The Real Southern California: You’ll Like Santa Monica’s Curves

National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott is trekking through the Los Angeles area with his family in search of the real Southern California. This is his fifth dispatch; read the previous one here.

Can anyone write about Santa Monica, California, without bringing up the pier, or the beach, or at the very least, politics? Not me. (I just did.)

But that’s just part of the story. The more time I spend here, the more I appreciate the way this city is designed. And I’m not just referring to the natural form of Santa Monica — the way the cliffs rise from the sand to cradle the city, the way its shoreline curves its way into the Pacific Ocean so effortlessly.

Santa Monica is also well-designed, architecturally. Everywhere you look, there are striking examples of it: The irresistible art deco structures, like our hotel, The Georgian, pictured above. There are also buildings with rich heritage, like the Annenberg Community Beach House, site of the historic Marion Davies Estate.

Waves IT.jpgThe city’s reputation as an architectural hotspot was cemented when Frank Gehry rose to fame after designing his landmark residence in 1978. Gehry also came up with the concept for the city’s mall, Santa Monica Place, which is currently undergoing a transition from an indoor to an outdoor shopping center. Indoor malls were all the rage when it opened in 1980 — today, not so much.

How did the kids handle all this architectural authenticity? Remarkably well.

I just asked my eight-year-old son what he thought of it all, and he said: “It was good.”

Encouraging. Had he not liked it, I would have gotten the typical third-grader reaction (“stupid” or “hated it”.)

In fact, while all three kids may not have marveled at the city’s design, they were plenty impressed with the beach and the pier, and they loved the carousel and Ferris Wheel.

There’s something for everyone in Santa Monica. What more could you ask for?

Photos: Christopher Elliott


  1. Tara
    New York, New York
    August 27, 2011, 1:02 pm

    Santa Monica also has the trendy art gallery, Bergamot Station, which has cool exhibits, and there’s lots of great shopping along the pier too

  2. Shehla Khan
    August 4, 2010, 10:45 pm

    I am from Chicago but have been working in Southern California for past one year and have made numerous trips to Santa Monica Pier and other small beach communities. I have always liked San Francisco so I never thought I would like Southern california as much as I do…..It is way more than the City of Freeways that one hears about. There is a definite culture, and history in lot of and small walking towns…..Amazing architecture and food.

  3. Air Jordan
    July 16, 2010, 12:39 am

    how nice it is,thanks very much