One of Los Angeles’ most attractive features is the proximity (I do use this word lightly – nowhere in LA is quick to get to) of the city to sprawling California beaches. In the same day you can quite easily peruse the designer stores on Rodeo Drive or look for your favourite star on Hollywood Boulevard and then catch a wave on the Pacific Coast.
Santa Monica and Venice beaches are only a 30 minute walk from one another, connected by a boardwalk well beaten by cyclists, skaters and Cali surfer dudes dragging their boards behind them, though in reality each are very much their own separate worlds; one offering a cool coastal ‘lobster on the pier’ kind of vibe, the other selling medicinal marijuana and pet rocks.
SANTA MONICA BEACH AND PIER
Start your day with a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping to lust over the ocean-side homes of Los Angeles’ rich-list. With Malibu, Will Rogers, Santa Monica and Venice all lined up neatly along the same stretch of coastline, you’re spoilt for choice over where to sink your toes into the sand.
Photo tip: if you’re after shots of the surf unspoilt by people then pull into the carpark at Will Rogers; an altogether much quieter beach than it’s neighbour, Santa Monica.
A prime example of an iconic southern California beach, Santa Monica offers miles of soft sand and cool Pacific surf. Divided by the Pier, the north side of the beach is a haven for sunbathers with rows and rows of towels lined precariously close to the lapping waves. You’ll want to snap photos of the iconic duck egg blue life guard huts and if you smile sweetly enough they’ll let you climb up on to them. The further north you walk, the quieter the beach gets as everyone tends to crowd close to the pier, with some even choosing to lie under it and escape the scorching Cali sunshine.
A local life guard reliably informed me that south of the pier is the place to head if you fancy a swim, and you’ll find surf board hire here too, as well as the original Muscle Beach.
Even in the height of the Summer the temperature at the beaches tends to be fairly manageable due to a cool ocean breeze but don’t be deceived, the sun is seriously hot and you need to follow the seasoned locals and cream up with a decent sun block or you’ll look like the catch of the day!
At the foot of Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica Pier has stood proudly as a landmark along the coastline for over a hundred years. The family-orientated Pacific Park fairground is home to Santa Monica’s most iconic resident: the one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art solar powered Ferris wheel.
Grab an ice cream and have a wander along, stopping to watch the street performers and the anglers at the piers west end. There are also plenty of souvenir shops and stalls selling wooden fridge magnets and shell-laced anklets for a few dollars (don’t be afraid to haggle politely!)
Photo tip: the far west end of the pier offers gorgeous views out across the north side of the beach whilst the mid-section just past the Pacific Park will give you a great shot of the Ferris wheel to the south. If you’re after a postcard-worthy shot of the entire pier then head onto the south beach.
LUNCH AT THE ALBRIGHT
After all that sunshine and ocean air you’re probably pretty hungry, so grab some lunch at The Albright which commenders prime location at the base of the pier. Its outside seating, thoughtfully shaded by mellow yellow canopies is a great people watching spot too, whilst inside you’re treated to shabby-chic interiors and a relaxed surfer vibe. Keep an eye out for the nods to Popeye!
Although it’s had a name change and a contemporary revamp since the restaurant first opened in 1977, the sense of family-hood and character remains well and truly in tact 40 years later at the hands of Yunnie Kim Morena and her husband, Greg, who inherited it from her parents. Not only are the staff down to earth and friendly, it’s also lovely to witness a real bond between the team who seem to genuinely enjoy working together.
The menu is teeming with sustainably caught – in fact, the Morenas are so hot on their commitment to running a green, renewable and fair trade business that they’ve won awards for it – local produce and I guarantee you’ll struggle to choose.
The restaurant’s clam chowder is a favourite with locals and visitors alike and it’s easy to see why, but my personal highlight was the calamari. Not a bland, rubbery tentacle in sight, expect melt-in-the-mouth squid coated in a crisp and flavoursome batter and served with a tangy chipotle aioli; it’s the best I’ve had since gorging on constant calamares during a month spent in Barcelona, and that really does say a lot.
Hand-battered black tiger shrimp (that’s prawns to us Brits) went down a treat but the real star of the show was undoubtedly the lobster, which was beautifully presented and, alongside a rainbow coloured cobb salad turned the spread into something of a master piece. Washed down with homemade white wine sangria, it really was quite the fishy feast.
Walk off your lunch with a leisurely stroll down the boardwalk toward Venice, a microcosmic world celebrating the weird and wonderful. It’s very much one of those places that you need to experience for yourself and the closest I have got to describing it is as though someone picked up Shoreditch and put it on the beach, cracked the temperature up and legalised marijuana.
A real opinion divider, visitors tend to either love or hate Venice, and I was very firmly in the former camp. There are not many places in the world where you can stroll along a promenade and see wacky street art, men with dreads down to their waists snoozing in hammocks, a three-headed lizard and $1 pizza.
Take it easy and make time to chat to people along the way because the hippies lining the beach are some of the most interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure of conversing with. Expect openers like “Dude! Do you wanna adopt a pet rock?” Damn right I do. We settled on ‘Emma Stone’.
Yep, that’s Emma.
If you’ve got room after your trip t0 The Albright (everyone knows there’s a separate pudding stomach) then N’ice Cream gelato shop on the boardwalk is an absolute must. Each flavour is freshly made, crafted from local fruits and produce with no additives, colours or syrups. The earl grey is fantastic but the pistachio really is something else altogether.
Make sure you’ve taken some cash out (preferably beforehand as the ATM’s are unreliable and charge an extortionate fee) because you’re going to want to take home some of the handmade crafts and art pieces that are sold by talented individuals all along the main stretch.
Photo tip: the famous Venice sign is on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Windward Avenue. Have your camera set up and ready to go then press the button to cross the road because the best angle is from right in the middle of it!
I visited The Albright with compliments, however all views and imagery are my own.