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Insider Guide: Santa Monica

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Why Go: With its sun-drenched beaches, historic pier and pedestrian-friendly streets, Santa Monica is one of LA’s most family-friendly neighborhoods. Once you park at the beach or pier, chances are you won’t need your car to get around. And why would you want to when you can enjoy fresh air and ocean breezes strolling or bicycling along the boardwalk and city streets. Here are some of the many things you can do with your kids in Santa Monica.

Sleep

Best kid-friendly hotels:

Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel (1700 Ocean Avenue Santa Monica; 866-563-9792). Steps from the beach and near world-class restaurants and shops, the luxurious hotel pampers families. The Loews Loves Kids, and Teens Too program welcomes ages 10 and under with toys, books, car seats and other handy items, while tweens and teens get music download cards and access to a lending library of Gameboys, DVD players and more.

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DoubleTree Suites by Hilton (1707 4th Street; 319-395-3332). Three blocks from the beach gets your family more living space at lower rates. Two-room suites, two flat screen TVs and a wet bar with microwave, refrigerator and coffeemaker provide the comforts of home.

Get Your Bearings

Home to about 90,000 residents including celebrities, professionals, families and students, Santa Monica is bordered by Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Venice. It’s a trendy, eco-friendly coastal city with three shopping districts and numerous restaurants.

Getting around:

Walk or ride bikes around town to see outdoor murals, sculptures, sea walls and statuaries. The city runs its own bus service — the Big Blue Bus — which provides local transportation as well as to the Greater LA area.

Fun family tours:

See the sights on narrated tours with Starline Tours, Santa Monica Conservancy Walking Tours and Pedal…Or Not Electric Bicycle Tours.

Soak Up the Local Scene

Best kid-friendly beach:

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Santa Monica State Beach. With three miles of wide sandy beaches, there’s plenty of space to surf, swim, ride boogie boards, build sandcastles and play volleyball. There’s also a children’s play area with swings. Beach amenities, including skate, bike, surf board and all-terrain wheelchair rentals, food concessions, showers and restrooms.

Best kid-friendly attraction:

Santa Monica Pier. Built in 1909, the historic pier marks the official finish line for Route 66 and anchors several fun attractions and restaurants. Pacific Park is home to the nine-story, solar-powered Pacific Wheel, rides and trapeze school. Housed inside the Looff Hippodrome is a hand-carved carousel. Located at beach level is the small but fascinating Heal the Bay Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Most scenic walk:

Ocean Front Walk. Extending south from the pier, the paved footpath has shops and restaurants. Kids can play in a small playground with a concrete ship and dragon’s head. The original Muscle Beach (not the one in Venice) has a small jungle gym for kids. Across from Muscle Beach is the International Chess Park. Bring your own chess pieces to start a match or watch serious players compete on permanent chess boards embossed on picnic tables.

Best playgrounds:

Clover Park. Kids will forget they’re not at the beach at this aviation-themed playground complete with an observation tower, flight seat, telephone tubes and flight graphics. Amenities include picnic tables and restrooms.

The Cove Skatepark. Kids ages 6 and older, can ride skateboards or bikes on ramps, bowls, stairs and other challenging features.

Most scenic park:

Palisades Park. Located on sandstone bluffs, the 26.4-acre park overlooks the Pacific and has a visitor’s kiosk, picnic areas, benches, a rose garden and a totem pole. Workshops and cultural festivals take place here throughout the year.

Best family-friendly historical site:

Annenberg Community Beach House. The kids will just care about the pool and children’s play area, but the public facility is the former estate of actress Marion Davies. She and William Randolph Hearst hosted numerous parties attended by Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and other celebrities. There’s also a gallery, café, view deck, volleyball courts and guest house.

Most Family-Friendly Shopping District:

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Third Street Promenade. Third Street is closed to vehicles for three blocks to allow pedestrians to stroll, eat, shop and enjoy street performers. Kiddie shops include the Puzzle Zoo, which carries an assortment of puzzles, books and toys.

Best Farmers Markets:

Four Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets. Sample freshly prepared food and buy locally grown fruits and veggies as well as artisan cheeses, meats and baked goods. Mingle with chefs who shop for their goods at the markets. Families will especially love the Sunday Farmers Market, featuring weekly musical entertainment as well as children’s face painting, balloon designs, a petting farm and pony rides.

Dining

Best kid-friendly restaurants:

Pier Burger. The budget-friendly eatery serves breakfast burgers, classic burgers and waffle cones.

Rusty’s Surf Ranch. Serving a variety of salads, sandwiches and seafood, there’s something to satisfy all palates.

Marisaol Cocina Mexicana. Enjoy traditional Mexican cuisine and margaritas. Kids 10 and under can choose from tacos, quesadillas and burritos on the children’s menu.

Soda Jerks. Thick shakes, rich ice cream sundaes and hand-pumped sodas are meals in themselves!

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The Lobster. Located at the entrance to the pier, the restaurant serves fresh seafood as well as other dishes.

Hot Dog on a Stick. Adjacent to the pier, the original hot dog stand has a simple but kid-pleasing menu of hot dogs or cheese (pepper jack or American) on a stick and cold, tangy lemonade.

The Counter. Not by the beach, but you can build your own burger in this casual eatery. Choose from beef, turkey, chicken or veggie and then select your cheeses, toppings and sauces.

Mimi Slawoff, a Los Angeles-based journalist, contributed this to MiniTime.

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