Santa Monica

Today was a travel day. My flight was at 1.30pm, so I had booked a shuttle bus for 11am. I’d packed most of my stuff the night before, so once I’d finished packing in the morning I went downstairs and joined the queue at the cafe for breakfast. Since my breaky was covered by a credit back to my room, I thought I should probably eat before checking out.

I think a lot of other people must have had the breakfast credit as well because the queue for the cafe was about 15 minutes long. It was tricky manoeuvring my suitcase with all the people, but I couldn’t be bothered dropping it off with the hotel staff then going back to collect it after breaky. I had an egg, bacon and cheese croissant today (they had two breakfast specialties – egg, bacon and cheese bagel or croissant).

After breaky, I went to the express checkout to avoid the crazy queues at the counter, then walked to the shuttle bus pick up. As with the Grand Canyon tour, for some reason the shuttle bus wasn’t able to get me from the front of the hotel. Instead I had to walk out the back past the pool, and around the corner where there was a small shelter and shuttle bus pickup / drop off area. There was a sign there saying that they were about to start a project to improve the area, so maybe the hotel just doesn’t have the facilities for that much traffic.

Waiting for the shuttle bus
Waiting for the shuttle bus

When I got there, I was the only person waiting at the shelter. I wasn’t sure if I had the right place, but the restaurant across the road was the one they had told me to wait near so I thought I must at least be close and would see the bus if it parked across the road or somewhere else nearby. After about 10 minutes another guy came sat next to me. He was waiting for a different shuttle company. Over the next 30 minutes, about 8 different vans arrived, three of which were my company. Unfortunatley, none of them were taking passengers, they were just doing drop offs.

I was starting to get a bit anxious because the bus was about 15 minutes late and none of the drivers who were doing drop offs were able to tell me what was happening with my van. Just as I called through to find out what was happening, the bus came around the corner. Fortunately the bus didn’t need to stop for anyone else and it was only a 10 minute ride to the airport. The driver asked me for my voucher, but I didn’t have one – just my booking reference number. This was the first of the shuttle buses that had taken payment prior to picking me up! She had to call through to the base to check it was ok, and they were able to find my reservation.

Next step was check in at the airport. This was the cheapest flight for the whole trip, costing only $43! The downside was that that didn’t include any luggage – not even my back pack according to the Spirit Airlines website. I purchased checked baggage for $25 when I bought the ticket, then had to spend another $40 for carry on luggage because according to their website my backpack was too tall.

When I got to the airport I had to use the self serve check in machine because I wasn’t able to print my boarding pass at the hotel and they didn’t email me a boarding pass. At the check in machine the wording suggested my back pack was actually free! When I went up to the counter with my bags, I put my suitcase on the scales and smiled at the lady because I was 48 pounds – 2 pounds under the 50 pound limit. She looked at me funny then said that I was over by 8 pounds. It turns out Spirit have a lower limit than all the other airlines in America and only allow 40 pounds in their $25 checked baggage.

After I explained I’d paid for my back pack and could move some things across she told me that I didn’t need to pay for the back pack because it would fit under the seat. I told her about the wording on the website, but there was nothing she could do because I’d already paid for it online. At least she didn’t charge me the excess baggage feel (although that was only $20 so would’ve worked out cheaper…) Overall I wasn’t very impressed and wouldn’t recommend flying with Spirit.

After that the flight itself was ok, and I arrived at LAX on time. As we flew into the city I noticed that it was very smoggy. Part of the flight was over desert and mountains which were very clear, so it was a huge contrast as we came closer to the city.

The next challenge as getting to the apartment. I found a shuttle bus and was on the road by 3pm. The problem was that the driver didn’t know how to use his GPS. There were four people to be dropped off, and he kept clearing the other addresses from the GPS. He ended up missing turns and going in the complete wrong direction. After about 2 hours of driving around, I used my phone to direct him to the apartment. The other three people were still in the van, so I have no idea how much longer he was driving them around for. Something I noticed as we were driving was that some cars have a shared brake light and indicator. If they’re stopped, the break light is on but rather than having an indicator the break light would be flashing brighter. It made it a bit confusing when looking at cars to work out if it’s safe to cross the road.

I was staying in an apartment in Santa Monica that I’d found on AirBnB. A couple live there and have a spare bedroom with private bathroom that they rent out. I was a bit unsure about staying with people I didn’t know, but it was good value and I felt more comfortable doing that than staying in an apartment like that with no-one else around at all. I was able to lock the bedroom door from the inside so felt safe at night, and it was good coming home each night to an apartment where there were other people around (although I didn’t see them again after the first day).

Josh was there when I arrive and showed me around the apartment and gave me a key. He was really welcoming, telling me to help myself to anything in the kitchen. It was also a really convenient location, only a 5 minute walk from the beach, and about 10 minutes walk from the Santa Monica Pier. After I’d settled in, I grabbed my backpack and made my way towards the beach.

Mural near the apartment
Mural near the apartment

My initial impressions of Santa Monica were that it was a bit like Sorrento and Portsea – shops and cafes, in a relaxed beach atmosphere. I hadn’t really had a proper lunch, so I found a small food stall near the beach and ordered some chips. I sat on the edge of the beach, reading up on Lonely Planet while I ate.

A snack by the beach
A snack by the beach

With all the driving around from the airport, it was already getting late, so I decided to just check out the local area. It was also pretty cold, with the sun behind clouds and a chilly breeze blowing.

The beach at Santa Monica is very wide, and unlike our beaches which are normally just clear sand, this one had various activities set up on it, like volley ball courts with nets for hire. There’s a bike track and walking path which winds along the beach as well, and there’s a section with gymnastic equipment and ropes for climbing. It was really cool to see so many people using the beach in so many different ways. There were also some very interesting people cruising along the bike track – both young and old, walking, running, skateboarding, cycling and roller blading!

I moseyed along the beach towards the pier, just checking out the people. It was a very fun and relaxed vibe.

The pier is really big, featuring a few restaurants, a theme park and arcade and an area for fishermen. It mostly younger kids, and there were a couple of birthday parties in the marquee. When I saw the rides up close it was clear why there were so many younger kids – it was definitely aimed at families. There’s a roller coaster, ferris wheel and other rides, and a lot of arcade games with prizes.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

I spent some time wandering through the theme park then walked out to the end of the pier where a busker was performing. I sat on the seats there watching for a while and just enjoying the view until it started to get a bit chilly.

Looking back at Santa Monica from the Pier
Looking back at Santa Monica from the Pier

I meandered back up the pier looking for somewhere to eat. There were a couple of seafood places, but I wasn’t keen. Then I found a chilled placed call Big Dean’s Oceanfront Cafe. It was right on the boardwalk, and had lots of tables outside looking out towards the beach. I settled down with a beer and fish and chips, and spent an hour or two just relaxing there. It was a great place to just hang out.

After dinner I walked up towards the main strip to check out what was there. The main street is closed off to cars. There are lots of restaurants and cafes, and every 50 metres or so there was a busker or performer doing some kind of show or playing music or singing.  It was a lot of fun just walking along and enjoying the atmosphere.

A daphne dinosaur in the Santa Monica arcade
A daphne dinosaur in the Santa Monica arcade

About 11pm I decided to head back to the apartment and get ready for the next day of adventures. I’d managed to walk from the apartment to the pier throughout the afternoon, so I didn’t think it was too far and decided to walk back. In the end it took almost half an hour. Time seems to go a lot quicker walking along the beach than on the road. I guess I stopped a lot on the way out too so it made it hard to judge just how far the walk really was. By the time I realised how far it, I’d already come too far and it was hard to get a taxi so I just walked all the way. I decided that next time I’d get a cab though.

So after a rocky start with the checked luggage and shuttle bus, I had a nice first afternoon in Santa Monica. My accommodation was good, the hosts friendly and the location handy. I was glad I’d decided to stay in Santa Monica. My rough plan for the next day was to explore Hollywood, but I decided to work through the details at breaky and get a good night’s sleep.

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