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Tired Of Crowded Beaches? This Hidden Gem Has Tide Pools, Plus Some Cold War History

Beachcombers explore the coast at White Point. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)
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Southern California is known for its sun-soaked beaches, but the most popular stretches of sand can get pretty crowded. So we wanted to check out a lesser-known spot: White Point and Royal Palms Beach near San Pedro. The drive is a bit further than Santa Monica, but there's the promise of fewer traffic jams on the beach itself.


The view from White Point looking towards Royal Palms. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

White Point and Royal Palms have plenty to offer the active beach-goer including fishing, surfing and scuba diving. But if you're more interested in a relaxed ocean visit, that's an option too.

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The shore here has a mix of rocks and sand that's in contrast to many local beaches but still offers a great spot for a chill picnic lunch or a beachcombing walk. And there's plenty of marine life to spot while you're there.

"When people think of rich habitats, they think of places like the Amazon, but the kelp forests out here are actually as biologically productive as tropical rainforests," said Dr. Allen Franz, a board member with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy that works to preserve the local habitat.

The tide pools on the shore are easily accessible so visitors young and old can go looking for critters like hermit crabs.

The beaches are also home to some much bigger sea creatures. In the winter and spring, lucky visitors can catch a glimpse of gray whales on their annual migration south to Mexico, or their return trip north. Later in the year, blue whales can be spotted on their commute.

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If you aren't headed to White Point during whale watching season, the landscape itself is gorgeous and offers a little geology lesson.

"The whole peninsula was under water until about one million years ago," Dr. Franz said. "The rocks are about a million years old and they formed under water. We have basalt from underwater volcanic eruptions and this whole area has been squeezed up by the collision between North America and the Pacific Plate."

The dark basalt rocks at White Point were formed in underwater volcanic eruptions. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)


White Point has played a part in California's history since the state'srancho days, when it was part of the Rancho Palos Verdes, owned by the influential Sepulveda family.

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But White Point had its heyday in the 1920s when locals took advantage of a natural sulfur hot spring there. Tojuro Tagami and his brother Tamiji built the White Point Hot Spring Hotel, a resort and spa that was particularly popular with Southern California's Japanese-American community.

The hotel had growing success until the 1930s when The Great Depression hit. Then the Long Beach earthquake in 1933 shifted the ground and cut off the flow of the sulfur spring.

Now visitors can stand in the ocean where the resort's giant saltwater swimming pool used to be.

At White Point visitors can now enjoy tide pools where a resort hotel once stood. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

After the hotel, a less peaceful force took up residence at the beach. During WWII, the U.S. military built large concrete gun emplacements at White Point as part of coastal defense efforts.

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An United States Army caretaker crew poses around one of the guns at White Point, 1946. (Courtesy Fort MacArthur Museum Association)

The battery at White Point was one of the gun sites belonging to the nearby Fort MacArthur. Concrete structures from the battery, shaped like short silos, sit on the hill above White Point's bluffs.

Later, during the 1950s through the '70s, White Point became a Nike missile launch site (not that Nike). Southern California's coastline had 16 such sites ready to launch anti-aircraft missiles during the Cold War, but eventually all were shut down.

Now a building that was once part of White Point's missile site is a nature education centerrun by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. The group keeps up the site with a native plant garden and hosts events like regular nature walks around the coastal area.

The White Point Nature Education Center building was once part of a Nike missile site. (Photo by Emily Henderson)


If you've made the trek out to San Pedro and are looking for more spots to soak up the views and breath in the ocean spray, check out Point Fermin just down the road. It offers a grassy park on the bluffs above the ocean and paths down to the rocky beach below.

Fermin has its own share of history too -- the lighthouse there is a historical site which offers guided tours several times a week.

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