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Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

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My final day in California was timing out perfectly.  I avoided traffic jams and made it to Santa Monica with about a half-hour to spare before sunset.  That gave me just enough time to park my car downtown and walk out to the famous Santa Monica Pier.

During my first visit to Santa Monica in 2004, I figured out that I could park for free in the garage at Santa Monica Place Shopping Center.  From there, it’s a quick stroll out to the Third Street Promenade (a pedestrian mall lined with stores and restaurants), and just a bit further to Ocean Avenue, and the linear park that overlooks the coast.

Parking in the lot below the pier will save you a walk, but it will also cost you between $6 and $10.  The rates change without warning, according to the Pacific Park website.

The park is perched on a bluff above the Pacific Coast Highway, and the I-10 tunnel, which runs directly underneath the park.

Nowadays, Santa Monica marks the western end of the Interstate 10 freeway, which stretches 2,460 miles (3,959 kilometers) to Jacksonville, Florida.  But in the past, it also marked the end of US 66, the famed highway from Chicago to Los Angeles.

From Ocean Avenue, you’ll see the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier.  Walk over the hump and out onto the pier.  Admission is free.

At the far end of the pier, you’ll have a great view back towards Santa Monica…

… and an even better view of the sunset.  Behind my feet, you can see the mountains above Malibu, where this trip began, nine days earlier.

Watching the sun set while standing on the Santa Monica Pier was a magical experience, which I shared with a few hundred strangers.  A street performer sang, “Hallelujah”…

… as the sun appeared out of the clouds, then quickly disappeared below the horizon.  A perfectly timed sailboat drifted by.  It was, indeed, fantastic.

I lingered for a few minutes after the sun disappeared…

… then turned my attention to the pier itself.  The Ferris wheel at Pacific Park (the small amusement park on the pier) has been upgraded since my 2004 visit, with a computer-controlled light display…

… that’s constantly changing.  It even makes the wheel look like it’s spinning, when it’s standing still.  Photographers will have a lot of fun shooting it!

The Pacific Wheel is the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel.  160,000 LED lights are used to create all those colorful patterns.  The Pacific Wheel is 130 feet high, and turns 2 and a half times per minute.

You can ride the Pacific Wheel, the West Coaster, or ten other rides at Pacific Park.  Unlimited ride wristbands are available for $22 (age 8 and up) or $16 (age 7 and younger).  Check the Pacific Park website for current rates and operating hours.

As you leave the pier, don’t forget to take a picture of the familiar sign that welcomes visitors to the Santa Monica Pier.  In this case, though, the sign was saying goodbye to me, and I had to say farewell to the Pacific Ocean.  All that remained of my vacation was a quick dinner, and the drive to LAX.

This vacation’s total: 1,815 miles.

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