The Santa Monica Pier
You know you’ve arrived in Santa Monica, California when you see the iconic Ferris wheel of the Santa Monica Pier jutting into the inviting waters of the Pacific Ocean. Set at Santa Monica’s westernmost point, the Santa Monica Pier is a staple of this picturesque seaside community. Packed with family-friendly activities, restaurants and shops, it also has stunning views and over a century’s worth of history. Here’s everything you need to know about the Santa Monica Pier, the area’s most recognizable landmark. By Caila Ball
The History of the Santa Monica Pier
Constructed in 1909, the storied Santa Monica Pier was the first concrete pier on the West Coast. It quickly gained a reputation among locals as the best fishing spot in Santa Monica. The Looff Hippodrome, now a National Historic Landmark and home to a beautiful carousel, opened in 1916, followed by the iconic carousel in 1939. In 1941, the iconic Santa Monica Yacht Harbor neon sign was unveiled; this is the place for the perfect selfie!
How to Get to The Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is located right on the beach in the eponymous Santa Monica Pier Area and Ocean Avenue neighborhood, which offers a variety of hotels in close proximity to the Pier, as well as other activities and attractions offered along Ocean Avenue and in Downtown Santa Monica.
To get there, take the ramp located at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Avenue down to the Pier (you can get there in your car or via the pedestrian access sidewalk). The Santa Monica Pier ramp is within easy walking distance from Downtown Santa Monica – just head west down Colorado Avenue. The Santa Monica Pier is also within easy cycling distance from anywhere along the southern California coast! Take the Marvin Braude Bike Trail – better known as The Strand – which is a paved path that runs 22 miles (35 kilometers) along the shore from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades all the way south to Torrance County Beach. Bikes can be rented – and even valeted! – at the Santa Monica Bike Center, just blocks away from the pier. Bikes can also be valeted for free next to the beach path just south of the pier.
Need to get into Santa Monica? Hop on one of the public transportation options! From LAX, Big Blue Bus can take you directly to Santa Monica – use the Route 3 or Rapid 3 on the Big Blue Bus. The Big Blue Bus also transports riders from Downtown Los Angeles to Downtown Santa Monica; check their schedule for updated timetables. Finally, the Metro Expo Line offers service to Santa Monica from Downtown Los Angeles, Culver City and other Westside Los Angeles locations.
For those arriving by car, the closest parking lot is right at the bottom of the ramp on the deck of the Santa Monica Pier itself; additional parking is available at Lot 1 North, located immediately north of the Pier.
Attractions at the Santa Monica Pier
Enjoy History With a View
For first-time visitors, your first stop should be the Pier Shop & Visitor Center, where you can find maps of the area, branded apparel, visitors guides and a knowledgeable staff. If you’re up for the walk, you can jump on a free Historical Walking Tour; docents will reveal hidden nooks and crannies of the Santa Monica Pier, take you by the famous Muscle Beach and divulge stories about celebrity visitors. Tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays at 11am to 12pm.
Go Fish at the Pier
You don’t need a fishing license to drop a line off the Pier; at the Santa Monica Pier Bait & Tackle Co. you can get gear, poles, bait and tips from the locals. If you’d rather simply admire the marine life, head to Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium located below the carousel. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium offers up-close views of indigenous marine life. Stop by for interactive exhibits and hands-on presentations.
Take a ride on the wooden horses and sleighs of the Santa Monica Pier Carousel. The famous carousel was built in 1939 in the Looff Hippodrome, a National Historic Landmark and one of the few structures remaining from Santa Monica’s original pier.
Amuse Yourself at the Pier
‘Yahoo Travel’ recently named the family-friendly Pacific Park “California’s Best Amusement Park”. The West Coast’s only amusement park located on a pier features the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, an exhilarating roller coaster that towers 55-feet above the Pacific Ocean, midway games, food and shopping. Pacific Park is open year-round, although seasonal hours vary. Learn more in “How to Spend a Day at Pacific Park.”
Strike up some friendly competition at Playland Arcade, which has over 200 games for the whole family. You’ll find old-school pastimes like skee ball and pinball alongside newer video games in this classic arcade. Don’t miss getting your picture taken in one of the photo booths.
Fly Through The Air…
…with the greatest of ease at Trapeze School New York (TSNY) Los Angeles located at the Santa Monica Pier. No prior experience is necessary for the two-hour Flying Trapeze class or the one-hour Aerial Silks class. Adventure seekers over the age of 6 are welcome to swing and soar like Superman.
Get Your Kicks…
…on Route 66! This famous route has a number of rumored end of the trail locations in Santa Monica. In 2009, the Santa Monica Pier was dedicated as the official western terminus of Route 66, which is commemorated by a Route 66 sign – also known as a killer backdrop for your Santa Monica Pier trip. Visitors who end their Route 66 trek in Santa Monica can pick up a Route 66 completion certificate at any Santa Monica Visitor Center.
Where to Eat at the Santa Monica Pier
A day of fun can really work up an appetite. Luckily, you can refill and recharge without leaving the Santa Monica Pier. In addition to the food court at Pacific Park and food carts located throughout, the Santa Monica Pier features the following restaurants:
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co: Forrest Gump would never have guessed that Bubba would end up with such a great view, but you can probably guess what food this family-friendly restaurant does best.
- Mariasol Cocina Mexicana: Enjoy a margarita, some Mexican cuisine and a stunning view from the very end of the Pier at this Baja cantina.
- PierBurger: Enjoy a burger or a cheese dog on the outside patio of this vintage-style burger joint.
- Soda Jerks: Belly on up to the counter in the carousel building for an ice-cream sundae at this vintage-inspired soda fountain.
- The Albright: This family-run restaurant has all things true Californians dig: farm-to-table fare, seafood, local wine and craft beers.
Santa Monica Pier Concerts and Entertainment
Twilight on the Pier, the outdoor music festival, is almost as iconic as the pier itself! The concert series is a Pier-wide festival, complete with immersive art, food, a beer and spirits garden, games and interactive activations all along the Pier promenade.
On top of Twilight on the Pier, Santa Monica Pier hosts continual programming throughout the year from seasonal Roga sessions to the family-friendly Front Porch Cinema. Check the Events Calendar for upcoming events.
Don’t Forget a Souvenir!
Grab souvenirs for friends and family back home or — even better — treat yourself to memories of your day on the Santa Monica Pier. In addition to the Pier Shop and Visitor Center, check out any of the following for awesome keepsakes:
- 66-to-Cali: Get your kicks — and your keepsakes — at this stand themed around the historic Route 66.
- Carousel Gift Shop: Bring the history of the Looff Hippodrome home with a carousel memento.
- Marlene’s Beachcomber: Find all of your beach needs and plenty of Santa Monica garb at this long-standing institution.
- Oatman Rock Shop: Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this souvenir shop offers crystals, shells, postcards and more.