Let’s face it – if you want to go off-the-beaten-path in the Los Angeles area, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are not for you. However, visiting this world-famous part of California is a fascinating experience that is unlikely to disappoint. Here are the top things you could do on your visit to these legendary neighbourhoods.
1. Explore Santa Monica Pier
The first thing you’ll see is the iconic arch marking the entrance to the 100+ year old pier. Walk underneath it and explore the shops, cafes and arcades beyond. Check out the sign marking the official end to Route 66 and watch anglers cast their lines into the Pacific. Ride the famous Ferris wheel and rollercoasters in Pacific Park or just amble around with an ice cream in hand. If you are lucky you could even catch one of the many concerts and shows taking place on the pier.
2. Relax on Santa Monica State Beach
All that exercising and shopping is hard work, so what best way to relax than do as the Californians do and hit the beach? Find your spot on the sand and soak up some sun or go for a splash in the ocean. Iconic lifesaver huts line the beach and surfers patiently wait for a perfect wave in the warm waters of the Pacific. With the pier forming a stunning backdrop, you can easily while away an entire afternoon here.
3. Enjoy a frozen yoghurt, ice cream or protein shake
If you are ambling along the Venice Beach Boardwalk without any of these in your hand, you’re doing it wrong! Boardwalk Yoghurt has a great selection of ever-changing flavours and toppings while Muscle Beach Juice Bar – opposite the famous gym – has you covered for delicious protein shakes and healthy fruit smoothies. N’iceCream specialises in organic gelato made from fresh ingredients.
4. Workout in Venice
If it’s that Instagram-worthy body you are after, this is THE place to get it. Join the bodybuilders at the world-famous Muscle Beach (day pass $10), where Arnold Schwarzenegger was a regular, or use the various bars and ropes at the Calisthenics Park. Jog along the Ocean Front Walk alongside locals or rent a bike and cycle along palm-tree lined paths. If extreme sports are more your thing, grab a skateboard and release your inner Tony Hawk at the Venice Skate Park.
5. Shoot some hoops with the locals
Basketball games on Venice Beach are a staple of sunny afternoons. Watch on as the players show off their impressive skills and you might just be lucky enough to be invited to join the fun yourself. Head over to the sand and you’re likely to see impromptu volleyball and soccer games all along the beach. For something a little different, try paddle tennis – a fun sport similar to tennis played with special racquets on a small court.
6. Shop till you drop at the Third Street Promenade
Fans of retail therapy are also well catered for here. Third Street Promenade in Downtown Santa Monica is a pedestrian-only shopping area featuring many well-known brands, cafes and restaurants. Santa Monica Place and Main Street provide plenty more retailers and eateries. Venice Beach Boardwalk has everything from souvenir shops to tattoo parlours and fast food outlets. Check out Gingerbread Court, said to be built by Charlie Chaplin, for tucked away hipster shops, a bike rental outlet and a small cafe.
7. Stroll between Santa Monica and Venice Beach
Spy grand houses, beautiful locals walking their tiny dogs and palm trees – loads of palm trees – on one of the most famous walks in the States. Start by Santa Monica Pier and head towards Venice, with joggers and rollerbladers gliding by. You will soon find yourself on the famous Boardwalk – a fascinating, but touristy, showpiece of Venice Beach. It’s perfect for people watching as street performers, musicians, fortune tellers and bodybuilders all come together in this eclectic corner of California. If walking isn’t relaxing enough, join a Segway tour to see the highlights of the area on two wheels.
What: Santa Monica is one of the best places to base yourself on a visit to the Los Angeles area with a spectacular beach and numerous retail and food options. Venice Beach is one of the funkiest neighbourhoods in the city.
Where: Santa Monica is 15.6 miles/25km from Downtown Los Angeles and 8.5 miles/13.7km from LAX Airport
Getting There: Santa Monica’s official website has easy-to-follow directions to the area.
Things to do: Shopping, eating, drinking, surfing, sunbathing, playing sports, working out, jogging, riding rollercoasters, eating ice cream, people watching