The Santa Monica Pier, with its iconic blue archway, is one of the most famous and historic attractions in Santa Monica. Jutting out from Santa Monica Beach into the Pacific Ocean, the hundred-year-old pier is actually made up of two adjoining piers. The first was built in 1909 for purely practical reasons—carrying sewage pipes—and the second was built adjoining the first in 1916 by Charles I.D. Looff and his son, amusement park pioneers.
A walk along the pier in Santa Monica is filled with fun things to do. The Hippodrome Carousel is a National Historic Landmark, built by Looff in 1922, and each of the carousel's 44 horses is hand-carved. Fishing is permitted from the pier without a license, and fishing bait and equipment can be rented at the end of the pier. The aquarium is located under Santa Monica Pier, and it offers exhibits, activities, and educational programs to the public. Here visitors can see 104 species, including the California moray eel, sharks, octopuses, and many other marine animals.
Right by the Santa Monica Pier is the family-oriented amusement park, Pacific Park, which is one of the few free admission amusement parks left in California; visitors pay per ride on the park's myriad attractions. A favorite ride is the landmark Santa Monica Ferris wheel, which was recently replaced by a new solar-powered version, this one fitted with energy-efficient LED lights, after the classic wheel was auctioned to raise money for Special Olympics in Southern California. A ride on this nine-story wheel offers views of the Pacific Ocean in a unique setting, and the Santa Monica Ferris wheel remains one of the distinctive features of the city.
During the summer, visitors can participate in the annual Twilight Dance Series and the pier in Santa Monica. Every Thursday at 7 pm, live bands play at the Santa Monica Pier—past performers have included such names as the Indigo Girls and Patti Smith, as well as other talent from around the world. As the music plays, fans and tourists get to their feet and move to the rhythm. Often during the summer, free dance lessons are also held at the Santa Monica Pier, evoking memories of the classic Santa Monica Ballroom (known as La Monica), a venue by the pier where big names in Western Swing such as Spade Cooley once played.
Close to the pier in Santa Monica are many hotels, including distinctive landmarks such as the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, the Shangri-La, and the Casa Del Mar. Restaurants and the Third Street Promenade shopping area are also within easy walking distance of the pier. A visit to the city—and to Southern California in general—is not complete without a visit to the famous pier and the Santa Monica Ferris wheel.