Take a stroll along the Santa Monica Pier at sunset—with that enormous sun sinking into the Pacific—and you’ll probably wonder if it can get much better than this.
It can. First, there’s Pacific Park, the amusement park perched right on Santa Monica’s pier, which is home for not-too-scary roller coasters and classic carnie rides that will appeal to little ones. Then there are incomparable views from atop the pier’s solar-powered Ferris wheel. Use the app-based self tour to explore the pier, which dates to 1909: Learn how the pier was originally built to cover a sewage line (happily, that role got phased out in the 1920s) and how famous carousel designer Charles Looff helped develop the iconic amusement park.
And then there are those simple pleasures—a creamy thick shake, a simple necklace of seashells—at snack shacks and trinket shops lining the pier. And there are the local fishermen adding color to the scene. Learn more about those fish by heading under the pier (right under that carousel) to the inviting Heal the Bay Aquarium (formerly the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium), with some 100 species of fish and aquatic animals, and lots of family-friendly educational displays, including fun touch tanks for the kids.
And then of course, there’s the beach, a broad expanse of pale yellow sand lining the coast for 3.5 miles. You can rent chairs, umbrellas, and gear such as bicycles and SUP paddleboards from Perry’s on the Beach; they even offer a VIP-style “butler” service to set up your spot in the beach and bring you food, drinks, and sunscreen.