We'll call the movie "Three Beaches and an Airport." It'll star Hugh Grant as a buttoned-up business traveler who is separated from his job, money and luggage at LAX, then befriended by a team of wise-cracking Olympic volleyballers who introduce him to the sun-baked, wave-splashed piers and brew pubs of L.A.'s South Bay. In no time, he soars to entrepreneurial success, leading beach-cruiser bike tours along the Strand, living in an ocean-view condo and driving a shiny convertible. The only problem is he can almost never find parking. And when he does, it's a quarter for every 12 minutes.
Oh, never mind. Forget Hugh, grab a fistful of quarters yourself and see the real South Bay. Here, as part of our Southern California Close-Ups series, are seven micro-itineraries in Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, along with tips for LAX (about seven miles north) and Marina del Rey (about 12 miles north). We'll tell you what to pay for an hour on a beach cruiser (that's a bike, not a person); where to sleep by the airport; why fish and ice cream belong together in Manhattan Beach; and why Jay Leno slips away to Hermosa Beach most Sunday nights.
1. Pedal the StrandThe Strand (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The Strand bike path covers the South Bay coast, stretching south to Palos Verdes and north to Playa del Rey, and, if you're ready to pedal around Marina del Rey, you can bicycle all the way north to Pacific Palisades. That's a 22-mile trip, with scarcely a break in the waterfront scenery, lively humanity and architectural triumphs and follies. Start by renting a bike from Hermosa Cyclery, 20 13th St., Hermosa Beach, where one-speed beach cruisers start at $7 an hour and high-end road and mountain bikes go for as much as $60 a day. Before you start burning calories, take some breakfast or lunch aboard at Good Stuff (1286 the Strand), which has a pleasant patio just a few steps away from the bike shop. Down south near the Redondo pier complex, you'll pass close by Polly's on the Pier (233 N. Harbor Drive), a breakfast-lunch joint. As you're rolling through Manhattan Beach, enjoy the greenery between the pedestrian and cycle paths. And notice how, as you go north, the houses get bigger and bolder. Once you've returned your wheels to the Cyclery, you can walk about 10 blocks up Pier Avenue to the Rockefeller (418-422 Pier Ave.), a recently opened spot for craft beer, artisan burgers, open-air dining and sports on TV.
2. Redondo's RivieraRedondo Beach Pier (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Redondo Beach has a pier and beachfront complex designed just for tourists — a place where visitors who like a rough-around-the-edges destination can stroll over the ocean, buy urchins at Quality Seafood (130 International Boardwalk), rent a paddle boat, sleep at the Portofino Hotel (260 Portofino Way), duck into the din of a dark arcade or catch a tribute band at Brixton South Bay (100 Fishermans Wharf, No. J). The grittiness and kitsch of the Redondo pier won't please everybody. For a more sophisticated scene, head south of the pier to Riviera Village, a quiet, upscale neighborhood that includes excellent beaches and ocean views along the Esplanade and a great collection of eateries (Redondo Beach Brewing Co., Dolce Vita desserts, H.T. Grill) and shops along South Catalina Avenue between Avenue D and Palos Verdes Boulevard. For a break from surf and turf, eat at the calm, vegetarian, Asian-inflected oasis known as the Green Temple (1700 S. Catalina Ave.).
3. High-style Hermosa (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Hermosa Beach is just 1.3 square miles. But it has plenty of action, beginning with the surfers in the water, the anglers on the pier and the world-class volleyball players thumping and sprawling by the nets on the sand. To explore all this from an upscale perch, begin by booking the Beach House at Hermosa Beach (1300 the Strand), where summer rates start at $299. Stroll up a few blocks to Java Man (157 Pier Ave.), a popular neighborhood coffee spot in a converted bungalow on a handsome bend of Pier Avenue. Then go body surf or bike or stroll a little more, and break for lunch and browsing at Gum Tree (238 Pier Ave.). This is another converted bungalow, its interior split between a gift and home shop and a cafe. House-made granola? Check. Four-dollar organic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids? Check.
4. Pier, plaza, party!Hermosa Beach Pier (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)