Santa Monica Beaches, Muscle Beach, Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica beaches. Officially this stretch is Santa Monica State Beach, although it's run by the city. State-run Will Rogers State Beach is just to the north.
Readers' Digest rated the beach of the "Seven Best Beach Strolls in the Nation," in its America's Best: the 2006 List.
Start your tour of Santa Monica beaches at the foot of Colorado Avenue where it meets palm-line Ocean Avenue, at the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier.
Photo opportunity: Don't miss the famous sign marking the entrance to the pier. We love this photo of the pier sign at night.
The structure was built in 1909 and is the oldest surviving pleasure pier on the West Coast. Be sure to ride the hand-carved 1922 carousel (kids ride for 25 cents, adults for 50 cents), brought to the pier in 1947.
A few steps farther down the pier check out the considerably more modern Pacific Park amusement park (it was built in 1996) alongside Playland arcade.
Pacific Park is home to the only steel roller coaster on a pier and the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel (it's a good thing Santa Monica is sunny 343 days of the year). Admission to Pacific Park is free.
The pier also offers a fresh fish market and great dining opportunities, including The Lobster - which overlooks the pier from above the entrance ramp, Mariasol, Rusty's Surf Ranch and the boisterous Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant & Market, a theme eatery based around the movie Forrest Gump.
Like on all California piers, no license is required to fish off the pier, and rental equipment, bait and tackle are available.
Under the pier, at beach level beneath the carousel, be sure to visit the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, run by the nonprofit organization Heal the Bay.
The group's brouchures describe the aquarium an "ocean classroom," with touch tanks, aquariums and a microscope laboratory. Admission is $5, link to the aquarium's Web site for hours.
HANG OUT 24/7
The pier itself sets unusual hours: it never closes. In light of its urban setting, a Santa Monica Police Substation at the pier's midway point ensures public safety.
One great opportunity if you're visiting in the summer: free outdoor movies right on the sand on Santa Monica Beach.