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Southern California Close-Ups: Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu

The odd humanity of Venice's Ocean Front Walk. The fun-filled Santa Monica Pier. Getty's ancient art in Pacific Palisades. The sun-kissed beaches of Malibu. The area lets you mix with the masses or take a solitary trek.

July 31, 2011|By Christopher Reynolds | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Out-of-towners, beware. If you ask a local for tips on the best beaches in Malibu, you risk drowning in a sea of beach-bum bombast and legal disputes over what's public and what isn't, where to park, the shape of the waves, the clarity of the water, the rights of wealthy beach-dwellers and who lives in that big, ugly house over there, anyway? Zuma Beach County Park (near 30000 Pacific Coast Highway) is big and sandy. El Matador State Beach (32215 Pacific Coast Highway) is smaller, harder to reach, edged by cliffs and caves — and gorgeous. The state Coastal Commission and Los Angeles Urban Rangers will tell you much more about dozens of others at http://www.coastal.ca.gov/access/MalibuGuide2010.pdf. Or you could do the shallow thing and head for the trailer park from "The Rockford Files" and "Baywatch." Paradise Cove, a hefty 18 miles up the coast from the Santa Monica Pier, is home to a busy cafe, tiny pier and one of the state's ritziest mobile-home parks. It's a star on big and little screens ("Gidget" and "The O.C." are also among its credits), so if you have come to California with tourist fantasies about the perfect little beach, this could fill the bill. Gentle waves, handsome bluffs, fine sand, beach toys aplenty, lifeguard at the ready, legions of armchairs lined up beneath an array of palapas. Many locals scoff, because it can get crowded, and because dogs, surfboards and barbecues are banned. Also, the cost of parking in the private lot jumps from $3 (for four hours) to $25 if you don't spend at least $20 at the cafe. But if you reserve your lunch well ahead and show up early, and it isn't 100 degrees in the San Fernando Valley that day, you just might have paradise your way.

christopher.reynolds@latimes.com

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