Santa Monica Bay spans 20 miles (32 km) between two of the richest communities in California – Malibu and Palos Verdes. It’s truly the “Gold Coast” of the Golden State, and its shores have some of the finest beaches anywhere, including Topanga, Santa Monica, and Venice on through Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, and Torrance. American surfing, and the youth culture it spawned, was born here. In the movies, these fabled beaches have stood in for everything from Guadalcanal and Tahiti to Shangri-la. The rows of huge, stately palms along the Santa Monica promenade cliffs epitomize California. The main attraction, however, is Santa Monica Pier, which offers sundry entertainment options and a lively carnival atmosphere.


1. Malibu Adamson House

prac_info 23200 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, 310-456-8432 • Malibu Lagoon Museum: open 11am–3pm; adm (free for under 18s) • Adamson House: open 11am–2pm Wed–Sat; adm (cash only)

Overlooking the Malibu Lagoon, this Spanish Colonial-style mansion was built by Rhoda Rindge Adamson and her husband Merritt in 1928. The complex showcases hand-painted ceramic tiles manufactured by Malibu Potteries, owned by the Rindge family. The Rindges also built the Malibu Colony, a celebrity enclave where Tom Hanks has a house. The Malibu Lagoon Museum next to the Adamson House chronicles Malibu’s history, from its Chumash Indian origins to its position as movie star Shangri-la.


Detail, Malibu Adamson House

2. Third Street Promenade

prac_info 3rd St between Broadway & Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica

Downtown Santa Monica’s main artery, this is one of LA’s most pleasant walking areas. The product of a successful revitalization effort in the late 1980s, it is flanked by upscale shops, movie theaters, and restaurants. Street musicians from around the globe perform flamenco, jazz, and hip hop. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the farmers’ market attracts large crowds.


Third Street Promenade

3. Santa Monica Pier

prac_info At the end of Colorado Ave • Hippodrome: 310-394-8042, open 11am–5pm daily (until 7pm Fri–Sun) • Pacific Park: 310-260-8744 • Santa Monica Pier Aquarium: 310-393-6149

For a variety of entertainment, visit Santa Monica Pier. California’s oldest amusement pier (built in 1908) also marks the western terminus of Route 66. Its oldest attraction is the 1922 Looff Carousel, a historic ride that has made many movie appearances. It is located in Pacific Park, a compact amusement park anchored by a solar-powered Ferris wheel. Tucked beneath the pier, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is a small, family-oriented facility where you can observe local marine life.

4. Bergamot Arts Center

prac_info 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, 310-586-6488 • Opening hours for galleries vary •

This former historic trolley station has been renovated into a cultural complex housing nearly three dozen galleries, shops, artists’ studios, and a café. A highlight is the City Garage Theatre, which plays host to a variety of cutting-edge contemporary productions round the year. Special events and receptions, designed to keep the community involved in creative processes, are frequently organized by other galleries and businesses in the area. Parking here is free.

5. Venice Canals

prac_info Between Washington & Venice Blvds

Only 3 miles (5 km) remain of Abbot Kinney’s original network of canals. The area, which once languished, has become a beautiful, upscale neighborhood. A narrow walkway that is known as the Venice Canal Walk threads through here.


Bridge over the Venice Canals

6. Venice Boardwalk

prac_info Ocean Front Walk between Venice Blvd & Rose Ave

It is perhaps fitting that Venice Beach, masterminded by an eccentric visionary named Abbot Kinney, is LA’s epicenter of counterculture. The circus-like scene reigning along the seaside boardwalk – officially known as “Ocean Front Walk” – must be seen to be believed. The area is best avoided after dark.

7. Marina del Rey

prac_info South of Venice Beach • Visitors’ Bureau • 4701 Admiralty Way • 310-305-9545

With over 6,000 yachts and pleasure boats, Marina del Rey is the largest small-craft harbor in the world and the place to come for those seeking fun on the water. Active types could explore the harbor on kayaks. You can also catch a dinner cruise, book a whale-watching trip (January to March), or charter a sport fishing boat. A favorite landlubber activity is a sunset dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants.


Picturesque Marina del Rey

8. Wayfarers Chapel

prac_info 5755 Palos Verdes Dr South • 310-377-7919 • Open 9am–5pm

The most famous structure by Frank Lloyd Wright is a striking 1951 glass-and-stone memorial to 18th-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. The chapel features landscaped grounds, a reflecting pool and terraced amphitheater.


Glazed nave, Wayfarer’s Chapel

9. Palos Verdes Peninsula

prac_info Follow Palos Verdes Dr along the coast • Point Vicente Lighthouse: 31501 Palos Verdes Dr West • South Coast Botanic Garden: 26300 Crenshaw Blvd

A drive along the coastline here affords great ocean views with Catalina Island in the distance. Malaga Cove and Abalone Cove are popular for their tidepools, and Point Vicente is good for whale-watching. Flower lovers should head to the South Coast Botanic Garden.

10. South Bay

Three picture-perfect beach towns line the southern end of Santa Monica Bay. Of these, Manhattan Beach is the most sophisticated, Hermosa is the liveliest, and Redondo is the most historical. A paved trail parallel to the beach and connecting all the three communities is perfect for bicycling and inline skating.


Venice sprang from the vision of tobacco magnate Abbot Kinney (1850–1920), who transformed the soggy marshland lying south of Santa Monica into a canal-laced, oceanfront theme park complete with gondolas and an amusement pier. It opened on July 4 1905, and was a grand success, until fire destroyed most of the theme park facilities in 1920.




Start your day with a drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway for glorious ocean views. Travel to sheltered Paradise Cove (Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu) for breakfast at the pleasant beachfront restaurant, followed by a couple of hours of frolicking in the surf here or a few miles north at Zuma Beach.

Head back south, stopping at Malibu Adamson House to admire beautiful ceramic tiles before walking over to Surfrider Beach to watch the world’s finest surfers in action.

Then it’s off to Santa Monica. Stroll beneath the towering palms of the bluff-top Palisades Park with the ocean at your feet. For better views of city and sea, treat yourself to a ride on the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier and perhaps a snack from one of the pier’s many vendors.


For the rest of the afternoon, rent a bicycle and become part of LA’s beach scene during the ride south to Venice along the paved beachfront bike trail. Park the bike or push it along the bizarre Venice Boardwalk, perhaps stopping to get a tattoo (henna or ink), visit a fortune teller, stock up on unique souvenirs, or tank up on gourmet sausages from Jody Maroni’s. If time permits, continue south to Marina del Rey, one of the world’s largest yacht harbors, before heading back to Santa Monica for dinner.

Venice Boardwalk Attractions

1. Windward Avenue

Flanking Windward Avenue are Venice’s oldest Renaissance-style buildings, including St. Marks Hotel, a hostel.

2. Sidewalk Café

prac_info 1401 Ocean Front Walk • 310-399-5547

The kitchen produces satisfying sandwiches, salads, and other simple fare. A perfect spot for people-watching.

3. Muscle Beach Venice

Check out beefy, hunky bodybuilders with abs of steel at this outdoor gym, successor to the Santa Monica original, which shut in 1959.

4. Basketball Courts

The game’s always on at Venice’s famous outdoor courts, especially during “Hoops by the Beach,” which draws the best street basketball teams.

5. Street Performers

The best in the business, Boardwalk’s street performers dance, walk barefoot on glass, balance people on their chin, and even juggle chainsaws.

6. Venice Pier

Abbott Kinney built Venice’s first pier back in 1905, but the current model dates from 1963. Rescued from demolition in the mid-1980s, the restored fishing pier reopened in 1997.


The 700-ft (213-m) Venice Pier

7. Drum Circle

People of all backgrounds and ages gather on the beach on Sunday afternoons, chanting and dancing to the infectious rhythms of pots, bells, and bottles.

8. Beach Architecture

Unique private homes line the Boardwalk between Venice and Washington Boulevards. Look for the one by Steven Ehrlich at No. 2311 and Frank Gehry’s eccentric Norton House at No. 2509.

9. Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom

prac_info 2011 Ocean Front Walk • 310-822-5639

The simple sausage goes gourmet at this very popular yet rather unassuming take-out stand.

10. Murals

prac_info Venice Reconstituted, 25 Windward Ave at Speedway • Starry Night, Boardwalk at Wavecrest Ave

Numerous murals beautify facades all along the Venice Boardwalk and its side streets. Rip Cronk’s Venice Reconstituted and Homage to a Starry Night are the most famous.

Unique Main Street Boutiques

1. Angel City Books & Records

prac_info 218 Pier Ave, just off Main St • 310-399-8767

Bookworms in search of rare and out-of-print books should look no further. A great café next door, too.

2. Caro Bambino

prac_info 2710 Main St • 310-399-7971

Everything for the new mother is sold at this family-owned boutique, from quality natural baby products and toys to stylish toddler apparel, and nursery furniture.


Products on display at Caro Gambino

3. Muji

prac_info 2936 Main St • 310-566-8345

This Japanese minimalist retailer is known for its natural-fiber, non-label apparel. You’ll also find simple stationery, travel items, dishes and tableware, as well as furniture and bedding on its two floors.

4. Heist

prac_info 1100 Abbot Kinney Blvd • 310-450-6531

A posh, elegant store with a wide selection of designer wear, including riding boots, cozy knits, and slinky dresses on offer.

5. Arts & Letters

prac_info 2665 Main St • 310-392-9076

This stationery store stocks hundreds of artist-made greeting cards, pens, and guest books. They also create custom-made invitations.

6. Vital Hemp

prac_info 2305 Main St • 310-450-2260

Soft, comfortable, and casual eco-friendly hemp clothing that is produced locally and guaranteed to last longer than cotton or bamboo.

7. ZJ Boarding House

prac_info 2619 Main St • 800-205-7795

This store is for people with a passion for boards – the surf, skate, or snow variety. The knowledgeable staff help to pick through the huge selection of gear.

8. Bazar

prac_info 1108C Abbot Kinney Blvd • 310-314-2101

A staple since 1998, Bazar has a rotating blend of vintage clothing, Italian bath products, textiles, furniture, jewelry and European-style decor.

9. jAdis

prac_info 2701 Main St • 310-396-3477

A prop- and curiosity shop for sci-fi filmmakers, with spare-part robots, electrical gadgets, Zeppelins, and many other quirky items.


Gadgets in the jAdis window

10. Shoop’s Delicatessen

prac_info 2400 Main St • 310-452-1019

This gourmet deli and café stocks Continental delicacies but specializes in hard-to-find German imports.

Outdoor Pursuits

1. Hiking

Around 600 miles (970 km) of hiking trails meander through the Santa Monica Mountains, stretching from Griffith Park in Hollywood to the north of Malibu. Will Rogers State Park and Topanga State Park are good gateways for hiking.

2. Inline Skating

Enjoy this 22-mile (35-km) paved trail parallel to the beach from Temescal Canyon Road north of Santa Monica to Torrance Beach. Rental outfitters are abundant.

3. Sailing

prac_info Marina Boat Rentals: Fisherman’s Village, Marina del Rey, 310-574-2822

Skipper around the marina or cruise out to the open ocean with your very own sailboat. Rental outfits usually have a variety for you to choose from.

4. Boogie Boarding

Enjoy the thrill of the waves on a boogie board – it’s easy and fun. All the towns on the beach have rental stations on or near the sand.

5. Bicycling

The paved beach path is equally popular for slow bike cruises. Mountain bikers have plenty to explore in the Santa Monica Mountains.


Bicycling on Venice Boardwalk

6. Kayaking

One of the nicest places for sea kayaking is off the coast of Catalina Island. Traveling leisurely by yourself allows you to explore its craggy coastline and to discover your own secret cove.

7. Surfing

The archetypal California watersport is practiced all along the coast – Surfrider Beach in Malibu is most famous, but Manhattan Beach and Palos Verdes are equally popular.


Surfing off Surfrider Beach

8. Hang-Gliding

prac_info Windsports: 818-367-2430,

Learn to take to the skies while training on beachside “bunny” hills or launch from a height of 3,500 ft (1,070 m) on a breathtaking flight.

9. Windsurfing

prac_info Captain Kirk’s (for gear rental & lessons): 310-833-3397

Cabrillo Beach, nicknamed “Hurricane Gulch,” is LA’s windsurfing mecca. The harbor side is good for beginners, while advanced surfers can make for the open ocean.

10. Fishing

It is permitted to fish without a license off any ocean pier. Sport fishing boats leave from Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey, Shoreline Village in Long Beach, and Ports O’ Call Village in San Pedro.

Places to Eat

1. Inn of the Seventh Ray

prac_info 128 Old Topanga Canyon Rd, off Pacific Coast Hwy • 310-455-1311 • $$

Tucked away in leafy Topanga Canyon, this creekside retreat offers organic vegetarian, fish, and chicken dishes seasoned with a generous sprinkling of New Age philosophy.

2. Father’s Office

prac_info 1018 Montana Ave, Santa Monica • 310-393-2337 • $

This old neighborhood bar has good microbrews and tapas, although regulars swear by the gourmet burger. Delicious fries.

3. Valentino

prac_info 3115 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica • 310-829-4313 • $$$

A wine cellar with around 150,000 curated Italian wines and a menu of fresh Italian cuisine makes Valentino’s a favorite. Ask for the “extravaganza”, a selection of the best.

4. Michael’s

prac_info 1147 3rd St, Santa Monica • 310-451-0843 • $$$$

The romantic garden is a luscious setting for Oscar-worthy Californian cuisine and spot-on service.

5. Chinois on Main

prac_info 2709 Main St, Santa Monica • 310-392-9025 • $$$

A Franco-Chinese menu includes Cantonese duck in plum sauce. Jacket and tie required.

6. Tender Greens

prac_info 201 Arizona Ave • 310-587-2777 • $

Healthy, fresh food sourced from local farmers is the emphasis at this growing chain. Order at the counter and take a seat. Favorites include the albacore sandwich, the kale salad, and the falafel wrap.

7. Fritto Misto

prac_info 601 Colorado Blvd • 310-458-2829 • $$

Come hungry to this friendly Italian café. Pasta-lovers will delight at the “create your own pasta” option. Choose a pasta, a sauce, and some add ins and expect perfection.

8. Border Grill

prac_info 1445 4th St, Santa Monica • 310-451-1655 • $$

Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger serve up their unique blend of Mexican flavors. Try the delicious rock shrimp ceviche.


Colorful Mexican decor, Border Grill

9. Mélisse

prac_info 1104 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica • 310-395-0881 • $$$$

This two-Michelin-starred dining spot uses fresh local ingredients and offers classic French cuisine with a modern twist.

10. Chez Melange

prac_info 1716 S Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach • 310-540-1222 • $$

The menu offers a United Nations of dishes, from sushi to schnitzel.

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