Hermosa Beach's Pier Plaza is the last little bit of street before the beach itself begins. It's also where the hard-partying 22-year-olds tend to end up. If that's your scene, the plaza is car-free, lined by palm trees and chock-full of raucous bars and restaurants. The loudest might be Baja Sharkeez (52 Pier Ave.), which burned down in 2006 and reopened in 2008. The oldest and grungiest include the Mermaid (11 Pier Ave.) and the Poop Deck (next door at 1272 the Strand). The best view probably belongs to the upstairs deck at Hennessey's Tavern (8 Pier Ave.). One of the newer spots is a shrine to surfing called Watermans (22 Pier Ave.). And on the two floors above, you'll find the 15-year-old Surf City Hostel (26 Pier Ave.). It must be as loud as a train station, and it fills its 67 beds with budget travelers who share dorm rooms and bathrooms, stash their bikes and surfboards in the hall and pay summer rates of $30 to $35 a night.
5. Jay's other jobJay Leno in his Burbank garage (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
Leno's day job pays pretty well and keeps him busy. Yet the host of "The Tonight Show" continues to moonlight like a man whose mortgage is on the line. Most Sundays, he takes the stage at the Comedy & Magic Club (1018 Hermosa Ave.) in Hermosa Beach, testing new material in a black-box space with about 250 seats. Buy a $32 ticket to the 7 p.m. show, turn up soon after 5 p.m. (when the doors open), and you stand a good chance of claiming one of the 18 seats on the lip of the small stage. You're required to order at least two items from the menu, but some beers are less than $6. And you may get some big laughs from the two or three other comedians who typically precede Leno. Chances are he'll come out about 8 p.m. and do an hour. After all these years on television, Leno gets taken for granted. So it's strange and funny to see him pacing the stage and demonstrating such wit, memory, energy and subtlety, all the while standing about as far from you as the TV is from your couch.
6. For young and oldManhattan Beach Pier (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Yes, there are three major South Bay piers, and they're all reasonably kid-friendly. But the Manhattan Beach Pier is the one with a little aquarium at the end. The Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium operates inside the eight-sided Roundhouse building (built in 1922, rebuilt in 1991), and it's free (though donations of $5 a family are suggested). It's tiny, but it has just enough to quicken the pulse of a junior oceanographer — sea star touch tanks, eels and fish of various stripes, a leopard shark and more. Less than two blocks away, the Manhattan Beach Creamery (1120 Manhattan Ave.) awaits with ice cream and other sweet treats. And later, when it's time for a proper meal, there's the 11-year-old Rock'n Fish (120 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) restaurant with seafood, steaks and convivial atmosphere. Or there's the Strand House (117 Manhattan Beach Blvd.), a sleek new fine-dining place (the Zislis Group, same owner as Rock'n Fish) that opened across the street in early August. To start, the Strand House was serving only dinner, but staffers say weekend brunches are coming soon.
7. Bagels and MetloxSimmzy's Pub on Manhattan Beach Boulevard (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Walk a few blocks up the hill from the Manhattan Beach Pier on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, pass Noah's Bagels on your right, and look left. That's Metlox, a sun-splashed semi-minimalist collection of shops and restaurants that's too genteel to call a mall. (The median household income in Manhattan Beach is more than $100,000, which makes it the wealthiest of the three beach-city neighbors.) There's sushi over here, Mediterranean food over there, plus a spa and Le Pain Quotidien bakery. And there's the Shade Hotel (1221 N. Valley Drive). It opened in 2005 (the Zislis Group again), and if you're wealthy enough to pay (it's $295 nightly in winter, $395 in summer), it's the coolest lodging in the South Bay. Its public areas are handsome and modern (except that the upstairs pool is too small for anything but a quick splash), and the guest rooms have spa jets in their two-person tubs, along with retracting screens between the bathroom and bedroom areas. If you're not quite wealthy enough — and if you're antsy about easy airport access — the Belamar Hotel (3501 Sepulveda Blvd.) might make sense. Though it has the feel of a business lodging (with boutique flourishes), it's less than two miles from the beach, connected to downtown Manhattan Beach by the Hermosa Valley Greenbelt footpath and less than four miles from LAX, with nightly rates that start around $180.