Once the very end of the legendary Route 66 and still the object of a tourist love affair, this much-photographed pier dates back to 1908 and is the city’s most compelling landmark. It’s dominated by Pacific Park amusement park with arcades, carnival games, a Ferris wheel and roller coaster. Nearby is a vintage carousel and an aquarium. The pier is most photogenic when framed by California sunsets and when it comes alive with free concerts and outdoor movies in the summertime.
The pier extends almost a quarter-mile over the Pacific, so you can stroll to the edge, hangout among the motley anglers and lose yourself in the rolling, blue-green sea.
What to do on Santa Monica Pier
Kids and kids at heart will get their kicks on Santa Monica Pier at this small, classic Americana amusement park, with a solar-powered Ferris wheel, tame roller coaster, family-friendly rides, midway games and food stands. The cost is a fraction of what you’d pay at Disneyland and Universal studios, and the views of the city and sea from the tops of the rides are unparalleled. This is family fun at its most wholesome.
Santa Monica Pier Carousel
A National Historic Landmark at the beginning of the pier, the classic carousel dating from 1922, features 44 hand-carved animals; 42 horses, one rabbit and one goat – that race around and around to the tune of Calliope under a classic Hippodrome. The cost is separate from admission to Pacific Park.
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
Peer under the pier – just below the carousel – for this small aquarium. Kid-friendly touch tanks crawl with critters and crustaceans scooped from local waters, sponsored by the environmental group Heal the Bay.
South of the Pier
South of the pier is the Original Muscle Beach, where the Southern California exercise craze began in the mid-20th century. New equipment now draws a fresh 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 (or about 20 miles all the way to LA's South Bay beaches). Bikes or in-line skates are available to rent on the pier and at beachside kiosks.
Where to stay near Santa Monica Pier
For budget friendly, check out HI Los Angeles, this hostel with an enviable location is less than a mile from the pier. It has modern, clean and safe single-sex dorm beds as well as private rooms. Rates include breakfast and the hostel runs a host of activities as well.
A more mid-range (for Santa Monica standards) option is the Georgian Hotel, just across from Palisades Park, this eye-catching, 1933 art deco landmark has a snug ocean-view veranda for breakfast and sunset lounging. The 84 rooms, in soothing sand and sky tones, are surprisingly modern, and we love the parlor-like bath tiles. Upper floors tend to be quieter and have better views.
And for pure up-scale Santa Monica head straight to Shutters on the Beach. Bringing classic Cape Cod charm to the Pacific coast, the 198 rooms here have a beach-cottage feel with marble baths, wood floors and spectacular ocean views from tiny balconies with white-washed shutters. This is as up-scale as Santa Monica gets.
Where to eat on Santa Monica Pier
There are typical food stands that you’d find at any amusement park and a few tried and true tourist chains that dot the pier, but for our money we like to stop at the Blue Plate Oysterette. Just across from the ocean, this seafood shack offers a delectable raw bar, including a ceviche of the day as well as standout lobster rolls and fish tacos.
For an early breakfast or a coffee break head just a few blocks to Dogtown Coffee. Housed in the old Zephyr surf-shop headquarters where skateboarding was invented in the 70's. It brews great coffee and makes a mean breakfast burrito.
Parking near Santa Monica Pier
Parking can get expensive, if you’re staying near the pier most of the hotels offer parking for a fee, but expect to pay around $18 for the day if you can find a spot. You may find free parking inland if you don’t mind walking a ways. Alternatively, if you aren’t staying in Santa Monica, you can take the metro. The Expo Line connects DTLA, West LA, Long Beach and all points in between.