Lonely Planet review
Once the very end of the mythical Route 66, and still the object of a tourist love affair, the Santa Monica Pier dates back to 1908, and 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 stands. 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 carousel 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. Close by, 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.