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Your Guide for Visiting the Santa Monica Pier

Updated: Apr 5

Welcome to the famous Santa Monica Pier, a Southern California gem that blends seaside charm with thrilling attractions and a vibrant local culture. Whether you are a thrill-seeker, a foodie, or a culture enthusiast, there is something for everyone at this historic landmark.

View of the Pacific Ocean on the North part of the Santa Monica Pier taken from the Pier

Getting There

Santa Monica Pier is conveniently located along the Pacific Coast Highway, easily accessible by car, public transportation, or even a leisurely stroll from nearby areas like Venice Beach and Downtown Santa Monica. There is no free parking near the pier. However, there are parking lots nearby and downtown public parking structures within the City of Santa Monica offering various parking rates for visitors.

The Pier's Highlights

Pacific Park & Amusement Delights

Pacific Pier entrance with a giant octopus in front and food places surrounding the entrance

At the heart of the pier is Pacific Park, the sole amusement park on the West Coast situated on a pier. This park boasts a solar-powered Ferris wheel, roller coaster, carnival games, and thrill rides offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Additionally, the Santa Monica Pier Carousel stands as a timeless reflection of the pier's history and charm. This renowned carousel, constructed in 1939 within the Looff Hippodrome, stands as a National Historic Landmark and is one of the remaining structures from Santa Monica's original pier. The carousel displays 44 intricately carved horses, two sleighs, one rabbit, and one goat illuminated by 1100 electric lights.

Do not miss the chance to step back in time aboard the cherished historic carousel and experience the iconic Ferris wheel for breathtaking coastal vistas.

Ocean Front Walk

Santa Monica Yacht Harbor neon sign

Ocean Front Walk, extending from the iconic Santa Monica Pier, beckons visitors with its vibrant array of shops and dining spots along its wide, paved footpath. Families can delight in the stone-walled sandbox featuring a concrete Viking ship, offering kids a unique play area. Nearby, an interactive dragon's head nestled in the grass adds to the allure of this children's attraction. For sports enthusiasts, a row of volleyball courts awaits on a first-come, first-served basis, providing an active and engaging experience by the picturesque coastline.

Entertainment Galore

Strolling down the iconic pier, you will encounter Playland Arcade, boasting air hockey and a diverse selection of arcade games. From classic skeeball and pinball to modern video games, there is something for every gaming enthusiast. Along the pier, catch lively street performers showcasing their talents, adding to the vibrant atmosphere. Additionally, discover the Trapeze School of New York, offering classes for all skill levels. Whether participating or admiring the aerial artistry, it is a captivating sight on the pier.

Marine Wonders

Fish in an aquarium tank

Explore Heal the Bay Aquarium, previously known as the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, located beneath the Santa Monica Pier. Spanning 4,500 square feet, this aquatic haven features touch tanks, allowing visitors an up-close experience with small sea creatures like starfish, hermit crabs, and sea urchins. Home to over 100 local species, including captivating sea hares and elusive moray eels, the aquarium offers daily educational programs.

Dive into the aquarium's popular shark-themed Sundays, featuring feeding demonstrations and engaging educational presentations for a deeper understanding of the Pacific Ocean's wonders. Discover the diverse marine life while gaining insights into the local underwater ecosystem - a treat for the whole family.

Food on the Pier

Explore various dining spots, from the Pacific Park plaza to sit-down restaurants and food carts along the Pier, catering to every craving. You can also enjoy classic carnival treats like hot dogs, funnel cakes, and ice cream. For heartier options, Pier Burger or Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. offers burgers and fresh seafood - while diverse food stalls showcase local flavors.

Fishing at the Pier

The Santa Monica Pier, established in 1909, was the first concrete pier on the West Coast and soon became known as Santa Monica's top fishing spot. Fishing at the Santa Monica Pier offers encounters with various fish species like sea bass and black croaker. You can fish off the pier without a license, and visitors can find fishing gear, poles, bait, and expert tips at the Santa Monica Pier Bait & Tackle Co., ensuring a seamless and enjoyable fishing experience.

Swimming and Surfing

Women surfing at Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach, situated west of Downtown Los Angeles, embodies the essence of Southern California's renowned state beaches. Stretching 3.5 miles along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, it offers ample space, bike trails, and various activities.

The neighboring Santa Monica Pier is a surfing haven, welcoming surfers of varying skill levels. Its sandbar peak yields diverse waves under different swell conditions, making it an ideal spot for all enthusiasts to catch a wave along this picturesque coastline.

Special Events

Santa Monica Pier hosts Pier 360, a vibrant all-ages festival celebrating beach life's finest aspects. This two-day event in June on the Pier deck offers live music, diverse food and drink vendors, and exhilarating beach sports competitions, providing a dynamic experience for attendees.

Roga at Santa Monica Beach

In addition to Pier 360, the Santa Monica Pier offers year-round programming, including seasonal Roga sessions—running and yoga sessions—and the family-friendly Front Porch Cinema. Continuous events cater to varied interests and ages, making the Pier a hub of ongoing entertainment. Keep an eye on the Santa Monica Events Calendar for upcoming happenings.

Other Activities to Enjoy

Visit the Santa Monica Pier Shop & Visitor Center to grab maps of the area, purchase souvenirs, and get tips from friendly staff. Consider joining a historical walking tour to explore hidden areas of the Pier, discover the renowned Original Muscle Beach, and listen to captivating stories of celebrity visitors.

Exploring Beyond the Pier - Venice Beach & 3rd Street Promenade

Someone biking on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail

Take a short walk or bike ride along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail to explore Venice Beach's vibrant scene, or head to the bustling 3rd Street Promenade in Downtown Santa Monica for shopping, dining, and entertainment.

- The Marvin Braude Bike Trail, a 22-mile paved path tracing the Los Angeles County coastline, remains open year-round and is revered as one of the city's beloved bike paths. Notably, it is a quick 15-minute bike ride from Santa Monica Pier to the vibrant sands of Venice Beach, making it an easily accessible and enjoyable journey for cyclists.
- Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade encompasses three car-free blocks, offering an array of goods from fresh farmers market produce to high-end designer fashion.

Annenberg Community Beach House

Located about a mile and a half north of the Santa Monica Pier, the Annenberg Community Beach House offers a variety of amenities, including a splash pad, pool, playground, volleyball courts, soccer fields, and direct access to Santa Monica State Beach. While the pool operates seasonally from June 18 to September 4, this public beach house hosts special events year-round and welcomes visitors without reservations or memberships.

When to Visit the Santa Monica Pier

DLT! facing the ocean with jacket and long sleeve pants bearing the cold as she sees people swimming in the water

For those planning a visit to the Santa Monica Pier, here is what to expect during different times of the year.

- Summer draws in both residents and tourists, creating larger crowds, limited parking, and hosting major events like summer concerts, with an average high temperature of 71°F.
- On holidays, Fridays and Saturdays tend to be bustling at Santa Monica beach - while mid-week days like Tuesday and Wednesday see fewer visitors. The beach experiences peaks during major holiday weekends such as Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and New Year’s Eve.
- Off-season visits in spring, fall, or winter offer a warm Santa Monica experience but with small to medium-sized crowds, ample parking, and an average high temperature of 65°F. These periods are ideal for a more serene exploration of the beach and oceanfront walk.

As such, when you visit is dependent on the experience you are hoping to have. Would you prefer a more lively experience or a quieter oasis? 

​Visiting other Southern California Beaches

Laguna Beach with lots of green plants on the shore

Discover Southern California's beaches by biking along the Marvin Braude Beach Trail. Traveling north leads to Will Rogers State Beach and Malibu's scenic views, including the picturesque cove beaches at Point Dume and El Matador Beach. While heading south, you will find Venice Beach, Dockweiler Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Torrance Beach. For more information about other beaches to visit in Southern California, check out our blog post, 18 Best Beaches to Visit in Southern California.

Final Thoughts

Santa Monica Beach with one surfer

Santa Monica Pier is not just an iconic attraction; it is a blend of history, entertainment, and the beauty of the Pacific Coast. Whether you are exploring with friends, family, or solo, this picturesque destination promises a memorable experience, capturing the essence of the vibrant Los Angeles area.

Have you visited the Santa Monica Pier? Let me know below, I would love to hear about your experience! If you have not gone, is it on your bucket list of places to visit now? Let me know in the comments, and share this article with the person or people you want to go with! Either way, SUBSCRIBE below to learn about other places to add to your "To Visit" List! Ready? Okay, vamos. Time to have fun!

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