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Santa Monica Travel Guide

Santa Monica is an upscale beach community that has many different sides to it. Even though it is only about 13 miles away from Downtown Los Angeles, it is technically a city of its own, though it is still a part of Los Angeles County. Santa Monica gazes over a wide stretch of white beaches in full view of the Pacific Coast. The white sands extend for three gorgeous miles running parallel to the green seaside cliffs of Palisades Park. The city is a Mecca of sophisticated shopping and critically-acclaimed restaurants, but most people know it as a beach town harboring the stereotypical California surfer ambience.[1]

It is no surprise then that Santa Monica is one of the most sought-after places to live in the Los Angeles County area. Its cool ocean breeze, low crime rates, sandy beaches, tree-lined neighborhoods, and unpretentious character in stark contrast with Bel-Air and Beverly Hills breeds a Southern Californian sun-and-surf culture that attracts the young and the hip. As a liberal, laid-back haven, its host of chic shops, galleries, coffeehouses, bars, upscale condos and luxury hotels makes it a winning combination. The city is also cooler than the rest of the LA County, making it particularly attractive to northern Europeans like Brits and the Irish.[2]

Santa Monica is situated along Bundy Drive and splits into three areas: Oceanside Santa Monica, Main Street, and the rest of the city. The Oceanside area features most of Santa Monica’s attractions, and beautiful bluffs, piers, and beaches. The Main Street runs from the pier all the way to Venice and is lined with restaurants and designer shops. The rest of the city is comprised of exclusive apartments, condos, bungalows, and houses along with the city’s museums and galleries.[3]


Third Street Promenade
The Third Street Promenade is Santa Monica’s famous outdoor pedestrian mall located at Third Street between Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard. Along this three-block open-air mall where artwork and fanciful fountains decorate, you’ll find the greatest concentration of independent book stores in the west. At night, commercial activity is replaced with diners conversing in candlelit tables while watching street performers strut their stuff.[4]

Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica Place is an innovatively designed indoor shopping center built in white stucco.[5] The complex features an assortment of chain stores and a food court.

Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is the main attraction of the city. For decades, the pier has stuck out like a 1,620 foot finger out into the violent waves of Santa Monica Bay. Community life revolves around this pier, the focal point of Santa Monica’s beaches and the city’s main attraction. Low-key restaurants and shopping arcades make up the pier, which gives off a fun and funky vibe and helps project the city’s seaside resort image. The pier dates back to 1908, making it the oldest pleasure pier in the west. It recalls an era when the boardwalk was strolled in the moonlight by women in “long summery dresses” in the arms of pinstripe-suited escorts with heady hats. Fluttering flags once lined the walkway. Today, promenaders similarly enjoy the pier’s mild ocean breezes and humid-free air.[6]

The most famous feature of the pier is the Hippodrome. The old relic was built back in 1916 and was declared a national historic landmark in 1987.[7] This finely handcrafted carousel sports a calliope and 46 galloping wood horses. It continues to enjoy the same appeal that it did when it was first built.[8]

An assortment of family amusements line the pier, including bumper cars, video parlors, arcade games, shooting galleries, curio shops, and fishing decks. There are also a number of food stands and respected restau­rants. The Maria Sol Mexican Restaurant serves spicy “South of the Border” fare before a panorama of beach, surf, and sunsets.[9]

From dawn until dusk, the pier is crowded by serious anglers. Prize catches include a rare shark and wriggling octopuses. Wet-suited surfers are a dime a dozen, especially during the warm summer months. On weekdays, occasional Twilight Dances on the Pier are held. In the summer, the Pacific Park or “Fun Zone” is also open everyday, offering the thrill of a large ferris wheel, a giant slide, and a variety of carnival and kiddie rides.[10] For the party crowd, there are also music clubs along the pier bringing an added nightlife appeal. And besides the pier’s carnival and festive atmosphere, visitors can also enjoy a sweeping view of the coastline of Malibu in the north all the way to Palos Verdes in the south.[11]

The Santa Monica Pier and its 10-acre expanse is definitely a classic, not-to-be-missed part of Santa Monica. It is hard to believe that not too long ago in the 1970s it was very close to demolition a number of times. Restoration work in the 1980s along with the establishment of a substation of the city’s police department nearby has helped rid the crime in the area and revive the pier as a major tourist attraction. Today, the Santa Monica Pier is once again celebrated as a landmark and gathering place.[12]

UCLA Ocean Discovery Center
The UCLA Ocean Discovery Center is located at the southern foot of the Santa Monica Pier, offering an ocean classroom complete with interactive displays, sea-life tanks, and wet labs where visitors can learn hands-on about the marine science of Santa Monica Bay.[13]

Palisades Park
The Palisades Park is next to the Santa Monica Pier, sitting atop high bluffs with stunning views of the bay. This stretch of lovely palm trees, green grass, and benches facing the sea is the site of Santa Monica’s renowned sunset vistas. At the park’s southern end is a 19th century camera obscura in the Senior Citizens building, through which images of the surrounding area are projected through a series of lenses onto a white circular viewing surface.[14]

Museum of Flying
The Museum of Flying occupies a contemporary glass and steel structure at the Santa Monica Airport, and is dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and display of historic military and passenger aircraft. The airport itself was once the site of the Douglas Aircraft Company, founded by the aviation pioneer Donald Douglas. The interior exhibit space extends the full height of the building, displaying a collection of 45 vintage aircraft planes, almost all of them in flight-ready condition. Many planes are suspended from the ceiling, including the Douglas World Cruiser named “New Orleans”. This plane was among the first to fly around the world, a feat it accomplished in 1924. Other notable planes on display include WWII-era crafts such as the North American P-51, the JN-4 Jenny, and the Mitsubishi Zero. The outdoor ramp connected to the airport runway also has a few more crafts on exhibit. Throughout the museum, video kiosks, memorabilia collections, and extensive displays of models provide visitors with a thorough overview of aviation history and airplane construction. The third floor theatre presents various documentary films on military technology and aviation history throughout the day.[15]

Bergamot Station Arts Center
The Bergamot Station Arts Center at 2525 Michigan Avenue was once a trolley depot but has been renovated and converted into a 5.5 acre center for contemporary art and architecture. The complex also has design studios and film industry post-production facilities. Among the 30 art galleries includes the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which occupies 10,000 square feet of space used for temporary exhibitions and concert performances. The Gallery of Functional Art in the same center is a living room space hosting installed model homes filled with handcrafted furnishings. Other galleries feature painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography.[16]

Shutters on the Beach
Shutters on the Beach at 1 Pico Boulevard has been opened since the summer of 1993 and was recently renovated.[17] This award-winning 198-room luxury hotel is the last one to be built on Santa Monica’s silvery sands and provides[18] the ambience of a 1930s beach house.[19]

Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel at 1700 Ocean Avenue provide stunning ocean views and is located next to the famous Santa Monica Pier.[20]

A century ago, Santa Monica was covered by citrus groves and ranch lands. The land was owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It lost out on the bid as Los Angeles’ port, however, but became a gateway to the coast when the suburban streetcar system of Red Cars linked Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. Soon enough, residents flocked to the Santa Monica pier to enjoy the coast and beach culture, and the town’s rich and wealthy sailed out to the gambling boats offshore to engage in some illicit excitement. Today, offshore gambling has been removed but Santa Monica still remains an elegant sea-side town, with hip attractions that are not too commercialized as to make it another clichéd Californian beach city.[21]

Baker, Christopher, Judy Wade, and Morten Strange. California. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671879065.

Dickey, Jeff. Los Angeles, 3rd Edition. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN: 1843530589.

“Looff Hippodrome.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looff_Hippodrome>

Michelin Travel Publications. California. Greenville: Michelin Travel Publications, 2001. ISBN: 2060001315.

“Shutters on the Beach Hotel.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutters_on_the_Beach_Hotel>

[1] Baker, 184-85
[2] Dickey, 129-30
[3] Id. at 130
[4] Baker, 185
[5] Id.
[6] Id. at 183
[7] Looff
[8] Baker, 183
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Michelin, 179-80
[12] Id.
[13] Id. at 180
[14] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] Id.
[17] Baker, 185
[18] Shutters
[19] Baker, 185
[20] Id.
[21] Dickey, 130

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