Old Route 66 had its western terminus at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, on a palm-lined bluff a few blocks north of the city’s landmark pier. The pier holds a small amusement park and a lovely old Looff carousel (as seen in the movie The Sting). A beachfront walkway heads south of the pier to Venice Beach, heart of bohemian LA Near where Santa Monica Boulevard dead-ends at Ocean Avenue, a brass plaque marks the official end of Route 66, the “Main Street of America,” also remembered as the Will Rogers Highway, one of many names the old road earned in its half century of existence. The plaque remembers Rogers as a “Humorist, World Traveler, Good Neighbor”—not bad for an Okie from the middle of nowhere.
Two blocks east of the ocean, stretch your legs at Santa Monica Place and the adjacent Third Street Promenade, an indoor-outdoor shopping area and icon of contemporary Southern California (sub)urban culture. The surrounding streets are among the liveliest in Southern California; people actually walk, enjoying street performers, trendy cafés, bookshops, and movie theaters.
Enjoyable in its own right, Santa Monica also makes a good base for seeing the rest of the LA area. For the full retro-luxury experience, check in to the art deco Georgian Hotel (1415 Ocean Ave., 800/538-8147, $300 and up). Or you can save your money for food and fun by staying at the popular HI-Santa Monica Hostel (1436 2nd St., 310/393-9913, $42 and up).
Where to Eat in Santa Monica
Dine on the Santa Monica Pier at The Albright (Santa Monica Pier, 310/394-9683, noon-9pm Mon.-Fri., 11am-10pm Sat.-Sun., $8-24). The menu features fresh seafood (lobster, crab, oysters), poke, ceviche, and beach fare like fish and chips and mussels and fries.
Also on the pier, at the very end with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, is Mariasol Cocina Mexicana (Santa Monica Pier, 310/917-5050, 11am-8:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 11am-9pm Fri., 10am-9:30pm Sat., 10am-8:30pm Sun. summer, 11am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-8pm Sat.-Sun. winter, $10-30). The restaurant highlights the cuisine of Mexican beach towns like Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. If the weather is nice, ask for a table outside.
Pono Burger (829 Broadway, 310/584-7005, 11am-9pm Sun.-Thurs., 11am-10pm Fri.-Sat., $9-15) is one of the best burger joints in town. All beef patties are organic and come topped with amazing cheeses (brie, oak-smoked cheddar, aged blue) and house-made sauces. Free parking is available in an underground lot through the alley off Broadway between 8th and 9th Streets.
There’s almost always a line at Huckleberry Bakery and Café (1014 Wilshire Blvd., 310/451-2311, 8am-5pm daily, $9-15), but the maple bacon biscuits and green eggs and ham are worth the wait.
Tacos Por Favor (1408 Olympic Blvd., 310/392-5768, 8am-8pm daily, $3-14) serves Mexican breakfast, lunch, and dinner at cheap prices. Order the shrimp fajitas or the carne asada sopes.
Urth Caffé (2327 Main St., 310/314-7040, 6am-11pm Sun.-Thurs., 6am-midnight Fri.-Sat., $7-15) serves fresh, healthy, organic dishes for breakfast and lunch, along with smoothies, coffee, and teas.
The buzzy and cool Tar and Roses (602 Santa Monica Blvd., 602/587-0700, 5:30pm-10:30pm Mon.-Sat., 5:30pm-9:30pm Sun., $10-35) offers shared plates of seasonal American fare. A touch of mint and a pinch of sea salt top wood-roasted English peas—perfect for a starter—and cherry chutney sweetens the duck entrée.
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