Santa Monica Boulevard: West Hollywood, California


There was a time, not too long ago, where "you took your life in your hands just to cross Santa Monica Boulevard," said Jeff Prang, a member of the West Hollywood City Council. Today, despite 46,000 daily vehicle trips, this reconstructed main street embraces pedestrians, linking them to neighborhoods, landmarks, and traditions. A stroll along this iconic street, part of the legendary Route 66, yields distinct experiences. The west end is the center of the city's renowned lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community and nightlife. The eastern portion, a celebrated gathering place, runs through a culturally rich neighborhood of Russian-speaking immigrants.

Designated Area

Thirty-eight city blocks (2.8 miles) between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, from La Brea Avenue to the east and Doheny Drive to the west.

West Hollywood city ordinances encourage sidewalk cafes, which have been instrumental in creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere along Santa Monica Boulevard. Photo by City of West Hollywood.

Planning Excellence

Some 600 businesses are scattered along the boulevard that features seven historic structures, including Irv's, a 1946 burger stand, and several parks.

Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood is a reflection of the city's residents. The West Hollywood Memorial Walk pays tribute to those who have died from HIV/AIDS. Municipal flagpoles proudly fly rainbow flags next to the American flag. Ethnic grocery stores, Russian restaurants, and delis cater to emigres from Russia or Ukraine, who make up nearly 20 percent of the city's population.

The boulevard's festive atmosphere — enhanced by colorful signage — makes it ideal for annual Russian, Halloween, and LGBT pride festivals that take place here. Despite being a magnet of activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the boulevard is kept in pristine condition by a program of intensive street cleaning and ongoing maintenance.

When West Hollywood incorporated in 1984 the boulevard was a major eyesore. To bring back the street, the city began by burying utility lines and tearing up abandoned rail tracks in the median. In 1997, residents embarked on an 18-month planning process. The Santa Monica Boulevard Master Plan represented their collective desire for a culturally expressive street that acknowledged the area's historic heritage and realized its potential as a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented urban boulevard.

After the City of West Hollywood acquired control of the state-owned boulevard from the state department of transportation in 1999, reconstruction commenced. Two years, 1,200 trees, and $34 million later, Santa Monica Boulevard reopened as a complete street, a multi-modal thoroughfare with thriving businesses that serve a diverse population. The redesigned street and several adjacent structures, including a new library and affordable housing building, include green features.  Santa Monica Boulevard also incorporates large amounts of public art, and new and proposed parking regulations will improve the economic viability of businesses located along this historic right-of-way.

Careful landscaping has been used to enhance Santa Monica Boulevard's median. Photo by City of West Hollywood.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Planning and reconstruction

  • 15,000 feet of abandoned railroad tracks and 5,000 wooden ties from median removed as part of boulevard reconstruction; utility lines buried
  • Community stakeholders engage in detailed discussion of boulevard's aesthetics and function as part of 18-month planning process; result is the Santa Monica Boulevard Master Plan;
  • City negotiates with California Department of Transportation to gain ownership of boulevard; initially reluctant, Caltrans now views the boulevard as redevelopment model
  • Two-year, $34 million reconstruction project enhances street's pedestrian appeal; sidewalks widened, 1,200 trees planted, street furnishings, lighting, traffic calming

Parking best practices

  • Reduced restaurant parking requirements for small commercial spaces has enabled restaurants to thrive all along the boulevard. These establishments, many of which have outdoor dining, have been instrumental in creating a pedestrian-friendly street
  • Parking credits program proposed; would create parking districts with shared valet;  parking credits would allow business owners to expand or intensify use
  • Surface parking in front of new commercial buildings along the boulevard not allowed; all parking must be hidden from view


  • High-density, multi-family housing surrounds boulevard, providing large consumer base
  • Proposed transit overlay zone would encourage mixed-use development along boulevard
  • Dedicated bicycle lanes exist along boulevard's west end; bike parking throughout
  • Climate Action Plan calls for bicycle and car sharing; electric-vehicle charging stations
  • Landscaped medians feature drought-resistant plants; street trees planted with gap-graded soil that allows roots to grow and access air and water without lifting sidewalks
  • LEED-certified West Hollywood Library near western end opens October 2010
  • Solar-powered Sierra Bonita Affordable Housing project (2010) features roof deck garden, shady bamboo clusters, drought-tolerant landscaping, solar hot water

Street scene

  • Home to annual Russian Festival, Halloween Carnival (attracts 500,000 costumed revelers), Christopher Street West annual LGBT parade, Book Fair
  • 1% for Art requires new development to provide public art; boulevard's medians used to showcase sculptures; current neon artwork honors boulevard's Route 66 connection
  • Artistic signage stems from city's creative ordinance allowing signs of high quality and visual interest to exceed size limits
  • Monument stands at site of where protestors condemned 1991 gubernatorial veto of bill that would have banned job discrimination against homosexuals

Cultural Heritage

  • Part of historic Route 66, a 2,448-mile roadway between Chicago and Los Angeles
  • Seven historic structures on boulevard including Irv's Burgers and The Lot, where movies were shot, including Wuthering Heights (1939) and West Side Story (1961)
  • Site of West Hollywood Memorial Walk; bronze plaques engraved with the names of those who have died from HIV-AIDS embedded in the sidewalk

Bike lanes along Santa Monica Boulevard are heavily used by both commuters and recreational cyclists. Photo by City of West Hollywood.