You can blame it on the Jonas Brothers. Lori and I were both fans of their TV series (and the boy disowns us a little more) which was quite often shot in Santa Monica. The opening credits, in particular, featured the Santa Monica pier and the giant ferris wheel out on the end of the dock. We've made plans numerous times to go to Santa Monica before, but for one reason or another, it never worked out. We do tend to be "go with the flow" kind of travelers, but today I was digging in and we were going to make it out to Santa Monica.
If I could figure out how to get there. I don't know why it is, but my GPS and Mapquest never seem to agree. One tells me to take the I5, the other says to go on the 405. I imagine it's a close call distance wise, but in a bizarre kind of logic, I always take the I5 because I'm comfortable driving it in Seattle. I know that makes no sense, but unless you want to come down here and drive us around, that's the system we're going on. Fortunately the system works, and we made it out to Santa Monica without any problems.
The most impressive part of Santa Monica isn't their beautiful beaches, or their great shopping and restaurants. It's their parking garages. I'm not sure who dedicated their days to technological advancements in parking, but here's a big thank you for making our lives (well my life at least) a lot easier. The parking garage has a digital board as you come in telling you how many spaces are free on each level. I've seen that before, but in these garages, as you go up there are seperate readers telling you how many spaces are available in each direction whenever you have to choose which way to go. There are also lights down the middle of the garage for each space which are either red (taken), green (available), or blue (handicapped available) so you don't have to look around for spaces, you can just drive to a green light and pull in. Impressive yes? We still haven't reached the best part. Should you spend a long day shopping in Santa Monica and forget where you parked, you come out to the garage and locate the "Find Your Car" board. You punch in the license plate of your vehicle and the computer shows you a picture of your car, including the stall number that you're parked in. It's absolutely brilliant and I could have turned around right there and called it a successful trip to Santa Monica.
We didn't of course, and out we went to explore the Santa Monica pier. Other than being old (it's 102) the only thing that really differentiates the Santa Monica pier from the other piers along the southern California shoreline is the amusement park at the end of it. Pacific Park has a bunch of rides that are all geared to the 10 and under crowd. Except for their price tag which is geared to the 55 and rich crowd. Each ride was priced at either $3 or $5 making it a little pricey for a family of five, but we decided to give the ferris wheel a try anyways. The view from the ride was fantastic, and when you add in the breeze from the ocean completely refreshing you as it blew in it really did make it worth doing. After we explored the pier for a while we went to check on Santa Monica's other claim to fame...the shopping. 3rd street promenade is where most of the good stuff is, and it's really a pleasant place to shop. The street is closed to traffic and it consists of several blocks of all your usual chain stores and restaurants, with a few entertainment venues thrown in. If you're looking for unique, one of a kind local crafts or items specific to Santa Monica, this probably isn't for you. If you know you're favorite stores and you like to shop in places you're already familiar with, this is where you want to be.
Demonstrating once again that I really don't plan these things, we found ourselves ready to leave Santa Monica right as rush hour kicked in. We decided that instead of trying to cut across the heart of LA on the freeway, we would go up a little bit and take Mulholland Drive across the top of the city. I didn't really know that much about Mulholland Drive other than the fact that there had been both a movie and a roller coaster named after it. I can't explain the movie, but I definitely understand the roller coaster relationship now. This is one of the windiest roads I've driven (I kept thinking it would be perfect for all my motorcycle riding friends) but the real appeal of the road is the view. You're driving along a narrow road that twists and turns between multi-million dollar mansions (some past residents include Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, John Lennon, Vanna White, and Marlon Brando) when suddenly there's an opening and you're looking down over the entire Los Angeles valley. It's amazing this road isn't littered with accidents as it's really hard to keep your eyes on the road with all these gorgeous views popping up around every other corner. There are pullouts if you are so inclined, but the pace of the road is quick and it seems that the main people using the road aren't tourists but rather your stereotypical "I'm late for a meeting" Beverly Hills drivers. Still after pulling over to let a BMW, a Mercedes, and a really crazy cyclist pass, we made it back over to the good old familiar I5 and headed back to Orange County. Where we had to park in a boring old surface lot with no digital signage at all. Sigh.