Bet you think you know the Santa Monica Pier, right? You know the roller coaster and the Ferris wheel and the historic carousel. You may even be a clever clogs who knows the gem of an aquarium tucked underneath it all. Well, you don’t know the half of it! I’ve been living walking distance from the Santa Monica Pier for years and figured I had done everything there was to do on it – eaten the seafood, seen the movies, gone to the concerts – all of it. Then I took a group of kids on a preview tour of the Pier’s new Kids’ Scavenger Hunt, and I felt like a tourist all over again – in the nicest possible way.
As you might imagine, I scored some major Cool Mom points when I turned up at school on a Friday afternoon, filled my car with 4th graders, and told them they were coming with me to the Pier for some Mommy Poppins research. We adults might get jaded about a day at the Pier; kids never do. But the great thing about the scavenger hunt is that it offers a lot more entertainment and variety than a dozen times in a row on the bumper cars (we managed to limit ourselves to four, thank you very much).
The hunt technically doesn't require buying anything (since answers to all quests can be found just by looking), but admittedly it would be pretty tough to walk kids by the Ferris wheel, carousel, et al without doing any of it. One great thing about this activity, though, is that you, the parent, can decide how much you want to invest and choose your pace accordingly. If you've got all day and are game for the full-on Pacific Park experience, the scavenger hunt map has a coupon for 15% off wristbands. If you prefer to do a quicker and/or cheaper version of the hunt, you could opt for individual tickets to key rides like the Ferris wheel ($6) and the carousel ($1), spend more time in the aquarium (kids free, adults $5), and focus on some of the hunt's no-cost scavenging.
We began our adventure at the aquarium, which is always a treat. It's easy to spend an hour or two with the sharks and seahorses, hands in the touch tanks, and making faces at the Sarcastic Fringehead, but we were on a mission to complete the hunt before dinner. We headed for the new Green Room, where an answer awaited us in the educational display, then bid adieu to the eels and headed out.
Although there is a clue to be found directly above the aquarium at the carousel, we decided to save that pleasure for our finale, so we could ride off into the sunset on painted ponies. Instead, we stopped in to check out the surf boards at Rusty's, en route to Pacific Park to solve the mysteries of the roller coaster and Pacific Plunge, then kick back on the world's only solar-powered Ferris wheel. (The task on the wheel, fittingly, involves looking for power sources from high above Santa Monica).
As a mom with a schedule to keep, I discovered one of the best things about the scavenger hunt at this point in our adventure: I thought it would be impossible to move the kids on from the rides portion of the afternoon, but having a map with a mission in hand made the transition easy. After doing the three rides mentioned on the map, I said we needed to move on to the next task, and everyone agreed with enthusiasm! We went on to explore parts of the Pier that I suddenly realized I hadn't been to in years, if ever at all. We learned about the birds, found the first aid station, hunted down some history, and hung with the fishermen. We covered every inch of the Pier with purpose - an absolute delight of a way to watch the sun sink lower toward dinnertime.
If you fancy staying at the Pier for dinner, two of the stops on the hunt involve going inside restaurants, but don't be shy if you aren't looking to occupy a table; staff in both Rusty's and Bubba Gump's were happy to help us find the clues hidden there without ordering food. (That said, I did end up peeking at the kids' menus and making mental notes for a return visit.)
All told, we spent about three hours or so doing this hunt at a moderate pace; we stayed focused on the goals but also allowed ourselves some time to linger at our favorite spots. A more leisurely approach could easily have turned the hunt into an all-day activity; likewise I could have moved them through in two hours if I had driven them hard. The 10-year-olds I brought were a great age for it, but the tasks are also easy enough for younger children, and yet fun enough to be worthy of teen attention as well. All told, a great family activity.
The scavenger hunt map can be downloaded in advance online, but if you forget, just start your visit at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and ask for a map there. And at the end of your adventure, be sure to bring the completed map back to the Aquarium for either a free gift or to be entered in a raffle (as supplies dictate). Happy hunting!