By Cheryl Crabtree
Cruise south along Highway 1, speed down the 405 to the 10 and head west, or retrace Route 66 west along Colorado Boulevard to the ocean’s edge — all roads lead to Santa Monica, undeniably a crossroads of cutting-edge Angeleno culture.
Back in Hollywood’s heyday, glamorous celebrities like Greta Garbo and Cary Grant would escape to their beach homes in then-tiny Santa Monica, where they often socialized with their tony peers. Many of them would party at Ocean House, a lavish 118-room estate built by William Randolph Hearst and designed by architect Julia Morgan.
Today’s Santa Monica packs hip energy, style, eclectic culture and diversity into 8.3 square miles with eight distinct districts. It has built a widespread reputation as a smart, progressive and “green” city, with clean-air buses and the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel.
Everything a visitor could want is right here: more than three miles of glistening white-sand beaches, a range of accommodations—from posh to shoestring budget, stellar shopping, outstanding cultural offerings, excellent restaurants and lovely residential neighborhoods. Opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts run the gamut, from jogging along greenbelts and parks with gorgeous views, cruising bike trails, running steps from Santa Monica Canyon to the bluff tops above and all the usual waterfront activities from surfing to sail boarding. Any time of year is a great time to visit, although crowds tend to jam the beaches on hot summer weekends.
PARK YOUR CAR AND EXPLORE
Santa Monica is one of California’s most walkable cities. Park your car, either at your hotel or in one of the many public lots along the waterfront and downtown, while you explore the town. The super-convenient Tide Shuttle runs every 15 minutes, seven days a week, year-round, with 21 stops throughout major tourist and shopping districts—and it costs just 25¢.
A great place to start your day is Palisades Park, which runs along Ocean Avenue above the city’s famous sandstone cliffs. Walk through the Camera Obscura—a life-size pinhole camera, just north of Broadway.
A block south of Broadway, Colorado Avenue dead-ends into the historic Santa Monica Pier, a Southern California icon built in 1909. The rollicking Pacific Park amusement park, with an antique carousel, Ferris wheel and 20 other rides, games, miniature golf and Playland Arcade, encompass much of the wooden structure. Kids love to view marine life in the aquarium beneath the carousel—don’t forget to buy them hot dogs on a stick and lemonade before leaving the pier.
Just south of the pier, dig your toes into the soft sands of Muscle Beach. The famous athlete-performers moved south to Venice beach in the 1960s, but it’s still a great spot for people watching.
A SHOPPER’S SHANGRI-LA
Santa Monica shopping rivals the best in the world. Most shops are concentrated in three diverse districts. Montana Avenue’s ten blocks of contemporary shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes appeal to savvy, independent-minded people looking for one-of-a-kind items. Third Street Promenade is a vibrant, open-air shopping, dining and entertainment district for pedestrians only. The promenade leads to Santa Monica Place, a spacious indoor shopping mall designed by famous local architect Frank Gehry, and dozens of well-known flagship stores are sprinkled throughout the surrounding downtown area. To the east, historic Main Street’s eclectic shops range from fine art galleries and rare books to ultra-chic fashions and trendy outdoor wear.
ARTS AND ARTISANS ABOUND
Contemporary art aficionados head to Bergamot Station Arts Center for superb one-stop viewing and shopping. Once a major trolley depot, the historic converted complex houses 35 contemporary art galleries (the largest collection on the west coast), and Santa Monica Museum of Art. The city’s Art Trek Map can direct you to nearly 40 public art works and more than 90 galleries and museums. It’s available at visitors’ centers or download it from www.santamonica.com. The city also publishes landmarks tour and design district maps.
Oceana Beach Club Hotel—renowned for residential-style lodgings and personal service. The all-suite hotel sits atop a cliff on Ocean Avenue in one of Santa Monica’s most exclusive residential neighborhoods. Call 310/393-0486 or 800/ 777-0758 or visit www.hoteloceanasantamonica.com.
Chinois on Main, Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant (est. 1983), still draws in crowds to feast on fresh, delectable cuisine with French-Asian flair. It’s located at 2709 Main Street; call 310/392-9025 for reservations.
Ivy at the Shore, where mouthwatering Cajun prime rib, crabcakes, salads, and other California seafood dishes have made Ivy at the Shore, sister of the famed Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills, a tremendously popular spot for casually upscale dining. Order an Ivy gimlet, then gaze at fabulous sunsets and “stars” inside and out. Call 310/393-3113 for reservations and information.
Contact Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau for additional hotel and restaurant options, shopping and more things to do at 800/544-5319 or visit www.santamonica.com.
While visiting, pick up all the information you need at:
Santa Monica Visitor Information Kiosk, 1400 Ocean Ave. Open daily.
Santa Monica Visitor Information Cart, Third Street Promenade (between Arizona Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd.). Open daily.
Santa Monica Walk-In Visitor Information Center, 1920 Main St., Ste. B. Open daily.