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Playa del Rey is not a beach name you often hear in southern California, though the Spanish word playa means beach. It’s a largely forgotten section of coastline that has the advantage of having far less parking capacity than beach capacity, so it’s almost impossible for the sand to be saturated with people. It is quite possible, however, on a warm summer day for the saturation of cars to overwhelm the capacity of Playa del Rey’s narrow streets.
The beaches are pleasant, if you’re lucky enough to find parking on a summer day, but the break doesn’t draw those fascinated by the waves—surfers, boogeyboarders, or others looking for that kind of ride.
PDR, as the locals often refer to it, abuts Ballona Creek, one of the waterways that used to rage some winters through Los Angeles. The creek was tamed decades ago by concrete walls. And then, in the mid-1960s, Los Angeles County turned a wetlands area on the north side of the creek into a boat basin known as Marina del Rey.
For Playa del Rey, it has meant recreational diversity.
Just south of Playa del Rey, the waterfront road, Vista del Mar, snakes maybe 45 degrees back and forth and rises slightly, unfolding across a four-mile stretch of open beach. Dockweiler State Beach is named for Isidore B. Dockweiler, a prominent Los Angeles attorney of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who descended from one of the city’s founding families.
As phenomenal as the view of Santa Monica Bay is, it obscures some dark chapters in southern California history—a neighborhood called Palisades del Rey that had to be evacuated and then razed in the 1970s, nearly forty years after it was settled, because the expansion of LAX had caused widespread health problems from noise and pollution; the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant, which has intermittently failed over the century since it was built to adequately sanitize the effluent it was pumping into the Bay; and there are others.
But when the sun is shining over Dockweiler, those chapters become easy to overlook.
Dockweiler is the beach millions of air travelers leaving LAX have looked at as their last low-altitude look of southern California.