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Beach Trip

By Kevin Wing
Co-Host, Catch a Wave: A Journey to California’s 10 Best Beaches

Kevin Wing(Editor’s Note: This monthly column about America’s best beaches is written exclusively for AARisings by Kevin Wing, an Emmy Award-winning San Francisco Bay Area-based television journalist who co-hosts Catch a Wave: A Journey to California’s 10 Best Beaches, a television pilot for The Travel Channel. Kevin is also a feature reporter for the nationally syndicated LatinEyes, produced at KRON-TV in San Francisco. Where are we this month? Summer’s almost over, and what better way to spend it in sunny southern California than at Santa Monica Beach!)

Unfortunately for me, my favorite time of year – summer – is almost over. I’ve always loved summertime. I love the warm summer months that always, somehow, coerce me into hopping in the car and finding my way to the beach. It could be Santa Cruz. Or Carmel. San Francisco’s Baker Beach comes to mind, too. But, no matter. Somehow, I get myself there to catch my surf-and-sand fix. That kind of crazy fixation of the California coast has been a big part of me for a long time. Hey, I’m from California! It’s in my blood.

That said, it’s only natural that I want to tell you about another favorite California beach of mine.

It’s Santa Monica Beach. To me, it’s the best, most fun beach in Los Angeles. It’s only minutes from Hollywood and downtown L.A., and very close to neighboring Malibu and Venice, too. It’s a destination beach, so expect it to be crowded with tourists and locals, notably on weekends.

Like Santa Cruz several hundred miles to the north, Santa Monica Beach – and its famous pier with its well-known arched neon sign that reads “Santa Monica Yacht Harbor – Sport Fishing – Boating – Cafes”, is like the Coney Island of California. Three miles of gorgeous beach, fronting Santa Monica Bay, complete with a colorful pier with an amusement park theme. Hard to beat. It’s pretty easy to find, too. It’s been the western terminus of the famous old Route 66 for generations. Route 66, of course, no longer exists, and here in Santa Monica, it’s now called Santa Monica Boulevard. Nevertheless, drive west on Santa Monica Boulevard and you drive right to the Pacific.

The beach itself is always popular, almost year-round, even on cold days. Santa Monica Beach extends south from Will Rogers State Beach. Aside from it being about three miles long, it’s also a very wide beach, in dimension. Imagine several football fields wide. So, on warm weekend afternoons, when you can’t see any sand because you’re looking at wall-to-wall sunbathers, you can count yourself among the throngs of visitors who had the exact same idea as you.

When we were filming the pilot for Catch a Wave, we chose Santa Monica Beach as one of the locales to be featured in the top 10 beaches of California, and made it an important part of the pilot. With the Santa Monica Pier as its centerpiece, Santa Monica Beach has an appeal that’s wide-ranging. Kids and grown-ups alike love this place.

If you want to get off the sand for awhile, the perfect place to head to is Santa Monica Pier. Originally built in 1874, it’s a slice of Americana that you won’t see anywhere else in California. The pier – along with the Pacific Park theme-park area on the pier – is a colorful menagerie of gaming arcades, T-shirt vendors, restaurants and fast-food spots. There’s also the usual amusement park fare, like Skee-ball, bumper cars, rocking horses and a carousel.

At Pacific Park, spy the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel. And, it’s a big one. Actually, it’s not your typically-designed Ferris wheel. The cars are more like buckets, with umbrellas above the seating area, with enough room to accommodate at least four riders per car. There’s also a rollercoaster and many other rides to be challenged by.

Another appeal to Santa Monica Beach is the Promenade, a smooth, wide sidewalk that stretches from the beach south to Venice Beach. It’s wide enough to accommodate walkers, cyclists, joggers and in-line skaters. Not far from the Pier is the world’s first Hot Dog On A Stick stand. Built in 1946, it still serves up ice-cold lemonade, corndogs and more -- but at 2005 prices. There’s still a lot of charm in the place, and the food and drink are worth every penny.

Also not far from the Pier is the original Muscle Beach. For more than 70 years, men and women have hoist barbells in the hot southern California sunshine, while most everyone else crowds around in awe.

Up and down the Promenade are shops, restaurants and purveyors of every type. One place to check out is the Sea Mist Skate and Bike Rental shop. It’s a good place to rent some wheels for the day and a chance to meet up with Tom, the colorful owner of the place for more than 35 years.

Recognize Santa Monica Beach, or the Pier, even though you’ve never been there? Chances are you’ve seen this little corner of California beach heaven on TV and in movies. Many TV viewers will recognize the Pier in the opening credits from the popular 1970s comedy series, Three’s Company. Yes, it’s the same place that John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers strolled down, arm and arm. The Pier has changed some in the last 25 years, but you can still make it out in reruns. Remember the beach flicks of the 1960s? Many of them were filmed on Santa Monica Beach, including Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Beach Party (1963), the first of many Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello sagas.

Santa Monica Beach is a great place to visit. It’s where the heart and soul of L.A. comes to have fun in the summer. And, the beach’s namesake – Santa Monica – is a nice place to visit and live, too. It’s definitely worth a trip, if only for one day. Whenever I hum the Beach Boys song, Catch a Wave, I not only think of my show of the same name and how fortunate I am to be a part of it, but I also think of Santa Monica Beach. A colorful patch of sand that’s proud of its heritage and still hip in the 21st century with just about everyone.

How to get to the beach: To get to Santa Monica Beach from downtown Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport, head west on Interstate 10 (the Santa Monica Freeway) until it ends at Highway 1. Follow the signs to the beach. Another way to get there is to head west on Santa Monica Boulevard (Highway 2), which slices you right through the heart of this community until it drops you off at the ocean.

Next month from Beach Trip: Northern California’s Carmel Beach is a feast for the eyes. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful beaches and is an important part of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a coastal hamlet that’s been a favorite of travelers – and locals – for generations. You’ll discover why people find it so special, in October.

After that: So what if summer’s almost over. There is a lot more in store in future installments of Beach Trip. Coming in December, get ready to cross the Pacific for a visit to Makena Beach on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. Then, in January 2006, Kevin proudly brings you to his Bay Area stomping grounds for a visit to Baker Beach in the world’s greatest city – San Francisco. With a picturesque view and a one-of-a-kind backdrop of the world’s most famous suspension bridge – the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s hard to beat.

To learn more about the Catch a Wave television show and Kevin Wing, go to www.catchawavetv.com. You can email Kevin and the Catch a Wave crew at catchawavetvshow@aol.com.

Copyright 2005
All Rights Reserved
Kevin Wing
American Travelers Television
Issue 5 / October 2005

Archive:
August 2005
June 2005
April 2005
February 2005


Photo used by permission courtesy of Kevin Wing. Photo copyright by Kevin Wing.