Discovering our World

Travel, beauty, fashion, style and lifestyle blog by Ashley Liddle

California small towns – Santa Monica, part 2: attractions

What comes to mind when you think of Santa Monica? No doubt the answer is entertainment, the beach, the pier, and images from famous movies. What are the places to visit in Santa Monica? What is the best way to plan a visit? Let’s discover the main attractions and places of interest.

Santa Monica Pier

The pier is the most popular location in Santa Monica and is always open, since September 9, 1909. The atmosphere on the pier is lively: the people, the colors, the sounds, and the scents. As a result, walking on the pier turns into a pleasant and classic experience.

Once you cross the bridge, you will arrive at a parking lot, and next to it, you will see the historic building that houses the Santa Monica Merry-Go-Round, an enchanting piece of history of the 20s, which has undergone a full renovation. For this reason, it still retains all its charm. When the carousel is in operation, the 44 horses (no two horses are alike) together with a rabbit, a goat, and two sleighs move in harmony. We would like to remind you that, unlike the other horses, the horses of the outer ring do not move, they are fixed. The cost of the ticket is $1 for children and $2 for adults.

In the lower part of the building, there is the Aquarium. To access the aquarium, you must pay for admission. You can find interactive activities and the inhabitants of the sea such as seahorses, moray eels, jellyfish, stingrays, and sharks, to name a few. The structure can be booked for an event and is closed on Mondays. In the same section of the pier, there is the Santa Monica Pier Shop & Visitor Center, the ideal place to get souvenirs and valuable information.

Just beyond the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., you will see the sign “Route 66, end of the trail”. When the pier was officially awarded the title of “last stop on Route 66” (the Mother Road goes from Chicago to Santa Monica), the old road sign was brought back here. I recommend stopping at the little 66 to Cali, a kiosk selling memorabilia of the historic road.

You will pass by restaurants and shops until you reach the Playland Arcade and then the Pacific Park, the amusement park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the only one of its kind on the West Coast to be located on a pier. Its most representative point, the icon of Santa Monica, is the Ferris Wheel. It is solar-powered and is visible beyond the pier. At night, it lights up in a thousand colors. You can also choose from many other attractions, i.e. riding a thrilling roller coaster, sailing on a pirate ship, free-falling from a tower, or simply walking. There are also attractions for children and food stands with snacks, burgers, popcorn, pizza, and ice cream.

In the summer, there are open-air concerts on the pier, as well as movies and activities for the whole family. Along the pier, fishing enthusiasts can devote themselves to their favorite hobby; they can be confident that they will catch a lot of fish without any issues, because historically, this place has a reputation for abundant fishing.

Parking on the pier is open 24 hours a day and costs $3 per hour or $15 for the day in the summer and $12 for the day in the winter. You can access parking on the pier via a bridge ramp. There is also a parking area at Lot 1 North (1550 Pacific Coast Highway) that is open from 6:00 am to 2:00 am.

Another alternative is the 2-hour parking at 1640 Appian Way, from sunrise to sunset at a cost of $1 per hour for up to two hours. Other parking options are located below the street level near the coast. In the downtown area, you’ll find several paid parking spaces at different rates.

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica State Beach (Pacific Coast Hwy.) is the other spectacular place that Santa Monica is famous for. It is a magnificent beach that extends to the sides of the pier. This wide golden sandy shoreline is just over 3.4 miles long and is accessible from sunrise to sunset.

In some places the coast is bordered by slender palm trees that rise up to the sky. Here you can swim, surf, play volleyball, have a picnic in the picnic area, and best of all, enjoy pleasant walks. In fact, even during months with less favorable weather, walking along this beach is one of the favorite activities of the residents to relax and disconnect from the stress of life.

On this beach, there are parks, playgrounds for children, and even a large paved chessboard. There are quieter, pristine areas where you are just surrounded by the ocean and nature, as well as more lively areas where the houses overlook the shore. Also, there are observation towers and orange Jeeps that run along the shoreline. In fact, the beach should be considered as two sections divided by the pier. The northern part is connected to the city by bridges, walkways, and stairs, while the southern part is at the level of the city, and here you can find parking lots, parks, houses, and hotels on the beach.

In addition to enjoying the beauty of the coast, you can really feel that you are in California, since Santa Monica is used as the typical setting of California in countless movies and series.

Ocean Avenue, Palisades Park, and Tongva Park

Ocean Avenue is a long well-kept street parallel to the beach with restaurants, hotels, a few shops, trees, and areas where you can stroll and admire the coastline. Even though Santa Monica is a big city, it also has welcoming spaces for people to gather. In fact, along Ocean Avenue, there are two places where you can relax, admire the view and take beautiful walks.

Palisades Park can be reached by a staircase or a bridge raised by the modern structure. From the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Santa Monica Bay, the coast, and the sun setting on the ocean. As you walk through the park, you can observe more than thirty varieties of plants and trees, such as eucalyptus, pines, palms, figs. There is even a garden with roses and some sculptures as well as benches and picnic areas.

Tongva Park is another park, which is accessible from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, that has paths, fountains, sheltered picnic areas, and an amphitheater. There are three fig trees that weigh more than one hundred tons each. This is another ideal location to admire both the Pacific Ocean and the pier. The park is named after the Native American tribe that lived in this area.

California Heritage Museum

A little further away from the beach and pier, there is the California Heritage Museum (2612 Main St.) a museum that promotes the diversity and rich history of California’s culture through exhibitions, publications, readings, and events. The museum is located in a historic building built in 1894. You can visit this museum Wednesdays through Sundays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm by purchasing a ticket. For more information, take a look at the official website.

Santa Monica Catholic Church

As you gradually move farther from the coast, you will reach Santa Monica Catholic Church (725 California Ave.), a Catholic church founded in 1886 in honor of Saint Monica, who is revered for her exceptional Christian virtues. On the outside of the church, there is a bell tower and rose window, while the interior is divided into three naves with finely colored windows.

This church has some interesting connections with celebrities. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor and former governor of California, is one of the most famous parishioners of Santa Monica. In 1995, the funeral of the actress Lucille Ball, a very famous actress known for I Love Lucy, was celebrated here. Lucy Lawless, the protagonist of the Xena Warrior Princess series, got married in this church.

The Museum of Flying

Not too far from the airport, to the fans of the sector, we point out the Museum of Flying (3100 Airport Ave.), with historical airplanes, collections of aeronautical finds, and an interactive and educational area for children. The most famous aircraft inside is the replica of the “Wright Flyer”, the aircraft with which the two brothers made their first flight experiments on the North Carolina coast. To visit the museum, you must purchase a ticket. The operating hours vary according to the season.

Downtown Santa Monica

In the city, there are three main streets that are great for walking and for shopping. In downtown, there is the 3rd Street Promenade, a pedestrian street with shops and restaurants. The most famous place to shop here is Santa Monica Place, a three-story outdoor shopping mall where you can also watch the shows at the Comedy Theater. The lanes of the street are separated by elongated fountains adorned with hedges that look like dinosaurs.

Not far from 3rd Street Promenade, there is Main Street. Here there are other shops and restaurants, the Center for the Arts, which has several programs and events, the Visitor Information, and the City Hall, which dates back to 1938 and houses original Art Deco paintings. Within walking distance of downtown, along Montana Avenue, there are boutiques, restaurants, offices, and more. Also located here are the Branch Library, a large technology library, and the Aero Movie Theatre, a movie theater that was inaugurated in 1940. At that time, this movie theater was the only facility of its kind to be open 24 hours a day so that shift workers could go enjoy movies as well.

You can enjoy many outdoor activities in this city, but it is also nice to get to know its culture. Stroll through the parks, on the beach, and on the pier, watch the sunset reflecting on the water, let the ocean breeze caress your face, and walk through the streets of the city among the modern and historic buildings. You will not regret discovering Santa Monica and learning as much as you can, because the possibilities here seem endless, and as the locals say: “it’s all here in Santa Monica!”