The northern part was originally wetlands, and—until 1824—the mouth of the Los Angeles River, but the natural flooding been halted by the concrete channel which contains Ballona Creek. A bridge between Playa Del Rey and the jetty between Ballona Creek and the Marina is accessible to foot traffic and bicycle traffic, but not to automobiles. Bikers, skaters and joggers probably have the best chance of traversing the sidewalks of the beaches north to Santa Monica, and to the South Bay, here at this bridge. Both UCLA and LMU have crew teams that practice on the Ballona Creek channel.
Development of Playa del Rey surged in 1928 with the building of the Del Rey Hills neighborhood in what is now the northern part of the community. The community was the last stretch of coastal land in Los Angeles to be developed.
A large portion of Playa del Rey is now vacant, and homes were destroyed, after the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) brought increased flight traffic. The noise from the flights made it less desirable to live on the dunes above the ocean under the LAX flight path. LAX bought the southern section of Playa del Rey under the power of eminent domain, eventually numbering 4,400 homes. Today one can see only barbed-wire fences protecting vacant land and old streets where houses once sat. Recent LAX rejuvenation plans call for the city to finally remove the old streets that still line the empty neighborhood once known as Palisades del Rey. The condemned areas of the community are now a protected habitat of the endangered El Segundo blue butterfly.
Playa del Rey in the 1950s and early 1960s was known as a great Los Angeles area "surfing spot," but due to the many rock jetties that were built to prevent beach erosion, the good surf is mostly gone. The beach at the northermost end of Playa del Rey is still known as "Toes Over Beach", "Toes Beach" or just "Toes" by the local surfing community, a name derived from the toes over or Hang Ten surfing maneuver. Most surfers now flock south of Dockweiler Beach, to "El Porto", the most northern part of beach in the city of Manhattan Beach. The lifeguard and park services are uniform across the entire twenty mile stretch of beach.
One danger for beachgoers is the uncontrolled water runoff from the creek, and the occasional overflow from the giant Hyperion treatment plant to the south.
Locals refer to the small area of housing south of Culver Boulevard and closest to the beach as The Jungle, a nickname given to a group of closely-built apartments built in 1956, within the bounding streets Trolley Place and Trolleyway Street on its east and west respectively, and including the streets Fowling, Rees, Sunridge and Surf
St. Bernard High School is a private school in the area.