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Catch a wave, get some rays, and hit the boardwalk in Santa Monica

SmarterTravel

Every year, thousands of travelers descend upon Los Angeles to enjoy the weather and catch a glimpse of a Hollywood celebrity. Greater Los Angeles County is huge, so choosing a base from which to explore can be an adventure in itself. However, for the money and entertainment value, it’s hard to beat Santa Monica.

This town has a little bit of everything for everyone. It’s also within walking distance of hot spots like Venice and Marina Del Rey, meaning that you can skip driving and avoid the horror that is L.A. traffic.

How to get there

The closest major airport to Santa Monica is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). You can find student fares to LAX through student travel agencies, but you can often get cheaper tickets through sites such as Expedia or directly though the airlines. Depending on your travel dates, expect round-trip fares from the East Coast to cost $225 to $300 including taxes. To get to Santa Monica from LAX the cheap way, take the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus for a mere 50 cents. The ride takes anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes.

Where to stay

Santa Monica’s Hostelling International location (1436 Second St.) is smack in the middle of all the action. Per-night rates are $25 for members ($28 for nonmembers) in a four- to 10-person dorm room. Travelers will also find a number of cheap options just a couple of miles away in Venice, although some areas there can be sketchy at night.

What to do

Visit SantaMonica.com for an overview of the area’s beaches, attractions, restaurants, shops, and events. If the water is your main draw, there is no shortage of beach-related activities. Those who want to learn how to ride the waves can get lessons from Quiksilver or many other surf camps. You can also let your inner athlete out on the volleyball courts dotting the beach. Or, if you’d rather cruise the boardwalk, vendors offer bike, scooter, and rollerblade rentals.

Santa Monica Pier is the town’s star attraction. Relive childhood memories by riding the Ferris wheel or playing a round of mini-golf at the pier’s amusement park. A $20 wristband gives you unlimited rides, or you can buy individual tickets for each ride. Live bands also play nightly, and shutterbugs will appreciate the pier’s clear view of the sunset and mountains on the horizon.

For shopping, you can’t beat the Third Street Promenade. This pedestrian-only, open-air marketplace features a number of movie theaters, restaurants, shops, and street entertainment. Every Wednesday and Saturday there’s a farmer’s market where you can load up on fresh fruits and veggies. It’s also a prime spot for people watching.

If you’re into high fashion, boutiques, and celebrity sightings, pop on over to Montana Avenue, which is Santa Monica’s answer to Rodeo Drive. It’s not quite as elite and expensive, but the shops are more upscale and eclectic than the stores on Third Street.

Just a short walk away lies Venice, home to tattoo and piercing shops and vendors selling T-shirts, local art, and other trinkets. If you’re tired of shopping, you can always count on a barrage of street performers cluttering up the boardwalk. The turbaned electric guitar player on rollerblades is usually around, as is the guy who walks on broken glass for cash. Plus, nothing spells entertainment like gawking at the tanned, oiled hard bodies at Muscle Beach. Originally located in Santa Monica, the present-day Muscle Beach in Venice is much more modern with machines and free weights.

Venice isn’t just cheap goods and street performers. Not far from the beach you can find million-dollar homes overlooking the famed Venice canals. Movie fans also have a decent chance of seeing some of the famous faces that call Venice home.

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