A familiar road sign stands guard at the start of the Santa Monica Pier, signifying that this beach playground is the final spot to “Get your kicks on Route 66.” But the town known for being the terminus of the famous American roadway also happens to be incredibly easy to navigate without a car. Plus, it’s hard to beat a place with more than 300 sunny days a year.
Here, the best things to do in Santa Monica.
Things to do
1. Soak up the sun. Sorry to state the obvious, but Santa Monica’s beach is not to be missed, whether you’re looking to surf, swim, or catch a game of beach volleyball. And, because this is LA, you can really get the star treatment through a beach butler service (Ocean Avenue and Pico Boulevard).
2. Pier pressure. Built in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier still offers a little taste of nostalgic Americana. From its landmarked 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel, to the iconic Ferris Wheel which offers spectacular 360-degree views, to an aquarium and a trapeze school, the pier is a great place to wile away an afternoon or evening with good old-fashioned fun (santamonicapier.org).
3. Ride along. LA may be known for its parking-lot traffic (and the smog that goes with it), but Santa Monica is fast becoming one of the country’s most bike-able cities, offering a network of well-marked bike paths (including the 8.5-mile oceanfront promenade that runs to north to Pacific Palisades and south to Marina del Rey) and plenty of places to rent wheels. Spokes-n-Stuff (1700 Ocean Avenue) offers a variety of rental options, including bikes ($22/day), skateboards ($18/day), and more.
4. Visit the beach house. The stunning Julia Morgan-designed Annenberg Community Beach House was originally a playground of the rich, built by William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies. Today it’s a fabulous public space, offering galleries, beach sports (soccer, tennis, volleyball…), classes, surfing lessons, and even an artist-in-residency program. During the summer, the stunning pool, one of the remaining elements of the Marion Davies Estate, is a fun place to play (415 Pacific Coast Highway, beachhouse.smgov.net).
5. Walk on the art side. Santa Monica boasts more than 40 works of public art throughout its streets, parks, and beaches. Set out and explore using the art trek map.
Where to eat
1. Funky and delicious Cha Cha Chicken offers Caribbean specialties (from ropa vieja to jerk, well, anything) in a casual beach-shack atmosphere (1906 Ocean Avenue, chachachicken.com).
2. Pick up tasty, affordable bites at one of Santa Monica’s many restaurants on wheels. The Santa Monica Food Truck Lot (2612 Main Street, twitter.com/SMFoodtrucklot) is the place to be on Tuesday nights, or you can head to the food truck frenzy that is First Fridays on Venice Beach’s Abbot Kinney, where art openings, live music, and bars aplenty add a little fabulous to the first Friday of every month (1000-1600 Abbott Kinney Blvd)
3. Treat yourself to a little luxury at Veranda Bar. Located in the Casa del Mar Hotel, this spot offers amazing views and 1930s grandeur, replete with dramatic chandeliers and working fireplaces. Nightly live music ranges from jazz to Caribbean beats, and “adult snow cones”—which come in sweet (think: strawberry mint) and savory (like tomato caper) versions—will keep you cool while you listen (1910 Ocean Way, hotelcasadelmar.com).
4. Since the ’70s, Perry’s has been a Santa Monica mainstay, serving up classic summer and friendly hospitality on the beach. The all-American fare here is made with local, organic ingredients when possible, and the family-run joint has four beach-side locations (perryscafe.com).
Where to sleep
1. Opulent Shutters on the Beach (from $465 a night) will fulfill all your beach vacation fantasies. Combining the feel of a laid-back beach house with all manner of sumptuous perks (spa, pool, elegant bar…), Shutters ticks all the luxury hotel boxes. It also offers bike rentals for $25 a day (1 Pico Boulevard, shuttersonthebeach.com).
2. The oceanfront Hotel California (from $189 a night) provides no-nonsense digs at a respectable price. Location being everything, this unassuming spot is just down the beach from the fanciest hotels in the area, offering the exact same view and proximity without the price tag (1670 Ocean Avenue, hotelca.com)
3. Cool can be bought and paid for, and the Viceroy (from $369 a night) has it up the wazoo. Designed by the brilliant Kelly Wearstler, it’s all things regal, contemporary, and sophisticated. The library, carpeted in a wonderfully retro mustard-colored shag, is worth a peek even if you don’t stay here (1819 Ocean Avenue, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com)
For those flying into LAX from San Francisco, take Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus #3, ( $1 for adults, free for children under 4) to Pico and Lincoln. From there you can walk about seven blocks or transfer ($0.50) to the #7 bus and get off on Main Street. From downtown L.A. hop on the Metro Expo Line (806) to Downtown Santa Monica Station.
Photos: Suzanne Russo, Visit Santa Monica, Sheryl Miller, Shutters, Komodo