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Travel Guide > North America > USA > California > Los Angeles

Santa Monica Travel Guide

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Santa Monica had already achieved notoriety as a beach resort town in the early part of the 20th century. Today the city demographics are a hodgepodge of the rich and famous, middle to upper middle class residents of single family homes interspersed with rent controlled apartments inhabited by surfers, students, and retirees. Along and close to the ocean are posh apartments, condominiums, and hotels. The area is hugely popular for tourism, due to the cooler temperatures that accompany its beach location (typically 15 degrees cooler in the summer than Downtown L.A.), and numerous attractions. 

The city is divisible by these primary areas of interest - Downtown (click link for historic walking tour), the specialty store eclecticism of Main Street (south side), and the upscale boutique shops, cafes, and Yoga studios of Montana Avenue (north side); finally, on Santa Monica's east side, the Bergamot Station Arts Center, Morgan-Wixon Theater, the legendary McCabe's music venue, and Santa Monica Airport, which has recently become a cultural and recreational area. 

The Downtown area has experienced a boom since the 1980s when massive redevelopment brought in the Third Street Promenade, a lively pedestrian-only outdoor shopping street that stretches for three blocks, from Broadway to Wilshire Blvd. This people-friendly mall is great for people-watching, strolling, congregating, shopping and enjoying street performers. The excellent Italian restaurant, Locanda del Lago, is located here. 

Opposite the Broadway entrance to the Promenade is Santa Monica Place, a modern indoor shopping/entertainment complex designed by Frank Gehry. Need a relaxing respite from touring? Just a block away is the Tikkun Spa, famous for its Himalayan Salt Brick room, among other treatments. A block south is the magical Angels Attic, an antique dollhouse and toy museum in one of the few remaining Victorian houses in Santa Monica. On Santa Monica Blvd. & 7th is the Santa Monica History Museum.

At the foot of Colorado Blvd. on the beach is Santa Monica Pier & Amusement Park, a popular recreation and entertainment center featuring amusement rides, restaurants, and retail shops overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The merry-go-round is housed under the Looff Hippodrome, an exotic California/Byzantine/Moorish style fantasy structure built in 1916, and listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Under the Pier is the Santa Monica Aquarium.

Here are some entertainment options Downtown: Santa Monica Playhouse, Harvelle's (live music), and the Broad Stage.

Along Ocean Avenue are the historic Georgian Hotel and former tennis champ Gussie Moran's House. Up Pacific Coast Highway past Montana Avenue is the Annenberg Community Beach House, an extensive multi-amenity recreational center open to the general public. Pass Sunset Blvd. about a mile or two and atop the ridge is the spectacular Getty Villa Museum, constructed in the classic Greco-Roman style with impeccably manicured gardens and panoramic views of the coastline.  

Pining for exercise? Besides a plunge in the ocean, farther up Pacific Coast Highway off iconic Sunset Blvd. are trail heads leading into the Santa Monica Mountains: Santa Ynez Canyon and Temescal Canyon. Woodsy environs and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean give a needed break from urban bustle. Heading the opposite way going south, you can hop on a rented bicycle and ride the Beach Bike Path for up to 20 miles.

Planning to stay in Downtown Santa Monica? The Cal Mar has a homey environment as an option to "cookie-cutter" hotels. Start your day with breakfast or brunch at Jack & Jill's, a congenial cafe at a prime location. 



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