinner I suggest Petros (451 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-545-4100). They have fantastic Mediterranean food and I love their watermelon and peach salads (in season).
- When I’m in the mood for something quick I go to Lemonade (401 Manhattan Beach Blvd). It’s a gourmet deli chain and I get two salad portions for $5.25.
- Simmzys (229 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-546-1201) is a gold mine. It’s always happening with the cool people drinking, eating and watching sporting events on their open-air patio.
- If you want to live like a local go to Becker’s Bakery and grab a sandwich to eat down on the beach or pier. Be sure to pick up some cookies or a maple bacon cupcake.
If you happen to be in town on a Tuesday in the middle of the day, go to the Farmers Market (13th Street & Morningside Drive). Buy some fresh fruit and ask to try the spicy tempha from Dave’s Korean food.
- Rock ‘N Fish (120 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-379-9900) is always busy so you’ll need a reservation Thursday-Sunday. It’s great for steaks, seafood and Navy Grogs.
- Fonz’s (1017 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-376-1536), another steak and seafood restaurant filled with mostly locals.
- Manhattan Beach Brewery (124 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-798-2744) serves casual California cuisine.
- The Strand House (117 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-545-7470). They have the best location of all and take vending machines to a new level with their wine stations. They also have an insane glazed doughnut dessert with PB-n-chocolate, vanilla bean and caramel with fleur de sel.
- Pancho’s Restaurant (3615 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-6670) is one of the oldest and best known landmarks in the South Bay area. It’s in North Manhattan Beach and has a festive atmosphere and solid Mexican food.
- The Kettle (1141 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-545-8511) is a staple in Manhattan Beach as it’s been around since 1973. It’s the first restaurant I went to when I passed through with my dad in 1990. It’s open 24 hours and seems to always be crowded. I usually go with my friends late night.
I’m not much of a drinker but I go out with my friends the first half of the night and when they start to get sloppy I bail. Places we go:
- Shark’s Cove (309 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-545-2683) has over 40 TVs so it’s the perfect place to watch a ballgame and drink/eat with your friends.
- Hennessey’s Tavern (313 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-546-4813) is an Irish bar right next door to Shark’s Cove. We usually go on St. Patrick’s Day and on Tuesdays when burgers are two-for-one.
- Shellback Tavern (116 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-376-7857) is an institution in Manhattan Beach and the spot to be after any big volleyball tournament. The food is not too good (except the turkey tacos) but it’s happening and crowded.
- Baja Sharkeez (3600 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-8811) is in North Manhattan Beach and is a popular USC bar that serves decent fish tacos. Go on taco Tuesday when it’s two-for-one and you’ll find lots of eye candy.
Of course, if you ever need to grab snacks for the plane you have Vons supermarket right in town. There’s also a Ralphs, Target, Whole Foods, and the Manhattan Village (a mall)—all of them are just off Sepulveda Blvd (close to the airport).
- The swankiest place to stay in Manhattan Beach is Shade Hotel (1221 N Valley Drive; Tel: 310-546-4995). It’s a luxury boutique that’s in the heart of town and three blocks from the beach. Shade is also a hot spot Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, though they kick everyone out by 11 pm so they don’t disturb the guests. Rack room rates begin at $279. See my 10 reasons to stay at Shade Hotel.
- The Sea View Inn (3400 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach; Tel: 310-545-1504) is in north Manhattan Beach and located right on Highland Avenue. They offer free parking, complimentary bicycles, beach chairs, beach towels & boogie boards. Rack room rates begin at $130.
- The Belamar Hotel is located off of Sepulveda and Valley. It’s just a few miles from LAX and has 127 rooms. I stayed there one night and here’s my story.
- If you want to collect some hotel points there’s the Manhattan Beach Marriott (1400 Parkview Avenue, Manhattan Beach; Tel: 310-546-7511). It’s three miles south of LAX, has 385 rooms, and there’s a par-3 golf course in the backyard. However, it’s a good 2 miles from the beach. Rack room rates begin at $149.
- If you want to be close to the airport check out Joie de Vivre’s Custom Hotel (8639 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles; Tel: 310-645-0400). I recently stayed there and had a great experience.
There are two places to either do your laundry or drop it off and have them do it for you: The Wash Tub (3921 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-2296) and Whale of a Wash (1209 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-545-4633). I recommend the latter since you probably won’t have too much and they only charge $1.25 per pound and will get you your clothes to you within a few hours.
Manicure and pedicure
Since I know how many ladies (and some men) are adamant about having good-looking nails while they travel, here are two good spots. Perfection Nails (3212 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-546-1049) is where I go as it only costs $20 for both a pedicure and manicure. It’s not the cleanest salon in the world but the Vietnamese women are nice and always giggle when I come in. The other is Dominic Nail Spa (1147 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-545-0802), where the high-maintenance girls go as it’s cleaner and more expensive ($32).
Shoe repair or polish
If you need your shoes repaired or polished, the best place to go is Manhattan Shoe Repair (1010 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-376-7484). The man who owns this place takes so much pride in what he does that he can pretty much create magic. My wife wanted me to buy a new pair of shoes for our wedding but instead I brought an old pair of work shoes that I hadn’t worn in ten years and he made them look like new for $25. Chalk one up for the good guys!
Useful Manhattan Beach Resources
So there’s “my” Manhattan Beach. Hopefully, this will make your long layover at LAX (or stay in the area) and trip to whatever fabulous place you are going that much more enjoyable.