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L.A. introduction

Off the beaten track L.A.

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The Santa Monica Advantage
Make Santa Monica Your LA-area Base

Above: Santa Monica Pier. Standing at its end gives great views of planes landing or taking off at LAX Airport especially nice at sunset. Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue on the bluff above features even more impressive views.

Want to have a fantastic time in Los Angeles? Want to come away with warm feelings about your L.A. trip?

Then base yourself in Santa Monica, a few minutes from Los Angeles International Airport.

For most visitors, the Santa Monica area offers what they need: A good beach, lots of restaurants, a reasonably safe environment, easy access to sightseeing, good public transportation, a fine hostel, lots of hotels in most price ranges, and—best of all—a laid back, pleasant, and uplifting environment.

Of course, you'll have to forgo being directly adjacent to some of the best music clubs and other night life. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the Sunset Strip by bus.

A Southern California fun centre

As Hollywood declined in recent years, Santa Monica thrived and metamorphosed from a sleepy beach town to become one of California's fun centres.

And, whatever Santa Monica lacks in excitement is found right next door in Venice Beach. Just stroll or roller blade from beach front Santa Monica to beach front Venice or use a convenient bus. However, be very cautious in Venice Beach at night.

In Santa Monica, great places to hang out are the

  • Third Street Promenade (Santa Monica's pedestrian only main street, a block from the Santa Monica Hostel) on any Friday or Saturday night,
  • Santa Monica Pier and its adjacent amusement centre, and
  • small clubs and restaurants along Main Street.

On weekend and summer nights, the Third Street Promenade offers an awesome variety of free street entertainment—sometimes terrible, but often very good.

And, as the sun goes down, enjoy a stroll along Palisades Park, along Ocean Boulevard, just west of the pier, overlooking the beach below. You'll love it!

Santa Monica Hostel

One of the best hostels in the United States, the Santa Monica hostel is located just above the beach in downtown Santa Monica.

Its area is exhilarating, yet usually not too hectic or too noisy.

When Rosie Garcia became wealthy in the film "White Men Can't Jump," she chose a condo a couple of blocks away. Surprisingly, budget dining places abound in the area.

Getting around

Above: Looking out toward Malibu from Palisades Park, Santa Monica, on a cloudy day. In the lower left note how far the park is above the beach. Steep stairs here offer a popular spot for extreme interval training. L.A.'s most popular stairs—Santa Monica Stairs—near the northwestern end of Ocean Avenue attract thousands.

One common misconception of the Los Angeles, fostered by some travel guides, is that a car is absolutely essential. Rubbish. How much you need a car depends on where you stay.

Santa Monica and much of the western portion of L.A. near the University of California at Los Angeles have adequate bus transportation.

The most convenient service radiates from Santa Monica via the "Big Blue Bus," Santa Monica's excellent bus system. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority also serves this area.

True, it is a long way to Disneyland and Universal Studios, but travelling by car on the crowded highways around this vast area is no pleasure either. Visitors to Santa Monica without cars can easily take guided tour buses to the more distant sights.

From Santa Monica, down the beach in the other direction than Venice Beach—too far to comfortably roller blade or walk—is Malibu Beach and the superb Zuma Beach. These can be reached by MTA buses. On the inland side of Santa Monica is Westwood Village, home of the University of California at Los Angeles and a youth (often secondary school age) orientated night scene. Blue Blue Bus runs frequently to Westwood and UCLA.

Inland from UCLA, you find Beverly Hills, a deluxe shopping and residential area, and just to the northeast of Beverly Hills is West Hollywood, home to much of Los Angeles' adult night life, gay (Santa Monica Boulevard) and straight or mixed (Sunset Boulevard—"The Sunset Strip"), which can be reached by bus from Santa Monica in about 35 - 40 minutes via MTA.

As mentioned, the crescent between Venice, Santa Monica, Brentwood (the home of O.J. Simpson until a court ruling forced him to give up his lavish home and retreat to a more favourable legal environment in Florida), the very rich Bel Air and Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood is one of the few areas of California where you won't feel pinched without a car.

From Santa Monica, you can also easily reach LAX Airport daily (route #3 - ask the driver where to transfer to a free shuttle to each terminal), as well as centre city Los Angeles and Amtrak Union Station via Big Blue Bus express route #10 (weekdays only morning rush hour to downtown and afternoon rush hour to Santa Monica).

Daily, the MTA "Expo" light-rail line offers the most frequent service to downtown. It passes or comes very close to the

  • University of Southern California campus,
  • Banc Stadium [L.A. Football (soccer) Club],
  • Los Angeles Coliseum ,
  • Steeples Center, and
  • L.A. Live entertainment complex.

For Amtrak Union Station, transfer to the Red or Purple subway lines at the 7th Street/Metro Center Station downtown. Or, use the Red Line in the other direction to reach the corner of Hollywood and Vine or Universal Studios.

For more introduction to your L.A. area visit:

Go to >> Introduction to your visit
Go to >> Choosing your base
Go to >> Finding the perfect beach
Go to >> Why L.A. is so unique

For additional L.A. information:

Go to >> Off the beaten track L.A.
Go to >> Southern California has an obsession with death & you will love it! A travel guide

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