Looking for fun things to do in Santa Monica? Make sure to drop by the Santa Monica Pier, Annenberg Community Beach House, and much more. Read on to find the perfect activity!
Are you ready for some sun, sand, and adventure? Look no further than the beautiful coastal city of Santa Monica! Nestled along the sparkling Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica has something for everyone, whether you’re a local looking for a new adventure or a visitor seeking the ultimate California experience.
So grab your sunscreen, put on your shades, and let’s dive into some of the most exciting things to do in this sunny city!
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Things to Do in Santa Monica
You will probably find Santa Monica in articles about things to do in Los Angeles.
But, hear me out, Los Angeles and Santa Monica are not the same. Santa Monica is a city located in Los Angeles County. Even though it has a strong bond with the city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica has a range of features that makes it unique.
In this article, I will cover tourist and non-touristy things to do in Santa Monica. In that way, you can decide what path to take.
Alright, let’s go!
Stroll Around the Santa Monica Pier
Among the many eye-catching Santa Monica attractions is the infamous Santa Monica Pier – an iconic landmark that features an amusement park (Pacific Park), aquarium, restaurants, and shops. You can take a Ferris wheel or roller coaster ride, play carnival games, or check out the performers!
The Santa Monica Pier was declared the end point of world famous Route 66. Therefore, you will see tons of signs declaring “Route 66 End of Trail.”
There is a seating/viewing area at the end of the pier ideal for resting or watching the sunset.
Ride the Merry-Go-Round at Looff’s Hippodrome
Looff’s Hippodrome is a historic landmark that features a vintage carousel that has been in operation since 1916. So make sure to take a spin on the Merry-Go-Round and enjoy the whimsical music and colorful lights. There are also several other rides and attractions available at the pier.
Visit the Third Street Promenade
One of the best Santa Monica activities is to just walk, and there’s no better place to take a stroll than the Third Street Promenade. This pedestrian-only street is lined with shops, restaurants, and street performers. In fact, you can find everything from boutique clothing stores to big-brand retailers. Plenty of outdoor cafes also allow you to grab a bite to eat and people-watch in peace!
And, the stars of the Third Street Promenade are cute dinosaurs made out of steel and grass. Do not forget to take your picture with one of them.
Watch the Views from Palisades Park
Palisades Park is a beautiful park that stretches along the Santa Monica bluffs. The park offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica Pier, and the city skyline. Just spending half an hour there soaking up the sun and enjoying the fresh ocean breeze will refresh you!
Sunbathe at the Santa Monica State Beach
Santa Monica State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Southern California. Its wide, sandy beach and the cool ocean water make it the perfect place to sunbathe and relax. If you’re on the wilder side, you can even try surfing, paddleboarding, or kayaking!
Now, this beach can get crowded during the summer (or summer weekends). During those times, I recommend getting to the beach to secure a good spot. There are other options in the vicinity if crowds are not your thing.
Bike Along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail
The Marvin Braude Bike Trail is a 22-mile paved bike path that stretches from Pacific Palisades to Torrance. The path runs parallel to the ocean and offers stunning views of the coast. You can rent a bike and explore the trail at your own pace, stopping at various beaches and landmarks along the way.
Here are some rides you can consider from Santa Monica (distances are from the pier):
- To Will Roger State Beach (Northern Terminus of the Trail) – Between 3 to 4 miles one way
- To Venice Beach Skatepark – About 2 miles one way
- To Venice Canals – About 3 miles one way
- To Venice Pier – About 3 miles one way
- To Marina del Rey – About 4 miles one way
I consider this one of the must-do activities in the area!
Walk or Pedal to Venice Beach
In the previous entry, I mentioned the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. The stretch of this trail between Santa Monica and Venice Beach is known as The Boardwalk.
This stretch is boosting with activity. I recommend checking it out. If you do not want to bike, it is an easy, flat walk. You can take as many breaks as you want.
It is so much fun!
Note: You can walk one way (about 3 miles) and take an Uber back to Santa Monica.
Explore Tongva Park
Tongva Park is a unique and beautiful park that blends art, nature, and history. The park features interactive sculptures, native plant gardens, and a playground. Let’s not forget the stunning views of the ocean and the city.
Shop at Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica Place is an upscale shopping mall that offers a wide range of stores, including high-end fashion brands, luxury jewelry, and home decor. You can also find plenty of restaurants and cafes where you can take a break from shopping and grab a bite to eat.
It is great to take a break from sightseeing. There are plenty of benches around. Also, it makes a great parking spot.
Do Not Forget About Montana Avenue
A lot of people talk about the Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, and Santa Monica Place. And, for some reason, they forget to mention Montana Avenue.
Montana Avenue, located in western Santa Monica, spans 10 blocks from 7th Street to 17th Street and is known for its upscale boutiques, art galleries, and trendy restaurants.
The street is lined with palm trees and features a mix of architectural styles, from Spanish Revival to Art Deco.
Art lovers will appreciate the many galleries on Montana Avenue, which showcase a diverse range of contemporary and traditional art. Some of the most notable galleries include the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, William Turner Gallery, and TAG Gallery.
Visit the Camera Obscura Art Lab
The Camera Obscura Art Lab is a hidden gem located in Palisades Park. This unique space offers a variety of art classes and workshops, including photography, printmaking, and bookbinding.
You can also explore the Camera Obscura itself, a device that uses mirrors and lenses to project a live image of the surrounding landscape onto a concave surface.
Go on a Food Tour of Santa Monica
Santa Monica has a vibrant food scene, and there are many unique and delicious dishes to try. Visitors can go on a food tour of the city, exploring different neighborhoods and sampling a variety of cuisines. From seafood to street tacos, there is something for every palate.
Take a Surf Lesson
Surfing is a popular activity in Santa Monica, and you can take a lesson with a local instructor to learn the basics. Surfing lessons are available for all skill levels, and instructors provide all the necessary equipment. There’s nothing quite like catching a wave in the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
Explore the Bergamot Station Arts Center
The Bergamot Station Arts Center is a unique complex of art galleries and studios located in an old train station. The center features a variety of exhibitions and events, including artist talks, film screenings, and live performances. You can explore the galleries and studios and meet local artists.
Find details about the current exhibitions here.
Shop for Fresh Fruit at the Santa Monica Farmers Market
The Santa Monica Farmers Market is one of Southern California’s largest and most popular farmers’ markets. The market offers fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal cheeses, and more. You can stroll and snack at the same time!
Note: This market does not sell prepared food as other markets in the area do.
Grab a Bite at Pono Burgers
Pono Burgers is a popular restaurant that offers delicious organic burgers and other Hawaiian-inspired dishes. The restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients and offers a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options, making it convenient for anyone with strict dietary restrictions.
Eat a Sandwich from Bay Cities Italian Deli
And, since we are talking about food, I should mention Bay Cities Italian Deli.
This beloved institution has been serving up authentic Italian food since 1925 and has become a local favorite for its fresh ingredients, delicious sandwiches, and friendly service.
The real star of the show at Bay Cities is its sandwiches. The deli offers a variety of options, from classic Italian subs to more creative creations like the Godmother, which features hot capicola, prosciutto, mortadella, and other meats, as well as provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, and Italian dressing.
Other popular sandwiches at Bay Cities include the meatball sub, the eggplant parmesan sandwich, and the chicken pesto sandwich.
The prices are affordable so, you can indulge while sticking to a budget.
Watch a Fun Performance at The Broad Stage
The Broad Stage is a world-class performing arts venue that hosts a wide range of shows, including music, theater, dance, and comedy. Make sure to check out their calendar of events to see what’s coming up, and book your tickets in advance for the best seats in the house.
Browse the Museum of Flying
The Museum of Flying is like a playground for aviation enthusiasts! You can walk among vintage planes and learn all about the history of flight. From the Wright Brothers to modern-day pilots, you’ll be able to appreciate the evolution of aviation.
Plus, you’ll feel like a total Top Gun character standing next to these epic flying machines!
Take a Dip at the Annenberg Community Beach House
Head over to the Annenberg Community Beach House for some sun, sand, and waves. This spot isn’t your average beach hangout. It’s an elegant place full of activities that’ll make you feel like you’re at a Great Gatsby party!
This Beach House was originally built in the 1920s as a private estate for Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, but today it has been transformed into a public facility that offers a wide range of amenities for visitors.
You can chill in the pool, hit the waves, or even play some beach volleyball. And if you’re feeling fancy, you can rent a beach cabana for ultimate relaxation vibes.
Have a Treat at Sweet Rose Creamery
Anyone who has a major sweet tooth will adore the Sweet Rose Creamery. This ice cream shop is located on Pico Boulevard and offers a variety of delicious flavors made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Whether you’re in the mood for classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate or want to try something new, like salted caramel or brown butter, the Sweet Rose Creamery has something for everyone.
Exercise on the Santa Monica Stairs
If you had a bit too much at the creamery, head on to the Santa Monica Stairs to burn some calories and move around a bit. You might not expect a simple set of stairs to be interesting, but these stairs happen to be a favorite among fitness buffs, all thanks to the wonderful scenery!
Things to Near Santa Monica
There is no denying that Santa Monica has tons of things to do. However, if you are interested in checking its surroundings, I got you covered. Here are some ideas on what to do near Santa Monica.
Check Out Venice Beach
Venice Beach is Santa Monica’s rebel sister. This Los Angeles’ neighborhood is full of contrasts. The Boardwalk and areas close to the beach are totally eclectic while the area surrounding Abbot Kinney Boulevard is refined and hipster. Take a look by yourself and make your own conclusions.
Head to Pacific Palisades
Pacific Palisades, located north of Santa Monica, is another of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods. This beautiful coastal place showcases its opulence in places like Palisades Village and Riviera Country Club.
Sail from Marina del Rey
Santa Monica does not have a harbor or marina. Those interested in sailing, boating, fishing, and other aquatic spots, head to Marina del Rey.
Take a Hike in the Santa Monica Mountains
The Santa Monica Mountains offer a variety of hiking trails that provide stunning views of the city and the ocean. The trails range from easy to challenging, and visitors can choose from short walks to full-day hikes. Popular hiking destinations include Temescal Canyon, Will Rogers State Historic Park, and Topanga State Park.
The destinations mentioned above are in the Pacific Palisades area about 4 to 6 miles from Santa Monica. Malibu has yet more trails offering incredible scenery.
Visit the Getty Villa
The Getty Villa is an art museum and educational center located in Pacific Palisades. The museum is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. Visitors can view thousands of artifacts, including sculptures, paintings, and decorative arts. The museum also offers educational programs, lectures, and performances.
How to Reach Santa Monica
One of the easiest ways to get to Santa Monica is by car. The city is located along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and the 10 Freeway, making it easily accessible from other parts of Los Angeles and Southern California. However, traffic can be heavy during peak times, so it’s important to plan accordingly.
Another option for getting to Santa Monica is by public transportation. The city has several Metro bus lines that run through it, as well as the Metro Expo Line light rail, which connects Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles. Additionally, there are several bike paths and bike-share programs in the area, making it easy to get around by bicycle.
Weather in Santa Monica
One of the biggest draws of Santa Monica is its mild and sunny weather. The city experiences a Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Average temperatures during the summer months (June to August) range from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, while winter temperatures (December to February) typically range from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. The city also experiences low humidity and minimal rainfall, making it a great destination for outdoor activities year-round.
Things to Do in Santa Monica – Sightseeing Gear
As I spend a lot of time in beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I would take to explore Santa Monica.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
More of Los Angeles
If you are looking into how to incorporate Santa Monica into a sightseeing itinerary, I recommend taking a look at the following articles.
One Day in Los Angeles: Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
Los Angeles Itinerary: 2, 3, or 4 Days in Los Angeles
More of Southern California
What other things to do in Santa Monica would you recommend?