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All you’ll wanna do is have some fun on Santa Monica boulevard

TravelBy Denise Smith
Denise enjoying the sun in Santa Monica
Denise enjoying the sun in Santa Monica
It's always busy here - and buzzing
It's always busy here - and buzzing

I AM strapped into a safety harness 20 feet off the ground; beneath me, a wire net is positioned to cushion my fall.

On the ground below, a peppy blonde instructor is shouting instructions at me at lightning speed: “Stick your butt out, bend your knees.”

Breathing in the tangy ocean breeze, I’ve never been more certain; I’m about to die...

I’m about to attempt flying trapeze.

Steadying myself on the high-rise platform, I take in a group of beach-goers in the distance who dive and dance towards a white net in the sand as they spike volleyballs in the air.

To my left, I hear the whir of Santa Monica’s iconic solar-powered Ferris wheel as its gleeful riders take in a 360-degree view of the white sands and rolling, far-off mountains that perch on the Pacific.

Trapeze swing in hand, could there be a better way to take in the view?

The New York Trapeze school is situated on Santa Monica’s iconic pier, which extends almost 2,000 feet into frothy turquoise waters.

The acrobatic school is but one of the pier’s many attractions. A roller coaster and the world-famous Ferris wheel are open 365 days of the year, all of which are framed by the iconic arched neon gateway that greets visitors before they venture on to the 103-year-old wooden jetty.

My acrobatic skills have never gone further than a tumble, so the instructors were adamant that we start with the basics. There was only one problem: the basics didn’t appear to be all that ‘basic’.

Aside from clinging on to a trapeze bar and convincing yourself to jump towards the ground beneath you, our coaches were also convinced that we could manage a more complicated manoeuvre. It involved hitching our legs over the trapeze bar mid-flight, while simultaneously removing our hands. It’s called a knee hang.

Denise takes a load off at the pier

On my first attempt my legs failed and my upper body crumpled, like in slow motion, over the edge. The result? I careered towards the net.

It’s a lesson learned. The second time up I lock my posture down as I prepare to nail my take-off.

Gliding semi-gracefully through the air, I can see why Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw hit up the sister school in New York.

There is a photographer onsite to capture your acrobatic skills or lack thereof. Starting at $47 for a two-hour class, it’s one for the bucket list.

Back on solid ground I’m reminded why Santa Monica continues to be such a draw for Hollywood’s IT crowd and tourists alike.

The city, bordered by Malibu and Venice, has long been known as a laid-back beach town, famed for it’s touches of Hollywood glamour and blend of Riviera-style romance.

Besides its perennially good weather − on average, this slice of California enjoys 340 days of sunshine a year − at just 8.3 square miles, Santa Monica allows you to lap up its beach and restaurant scene by foot, which is a real rarity in Los Angeles.

Its distinct boho vibe also means that Santa Monica is a safe haven from the tacky t-shirts and star-lined streets of Hollywood, a mere 40-minute drive away and a must-see if you have the time.

Above all else, this beach-front city is the perfect place to enjoy Southern California’s endless summer, making it the obvious backdrop for the TV series Baywatch.

Despite its burgeoning foodie scene, which consists of colourful farmer markets and high-brow eateries, unsurprisingly, Santa Monica’s beach is its crown jewel.

A spectacular 3.5 mile stretch of white sands lined with craning palm trees ensures Santa Monica is America’s premier beach destination.

Flying trapeze aside, there is a tamer way to drink in the sights, and it’s by bike. We pick up our rides at Blazing Saddles on the Santa Monica Pier and begin our trek along the South Bay Bicycle Trail (all day rental rates start from $30).

It’s the longest oceanfront beach path of its kind in the world and it’s the perfect way to take in the long stretch of Pacific coastline.

Like many things in Santa Monica, it’s easily accessible and, more importantly, FREE!

It begins at Will Rogers State Beach, and then scenically winds its way past Santa Monica State Beach, Santa Monica Pier, through the Venice Boardwalk and past the Venice Pier, all the way through Hermosa and Redondo Beaches to end at Torrance County Beach.

Once you’ve mastered the steering you can sit back and weave your way through the traffic. If Santa Monica is famed for anything, it’s for its health-conscious inhabitants.

The shoreline may be beautiful, but so too are the locals. I found myself paying more attention to the athletic rollerbladers, daredevil skateboarders, and the taut joggers that artfully overtook our group on our Friday morning cycle.

If you are looking to see a real gun show, the adjacent Muscle Beach is where it’s at. Men with gargantuan arms wrestle from ring to ring, while their oiled-up counterparts swing out of monkey bars. It’s a spectacle and a genuine must-see.

Back on the boardwalk our next stop was Venice Beaches Bohemian base, which is a haven for artists, poets and colourful street performers. It’s also an ideal place to pick up some unique gifts.

After some surf and volleyball you can grab a quick bite in any of the eateries and fast-food joints dotted on the boardwalk, but why bother?

If you want to go all L.A, Perry’s Café’s Beach Butler service allows you to employ your very own butler to cater to your every whim while you catch some rays.

Our Butler led us to a reserved area of sand, our deckchairs and beach umbrellas were already in position; which included sun towels, sun block and wind breaker.

Once your waiter takes your order you are free to sit back and soak up the sunshine

Believe me, there’s nothing like eating a triple decker sandwich and taking in the surf.

Surprisingly, you don’t have to be on an A-list budget to enjoy this service. The standard package comes in at ($50) and the custom ($100).

When you come to Santa Monica you don’t have to rely on restaurants to serve you high-end food, why not make it yourself?

As a person who doesn’t exactly know their way around the kitchen, you could say I was slightly apprehensive when I heard that I would have to flex my culinary expertise in a group cooking class at Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories.

Located within The Market, on the top floor of the trendy Santa Monica Place, I was tasked with making a pasta dish using local seasonal produce and, for desert, a ganache.

Our Parisian born Master chef  Clemence, put us through our paces and I soon found myself making pasta from scratch.

The hands-on culinary school accepts intimate or large groups, with each class lasting an average of three hours. The €85 price tag is a no-brainer, especially when you get to eat or take home everything you have made in class.

With so much to see during daylight hours I was unsure if Santa Monica could rival Hollywood’s unparalleled nightlife, but any doubts I had were quickly silenced.

Our first stop was Located at Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows. A hotspot for the rich and beautiful, the Bungalow offers expansive ocean views, lush gardens and rustic interior designs. Besides people-watching, you can grab a refreshing cocktail and sample some small bites from an exclusively designed menu.

For the fine dining experience, Hotel Shangri-La Suite offers an iconic open-air rooftop bar & lounge with panoramic ocean views.

We dined on the rooftop of this exclusive hideaway and watched the sun set, a world-class view worth waiting for.

As much as Santa Monica is famed for it’s vibrant nightlife and world-class food, the shopping is also one of the highlights.

Upscale boutiques and quirky vintage stores find their home among the mainstream brands and designer stores.

Start downtown at Santa Monica Place for high-end designs like Louis Vuitton. Next, you should hit up Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-friendly shopping haven lined with big-brand names, from Gap to Sephora.

If you’re looking for more individual pieces there is a hive of independent stores that offer one-off pieces and eclectic gifts along Pico.

You may not be able to shop on  Hollywood Boulevard a la Pretty Woman, but you can still look the part. Santa Monica Place’s same-day delivery service means you can hit the rails without worrying about how you are going to haul it all back to your hotel.

If that doesn’t sounds like your bag, there’s always the beach.