Along Ocean Avenue, open-air restaurants, pastel-hued hotels, palm-lined Palisades Park and the distinctive Tongva Park provide enviable beachfront hangouts. Ocean Front Walk, home of the Original Muscle Beach, still flexes its charm with a collection of rings, parallel bars, and balance bars plied by bodybuilders, yogis, and other assorted sun-worshippers. Bikes, skateboards (and, yes, even hoverboards) drift down the Marvin Braude Bike Trail in an aimless procession of fun. Perched over the Pacific, the 107-year Pier, featuring the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel and the century-old Looff Hippodrome, attracts more than seven million visitors a year, each reveling in a delectable slice of West Coast nostalgia.
The Pier and Ocean Avenue offer a cuisine for every palate - from Mexican and Italian to seafood and cotton candy. The Lobster features floor-to-ceiling ocean views, plus a raw bar and fresh seafood dishes, including its namesake catch prepared numerous ways. Top Chef finalist Brian Malarkey’s spacious ocean-to-table concept Herringbone offers whole fish ceviche, stone crab, and a “salt and brine” bar, with everything from octopus to charcuterie. If you’re craving a burger and fries, hit up Pier Burger for a nostalgic-feeling experience complete with flat-top-griddled Angus beef and delicious custards. Just below the Pier, Big Dean’s Oceanfront Café traces its Santa Monica roots to 1902. And judging by the legions of die-hard fans, the classic beach-going fare of burgers, dogs and wings are tasty enough to keep them returning for another century (or two).
Geek out on Pier history or memorialize your visit with an official tote bag, hooded sweatshirt, or T-shirt from the Santa Monica Pier Shop and Visitor Information Center, located on the Pier in the carousel building. Celebrate the 90th anniversary of Route 66 at 66-to-Cali, a shrine to all things Route 66, which officially ends in Santa Monica. Everything sold in the store is made in the USA, from authentic road signs and guidebooks to T-shirts and shot glasses. Authentic souvenirs of a more natural variety can be snapped up in Oatman Rock Shop. Dating to 1965, this Pier fixture has supplied beachgoers with a gorgeous assortment of local sea shells, along with a mesmerizing collection of crystals and jewels.
Arguably Santa Monica’s selfie capital, Palisades Park is a 26-acre bluff-top oasis of manicured lawns overlooking the beach from Ocean Avenue. Between Palisades and Colorado Avenue, there is a walking path, as well as numerous picnic benches, any of which are ideal for capturing “like-worthy” sunsets and posting your way to social media fame. The Annenberg Community Beach House opened in 2009, and is spread out over five acres that include a playground, splash pad, beach volleyball courts, and the Marion Davies Guest House, which was designed in the 1920s by Julia Morgan, the Hearst Castle architect. Pacific Park is the only amusement park located on a Pier on the West Coast and features a dozen rides, including the world-famous Pacific Wheel. If you’ve always wanted to soar through the air, take a class at the Trapeze School New York, or simply watch an aerial show. But don’t forget to look below! The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, located underneath the Carousel building, is home to more than 100 species of marine life and includes touch tanks and knowledgeable volunteers. For a more intimate sea-life encounter, cast a line into the Pacific; you can fish anywhere along the Pier, no permit required.
For a unique view of the city, stop by Camera Obscura in Palisades Park for a life size, walkthrough pinhole camera - only one of three in the United States - that offers a 360-degree view of the outside world.