North Beach Trail | Santa Monica, USA | SWA Group

Designers incorporated wayfinding and place-making features to improve safely and artfully accommodate pedestrians and cyclists along the North Beach Trail, a popular beach pathway along two miles of Santa Monica’s coastal promenade. 

Landscape architects at SWA Group collaborated with City of Santa Monica staff, KPFF civil engineers, Alta Planning + Design to widen and enhance the promenade to more safely — and artfully — accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.

The promenade attracts tourists, cyclists, and pedestrians, all eager to experience the city’s renowned beach culture. An unfortunate side-effect of the promenade’s popularity is the danger resulting from shared narrow pathways with different modes and speeds of travel in addition to the distractions by the many attractions in the area.   Central to the improvements was the separation of cyclists and pedestrians through the widening and upgrading of a shared, deteriorating asphalt trail from the base of the iconic Santa Monica Pier north to Will Rogers State Beach, where the city’s jurisdiction ends.

The Landscape architects focused design attention on artful safety features of the trail’s edges and crossings, Here, new custom-designed concrete bollards, shaped to echo the forms of nearby cliffs, are installed as a physical barrier to keep pedestrians from unwittingly co-mingling with cyclists.  Barrier openings mark promenade crossings, enabling cyclists to visibly anticipate pedestrian traffic.  

Promenade crossings where enhanced with the introduction of super graphics that artfully double as way-finding and placemaking elements.  Community engagement during the design process affirmed the artwork’s theme of drawing from the local natural world. “Metrics of Nature” identifies six living elements—flora or fauna from the air, to land, to sea—to represent each crossing: Snowy plover, Catalina Miraposa Lillies, El Segundo Blue butterfly, Coast horned lizard, Turtle, and Kelp. Each is depicted graphically in the pavement, some as large as 70 feet, and supplemented with informational signage in English, Spanish, and Brail. Each of the series of six promenade crossings is marked by distinctive artwork, reflected in signage and the pavement itself, to help people know where they are and to have recognizable places to meet.

Other improvements, still under construction, are focused on the base of Santa Monica Pier and its adjacent public parking lot, which lacked clear and safe pedestrian navigation—both within the lot itself and between the parking and the promenade. Designers added signage and restriped the lot to create clear visual directions. Further, distinct crossing areas were created at the promenade to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, and a cable fence was added to keep pedestrians from wandering into the bike lane.

North Beach Trail

Location: Santa Monica, California, USA

Landscape Architect: SWA Group
Collaborators:  KPFF and Alta Design and Planning

Image Credits: Jonnu Singleton; courtesy SWA Group.

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Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at