Santa Monica's Hidden Treasures

The neon sign at the entrance of the Santa Monica Pier in California. iStockphoto

By CBSNews.com's Kenly Walker
Los Angeles visitors in pursuit of celebrity sightings and glamorous attractions often head straight to the star-studded regions of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. But in limiting their sightseeing to downtown Rodeo Drive and Hollywood Boulevard, these travelers are overlooking a hidden treasure.

Santa Monica, the L.A. area's true coastal getaway, is the perfect choice for a beach visit or a vacation. This seaside haven is a welcomed respite from the fast pace of the city. Its neighborhoods hold a unique mix of trend, class, and funk.

Santa Monica can put you on sensory overload — there's live music, street jugglers, artists and dancers, the tantalizing smells of culinary delights and the buzz of an eclectic crowd of shoppers.

This beachfront community isn't any secret to the city's young adults. UCLA students have even described it as their local amusement park.

"Santa Monica is like the Disneyland for college kids," says UCLA senior Julie Bennett, 21. "It has the youthful elements of the Pier's carnival rides, but also the funky yet sophisticated attractions of Third Street .We can act like little kids eating cotton candy on the Ferris wheel and laughing at the street performers, then enjoy the more grown-up experience of Santa Monica's nightlife."

Though Santa Monica may not be Hollywood, celebrity sightings are very much a part of the beach scene. But here you'll spot the stars wearing baseball hats instead of flashy designer gowns, and strolling with their dogs rather than an entourage of fellow partygoers.

The absence of glitz has helped to keep Santa Monica in the shadows. Says 21-year-old Eva Rhodes: "Star-struck tourists come to L.A. hoping to see Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan. They read about certain clubs or restaurants frequented by these stars in US magazine and make these destinations the priorities of their trip. They seem to completely overlook the beauty and wonderful atmosphere of Santa Monica."

Here's a one-day tour of Santa Monica that includes insider tips and fun facts to making the most of your trip.

Begin the tour along Ocean Front Walk. You can soak up the sun as this beachside footpath weaves you through charming cafes and eateries, eventually leading to your first stop, the Santa Monica Pier. This historical landmark boasts the 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel as well as the Pacific Park's roller coaster and nine-story, solar-powered Ferris wheel.

The environment is family-friendly, yet the spectacular ocean view will provide an incredibly romantic experience. Locals even maintain the superstition that if a couple throws a penny together from atop the Ferris wheel, their love will last forever.

After the pier, check out a true California sunset while strolling atop the sandstone bluffs of Palisades Park. Avoid the tourist-trap restaurants. Locals recommend the relaxing beachfront ambience of Rusty's Surf Ranch or the more elegant atmosphere of Ocean Avenue Seafood. These restaurants provide an intimate experience of classic Santa Monica.

After a meal of fresh seafood and drinks, follow this seaside stretch to the lively (and pedestrian-only) Third Street Promenade. This district is host to fabulous dining, alfresco shopping, street performances and a uniquely eclectic nightlife. Locals suggest that you spend most of your shopping time browsing among the boutiques and knick-knack shops.

As you meander through the bustling crowd, it's likely that you will catch a glimpse of at least one celebrity. As for the after-dark activities, this district's venues will satisfy all tastes; ranging from boisterous pubs to posh ocean view lounges.

The lively vibe of Third Street draws a primarily younger crowd, consisting mostly of teens and those in their 20s. The teens stick to straying among the shops and street entertainment as the slightly older kids sample the variety of clubs and bars. This vibrant boulevard is the perfect end to a day in Santa Monica.

  • Kenly Walker

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