Sadly, our time was all too brief in sunny Santa Monica but I was so glad to have made this particular coastal detour on our Southern California road trip – it’s a stunner. Setting off from Beverley Hills the early morning drive only took 40 mins – apparently we were lucky, it can take up to 90.
First mission was to meet up with our guide Eric from Perry’s Tours for a 2 hour bike tour from the Santa Monica pier to Venice Beach. Having not been on a bike for some considerable time, it was a relief to know the tour basically follows the completely flat, broad boardwalk that runs all the way from Santa Monica to neighbouring Venice Beach.
Added to that we made frequent stops along the way for Eric to fill us in on the local history and background, illustrated by his fantastic collection of old photos. There’s plenty to talk about…there’s the 100 year old pier for a start plus this is also the home of skateboarding and inline skating. Then there’s the famous Muscle Beach, Arnie’s stomping ground back in his body building days.
Continuing towards Venice Beach the vibe changes quite noticeably from swanky Santa Monica. Venice Beach, once a notorious hippie hangout, now attracts more than its fair share of vagrants – it feels pretty edgy, graffiti everywhere with a mix of quirky shops, bars and beachside hangouts. I’m not sure I’d want to linger but it attracts a really mixed crowd and Eric insists its an area on the up. Taking a left off the boardwalk we headed to a different side of town; the ‘hidden’ canals, built by Abbot Kinney in 1905. One of the original settlers, Abbot’s vision was to bring a slice of Italy to the Southern California swamps and, at the time, the canals provided a novel form of transport. As the years went by though, cars became more popular and the canals proved difficult to maintain, by the 1930’s many were filled in and now only six remain. The colourful and unique canalside homes remain highly desirable – apparently many are owned by celebrities although, as Eric confessed, in all his years of living and guiding around Venice Beach he had never actually spotted one!
Our return route took us through the back streets past somewhat classier street art, back to the sanctuary of Santa Monica
Time for lunch at one of the best restaurants in town, The Lobster, enjoying a prime location right at the entrance to the pier, with floor to ceiling glass windows providing wonderful ocean and pier views. Needless to say Lobster is on the menu – @ $32 a pound and weighing in that day at between 1 1/2 to 2 pounds!! We had been reliably informed that whatever we ordered, to also add a side of skinny fries with parmesan and truffle ($7) – top tip, quite literally the best chips I’ve ever had. Those, plus a truly delicious Shellfish & Black Linguine Pasta ($26) – with clams, Black Mussels, Wild Mexican Shrimp, Dungeness Crab & Calamari – meant the only option afterwards was to stagger to the beach for a snooze in the Autumn sun. Its a hard life!