I've seen reviews that say Santa Monica Pier is a tourist trap, but as a local who hangs out there regularly, I think the reputation is undeserved. However, there is noting redeeming about about Bubba Gump's. You'll overpay for an unappetizing meal, and for drinks that come with a lame souvenir cup.
Unique Suggestions: For a lot less money you can grab a great hot dog and fries across the way at Pier Burger, or one of the many non-chain restaurants along the bike path.
Well, you absolutely cannot miss this hangout. Though it is quite trite, I recommend coming here to spend a few hours. The strip consists of designer shops and boutiques, more common retail shops, both mundane and exquisite restaurants, bars, a few movie theaters, coffee bars, street performers (and beggars) individual vendors and several bunches of pigeons. A popular and large farmer's market is held on Saturday here as well.
There is a good chance of seeing celebrities here. On one of my last trips, I notice Australian heart-throb/actor Heath Ledger with some shopping bags. I was able to recoginize him though he really mixed in well in the crowd as a typical blond California surfer dude! All sorts of people, famous and regular take a stroll and socialize at this top So Cal hangout.
Unique Suggestions: The best place to park is at the "Place"- that is, Santa Monica Place, which leads to the Promenade. Parking here is free at least for one hour, or possibly two hours. I have to recheck this!
Fun Alternatives: If you are at Third Street , you may as well walk down the other streets like 4th, Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvd for simple pleasures of walking and sights-seeing as well as shopping and dining options.
Penny pressed into a souvenir for 50 cents each. It'd be ideal if one could make it into a key chain or something. As it is, I have no idea what one could use it for :( .
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