The drive to Santa Monica requires a time investment and patience no matter where you're coming from. In the midst of that eagle-eyed determination to defeat traffic, it's easy to overlook one of the most unique attractions right in the heart of downtown SM: the camera obscura. The old optical contraption is a historical and offbeat place to catch your breath and enjoy a view of one of the best beaches in LA, whether you're waiting for late stragglers to your dinner reservations or trying to find a quiet escape from the pier.
Good for: Peace and quiet, and a unique, peculiar view of the oceanfront.
For that moment when: You realize today wasn't the best day to sunbathe.
Getting there: Just a block over from the pier, the site is walkable from most spots along the ocean and in downtown Santa Monica. Grabbing a parking spot on Ocean Avenue requires a bit of luck, so instead try Structure 2, 5 or 8—your first 90 minutes are free. Alternatively, both Big Blue and Metro buses stop within a block of the rec center.
The camera obscura is lcoated inside of the Senior Recreation Center (1450 Ocean Ave) and is open Monday through Friday, 9am to 3pm, and Saturday, 11am to 4pm.