Sunday, 22 September 2013

Santa Monica

Rodeo Drive, Sunset Strip, Melrose, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive, the Hollywood Hills, Burbankall these and many more are the evocative names and references I know from literature, music, art and films. They've been part of the background to my life, and it is strange to see them on maps, on buses, on street signs, and to walk some of them.

One of the challenges facing someone planning a few days in LA, is where to stay, by which I men which district.  For me, the choices seemed to be Downtown (the buiness, arts, and civic centre),  Hollywood, or Santa Monica.  I visited all three, but chose a motel in Santa Monica as my base and think I got it spot on.

This post focuses on the two days I spent in Santa Monica, riding around on my bike, enjoying the life of this lovely town beside the ocean.

Santa Monica pier

Santa Monica is a beachfront city situated on Santa Monica Bay, bordered on three sides by the city of Los Angeles.  It is home to many Hollywood celebrities and executives and is a mixture of affluent single-family neighborhoods, renters, surfers, professionals, and students, with a total population of 90,000

Partly because of its agreeable climate, Santa Monica had become a famed resort town by the early 20th century. The city has experienced a boom since the late 1980s through the revitalization of its downtown core with significant job growth and increased tourism.  Big enough to have some character and style, small enough to be walkable, good bus connections to downtown LA, and almost-fabulous weather, it's almost a destination town in its own right. 

I can't overemphasize this almost magical place. It is like a miles-long carnival for adults… so much to do and see that it is easy to forget you are at a beach and the beach is absolutely beautiful! You will have flashbacks of almost every tv show that was ever filmed in California. The beach body-builders and bikini-clad ladies on rollerblades? Yup, all of those scenes were filmed here. When you get a bit tired or hot, there are a myriad of places to snack and beer. From the juggler on the ten foot high unicycle riding up and down, and the guy walking on broken glass to the geek shows.  If you travel all the way to L.A. for a holiday and don't visit Venice Beach, I promise you will regret it.

Off the somewhat trashy (yet loads of fun) boardwalk, lies one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California. Worlds away from most of L.A., this beach is "the beach" for many Angelinos.

Venice, built on a system of canals in 1820s to drain the marshes so they could be used for residences. By the 1950s Venice was "the slum by the sea". Today it is one of the great draws for visitors. Old-fashioned hacienda-style houses next to cottages that have been transformed into boutiques, health food stores, pavement cafes and restaurants.  Walking along the mile-long street, you go from Gjelina's, a smart Italian joint, past Lilly's with its delicate French cuisine, to Abbot's Pizza, slices for $2. A couple of blocks west on the infamous Venice Beach, where the whiff of marijuana still permeates the loud boardwalk, you can find little gems –such as Piccolo's Italian restaurant – tucked away next to the handball courts, paddle tennis courts, the Skate Dancing plaza, beach volleyball courts, and the bike trail.  Watch the skaters at the Venice Skatepark, surfboard rentals are on the boardwalk. Head to Benice  – a breakfast place a block from the beach– to listen to the regulars swap surfing stories.

The famous 26-Mile Bike Path traverses Pacific Palisades through Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey, Manhattan and Hermosa Beach, all the way to Redondo Beach. It is spectacular.  Loads of interesting sights: multi-million dollar beach houses mixed with hippies & hobos  

Every musician I heard, waitress or batman who served me, I wondered if they were an actor, awaiting their big break

Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the new A-Listers

 A genuine street sign

"Custom fitted..."  

This young guy was a brilliant street entertainer. 

No sign of the Hoff or Pammie.  Baywatch was shot on Santa Monica beach

This old chap wouldn't let me take his photo unless I paid him. " of course I don't need the money, I use it to fund an orphanage".  Which may just be true.

I like a town that has an official department for beaches

Hundreds turn out on Saturday morning to play and watch volleyball

Jim Morrison of The Doors immortalised the Big Blue Bus.  This rather scruffy paving immortalises Jim Morrison.   The Blue Bus is referred to in The Door's classic 1967 song 'The End':  
"Meet me at the back of the blue bus".

And there is the Blue Bus, in regular service

I loved his tribute to Grandpa, on every fruit box on this market stall

Drying the wetsuits

Architect Frank Gehry, whose wacky designs somehow typify the colourful nature of Venice's history and culture, created this post-modern house in 1986, one of many in a row facing directly onto Venice Beach House.

The look-out is more clearly visible

The rear of the house

The 26-mile path along the beach


More on Los Angeles to follow shortly

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