Santa Monica is the perfect beach town with a plethora of attractions. In fact, we had a tough time keeping our list down! We recommend a minimum four-day stay
The long, wide expanse of Santa Monica Beach is distinguished from other Southern California shorelines by the sheer extent of activities one can enjoy. Both sand and ocean are clean and beautiful, making for some grade-A beachcombing, swimming, and surfing. But that’s not all. Cycle down The Marvin Braude Bike Trail with the wind at your back and the crash of the waves in your ears, try your hand at a game of beach volleyball, or stop to enjoy the outdoor activities offered at the Annenberg Community Beach House. After a day out, stick around for the finest Santa Monica attraction of all—a fiery beachside sunset.
Although a trendy Southern Californian attraction, the beach is also very large (3.5 miles long) which provides plenty of room for summer crowds. Manned lifeguard stations, paved walkways, restrooms, and restaurants are plentiful and easy to find.
The Marvin Braude Bike Trail, also known as The South Bay Bicycle Trail or The Strand, is a 22-mile long, paved trail that starts in Santa Monica and finishes at Torrance County Beach while passing through Venice, Hermosa, and Redondo Beach. Bicycle rentals, bike tours, and hotel loaner programs are available for visitors.
If you have always wanted to try surfing or paddleboarding, Bay St., just south of Hotel Casa del Mar offers easy accessibility, a sandy beach break, and a spread-out lineup (not too crowded). Rentals and lessons adjacent to the beach offer beginners an introduction to surfing in Southern California.
Located on the south side of the Santa Monica Pier, the Original Muscle Beach was established in the early 1930s and quickly morphed from a few tumbling mats and gymnastic bars to the epicenter of the 20th century’s growing fitness movement, with crowds gathering to watch acrobatic feats. Today, the open-air collection of rings and bars, and other properly retro equipment is as popular as ever.
When one thinks of things to do in Santa Monica, the attraction of the Santa Monica Pier inevitably comes to mind. Its red and yellow Ferris wheel is a city icon. The Pier offers Pacific Park, a full-service amusement park, combined with plenty of restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops, as well as an entertaining arcade with more than 200 games. Pacific Park’s solar-powered Ferris wheel makes it the only one of its kind in the region. By day, marvel at the historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel, check out the street performers or snag a stick of puffy cotton candy. The views of Malibu and the South Bay are outstanding and make for the perfect evening when watched with a cocktail in hand. Stick around past sunset, and you might just catch live local music to the sound of the nearby waves. The Santa Monica Pier is a must-visit Santa Monica attraction that really sets Santa Monica apart as an ideal destination for families and visitors of any age.
The pier offers several restaurants, ranging from fine seafood to classic American fare. Because of the unique location over the Pacific Ocean, visitors come for the view as much as the food.
Located on the Pier, the Pacific Park amusement park features a five-story West Coaster roller coaster, the nine-story Pacific Plunge tower ride, the only over-water miniature golf course, and the nine-story Pacific Wheel Ferris wheel – the only over-water Ferris wheel in California, and the first solar-powered wheel in the world. More than six million visitors a year stop at this iconic Santa Monica attraction and popular photo spot.
This wide, paved footpath extends south from the Pier and is lined with shops and restaurants - perfect to soak up the atmosphere of Santa Monica. The kids will love the stone-walled sandbox with a concrete Viking ship in its midst. An interactive dragon’s head looming in the grass nearby rounds out this children’s attraction. A row of volleyball courts is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
A National Historic Landmark, the 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel is where Paul Newman worked in The Sting.
Fishing from the Santa Monica Pier is a popular pastime with locals and is also available to visitors. Pier Bait and Tackle offers gear, poles, and bait for fishing in the Pacific Ocean.
Ready to go shopping? With multiple walkable shopping neighborhoods, designer threads are always within arm’s reach. Whether you prefer name brands or global couture, you’ll find it here. But where Santa Monica shopping really shines is with independent boutiques that reflect the city’s casually sophisticated style. From the quaint little shops of Montana Avenue—Lucy, Splendid, Ruti, Citron—to Nordstrom’s glittering storefront at Santa Monica Place (to say nothing of the extensive Third Street Promenade), you won’t want for options.
A pedestrian-only, open-air shopping destination is only two blocks from the city’s beaches and is noted for its weekly farmers market, street performers, and people-watching along with its variety of stores.
Anchored by Nordstrom, Santa Monica Place features a wide range of luxury and specialty shops such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Michael Kors, and Emporio Armani as well as a third-floor rooftop deck with views of the Pacific Ocean.
Named by Travel + Leisure as the best Farmer's Market in the county, Santa Monica’s four weekly farmer's markets attract the city’s residents and local chefs with fresh produce, flowers, meats, cheeses, nuts, fish, and more.
Santa Monica is home to more than 75 museums and art galleries; clearly, this is a city that embraces arts and culture. The abundance of public art and sculpture, as well as street performers, shows that all of Santa Monica’s art isn’t locked up within four walls, either. Must-visit attractions include The Getty Villa and Bergamot, an old train depot containing some 35 galleries. If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure to check the events calendar for live events, farmers' markets, and outdoor concerts. The variety of art and culture, along with a host of great restaurants, make Santa Monica a perfect date spot for locals and tourists alike.
Stick around past sunset and you’ll find the city shifts and changes. Locals from all over the LA area head to Santa Monica, where the combination of walkable and casual makes for a memorable evening no matter what the occasion. Start with happy hour on a rooftop bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean, such as ONYX at Hotel Shangri-La or Élephante, and end the night exploring new vintages and local wines at Wally’s Santa Monica or Esters Wine Shop & Bar.