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Santa Monica: Pier, State Beach, & Ocean Front Walk

The Santa Monica shore draws throngs of people year-round to its many attractions. On any given day, the two-mile-long Santa Monica State Beach ––complete with pier and amusement park––is crowded with families, fishermen, street performers, tourists, surfers, and sunbathers. Among the many attractions are the Marvin Braude Bicycle Trail, Ocean Front Walk (promenade) along the backside of the beach, Muscle Beach, several pocket parks with picnic tables, an aquarium, and, at the northernmost end of the beach, Annenberg Beach House, a public recreation facility that offers a beachside pool with a lift, cultural programs, classes, free tours of the Marion Davies Guest House, and gallery exhibits.

The 1,600-foot-long Santa Monica Pier, which dates to the early 1900s, has two distinct sections. At the foot of the pier is an amusement park with a turn-of-the-century carousel, ferris wheel, arcade games, cafes, and souvenir shops. This section is surfaced with wooden boards and is very bumpy. Beyond it is a long fishing pier with a smooth asphalt surface. Handrails on the fishing pier are too high for fishing from a wheelchair. Although accessible from Colorado Avenue, the walkway is steep and often crowded; upcoast a short distance, at Moomat Ahiko Way, is a gentler path down a switchback ramp.

The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is located at beach level just below the carousel. This marine education center, operated by Heal the Bay, is home to more than 100 species of Santa Monica Bay marine animals and plants. You can watch a shark feeding, examine microscopic sea life, explore critters in touch tanks, or attend Saturday story time. Youth under 12 get in free; for others, a $5 donation is suggested.

For a change of scenery and excellent dining and shopping, venture uphill from the beach to Third Street Promenade, a popular outdoor pedestrian-only mall that stretches for several blocks.

Trail/Pathway Details

Ocean Front Walk

Trailhead: Northern end of Venice Beach Ocean Front Walk

Length: Over 4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Routes to Ocean Ave. from Ocean Front Walk are steep; the least steep alternatives are to travel in the road on Pico St. or take the switchback ramp just north of the pier, between Appian Way and Moomat Ahiko Way (see map).

Terrain: Hard

Description

On a slightly hazy day I took what I thought would be a 20-minute stroll along the promenade; instead, it turned into a two-hour exploration of all the fun this area has to offer. The stretch was busy with people riding scooters, walking their dogs, jogging, or just taking in the sights, and a flurry of cyclists of all ages rode the adjacent Marvin Braude Bicycle Path. Exiting the promenade often requires you to cross the bike path, which can be tricky on busy days.

I began my hike at a small, linear park at the north end of Venice Beach and followed the promenade for 1.4 miles to the pier. Through the haze, the Santa Monica Mountains loomed large to the north, and the tempting view of the ferris wheel on the pier awakened the child in me. In less than .5 miles, just south of Ocean Park Boulevard, I came to the first of several wooden boardwalks that provide access onto Santa Monica State Beach; others are at Bay Street between Bicknell and Pico Boulevards, at Arcadia Terrace, and immediately north of the pier.

Just past the boardwalk is a plaza with one of several outlets along the promenade that rent skates, bikes, and surfboards. A café with beachside seating is a good spot to grab a cold drink and watch all the activity on the beach, or to lounge while your kids play at the nearby accessible playground. From here the pier is another .9 miles.

At the next accessible beach boardwalk (Bay Street), the promenade briefly curves inland, crossing the bike path and continuing on a broader path along the back side of hotel Casa Del Mar. Just past the hotel, take Pico Street to connect to Ocean Avenue and the Fourth Street Promenade; it's not as steep as other routes. The next main attraction you come to is Muscle Beach, aptly named for the fitness enthusiasts you will likely see climbing ropes and exercising on rings and parallel bars. A few of the bars are lowered and have a firm surface underneath; these are by the adjacent play area, where kids can climb large blue dinosaur eggs. Across from the lifeguard station, look for a sunken plaza where people play chess and there's a chess board with life-size pieces laid out on the ground.

The activity picks up as you approach the plaza by the pier, where there are street performers and a few food stands. You can take the switchback ramp up to the pier or continue north another 3.4 miles to Will Rogers State Beach. Less than one mile from the pier, the pedestrian path merges with the bike path. The scenery here is less touristy; you’ll pass a mixture of funky and custom-built homes, private beach clubs, a few parking lots, and the Annenberg Beach House, where you’ll find the longest of the boardwalks onto the beach. Just past the Annenberg house you leave Santa Monica and enter Los Angeles.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Beach Wheelchair: Yes

Pick up at Perry’s Café (2400 Ocean Front Walk). Rentals are limited to an hour on busy days.

Accessible Parking: Yes

Spaces on the pier and at several beach-level lots are free with a valid disabled placard. There is street parking along Ocean Ave., but the route to the beach is steeply downhill.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

The numerous restroom stations that line Ocean Front Walk are named according to the street they are closest to. All those we checked south of the pier are accessible, although they don't display the international accessibility symbol. Look for the stalls with the widest doors. Restrooms north of the pier had no space for a lateral transfer, except for the family restroom at California Ave. All three restrooms on the pier are accessible.

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

At South Beach Park, Ocean View Park, and Crescent Bay Park

Other Things of Interest

Open to travelers of all ages, the Santa Monica Hostel offers affordable accessible accommodations and a quiet retreat just two blocks from the beach. The dorm rooms have plenty of space to maneuver, the restrooms also have good access, and roll-in showers have a fold-down wooden seat, grab bars, and a hand-held shower. There’s a lovely courtyard with a fountain, trees, tables and chairs, and a barbecue; a large community kitchen; a game room; a library with travel information; and a laundry room. It is one of the nicest hostels I’ve seen.

Palisades Park is a linear park that runs along Ocean Avenue on a bluff overlooking Santa Monica Beach. A two-mile paved path weaves among the palm trees, with plenty of benches and shady places to rest along the way. Most of the park is wheelchair accessible, but there are steep slopes where California Avenue bisects the park, and occasional cross-slopes throughout. Overpasses across the Pacific Coast Highway to the beach have stairs at each end.
Looking north from Ocean Front Walk
Looking north from Ocean Front Walk (Bonnie Lewkowicz)

Features icon key

  • Beach Wheelchairs Available
  • bicycling
  • fishing
  • particularly good for families
  • swimming

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.smgov.net/Portals/Beach/
Managing Agency: City of Santa Monica
Address: Foot of Colorado Blvd. (pier)
Phone: (310) 458-8411
Hours: Aquarium: Tues.-Fri., 2-5 pm; Sat.-Sun., 12:30-5 pm. Pier: Always open.
Fees: Aquarium
Dogs: In restricted areas
Allowed on promenade but not on the beach
Public Transportation: LA Metro
Useful Links: Santa Monica Pier, Annenberg Beach House,Santa Monica Beach map
Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, May 22, 2013
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

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Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
  Hiking icon is silhouette of a hikerHiking & Trails
Biking icon looks like person riding a bikeBicycling   Good for Familis icon is a child on a swing'Particularly Good for Families
Boating Icon is a boatBoating   Picnic Area Icon is a picnic tablePicnic
Camping icon is a tentCamping   Swimming Icon is a person swimmingSwimming
Fishing Icon is a fish biting a hookFishing   Wildlife Viewing Icon is a pair of binocularsWildlife Viewing
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