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Santa Monica is probably the place you’re thinking of when you picture yourself on the beach in La La Land.  But this sunny town has a lot more to offer than just spectacular stretches of sand.  Read on if you’d like to know about a shopping street where the stars dress down, where locals go to swim in an Old Hollywood pool, an outstanding arts center and more.

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Third Street Promenade
Running through the heart of Santa Monica from Broadway to Wilshire, this three-block pedestrian promenade is closed to traffic.  It is filled with shops and restaurants galore and also features impromptu live entertainment on the street. While stores are mostly familiar chains (Apple, Nordstrom, Nike, etc), the people-watching is superb (but you have to be alert to catch the celebs hiding behind their sunglasses and baseball caps).

Bergamont Stattion, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California

Bergamont Station | Photo by Carole Terwilliger-Meyers

Bergamot Station Arts Center
This out-of-the-way arts complex is home to 30-plus art galleries housed in several adjoining warehouses.  It sprawls over 8 acres of a former historic rail yard,  where parking is plentiful (and free); the Bergamot Cafe provides sustenance.

Camera Obscura, Santa Monica, California, Los Angeles

Camera Obscura | Photo by Carole Terwilliger-Meyers

Camera Obscura
Once a popular seaside attraction in both the US and Europe, the now-rare Camera Obscura is found only in a few places.  To see this one, which is accessed through the Senior Center in Palisades Park, you need only provide a driver’s license and climb some stairs.  There, in the center of a small room, you then turn a wheel to project an image from outside—the traffic on Ocean Avenue, strollers in Palisades Park, a glimpse of the ocean—onto a large white disk.

Annenberg Community House

Annenberg Community House | Photo by Carole Terwilliger-Meyers

Annenberg Community Beach House
Designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, this mansion formerly owned by actress Marion Davies is now a spectacular community centerYou’ll want to stop by to tour the Marion Davies Guest House and swim in the property’s original pool.  Kids especially enjoy the playground in the sand and splash pad, and everyone appreciates the paved path to the surf.  Should you get hungry, Back on the Beach Cafe provides sand-side dining and a great burger.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier
Located at the end of Colorado Blvd and the terminus for iconic Route 66, this wood pier dates from 1909.  It juts out over Santa Monica State Beach and is lined with attractions, restaurants and shops. At the start of the pier, an antique carousel with its original Wurlitzer organ, turns inside a 1916 Looff Hippodrome building.  And though a wristband covering all rides at Pacific Park will set you back a pretty penny, admission to the pier and park is free and you can choose to buy individual tickets.  Don’t miss the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel or unique column-suspended roller coaster.

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18th Street Coffeehouse
Though rumored to be owned by singer Bob Dylan—no one seems to want to verify this, and it has no website—this pleasant coffeehouse at 1725 Broadway is quite inviting.  Coffees and sweets include a particularly good iced coffee and miniature lemon Bundt cake.  Exceptional background music lends credence to the Dylan rumors,  and even though no Wi-Fi is provided and cell phones are discouraged, you’ll see a lot of people camped out with laptops.

Huckleberry Cafe

Huckleberry Cafe | Photo by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Huckleberry Café
A favorite sandwich at this casual bakery cafe is the marinated red pepper-burrata mozzarella-prosciutto with basil dressing on a baguette, but the BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) is also awesome.  A case full of scrumptious salads—think roasted baby carrots with avocado, cumin seeds, and lemon juice, or colorful red beets with dark-green kale—and dazzling desserts that include an exquisite salted-caramel square, rounds things out.  Counter service is fast and friendly, prices are reasonable and parking in the back is free.

Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel

Loews Santa Monica Beach

Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
Located just across an alley from a clean sandy beach and the original Muscle Beach, Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel has many guest rooms featuring ocean views. Almost famous people linger seemingly everywhere—reading scripts, being interviewed by the press and power breakfasting in the restaurant or hanging around the large pool.

Montana Avenue
Most concentrated between 6th and 17th streets, this popular shopping street is populated with exclusive boutiques that are favored by celebrities. Surprisingly, a few are affordable—Citron for casual women’s clothing at #1615 and Number One Beauty Center for cosmetics and hair products at #1426.  For a sweet treat, stop in at Sweet Lady Jane at #1631.

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Tagged: California, Los Angeles

Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Carole is a Berkeley-based travel writer who most especially enjoys cultural and culinary travel. She contributes to an assortment of publications and is the author of 18 books. Carole oversees two websites, berkeleyandbeyond.com and webcamtraveler.com, and she blogs at travelswithcarole.blogspot.com.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers

@traveluv

Carole Terwilliger Meyers; freelance travel writer, website publisher http://t.co/cHHR3mbgaC, and blogger http://t.co/nK7BBHVpCG
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