Ocean Avenue is famous for the gem located at its southern end: The 106-year-old Santa Monica Pier, with its oft-photographed Ferris wheel, is justifiably popular with visitors thanks to a mix of amusement rides and games found at Pacific Park, the venerable theme park at its tip. Seafood restaurants and beaches populated with tanned surfers, sun worshipers, and body builders also top the list of reasons to spend a day in this neighborhood. And don’t miss the chance to snap a picture by the End of the Route sign on the Pier for the legendary Route 66, which ends its 2,500-mile journey a few blocks away at Olympic and Lincoln Boulevards. By Robin Jones
Just across from the ocean, Blue Plate Oysterette, the sister restaurant to nearby Blue Plate and Blue Plate Taco, focuses on seafood. The raw bar offers several types of ceviche and oysters with homemade cocktail sauce and pickled shallot mignonette, while the regular menu delivers more traditional seafood-shack fare: lobster rolls, clam chowder, and fish tacos. Beloved for more than 50 years, Chez Jay is a dive in the best sense of word. The tiny restaurant on Ocean Avenue, famous for being a celebrity hideout, serves classic seafood and steak; make sure to try the peanuts, roasted in-house.
There are a handful of fun stalls and shops to browse on the Pier, but two really stand out. The second-oldest business here, the original Oatman Rock Shop, was destroyed when severe storms swept through in 1983. The open-air stall reestablished itself on the upper deck, where it still sells crystals, jewelry, shells, postcards, and maps. Route 66, which ends in Santa Monica just shy of the Santa Monica Pier, lives on inside 66-to-Cali, which celebrates “Mother Road” lore with loads of memorabilia, including T-shirts, road signs, and guidebooks.
Five acres of oceanfront property, the Annenberg Community Beach House was a private club until 1989. Today, it’s a public treasure. Tour the Marion Davies Guest House, built for the actress in the 1920s by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan; check out art exhibits in the gallery; play on the beach volleyball, tennis, and soccer courts, or just sun-worship at the beach. Visit between June and September, and you can swim at the gorgeous public pool (lines to get in can be long; make reservations one to three days in advance). Pacific Park is an oceanside amusement park featuring fun things to do including games, food, and, of course, rides. Don’t miss the view from the top of the 130-foot Pacific Wheel—the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. Fly through the air at the Trapeze School New York, which offers daily two-hour classes from its perch on the Santa Monica Pier. Scared of heights? Kick back and watch one of the school’s patented aerial shows, put on by instructors.
Have a lot of gear to lug out to the beach? Keep an eye out for wooden walkways up and down the shores that go out to almost the water and will make an easy trip through the sand. On the Pier in 2016, the historic Looff Hippodrome turns 100 and Pacific Park turns 20! Happy birthday to both.