All 22 miles of the coastal Marvin Braude Bike Trail are wonderful, but the 6.3-mile (one-way) stretch between Playa Del Rey and the Manhattan Beach Pier is for cyclists who like wide-open sailing more than a crowded boardwalk scene—a great stretch for a fast spin, or to get the kiddos out for a ride without having to dodge disco skaters. The ocean views are great—you’re never more than a few hundred feet from breaking surf—and even the bits of industrial weirdness are kind of fun.
Start at the bridge that spans the mouth of Ballona Creek and head south. A long mound of sand on your right, placed to protect from storm surge, makes for some entertaining kiddie sandboarding. A mile later, you’re smack under the LAX takeoff zone, where you can wave to jumbo jets angling skyward. At Dockweiler Beach, you climb a “hill” (a 20-foot rise) to a blufftop that serves as a takeoff zone for smaller air machines—on a breezy afternoon, you’ll see tyro hang gliders taking beachside lessons.
Next comes El Segundo Beach. The first set of industrial-looking buildings are Hyperion, our venerable sewage-treatment plant. Those candy-cane-colored smokestacks belong to the Scattergood Steam Plant, an electrical generating facility powered by natural gas. Soon enough a tall wall shields your view of the plant, which is fine, because you’re coming up on one of LA’s best surf spots, El Porto—a reliable break even when conditions are blah elsewhere. Pull over and watch, or, if you’re hungry, proceed just a bit farther to a surfside shack cleverly called Surf Food Stand for a breakfast burrito and a cappu. Now your goal is in sight: the Manhattan Beach Pier, projecting nearly a thousand feet into the ocean. Sure, it’s photogenic, but the real action here is among the volleyball nets at its foot. As a plaque informs you, Manhattan Beach is the home of beach volleyball. Pause and pay it homage before riding back up the coast—this time with the beautiful hills of Malibu in view.
From Lincoln Blvd./Pacific Coast Hwy. in Playa Vista, turn west on Jefferson Blvd., merge left onto Culver Blvd., and head into Playa Del Rey. Bear right on Pacific Ave. as Culver ends. A long-term construction project has closed the small parking lot at the end of Pacific by the Ballona Creek bridge, so park at the Del Rey Lagoon (free) and pedal over to the bridge to start your ride. The path is dog-friendly, but no dogs on the beach.