This beachfront city ranks as one of America’s most exciting destinations. By the early twentieth century, Santa Monica was well established as a resort town and since then it has grown into an oh-so happening place that possesses much of the clout of L.A. while retaining the appeal of a super-friendly oceanside community. With a prime location ideal for both business and leisure travelers, three and a half miles of gorgeous coastline along the Pacific Ocean and glorious weather most of the year, who wouldn’t enjoy a stay in Santa Monica, CA? Indeed, Santa Monica exudes a laid-back beach town vibe as well as a big-city sophisticate allure depending on where you find yourself on any given day.
There’s something for every taste and pocketbook in Santa Monica and you can find much of this diversity within its eight distinct neighborhoods. Best of all: Traveling to and around these areas can be easy breezy, since Santa Monica prides itself on being an extremely pedestrian-friendly town. Biking is big here, too, and not surprisingly, Santa Monica leads in the development of bike-friendly infrastructure and programs. The Marvin Braude Bike Trail, a twenty-two-mile paved bike path also known as The Strand, traverses the town going from its shores all the way into Los Angeles.
If you don’t have your own bike, you can set yourself up with one through the many bike sharing programs located around town or by renting one at one of the many sports shops in the region. Recently scooters have hit the scene, so sail off on one of those through a scooter-sharing program or a rental as well. Who, knows? The thrill of tooling around this delightful West Coast town might even inspire you to buy one. Segways are one more fun mode of transportation to consider and Segway Los Angeles is a good place to look.
Start at Santa Monica Pier and Ocean Avenue where you can partake in lots of activities while enjoying terrific views of the Pacific. An historic place that has existed for well over a century, the Santa Monica Pier attracts more than seven million visitors a year. One of its highlights, the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome, in fact, is classified a National Historic Landmark. You might be wondering, what the heck is that? Well, it’s both a building (that was once featured in the movie, “The Sting”) and a carousel built in 1922. Both offer a slice of West Coast nostalgia that’s delightful to behold. Be sure to take in the Pier Shop and Visitors Center housed in Santa Monica Pier’s Carousel Building.
For more modern-day thrills at Santa Monica Pier, go to Pacific Park where in addition to lots of cool rides and games, you can find a selection of places to shop and dine. Kids and adults love the fun they can have at Playland Arcade, too. For a truly unique experience, consider signing up for an event or program at Trapeze School New York and Los Angeles. Skilled instructors guide you on an adventure that might involve a bouncy good time on the trampoline, an artistic interpretation in the aerial arts, a whirl on the flying trapeze or maybe even a session of ground acts on stilts or the tight wire. Only in L.A.! Well, New York, too.
Speaking of activities that require a more acrobatic approach, make sure you swing by the Original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. (It’s called original because it was the first, created in the early 1930s. Just down the coast at Venice, there’s another Muscle Beach, dubbed Muscle Beach Venice.) Here you’ll see California at its finest, all full-on into fitness and athleticism as demonstrated by the folks working out on mats, parallel bars and even some retro gym equipment. It all began here almost a century ago with circus performers, stunt people and various other Hollywood types working on their moves.
Speaking of Hollywood, you might very well bump into a movie star in Santa Monica, especially if you stop into one of their favorite hangouts such as Shutters on the Beach. Whether you book a stay at this high-end property or just settle into a table at Coast, their beachfront restaurant, Shutters ranks high as a great place for star spotting. Even if you don’t see anyone famous, there’s always great people watching here. The ocean views dazzle as well, particularly at sunset.
The Downtown District and Third Street Promenade boast a lot of big hotels, restaurants and stores as well as smaller establishments. Third Street Promenade is made up of three pedestrian-only blocks between Wilshire Boulevard and Broadway. It’s a great place to stroll, hang out and take in the colorful street scene that’s always brimming with buskers and other animation.
Main Street is more like local’s central, especially in the morning when energetic beachgoers and surfers stop into a neighborhood café for breakfast after a session in the surf. By mid-afternoon, there’s more of an apéritif scene going on unless, of course, you’re busy shopping in one of this district’s many quaint boutiques. The California Heritage Museum, a museum dedicated to California history and culture and housed in a late nineteenth-century house, is also located within this neighborhood.
Mid-City, between Wilshire and Olympic boulevards, stands out as an area probably best known for its arts scene. Here you’ll find The Broad Stage at Santa Monica College as well as lots of art galleries at the Bergamot Arts Complex. You can bet that a palette of good eateries are mixed in here, too.
More unique shopping and dining await you at the Montana District. It sports a relaxed local feel, but don’t be fooled because behind those Gucci and Chloe shades lurk some very well-known celebs. Sit down for an oat milk latte at one of the many outdoor cafés and take in the scene.
Wilshire Boulevard offers myriad views, experiences and tastes, all evocative of the stylin’ culture that’s quintessentially Californian. Yes, it’s the same boulevard that you find in Beverly Hills, the principal east-west arterial road that stretches almost sixteen miles down into Santa Monica. The shops, restaurants and sights here, although considerably more funky, also offer a wonderful slice of West Coast life.
Drive along Pico Boulevard to view some of the most spectacular examples of street art in the country. The murals–along with an eclectic array of galleries, eateries and small businesses–signal a neighborhood in transition. As usual, gentrification usually begins with the arts.
For more local flare, head south of Pico to Ocean Park Boulevard/the Santa Monica Airport Area. There’s no end to eclectic shops and restaurants to explore there. It’s not surprising that locals love hanging out in this neighborhood and isn’t that always a good sign? While you’re there, check out the Museum of Flying at the Santa Monica Airport. You can spend the whole day there, especially if you come during one of their twice-monthly antique markets. Be sure to take in the airport’s observation decks and eco-friendly gardens, too.