Alright, beachgoers, we’ve finished with Venice, now it’s onto Santa Monica!
Part one of our walk left us at the former site of POP, just past the end of the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
The next stop on our walk, the Santa Monica Pier, is about 1.5 miles north, and there are two ways to get there. Number one: Ocean Front Walk. This path will take you straight to the pier, alongside parks, playgrounds, bike rentals, and more. Number two: the beach. The ocean is beautiful and the sand is soft and smooth, making for a very enjoyable walk. Going this way, you’ll run into the pier, where you can head back to Ocean Front Walk.
Before entering the pier, there are a couple nearby sites worth checking out. If you took Ocean Front Walk you’ll walk right by them, but if you walked along the beach, make sure to swing back and check out:
Original Muscle Beach. Built in the 1930s, this was the birthplace of the 20th century fitness boom. It originally consisted of aerobics, gymnastic, and weightlifting, but with the popularity of Muscle Beach Venice the demand for weightlifting here dwindled. Now weightlifting is gone but aerobics and gymnastics remain. It is a great place to get some stretching/aerobics in, and also watch the talented gymnasts who still come to work out. Best of all, unlike Muscle Beach Venice, this Muscle Beach is free.
North of the Original Muscle Beach is the Santa Monica Chess Park. This park has over 60 tables and attracts chess players from all over the world, from the homeless all the way to world ranked chess masters. It is very eclectic and is free to participate.
Past the Chess Park is Hot Dog On A Stick, notable because it is the original location of the franchise that now spans the entire western US and several other countries as well.
Just past Hot Dog On A Stick is the world famous ** Santa Monica Pier.
The Santa Monica Pier actually consists of two piers: the long, narrow Municipal Pier, built in 1909, and the shorter, wider Pleasure Pier, built in 1916. The Municipal Pier was built to carry sewer pipes beyond the ocean breakers, while Pleasure Pier was built as an amusement park. Amusement park piers thrived in the 1920s but were hit hard by the Great Depression, and this one was no exception. By the end of the 1930s, this amusement park was shut down and the attractions sold off, and by the 1960s there were plans to knock down the pier in its entirety (one proposal planned to replace the pier with a manmade island). However, activists worked to keep the pier alive and the city acquired it in 1973. Sixteen years later, Santa Monica started rebuilding the amusement park pier, and in 1996 Pacific Park opened. The park and the pier have been a hit ever since.
As you enter the Santa Monica Pier, you’ll first head through its parking lot. On the right is the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome, built in 1916 and now housing a carousel, and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. We’ll continue west, through the parking lot, towards * Pacific Park.
As mentioned previously, Pacific Park opened in 1996 and is currently the only amusement park on a pier on the west coast of the United States. The park has no entry fee, instead the fees are per ride. There are thirteen rides in total, including a roller coaster, a Ferris Wheel (solar powered, the only one of its kind in the world), a swinging pirate ship, and more. I’ve only been on the Ferris Wheel, and I highly recommend it, the views are fantastic and it is very romantic.
After finishing at Pacific Park, exit north, which puts you on the long, narrow Municipal Pier. Here you’ll find lots of artists and vendors, more commercialized than those on the Venice Boardwalk but cool nonetheless. Turn left and head to the end of the pier, where you’ll find restaurants, singers (sometimes), fisherman (all the time), and great views of the Pacific Ocean as well as Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Now that we’ve reached the end of the pier, we’ll head to the city of Santa Monica. To do this, turn around and head east on the Municipal Pier. At the end, walk up the inclined bridge and through the entry gate, placing us at Ocean and Colorado. To our right, on the east side of the street is Tongva Park, a beautiful park that serves City Hall (Santa Monica is its own municipality and so it has it’s own city hall. Beverly Hills, Glendale, Culver City, Pasadena, Burbank, and a whole bunch of other cities inside LA county have them too. It’s confusing, I know.). Instead, we will head left, into Palisades Park.
Palisades park is a 14 block long less than one block wide park that spans the cliffs between Santa Monica and Pacific Coast Highway. As such, it has great views of the ocean and the Santa Monica Pier. Two blocks northwest of our current location, at Ocean and Santa Monica Blvd, is a plaque commemorating the final terminus of Route 66. If you’ve already done my downtown walk, you’ll remember that that walk also goes by a sign commemorating the terminus of Route 66. This is because Route 66 originally terminated downtown before it was extended to Santa Monica.
The Santa Monica plaque dedicates Route 66 to Will Rogers, one of America’s greatest entertainers. Route 66 in its entirety is named after Will Rogers, as is the beach in Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica. Will Rogers resided in Pacific Palisades (his ranch property is now the Will Rogers State Historic Park), so the beach being named after him makes sense. However, I do not know why Route 66 was named after him.
From the plaque, turn right and head northeast on Route 66/Santa Monica Blvd. After two blocks, we’ll reach * Third Street Promenade.
Third Street Promenade is a large outdoor shopping mall, one of the few shopping areas worth visiting in Los Angeles. Built in the 1960s and modernized in the late 1980s, the modernization made the mall what it is today: a nationally recognized shopping, dining, and entertainment destination.
Unfortunately, this modernization also homogenized the mall. While originally populated with unique locally owned stores, now the mall is all chain stores; the shopping and dining is generic, the same that you’ll find in most other shopping malls.
That being said, Third Street Promenade is still worth visiting, primarily because it is a beautiful outdoor space and lots of great street performers gather here. Different than those at Venice and on the Pier, the entertainers here are more performance than fine art based. Singing, dancing, aerobics, acrobatics: performances like these are common, and they are great!
Third Street Promenade marks the end of our Venice/Santa Monica beach walk. But since we’re leaving you in one of the premiere shopping/dining/entertainment districts of Los Angeles, there is still a ton left to do. So browse around, explore, and have fun!
Featured image photography by JCS. Edited to enhance color. CC-SA 3.0