Santa Monica Beach, with a power-up option

A wide spiral stairway crosses over Pacific Coast Hghway and onto the bluffs above the beach.
A wide spiral stairway crosses over Pacific Coast Hghway and onto the bluffs above the beach.
(Bret Hartman / Los Angeles Times)

This beach-and-bluffs walk in Santa Monica is a great way to soak up some scenery, take in some salty air and learn a little local history. It can be a gentle walk or a generous workout — depending on whether you use any (or all!) of the four massive staircases that connect the top of the walk to the bottom.

1. Start your walk from the top of the Santa Monica Pier, at the corner of Ocean and Colorado avenues. Join the tourists walking onto the pier, toward the vintage carousel, where Paul Newman worked in “The Sting.” Find the staircase to the left of the carousel that drops down to Ocean Front Walk and head north — that is, with the ocean on your left.

2. Watch out for cyclists, skaters and joggers. Parts of Ocean Front Walk double as a bike path, part of the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail that runs from Pacific Palisades to Redondo Beach and beyond.

More from L.A. Walks: Explore Los Angeles by foot


3. Continue until you are almost a mile from the pier. Watch for a big parking lot on your right, next to a cement-and-steel spiral staircase that crosses over Pacific Coast Highway. Climb it all the way to Palisades Park.

4. Turn south at Palisades Park and enjoy the sea breezes and the shade from century-old palm, pine, eucalyptus and Australian tea trees (the twisted ones that grow low to the ground) as you walk along the bluffs. There’s a lot to see, including a memorial to the military, a pair of Civil War cannons, a monument to Will Rogers and a heart-shaped plot of grass surrounding the 1935 Works Project Administration statue of St. Monica.

5. The first of your extra-credit staircase options comes near Ocean Avenue’s intersection with Idaho Avenue. The next two will be near the intersection with Arizona Avenue, and halfway between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway.

6. Pause to appreciate the historic Camera Obscura (the first version installed in 1901) and the shuffleboard courts recently repurposed — a sign of the times — into boccie ball courts. Continue south and finish your walk back at the top of the pier.


Fleming is the author of “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles.”

The stats

Distance: 2.5 miles without stairs, 3 miles with stairs
1 hour without stairs, 1.5 hours with stairs
2 on scale of 1-5 without stairs, 4 with stairs
Dogs on a leash are OK. Parking at the pier, on nearby streets and in public Santa Monica lots. Bus: Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus lines 1, 7 and 10, or Metro lines 20 and 534.


View larger map on