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Beyond Our Shores


Breaking the Waves: Opinions vary on where to find Southern California's best surfing. The perennially popular Malibu Surfrider Beach, just north of the Malibu Pier, has great waves and is reserved almost solely for surfers, but it gets crowded, and the water quality isn't great--in fact, the environmental group Heal the Bay gave it an F in its most recent report card because of sewage spillage. Still, the beach remains open under the auspices of the Los Angeles Department of County Beaches and Harbors, which enforces state health standards and closes beaches that don't meet them.

Scenic Beauty: You want wild, untamed and uncrowded vistas? Drive to Nicholas Canyon Beach, just south of the Ventura County line. The nearly one mile of pristine sand is virtually unsullied--there isn't even a concession stand--making it primo surfing, walking and splashing grounds and a favorite wedding spot.

Dolphin Watch: Surfers also swear by Zuma Beach, north of Surfrider, which--according to lifeguard John Renaud--has the "most powerful surf-break in [L.A.] county." Zuma attracts crowds of as many as 100,000 on a busy weekend day (though it's so big you really can't tell), thanks to its easy access and parking, wonderful sand and good swimming. As a bonus, a school of dolphins, usually traveling in pods of 20 or 30, rides the waves virtually every day. Swimmers aren't encouraged to frolic with them, but the dolphins are pretty social, so it happens.

People Watching: It may be cliche, but there's no debate: The best place to watch people is Venice Beach, where the weird, wonderful and beautiful converge in a bizarre bazaar. Check it out, then go swimming elsewhere.

Beach Biking: The path goes nearly 20 miles, all the way to Will Rogers Beach in Malibu. But its birthplace is Torrance County Beach, which makes it a good reason to visit this South Bay city and its next-door neighbor Redondo Beach. Both are classics that also offer good swimming.

Star-Gazing: The quintessential L.A. beach show, "Baywatch," is shot during the summer before your very eyes at Will Rogers Beach, where the lifeguard headquarters is part of the series' set.

Take a Dive: Catalina Island boasts excellent diving all around the island. On either side of Avalon, you'll find two easy-access sites. At Lover's Cove, snorkelers can see at least 20 to 30 species of local fish, including garibaldi (the bright orange state fish), sheephead, bass, calico bass and oblai. At Casino Point, scuba divers can see more of the same, plus a lot of kelp.

Doggie Dunes: No dogs are allowed unleashed anywhere in the state, and dogs are not allowed on L.A. County beaches at all. Pet lovers should stick to Orange County, where several beaches allow dogs on leashes before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. San Onofre allows leashed dogs in the southern end of the beach.

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