Santa Monica Pier
You can get plenty of kicks near the end of Route 66. Santa Monica Pier now marks the official western point of the legendary U.S. highway, one of the country’s first. This world-famous stretch of pavement originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, and was later extended to Santa Monica, where many travelers concluded their cross-country trek with a visit to this pleasure pier of fun and excitement.
Though one of southern California’s last remaining vintage piers, this is no rusting relic of a bygone age. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, it’s a lively venue packed with musical and theatrical entertainment and activities for the whole family.
Ride a roller coaster or sit atop the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel, which stands 130 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Munch on cotton candy, cast a line and see what you can catch or stroll along the planks to take in the salty sea air.
Other attractions include arcades, restaurants, artists and street performers. Learn highflying acrobatics at the trapeze school or hire a bike and cycle your way around the sights. An aquarium focusing on the local marine life sits below the pier at beach level. Kids will love interactive activities such as touch tanks and marine biology classes.
One of the most popular sights is the restored wooden carousel with colorful hand-carved horses. Built in 1922 and housed in its own building called the Looff Hippodrome, the carousel is most famously featured in the Robert Redford and Paul Newman film, The Sting.
You’ll find tranquil moments away from the crowds in the viewing deck on the second level of the hippodrome. Most people miss this part of the pier so it’s a wonderfully quiet spot to enjoy ocean views.
Santa Monica is about 18 miles (29 miles) west of downtown, just north of Venice Beach.