Last time around we had just barely scratched the surface of Santa Monica, Calif., a unique, beachside community known around the world.
For both visitors and denizens alike, the city—located just 13 miles from downtown Los Angeles—has a great deal to offer, from beautiful beaches and miles of picturesque bike paths, to a wide array of accommodation options, attractions, entertainment entities and more.
When looking for a place to stay, Santa Monica offers something to fit every taste and budget, both along or across from the beach, as well as within a few blocks or miles, making it easy to be close to all there is to see and do. In addition to the customary mid-range chains like Travelodge, Days Inn, Best Western, Doubletree and the like, you’ll also find more upscale hotels like the Le Meridien, Loews, Shutters on the Beach, Hotel Shangri La, Oceana Beach Hotel and the Gregorian Hotel, among others.
Annenberg Community Beach House
International Chess Park
Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau
Third Street Promenade
We chose a lovely boutique accommodation called the Bayside Hotel. Centrally located on Ocean Avenue just steps from the meandering bike paths that line the beach and two blocks from the wealth of restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques dotted along Main Street—the main drag here—the Bayside features a variety of bright, quaint and nicely decorated ocean, garden and courtyard view rooms.
The rooms (which are all non smoking) feature comfortable beds, air conditioning, minibars (some also have full kitchåens), microwaves, safes, small but clean and beautiful bathrooms with designer fixtures and a really nice, welcome touch—colorful mesh bags containing beach towels.
Outside, you’ll find a semi-private or shared patio or balcony with a table and comfortable chairs. There is also a small business center with a beautiful ocean view, as well as a stable of beach cruisers available for rent at very reasonably hourly and day prices for every member of the family (including child-safe tow pods and cycle arms) on which to explore the city and surrounding ‘burbs.
The staff here was very helpful, and it was nice to meet so many international guests, some choosing to stay here again after previous visits.
THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
From our home away from home, we were within close walking and biking distance to a number of Santa Monica points of interest, and it’s easy to see why the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau proudly boasts their “100 Free Things to Do in Santa Monica” itineraries. From arts and music to health and wellness, to family and the outdoors, you’re sure to find a wealth of activities to delight and inspire.
One of the most popular spots in the area is the famed Muscle Beach, which, depending on which historical account you read, originated in Santa Monica but later moved just a few miles down to neighboring Venice Beach. Long known as “The Birthplace of the Physical Fitness Boom of the 20th Century,” it is where many a celebrity, hardcore bodybuilder and wannabe hot beach bod have come to train (and flex for the public), making it a significant landmark that has stood the test of time since the 1930s. The experience is definitely one not to be missed!
Another big draw is to the human-size chessboard at the International Chess Park. Encompassing almost one-third of an acre, the park—which is open for public use—is very popular with novice and professional chess players who, from sunrise to sunset, test their skills on 24 different tables.
Situated on the Pacific Coast Highway, the Annenberg Community Beach House began as an opulent private estate, with 100-plus rooms and an ornate marble swimming pool built in the 1920s by magnate William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies. Today it is a Gold LEED-certified building and the first and only public beach club in the U.S., offering the historic pool, a children’s play area and splash pad, yoga classes, volleyball, a gallery, the Marion Davies Guest House and the Back on the Beach Cafe.
No visit to Santa Monica would be complete without a stroll down the Third Street Promenade. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Promenade is the city’s pedestrian-only dining, entertainment, shopping, arts and culture district, drawing more than 6 million visitors a year. Apparel, book, electronic, toy, home furnishing, footwear, jewelry and luggage stores; fantastic eateries encompassing everything from Greek to Italian, French, Spanish, vegetarian and coffeehouses; hair and nail salons; art galleries; street performers and live theater; cycle shops; yoga and fitness studios; and in the summer, a six-night “Cinema on the Street” movie series are just the beginning of the popular offerings here.
Speaking of the arts, the city’s Bergamot Station was once an old trolley station dating back to 1875. At that time, it was a stop for the Red Line trolley, running from Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier. Since that time, it has been completely transformed into a beautiful artistic complex featuring 40 different art galleries, art events and featured exhibitions that draw an estimated 600,000 visitors each year, making it one of the L.A. area’s premier cultural destinations.
The next stop on our California road trip is north to the historic city of Santa Barbara!
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.