Piers have been a tradition in Southern California since the area's 19th-century seaside resort days. Many have long since disappeared (like Pacific Ocean Park, an entire amusement park perched on offshore pilings), and others have been shortened by battering storms and are now mere shadows (or stumps) of their former selves, but you can still experience those halcyon days of yesteryear at world-famous Santa Monica Pier.
Built in 1908 for passenger and cargo ships, the Santa Monica Pier does a pretty good job of recapturing the glory days of Southern California. The wooden wharf is now home to seafood restaurants and snack shacks, a touristy Mexican cantina, a gaily colored turn-of-the-20th-century indoor wooden carousel (which Paul Newman operated in The Sting), and an aquarium filled with sharks, rays, octopus, eels, and other local sea life. Summer evening concerts, which are free and range from big band to Miami-style Latin, draw crowds, as does the small amusement area perched halfway down. Its name, Pacific Park (tel. 310/260-8744; www.pacpark.com), hearkens back to the granddaddy pier amusement park in California, Pacific Ocean Park; this updated version has a solar-powered Ferris wheel, a mild-mannered roller coaster, and 10 other rides, plus a high-tech arcade shootout. But anglers still head to the end to fish, and nostalgia buffs to view the photographic display of the pier's history. This is the last of the great pleasure piers, offering rides, romance, and perfect panoramic views of the bay and mountains.
The pier is about a mile up Ocean Front Walk from Venice; it's a great round-trip stroll. Parking is available for $6 to $8 on both the pier deck and the beachfront nearby. Limited short-term parking is also available. For information on twilight concerts (generally held Thurs btw. mid-June and the end of Aug), call tel. 310/458-8900 or visit www.santamonicapier.org.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010