Before visiting Santa Monica Pier I had some pretty basic ideas of what to expect. I’ve been to the Atlantic City Boardwalk, not to mention a couple of fun piers in England. I’ve seen a few movies that are tied into scenes at the Santa Monica Pier. And I knew this is where historic U.S. Route 66 ends.
But what is actually on the Pier? How is it possible that an amusement park actually sits out over the Pacific Ocean? The best way to figure it out is to just go and see.
Visitors to the Santa Monica Pier are likely to arrive via car. There is public parking at the entrance as well as plenty of garages, lots and street spots in the neighborhood. I parked near the Third Street Promenade in a garage that is free for the first 90 minutes. It was a longer walk, but one filled with great views as I neared the Pier along Ocean Avenue.
Check out these parking options with the city of Santa Monica. Even on a busy Sunday, Downtown Santa Monica wasn’t overwhelming with crowds and heavy traffic like I expected it to be.
Walking along Ocean Avenue, I could look back to the north for views of Malibu in the distant, the Pier to the south and plenty of action around me. There are several food trucks lined up offering lunch options before arriving at the Pier.
So arriving at the Pier I walked under the iconic sign for the long walk down to the main part of the boardwalk that goes over the beach and water.
The iconic sign has a unique history related to a breakwater that was completed in 1934 for the Santa Monica Regatta and a yacht harbor. The sign reading “Santa Monica Yacht Harbor” was built in 1941.
Looking to the north from the Santa Monica Pier are nice views of Malibu.
In an effort to compete with the nearby Ocean Park and Venice piers, a new, wider pier with an amusement park along the south side of the Municipal Pier was built in 1916, creating two piers in one. The Looff Pleasure Pier opened on June 12, 1916, with the new carousel opening as the first amusement ride. Today, it is known as Pacific Park.
Today, Pacific Park offers plenty of amusement park games, rides and more. Hours do vary, but summer hours on the weekend can see the park open generally from mid-morning to around midnight. The Santa Monica Pier is actually open 24 hours a day.
Something I didn’t know was that people once lived on the Pier in the 1960s, including celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Joan Baez. They helped turn opinion on what had become a seedy spot. It didn’t keep it from falling off the map, so to speak, although it’s hard to imagine it being in disrepair with all the shops and restaurants.
Between its falling into disrepair and storms in the early 1980s that destroyed a third of the Pier, change was necessary. Restoration of the Pier lasted from 1987 to 1990 when it reopened with its first amusement park since 1930.
Today, there is a trapeze school, lots of food, shops, fishing and just fun strolling to enjoy a couple hours of a sunny day.