Santa Monica Pier, just west of Los Angeles, has been around since 1909. Originally built as a way to mask the treated water being pumped into the Pacific Ocean, the pier was the first concrete pier on the west coast of the United States. Santa Monica Pier opened on September 9, 1909, to great fanfare, including swimming and boating competitions.
The pier immediately became a favorite fishing spot for locals and visitors. A few years later, in 1916, amusement park rides were constructed on the pier, which began the tradition of using the pier as an entertainment venue. As of 1920, the pier ceased to be used for the unpleasant task of covering the used water pipes and became strictly a place for people to congregate and enjoy the food and entertainment offered.
A variety of opportunities for fun and food make their home on the pier. From shrimp restaurants to Mexican fare, visitors can choose different cuisine. Dining establishments are littered throughout the pier, some of them on land, and some of the portion of the pier that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.
Visitors to the pier who want to remain active during their visit can stop by the trapeze school or bike rental shop. A bike path runs north and south directly from the pier, running along the nearby beach. For the young — or just young at heart — the original carousel still makes its home on the pier, and can even be rented out for private parties. Other amusement rides dating back many decades include the pier roller coaster and Ferris wheel. The pier arcade is also a good way for pier visitors of all ages to engage in some fun and a little friendly competition.
Because the pier hovers over the ocean, it also serves as a gateway to the Pacific. The pier bait shop can supply any fishing poles or tackle, and an aquarium at the beginning of the pier shows off a variety of sea life. Of course, during a sunrise or sunset, the pier makes an excellent place to visit for photography opportunities.
The beach adjacent to the pier is prime for walking, lying out, or stepping into the Pacific Ocean. Shops on the pier sell every accessory that one could need for a day on the sand, from mats and towels to sunglasses and sunscreen. Other items for sale on the pier include novelty sweatshirts and shorts, swimsuits, candy, shells, and crystals.
Visitors who want the Santa Monica Pier all to themselves can rent out space on the pier for weddings, parties, birthdays, and other special events. Some events require special permits, especially if food and drink will be served, and insurance must also be obtained. Permission for events can be organized through the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation.
Santa Monica Pier is open all year round, but individual businesses and vendors create their own business hours.
Attractions in Santa Monica
Bergamot Station Arts Center
This art complex is owned by the city of Santa Monica and consists of dozens of smaller boutiques and galleries as well as the larger Santa Monica Museum of Art. Visitors can stroll through the artist studios and watch them at work, admire the contemporary works on display in the museum and even pick up a few one of a kind souvenirs to take home as a reminder of the trip.
Angels Attic Museum
Toy lovers will definitely want to add the Angels Attic Museum to their itinerary for Santa Monica. Located just a short walk from the Santa Monica Pier, this small museum boasts a truly impressive collection of antique toys and dolls. Some are bizarre, some are incredibly valuable, but all are worth a second look. Children will enjoy seeing the toys of decades past just as much as adults will enjoy the pleasant walk down memory lane.
Visitors who walk just a mile along the beach away from the Santa Monica Pier will eventually wind up at Venice Beach, which is perhaps the most famous beach destination in all of California. Watch the bodybuilders working out at the beachfront gym, rent a bicycle for a great tour of the boardwalk or just walk along the beach and take in all the great sights and sounds of this interesting coastal location.
Anyone with an interest in chess should head just 500 feet south of the Santa Monica Pier to check out the infamous Chess Park. Here, dozens of chess boards are carved or painted onto tables to allow anyone to play a game outdoors. Serious chess players can challenge a local and enjoy an audience in one of the premier tables, but families are welcome to bring along their own pieces and set up a fun casual game as well. This completely free attraction is a fun way to enjoy being outside and have a little excitement just seconds from the pier.
Ocean Front Walk
Near the Santa Monica Pier is a pedestrian boardwalk lined with stores, restaurants, and cafes. Parents will love that there are some charming souvenir shops and casual eateries, and children will love the many attractions geared toward younger visitors. Don’t miss out on the interactive dragon display along the path, the free volleyball courts in the sand or the giant sandbox that boasts a large Viking ship to play on.
Getting to Santa Monica Pier
Located in the Downtown District along the beautiful Californian oceanfront beaches, the Santa Monica Pier is accessible by local public and private transportation. Local bus services are provided by the Big Blue Bus company, which is a small municipal transit system serving Santa Monica and nearby neighborhoods of Los Angeles such as Westwood and Venice.
The Santa Monica Place, which is a premier shopping mall that is located right next to the Santa Monica Pier, is served by Big Blue Bus routes 1,2,3,4,7,8,9,10. This makes Santa Monica Place a major transit center in the city and the best way to get to the city’s waterfront area. All of the buses that stop at the Santa Monica Place can be used to transfer to the rest of the Big Blue Bus lines.
Santa Monica is also served by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, locally known as the LA Metro. For example, the LA Metro bus routes 720 and 733 stop directly near the Santa Monica Pier along Colorado Avenue. These services allow for a convenient transfer between the Santa Monica beaches and various parts of Los Angeles. The LA Metro 704 bus stops near the Santa Monica waterfront at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Since Santa Monica does not have any rail service, passengers can connect to the extensive network of the LA Metro subway, commuter rail, and other buses. There are also plenty of taxis available throughout the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area that can take visitors to the Santa Monica Pier at fair prices.
Driving to the Santa Monica Pier is convenient because Interstate 10 leads directly to the city’s popular beachfront area. Exit 1A on Interstate 10 merges onto Colorado Avenue, which leads directly to the Santa Monica Pier. The drive between Los Angeles and Santa Monica is only 15 miles on Interstate 10. Stretching for more than 2,400 miles, I-10 links Santa Monica with all southern regions of the United States. There is a parking lot that can accommodate several thousand vehicles visiting the Santa Monica Pier. Visitors may also want to cruise around the beautiful palm tree-lined Ocean Avenue, which runs along the beaches of Santa Monica.
California State Route 1, known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is a major route that links Santa Monica with all coastal regions of California. Running for more than 650 miles along the state’s coast, State Route 1 offers a scenic journey to the Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Pier Shopping
Pier Bait And Tackle
For visitors who have arrived at the Santa Monica Pier and have forgotten to bring their fishing equipment (yes, the pier does allow fishing!), Pier Bait And Tackle offer everything one could want to fish off of the pier. Featuring fishing poles and supplies such as replacement reels and fishing line as well as bait that is appropriate to catch fish right off of the pier, this store can equip visitors to have a very successful fishing journey. They also offer pole rentals and helpful information about catching fish right off of the pier; fish that are indigenous to the area include mackerel, tiger sharks, white sea bass, and leopard sharks. For those who want to relax after a long day of shopping, an afternoon spent fishing is an excellent way to do it!
Oatman Rock Shop
Oatman Rock Shop has been a fixture of the Santa Monica Pier since the 1960s. They offer a beautiful array of colored seashells, beautiful crystals, and other Santa Monica souvenirs. In addition, the Oatman Rock Shop is true to its roots in the 1960s, offering a wide selection of both vintage and recreations of 1960s memorabilia such as band shirts, shining Buddhas and crystal pyramids. This shop also has repair services available for small pieces of jewelry that have been scuffed up or broken by the beach sand.
66 To Cali
66 To Cali is the ultimate resource for memorabilia relating to Route 66; they even stock authentic Route 66 road signs! These signs make perfect wall-hangings for any lover of this iconic American highway. In addition, they sell guides for dining and sightseeing while traveling on Route 66 as well as shirts, clothing, and shot glasses with the iconic Route 66 Highway sign emblazoned on them.
Marlene’s Beachcomber offers everything visitors need for a day at the beach. Forget to bring sunscreen, beach mats, sunglasses, sandals, or beach towels? Marlene’s Beachcomber sells all the necessities for a beach adventure in addition to Santa Monica souvenirs and memorabilia such as shirts, postcards, and personalized keychains.
Carousel Gift Shop
The Carousel Gift Shop is located right next to the iconic carousel at the Santa Monica Pier; they sell a wide variety of gifts such as shirts, sweaters, buttons and other novelties featuring the carousel at the pier. This gift shop makes a perfect stop for guests after they finish riding the carousel so that they can pick up some memorabilia to commemorate their Santa Monica Pier vacation and make those memories last forever!
Santa Monica Pier Annual Events Calendar
Whale of a Weekend
Experience the annual migration of the Pacific Gray Whale when you attend the Whale of a Weekend event at the Santa Monica Pier. Held every February, the Whale of a Weekend includes an observation station with field guides and binoculars as well as access to representatives from the American Cetacean Society who can answer any questions you might have about the Whales.
Earth Month Celebration
Enjoy the Earth Month Celebration at the Santa Monica Aquarium each April. The Celebration includes a week-long festival with activities for all age groups. The festival also includes activities such as craft projects, scavenger hunts, storytimes, face painting, and more. The festival also includes opportunities for attendees to help with the cleanup of the local coastline.
Ocean Appreciation Celebration
Help celebrate the local ocean environment at the Santa Monica Pier when you attend the Ocean Appreciation Celebration held in July. The Celebration includes many exciting activities like educational presentations, hobbies and craft activities, games, guest speakers, and more. There are also marine specialists on-site at the aquarium that can provide information about the local sea life and the exhibits within the aquarium. The celebration also includes art exhibits and fun facts about the local area and aquarium.
Halloween & Dia de Los Muertos Weekend
Enjoy Halloween and the Dia de Los Muertos Weekend at the Santa Monica Pier. The Fishy Fest Celebration includes many special events such as a costume photo booth, a marine animal graveyard, Dia de Los Muertos crafts, presentations by naturalists and much more. The celebration takes place every October and also includes many family-friendly events and activities as well as exhibits and displays at the local aquarium. There are also activities like shark feeding, glow-in-the-dark science labs, tide pool animal exhibits, Dia de Los Muertos altars and more for you to enjoy.
Front Porch Cinema at the Santa Monica Pier
Experience a unique way to see a movie when you attend the Front Porch Cinema event at the Santa Monica Pier. The Cinema is free to the public and includes a number of popular movies as well as food carts. The movies are shown on a 40-foot screen with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop and attendees are encouraged to bring their own beach chairs. The Front Porch Cinema also includes music played by DJ’s prior to the start of the movie as well as interactive booths for you to enjoy.