For the ultimate in SoCal beach kitsch, you can’t miss the Santa Monica Pier (Ocean Ave. at Colorado Ave.). As you walk the rather long stretch of concrete out over the water, you’ll see an amazing array of carnival-style food stands, an arcade, a small amusement park, the smallest miniature golf course ever paid for by tourists, and restaurants leading out to the fishing area at the tip of the pier.
The main attraction is Pacific Park (310/260-8744, www.pacpark.com , free). This park features a roller coaster, a scrambler, and the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel. Several rides are geared for the younger set, and a 20-game midway provides fun for all ages. Beneath the pier lies a sandy beach with a decent surf break—one of the major attractions of the area in the summertime.
You can drive onto the first half of the pier. Parking lots sit both on and beneath it, though your chances aren’t great if you’re trying for a spot on a summer weekend.
Many hotels and restaurants are within walking distance of the pier, as is the Third Street Promenade . Admission to Pacific Park is free, but the rides aren’t; you can pay per-ride or buy an all-ride wristband.