A peer at the pier and beyond
The Santa Monica Pier officially turns 100 years old on Sept. 9, and the run-up to the centenary finds the beachside quarter in the middle of a major revamp, with Santa Monica Place being rebuilt and new pools and restaurants popping up. Just in time to cool off the hottest days of the summer season.
For one night, the big band era and a grand 100-foot-wide wooden dance floor reappear on the Santa Monica pier. The La Monica Ballroom, which hosted revelers for decades, will celebrate its reincarnation from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday as part of the popular Twilight Dance Series. The swingin’ Squirrel Nut Zippers are the featured band, so, of course, boas and fedoras are appreciated. Patti Smith closes out the popular free concert series Sept. 3. ( www.santamonicapier.org/twilight.html)
A pool for the people
A mile-and-a-half north of the pier, the Annenberg Community Beach House is a rare treat: a public swimming pool with multimillion-dollar resort-like facilities. The marble and mosaic-tiled pool is all that remains of film star and William Randolph Hearst gal pal Marion Davies’ 1928-built mansion. Lounge around the heated pool, utilize the free Wi-Fi, snack at the rebuilt Back on the Beach Cafe and tour the estate’s restored guesthouse. Reservations are accepted for visits and parking ($8 weekdays, $10 weekends), walk-ins on a space-available basis. Daily passes are $10 for adults, $4 for kids 17 and younger, $5 for seniors. (415 Pacific Coast Highway,  458-4904, www.beachhouse.smgov.net)
Fresh off the farm
Many of Santa Monica’s chefs are at the forefront of the market-to-table culinary movement. At the Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe (1014 Wilshire Blvd.,  451-2311, www.huckleberrycafe.com), where the governor orders egg whites and multigrain toast on occasion, owner Josh Loeb can name the farmer who grew the plums and apricots for wife and baker Zoe Nathan’s stone fruit tarts ($7 each). Fig at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows (101 Wilshire Blvd.,  319-3111, www.figsantamonica.com) is an unconventional hotel restaurant. It opened in February. The restaurant has large glass-paneled doors that open to the pool and ocean breezes, and chef Ray Garcia changes his menu to match the season. Select charcuterie and cheese plates are $5 each at happy hour.
Art Deco remake
The landmark Shangri-la Hotel (1301 Ocean Ave.,  394-2791, www.shangrila-hotel.com) now gleams after a multi-million makeover. Complementing the hotel’s classic Art Deco exterior is a vast, newly built teak deck with pool and cabanas. Social scene is by vet club and bar owner Marc Smith (Edison). Rooms are designer perfect with glass-walled showers, and top-floor suites have views to Malibu. Chef Dakota Weiss, a vet of local hotel dining (Ritz-Carlton Marina, Sunset Tower), recently took over. Lobster Cobb salad ($18) and a rich peanut butter mousse ($9) are among her additions.
While there’s no shortage of watering holes, newcomers include Pourtal (104 Santa Monica Blvd.,  393-7693, www.pourtal.com), a sleek and lively wine bar open to ocean views; Copa d’Oro specializes in of-the-moment cocktails (217 Broadway,  576-3030, www.copadoro.com); and super-casual West 4th/Jane pours more than 100 beers and serves modern pub food (1432A 4th St.,  395-6765, www.west4thjane.com).
Learn more about the city’s history via daily Legends beach bike tours ($35 a person, Blazing Saddles, 320 Santa Monica Pier,  939-0000, www.perryscafe.com/tour.html). Ride with a guide to where the city began (close to the Fairmont’s sprawling Moreton Bay fig tree) and hear about Santa Monica’s Hollywood connections. Beach parking lots fill up early on summer weekends: the Big Blue Bus or biking are smart and eco-friendly alternatives. The beach bike path gets you close to the action, and there’s numerous bike lanes and bike racks citywide. On the nights of Twilight concerts, bike valets are available just south of the pier.