If you want to understand the history of Los Angeles through its roads, the place to start is undoubtedly Santa Monica Boulevard. The historic street, which extends from Silver Lake on the east side of the city all the way to the Pacific Ocean, also intersects with the famed Route 66.
Santa Monica Boulevard stretches almost 15 miles, and along the way you’ll discover iconic places to eat, sleep, drink, and gawk at that make up LA’s past and present. Running from east to west, the road traverses through the hip part of Silver Lake, around Hollywood and West Hollywood, into the middle of Beverly Hills, and ends at the Santa Monica Pier.
Route 66 was originally constructed in 1926 and ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and has been featured in famous songs, TV shows, movies, and literature. The route was also shared by LA’s former famous Red Cars, a cable-car system that ran from the early 1900s until after WWII but was slowly dismantled over time (watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for a fictional telling of this sad story).
So, buckle up, because it’s time for another road trip through LA – this one through memory lane along Santa Monica Boulevard.
What to See and Do
Hollywood Forever Cemetery: Built in 1899, LA’s most famous cemetery is the final resting place of Hollywood’s entertainment royalty. Everyone from Johnny Ramone, Mickey Rooney, and Rudolph Valentino to Estelle Getty, Judy Garland, and Peter Lorre can be found among the headstones. If you’re a fan of the macabre, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery features events during the summer that include concerts and movie screenings under the stars. Watch out for ghosts.
West Hollywood Memorial Walk: Built as a tribute to lives lost by the HIV/AIDS crisis, the West Hollywood Memorial Walk was erected in 1993 and features more than 150 plaques (and counting) to commemorate those who have passed away. The plaques are embedded on the sidewalks of Santa Monica Boulevard between Robertson Boulevard and Crescent Heights Boulevard.
Santa Monica Pier: Since 1909, the Santa Monica Pier has been a must-stop tourist spot in the city. Today, the Pier features a solar powered Ferris Wheel, rollercoasters, kitschy street food, and the end of the trail sign for Route 66.
3rd Street Promenade: If you’re into outdoor shopping, this pedestrian only street is for you. Built in 1965, the 3rd Street Promenade is lousy with restaurants, shops, and art.
Camera Obscura: The Camera Obscura Art Lab was built in 1898 and has had a permanent home just off the pier since 1955. Visitors can enter the lab and see ancient camera technology at work with an obscure view of Ocean Avenue just outside.
Palisades Park: The city of Santa Monica sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and the best views come from Palisades Park. Built in 1892, this 1.5-mile-long narrow greenspace features windy walkways, eucalyptus trees, and multi-million-dollar views.
Original Muscle Beach: While it’s not as famous as its Venice Boardwalk counterpart, the Original Muscle Beach dates to the 1930s and is still used by body-builders off the Santa Monica Pier to this day.
Beverly Gardens Park: Opened in 1911, the Beverly Gardens Park is a two-mile stretch of art and greenery that flanks the shopping streets of Beverly Hills. Twice a year here, there’s the Beverly Hills artSHOW which showcases the work of artists from around the country. Instagram snappers will also find prime spots for their followers at the Lily Pond and the original Beverly Hills sign.
Golden Triangle: Shopping enthusiasts have their Mecca at the Golden Triangle in Beverly Hills. Between the streets of South Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard, and Cañon Drive are the glitzy shops that make Beverly Hills famous. This is where you’ll find Rodeo Drive, which gained its fancy notoriety in the 1970s.
Circus of Books: Open since 1960, Circus is the go-to for LGBTQ books, magazines, and loads of adult paraphernalia.
What to Eat
Dan Tana’s: More than 50 years old, this classic red-sauce Italian restaurant is where you go for celebrity sightings and mouthwatering chicken parmesan.
Santa Monica Farmers Market: Where LA’s best chefs come to play, the Santa Monica Farmers Market is open every Wednesday and Saturday and features the best that LA’s local farm community grows during the week. It first opened in 1981.
Barney’s Beanery: Opened in 1927, Barney’s Beanery was once a famous truck stop along Route 66 and is now a hangout for sports fans and bar food.
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery: Since 1925, Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery has been serving Angeleno’s the best sandwiches in the city. This is the birthplace of the Godmother, a sandwich made with prosciutto, ham, capicola, mortadella, Genoa salami and provolone cheese.
Nate’n Al’s: Beginning in 1945, this classic Jewish deli has proudly served the denizens of Beverly Hills. Today, it’s still slinging classic breakfast and lunch treats with a side of celebrity spotting.
Georgian Hotel: Built in 1933, this Art-Deco icon was once a prohibition-era watering hole to gangsters like Bugsy Siegel and stars like Clark Gable. Today, their Veranda Restaurant offers indoor/outdoor seating for watching the sun set while sipping on (legal) signature cocktails.
Ye Olde King’s Head: If you want fish and chips and cold brews, this English Pub has been serving up UK cuisine and drinks since 1974.
The Misfit: At the base of the historic Santa Monica Clock Tower that was built in 1929, The Misfit is a classic cocktail joint with a stellar happy hour.
The Troubadour: West Hollywood’s most famous music venue opened in 1957, and has showcased everyone from Elton John and Carole King to Alicia Keys and Mumford and Sons.
The Abbey: Since 1991, The Abbey has been a LGBTQ+ institution in West Hollywood. Come here to drink, dance, and eat to celebrate pride in every way imaginable.
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