Built in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier is the oldest amusement pier in California and, frankly, it’s showing its age. But that’s part of the charm. At night, the pier pulses with color and noise; the winking lights of the Ferris wheel, the thump and roar of the arcades and the roller coaster, the happy glow of moony, sunburned couples.
Be sure to walk to the far end of the pier, where street performers are usually putting on a show. Also check out the aquarium tucked beneath the foot of the pier. It’s small, but it houses horn sharks, swell sharks, octopuses, and, in the 2,200-gallon Pier Tank, massive ochre sea stars and schools of sargo, croakers, and surfperch (life that resides in the Santa Monica Bay).
The price is right, too: Both kids and adults are admitted to the pier for free. So take advantage of that and the beauty of summer magic. From the front of an arcade a fortune teller calls to you in his motion-activated voice: “Share with me thy bounty for my wisdom”—but you can save your coins because you already know everything you need to know. There is no greater joy than swooping through the sea’s mist on a clacking roller coaster, your children’s laughter whipping past your ears.