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Historic Amusements of the Pacific

Santa Monica Pier Sign photoThe glowing neon sign which arches over the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier is a nostalgic wish, a dream - it says “Sport Fishing, Boating, Cafes ” but the last sport fishing boat left the pier in 1958. There are no real cafes on the pier, but a few bars and restaurants and the pier with its arch is still the symbolic heart of Santa Monica. Located at the end of Colorado Boulevard, the vestigial end of the famous Route 66 where it meets the shining Pacific, seen in countless movies with lovers kissing in the waves and dead bodies among the piers in TV detective stories, and Oscar winning conmen planning a caper on the carousel.

Merry-go-round Looff Carousel photoThe Santa Monica Pier was first opened on September 9th, 1909, California’s Admission Day. In 1916, an amusement park entrepreneur Charles Looff, who had built New York’s Coney Island saw the potential for the west coast and added a wider section of pier to the original to support entertainments. Over the years the pier had been nearly destroyed by waves in heavy storms. The Pier Carousel with its Byzantine fantasy horses first carved in 1922 moved into the Looff Hippodrome building at the shore end of the pier in 1947. Most famously featured in “The Sting” with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, doubling for a rundown Joliet Illinois whorehouse, the ride’s colorfully whimsical 44 horses and chariots were completely restored in 1990, with merry-go-round rides for a dollar for kids and and two dollars for adults. The historic carousel house is also very popular for private parties.

Pacific Park Rides photoThe carnival rides of the defunct Pacific Ocean Park where moved onto the pier in 1967, with several rides located on the spot where the La Monica Ballroom, the world’s largest dance ballroom in the world once stood, now called Pacific Park. The sequential neon of the Ferris Wheel spokes, recently replaced with a brand new energy saving version, lights up the Pacific coast waters when the sun goes down. Twilight Dances are held every Thursday during the summer months to recall the dance marathons of the 1920’s for which the long gone ballroom was famous. The pier is one of the most popular tourist spots on the Sounthern California Coast with millions of visitors a year, though a new smoking ban may cut the crowds a bit.

Bubby Gup restaurant photoThe Santa Monica Pier now is home to several restaurants, including a Bubba Gump Shrimp House, the SM Seafood House and the Mariasol Mexican Restaurant all the way to the end. Several souvenir shops, the Playland Arcade of games and arcade amusements and assorted vendors distract the crowds enjoying a sunny afternoon. Have your name carved into a grain of rice or face sculpted in sand. Though no fishing boats or bay cruises can be found at the Santa Monica Pier, locals will sometimes fish in the waters of the Pacific from the sides of the pier. A tackle and bait shop is at the far end under the Harbor Office in case you want to try your hand. Bike rentals are available next to the city of Santa Monica tourist office. The Santa Monica Pier is even home to a trapeze school, where you can learn to fly through the air and follow your circus dreams. Occasionally a film crew can be spotted, featuring the famed pier in another production.

Santa Monica Pier photoThe Santa Monica Pier has no admission charge as a public pier. There is some parking on the pier itself, but can fill up, with larger city beach parking lots below. City beach parking is $8 for the day. In the heyday of the 20’s and 40’s the Los Angeles Red Car Trolley line would run from downtown straight to the pier, but now long gone. By public transit from Hollywood or Los Angeles, catch a city bus on Santa Monica Boulevard or Wilshire Boulevard and ride all the way west to the end at Ocean Avenue. The pier is two a blocks from the 3rd Street Promenade area of shopping, bars & restaurants, with additional metered parking structures. Just blocks to the south of the Santa Monica Pier are the luxury beach hotels which host the American Film Market every year. © Bargain Travel West

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