Our road trip continued down Highway 1 the coast road that hugs the Pacific ocean. A three-hour drive with a leisurely stop in Santa Barbara for lunch (a beautiful hispanic town with a great pier and beach) took us to our next stop – Santa Monica. Famed as a “funky” Californian destination I wasn’t sure what to expect! I knew that it was supposed to be more family orientated than Venice Beach so a good choice. There is no doubt it’s a fun place, and has all the ingredients of a Californian beach stay. It’s quite full on with lots to keep you occupied so if you are heading there after time in Northern California then get ready to shift a gear!
Here are my Santa Monica top tips, not just in Santa Monica itself but in LA as we used this as a base from which to explore the highlights of LA too!
1. Playtime on the Pier
I love a good pier… takes me back to my childhood. Well Santa Monica knows how to do a Pier. Its iconic pier houses a Ferris wheel, rides a plenty and lots of games to keep the kids occupied. There are also some great street entertainers to watch and you do get swept along in the atmosphere, especially when you visit at night. I don’t think the kids have really ever been to a fun fair but they loved it and we spent most of our evenings on the pier after dinner – it was hard to drag them away!! Below the pier is Santa Monica’s beach which offers calm waters to paddle and jump the waves, and even on a cloudy LA day it brings a smile to your face!
2. Enjoy a bit of retail therapy
Don’t get me wrong I am not a fan of mixing kids and shopping (we go once a year to get school shoes!) but the mall in Santa Monica was a great place to hang out for an hour or so. Modern, clean with some great shops and the best bit – a fantastic food court with a great selection of dishes from around the world. A welcome break from the sun and a chance to buy some new sunglasses and a few GAP items for the children. Oh, and a sneaky peek in Banana Republic for me!
3. Friday night culture at the breathtaking Getty Centre
This was a highlight of the whole road trip for me, a core memory! What a place! We headed up into the hills of LA late afternoon, a 45 min drive from Santa Monica (if you follow the road signs and not the sat nav!). I must admit I knew little about it until we visited but would recommend to anyone in the area. The centre was opened in 1997 and stands majestically in the Santa Monica mountains. Getty, who made his fortune in the oil business was a keen art collector and the center houses a fantastic collection. There are also some beautiful gardens and grounds with stunning views over LA, and all of this with no entrance fee! It’s really child friendly with some good interactive elements and the highlight the funicular that takes you from the car park to the complex. Cafes, coffee stands and a posher restaurant cater for your needs on the day too. As a closet art fan it was amazing to see one of my favourite pictures – Van Gogh’s” Irises”. The other wow factor is the architecture and buildings that house the collections, beautiful clean lines and white washed walls. I was in culture heaven!
Santa Monica was an experience! Buzzing and feisty, and sometimes a little too edgy for my liking but then we were adjusting to being on the fringe of a major city after Pismo and Yosemite!
Road trip logistics
- Where we stayed: Lots of choice for all budgets in Santa Monica, we stayed at the Doubletree Hilton (££) just three blocks down from the pier. Typically a business hotel it was pretty quiet and also offers a free shuttle for those littler legs if required. Great outdoor pool and Starbucks in the foyer!
- Where we ate : Check out Del Frisco’s Grille for people watching on Santa Monica’s front or for a casual lunchtime meal to suit all the family head to the main shopping mall and let everyone choose their own! Locanda Del Lago (on intersection between 3rd and Arizona) is also good family Italian restaurant worth a visit.