Ferris Wheels, Burgers, and Mischievous Octopi at the Santa Monica Pier
For years the Santa Monica Pier was the place where locals got drugs and tourists got robbed (technically locals also got robbed too but that screws up the balance of the sentence).
It's always been a recognizable part of LA history: opened in 1909, emerged as an iconic landmark featured in TV and film, became a celebrated beatnik destination, and so on. It's just it hasn't always been a safe recognizable part of LA history. In the past few years, though, gentrification has slowly worked its wonderful magic. Today it's brimming with activity and people-watching potential, populated by this weird mix of beach rats, hipsters, and tourists.
The pier has a permanent bevy of restaurants, shops, and amusements plus a bunch of rotating shows and events - dance lessons, high school recitals, and circus performances. For instance next month they're putting on Sideshow at the Pier, "an eclectic and fast-paced show featuring jugglers, fire-eaters, tap dancers, singers, clowns, puppeteers, mimes and comedy teams."
An outing can easily consume a lackadaisical afternoon. It's a pier with a gigantic Ferris wheel on a Southern California beach framed by a crystal blue sky. Tough to screw that up.
First and foremost there's the pier itself: the iconic Ferris wheel, the cute carousel, the arcade with stuffed animals that you can't win because all the games seem rigged. Combine that with wandering lovestruck teenagers and a bright sunny day - it's like mainlining nostalgia. There's also a kind of adult jungle gym just off the side with rings and swings. We've even heard rumors of a Trapeze School, which we're not going to recommend for obvious liability-related reasons.
Eat: Angelenos have traditionally reserved the phrase "why don't you go grab some food on the pier" for tourists that they didn't like and kind of wanted to die. But even that's changing and now you can get a decent burger - actually a pretty good burger - at the Surf View Cafe. The rest of their menu runs the gamut from clams to burritos, with $4 domestic beers and $5 imports. For more upscale dining check out our in-depth coverage of The Lobster. For an experience that's kind of in between - and kind of sketchy in that old-school Santa Monica way - there's Rusty's Surf Ranch. Many nights have live dancing and music. The clientele is... native.
See: The Santa Monica Aquarium is right at the beginning of the pier. It's pretty small - just three big tanks in one room - but it's still worth ducking into. They have an adorable octopus about the size of your forearm that's taken to mischievously dismantling the piping and flooding the aquarium. Aww!
· Table Crashing: The Lobster at the Santa Monica Pier [Jaunted]