By Janice Strong

Santa Monica has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the Top 10 Beach Cities in the World. And I couldn’t agree more. We strolled the downtown core on a warm and overcast day in April and ended up at the city’s spectacular strand, complete with buskers and street entertainment.

Third Street PromenadeSanta Monica CVB
Our starting point was the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade. Lined with all the designer outlets you can image, and sprinkled with fashionable eateries, the Promenade was great for people-watching, a leisurely coffee, taking in a jazz or classical music performance, and of course, shopping.

Santa Monica PlaceFulcrum PhotographyAnd speaking of shopping, the Promenade is anchored by Santa Monica Place, a combination of 80+ shops and restaurants, boasting both Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. The third-level dining area offers some of the best views in the city.

Pacific ParkPacific ParkFrom Third Street it is a very short stroll down Broadway to Ocean Avenue and the beach. Wide, golden sands, easy ocean breezes, swaying palms, bicyclists and rollerbladers – it was just like the movies! An off-key gospel singer and a snake-charmer wearing a loin-cloth standing atop a step ladder with just two of the more original street entertainers we met along the way.

But our goal was Pacific Park on the famous Santa Monica Pier. Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, the pier itself has been around since the early years of the 20th century, and has always been in the entertainment business with rides and restaurants, and at one point even a ballroom, along its length.

Pacific ParkPacific Park

We hopped aboard the Pacific Wheel, the world’s first solar-powered Ferris Wheel and enjoyed views of the coast and the ocean from nine storeys up. Other rides on the pier include the West Coaster, a roller coaster that roars along 16.5 metres above the pier and Inkie’s Air Lift Balloon Ride, a high-flying kids’ ride. There are also plenty of midway games in the Pier Pressure Zone and lots of casual dining outlets.

The Beach HouseAnnenberg Community Beach HouseWe ended our day at the Annenberg Community Beach House, a short drive up the Pacific Coast Highway at Santa Monica State Beach. The Beach House was originally the guesthouse on the estate that tycoon William Randolph Hearst built for his lover actress Marion Davies. The original mansion boasted more than 100 rooms and a marble swimming pool where Hearst and Davies entertained Hollywood royalty like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.

Community Beach HouseAnnenberg Community Beach HouseThe mansion has been demolished, but the Guest House is now a Community Beach House that runs arts, cultural and sports programs along with the beautiful pool and equipment rentals. We took the free, 30-minute tour and learned about Marion, her family and her life at the beach from a Santa Monica Conservancy docent.