Safety considerations at Santa Monica State Beach include strong currents, cold water, inclement weather, and remaining aware of your surroundings.
The white-sands of Santa Monica stretch over 3 miles from north to south providing some of the best beaches in Los Angeles. The beaches in Santa Monica are wide with over a ¼ mile of sand between the coast and the water in some spots providing more than 245 acres of sand for volleyball, sand castles, and sun bathing. This large state beach has thousands of parking spots spread over a half dozen surface lots, is accessible from I-10, Pacific Coast Highway, and the LA Metro Expo Line (Downtown Santa Monica station). The beaches are regularly groomed by the beach maintenance team of the City of Santa Monica Department of Cultural Services in cooperation with California State Parks.
For these reasons, the beaches in Santa Monica gather millions of visitors every year and are particularly busy from July to September. To keep you safe while in Santa Monica, you will be under the watch of LA County Lifeguards who monitor swimmers and sunbathers, the Santa Monica Police Department that patrols the beaches and parking lots (sometimes by quad, sometimes by horse!), and the Santa Monica Harbor Patrol who maintain pier pilings and the breakwater.
Beach goers at all Southern California beaches need to remember that the Pacific Ocean can have strong under currents. Many times throughout the year, lifeguards will warn swimmers of the rip currents which can sweep even seasoned simmers and surfers out to the deep waters. Rip currents account for 80 percent of beach rescues, and can be dangerous or deadly if you don’t know what to do. Remember to always swim near staffed lifeguard towers, heed all posted warnings, and follow directions provided by the lifeguards. If there is a red or yellow flag flying next to the lifeguard tower, that means strong currents may be present and you should take caution when entering the water.
Rocks and Razor Clams
Although much of the beach is sandy and soft, there are some rocks here and there. Most swimmers and surfers are fine swimming and wading with bare feet. The waters around the pier are relatively shallow, but strong waves can unexpectedly knock people over, and strong currents could pull you under the Pier. Do not swim under the Pier or near the pier pilings. Razor clams, barnacles and other sea life cling to the pier’s substructure. Some of these animals have pokey or sharp shells that can cut your hand if you try to grab onto a piling to steady yourself in the waves.
Always Wear Sunscreen
Bright sun and harmful UV rays can cause sunburn. When visiting the beach, remember to pack sunscreen and apply it often – even if you are visiting in the winter months. If you are planning to get in the ocean, then you will need to use a marine degradable sunscreen; these are usually defined as mineral-based sunscreens that use ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as an active sun blocking agent. Chemical based sunscreens, which are far more common, can contain oxybenzone and octinoxate which has been found to be harmful to ocean life including corals and other filter feeders that make up the building blocks of the marine ecosystem. Using a wide brimmed hat or beach umbrella is also a great way to enjoy the sun, but not too much. Just remember to not block lifeguard towers with your umbrella if you decide to bring one.
Don’t Worry About the Fish
Despite the tall-tales of 8ft sea bass and giant sharks lauded by the fisherman on the Santa Monica Pier, most of the sea life swimming in the shallows of Santa Monica or near the Pier are benign. Rays, jelly fish, juvenile sharks, and even the occasional seal may be seen at Santa Monica’s beaches; there are very few encounters with wildlife that result in injury or any other safety concerns. Do not feed wild animals, including the seals and seagulls, and you will not have to worry about getting a bite on the finger. You can learn more about all of these wonderful creatures with a visit to the Heal the Bay Aquarium located underneath the Pier.
The Water Can be Cooler than You Think
Santa Monica receives over 300 days of sunshine each year and daytime temperatures rarely dip below 60° F/ 15° C. For most of the summer months, the outside temperatures are between 65°-85° F / 18° – 30° C. However, the waters of the Pacific Ocean lapping the shores of Southern California are fed by a southernly current that carries cooler water down from Alaska and Canada. The water temperatures in Santa Monica are usually 15-20 degrees cooler than those on the East Coast of the United States. In August, when the air temp is at it’s warmest, the waters around Santa Monica will still be a refreshing 68° F / 20° C. Be sure to pack plenty of dry towels so you can dry off when getting out of the water. A light jacket or hoodie is also essential in Southern California.
Although Uncommon, There Are Bad Beach Days in California
In Santa Monica, beaches may be evacuated for dangerous weather conditions including lighting strikes. Although lightening and thunderstorms are very rare in the LA Basin, cloud-to-ground lighting strikes can be very dangerous near the water; if storms roll in, the lifeguards or Harbor Patrol may instruct you to leave the beach to take shelter in nearby businesses or your car. These instructions are for your own safety, so follow any directions provided and if asked to leave the beach, do so in a safe and calm manner.
Hide It, Lock It, Keep It
Theft of clothes or shoes from your spot on the beach is relatively uncommon and your neighbors on the sand can keep an eye on your towels and flip flops when you decide to go take a dip. It is not recommended to leave any valuable belongings lying around like expensive or designer clothing items, backpacks or purses, or personal electronics like radios or cameras; these items should be securely stored or carried with you.
Keep these safety tips in mind when planning your visit to Santa Monica State Beach and you will have a great day in the sun. Be sure to take lots of photos and share your favorite beach set up with us on Instagram by tagging us @pacpark or using the hashtag #pacificpark.
Feature image courtesy of @madelienefagerstrom.