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Best Day Trip Orange County 2011 - Santa Monica

Readers' Choice: San Diego

Sure, LA traffic is pretty terrifying and rather predictable (there's never a good time to head north out of Orange County), but if you're willing to stick it out, there is a way to spend the day in that county that doesn't involve taking a tour of movie stars' homes or shopping on Rodeo Drive. Hello, Santa Monica. Yes, you're still in jeopardy of a celebrity sighting or two (or perhaps a mob boss on the lam, who knows?), but this town has more character to offer its visitors. Start with the Santa Monica Pier, the granddaddy of all California piers, with a roller coaster, trapeze school, aquarium, restaurants, arcade games and more. Then visit the Third Street Promenade for live music and theater, art galleries, and street performers. You'll definitely be hungry at this point, which means a trip to Santa Monica's Main Street for Finn McCool's Irish Pub. In honor of her late stepfather, owner Geraldine Gilliland arranged for his pub in Ireland to be dismantled and shipped to Santa Monica in 2001, so she could re-create it. Most of the staff hail from Ireland, and the potato skins are so famous they even earned a segment on the Travel Channel. This one-of-a-kind pub alone is worth the wait in traffic to get to Santa Monica.

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