Santa Monica Pier

Lonely Planet review

Dating back to 1908, the Santa Monica Pier is the city’s most compelling landmark. There are arcades, carnival games, a vintage carousel, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and an aquarium, and the pier comes alive with free concerts(Twilight Dance Series) and outdoor movies in the summertime. There are also a number of bars and restaurants, but the thing here is the view: extending almost a quarter mile over the Pacific, you can stroll to the edge, hang out among the motley anglers, and lose yourself in the rolling blue-green sea.

Kids get their kicks at Pacific Park , a small amusement park with a solar-powered Ferris wheel, kiddy rides, midway games and food concessions. Rides cost between $3 and $5 each; a day of unlimited spins costs $21.95/15.95 (over/under 42in tall); check the website for discount coupons.

Near the pier entrance, nostalgic souls and their offspring can giddy up the beautifully hand-painted horses of the 1922 merry-go-round (rides adult/child $2/1; 11am-5pm Mon, Wed & Thu, to 7pm Fri-Sun Sep-Jun, to 7pm Mon, Wed & Thu, to 9pm Fri-Sun Jul-Aug; ) featured in the movie The Sting .

Peer under the pier – just below the carousel – for Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium . Sea stars, crabs, sea urchins and other critters and crustaceans scooped from the bay stand by to be petted – ever so gently, please – in their adopted touch-tank homes.

South of the pier is the Original Muscle Beach , where the Southern California exercise craze began in the mid-20th century, and new equipment now draws a new generation of fitness fanatics. Closeby, the search for the next Bobby Fischer is on at the International Chess Park . Anyone can join in. Following the South Bay Bicycle Trail , a paved bike and walking path, south for about 1.5 miles takes you straight to Venice Beach. Bike or in-line skates are available to rent on the pier and at beachside kiosks.