While cruising down the palm fringed Beverley Hills Drive in a flashy cabriolet may spring to mind when one thinks of getting around Greater Los Angeles, the area is less well known for its extensive and efficient public transport system, which is an inexpensive way for a tourist to explore the area. Skipping the notorious LA traffic, I hoped on a bus in Downtown LA heading directly to Santa Monica.
Bordering Los Angeles and only 8 miles from LA International Airport, Santa Monica is one of Southern California’s favorite and most famous beach attractions, which draws locals and tourists to its shores.
Stepping off the bus 20 minutes later I was immediately struck by the difference in atmosphere between Santa Monica and Downtown LA. Running alongside the wide sandy beach (which is an impressive 3.5 miles in length) are wide open pavements buzzing with a variety of skimpily dressed Angeleno’s jogging, walking dogs, roller blading or riding a variety of bikes, scooters and segways.
There were also a large number of beggars stationed along the walkways, many sporting hilarious signs enticing you to part with your change. “Family kidnaped by ninjas, need $4 for karate lessons” said one while a bald vagrant’s placard read – “Despereate need of hair weave. Please help”. There were more – “Obama ain’t the only one who wants change” and “Why lie? I need weed. All donations will be smoked”.
North of the Pier is the Annenberg Community Beach House, which features a pool, a splash pad, a playground, a gallery, beach courts and a view deck with free Wi-Fi. The North Beach Playground is also worth visiting if you are travelling with little ones. There are separate playgrounds for kids between 2 and 5 and those between 5 and 8. Sensory play elements, such as touching, feeling and hearing are utilized as well as swings, slides and climbing equipment.
South of the pier you can find the International Chess Park and the unmissable Santa Monica Muscle Beach where toned and shirtless wrestlers, gymnasts, acrobats and stuntmen make use of the park’s exercise equipment to practice their acts.
The iconic Santa Monica pier, with its ferris wheel, roller coaster and other amusement park rides; its trapeze school; arcada hall; aquarium and stadium for outdoor concerts, is also one of the best spots in Southern Califonia to watch a sunset.
The pier is also the end point of the Famous Route 66 trail which runs East to West across America, from Chicago to Santa Monica. A small shop on the pier, which is dedicated to the route and sells American-made goods is also worth poking your nose into.
After an afternoon of exploring I found myself a table at a seafood restaurant on the pier overlooking the expansive Santa Monica beach. By this stage the weather was turning and I ended my day enjoying a glass of chilled Californian wine and a bowl of comforting clam chowder. I watched the thunderclouds sweep in, the wind pick up and the rain begin to lash against the restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows, as what had been an idyllic blue-sky beach day faded into night.