Santa Monica is LA's most popular beach area. It's a fun place to visit, and has an outdoor mall, famous pier, amusement park, and oceanfront trails.
Santa Monica is on the west side of Los Angeles. It evolved as a resort community when an amusement park opened on the famous Santa Monica Pier in 1915.
Today it's one of LA's most desirable neighborhoods with charming bungalows, beautiful gardens, cool coffee shops, both casual and trendy restaurants, and a great outdoor mall.
10 BEST things to do in Santa Monica
1. Plan a beach day on the golden sands of Santa Monica Beach.
Santa Monica Beach is a glorious stretch of sand with beautiful views of the Santa Monica Mountains up the coast to Malibu. The north side of the beach is significantly busier than the south side, and the lifeguard towers are staffed seasonally.
Visitors are surprised to learn that downtown Santa Monica is separated from the beach by an 100-foot bluff! So how do you get to the beach by foot? The easiest way is to walk along Colorado Avenue from downtown, that eventually connects to the Santa Monica Pier. If you have a car, drive down the California Incline road to get to the parking lot at the Pier.
Water temperatures vary from 58 degrees in winter, to 68 degrees in summer, and the months of July, August and September are the best for swimming. Bring flip-flops or sandals, because it's a long walk across the sand to the water's edge. Water temperatures are coolest in January and February when the beach gets a lot quieter.
In this photo you can see the famous 100-foot Santa Monica bluff above the highway. The Pacific Coast highway divides downtown Santa Monica from the beach. To get from Santa Monica downtown to the beach, walk along the highway overpass on Colorado Avenue. So easy!
2. Shop and eat along the bustling Third Street Promenade.
Santa Monica: 10 BEST Things to Do
The stylish Third Street Promenade has three blocks of fast food restaurants and shops, including Banana Republic, Anthrologie, Sephora, Zara, and Apple. It's undergone a facelift in a recent years, and is a nice place to hang-out.
3. Catch a movie at Santa Monica Place.
Santa Monica tourist attractions
Santa Monica Place is directly east of the Third Street Promenade, and is an open air mall with luxury brands, a cinema and food court. Retailers include Nike, Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, Coach, Michael Kors, and Tory Burch. The food court is on the top floor, and has an outdoor patio with great views, and an indoor playground called Samos Clubhouse.
4. Explore the fun amusement park at Santa Monica Pier.
The legendary Santa Monica Pier is both a fishing pier and an amusement park, with an aquarium below the pier. It gets extremely busy so expect large crowds.
The Pacific Park amusement area has a carousel, roller-coasters, and food vendors.
Stroll along the pier for a photo at both the arched Santa Monica Yacht Harbor sign, or the Santa Monica 66 End of the Trail sign. The iconic Route 66 extends 2,448 miles from LA to Chicago, and is one of America's most famous highways. Continue to the end of the Pier to the Route 66 Last Stop Shop for souvenirs.
5. Enjoy magnificent coastal views from Palisades Park.
Santa Monica highlights
The narrow Palisades Park runs along Ocean Avenue at the top of Santa Monica's sandstone bluffs, and the views of the coastline are incredible along this 1.6 mile cliff-top path.
The path starts at the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier (corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Avenue) and ends at Adelaide Drive. There are plenty of beautiful overlooks along this grassy, palm lined promenade, designed to maximize those incredible Pacific Ocean Views.
You can picnic on the lush lawns while enjoying the cliff-top breezes. Los Angeles isn't known for it's shaded areas, but Palisades park offers plenty of respite from the scorching sun beneath its palm tress.
The Mexican fan palms and Canary Island date palms were planted in the early 1900s.
Santa Monica best places to see
Look at the gorgeous succulent gardens planted along Palisades Park, surrounded by bright pink flourishes of bougainvillea. On the left of this photo you can see a eucalyptus tree, planted in the 1890's.
This is the 18-foot art deco statue known as "Santa Monica", the patron saint of Santa Monica. It was commissioned in 1934 as a Public Works Project. Look out for the other beautiful sculptures in Palisades Park, like the Hastings Monument, Cabrillo Monument, UN Marker, Overlook Beacon, George Washington Memorial, Bust of Arcadia Bandini de Baker, and Genesis Sculpture.
The concrete fence was installed in the mid-1990s. It was designed to replicate the post-WWII concrete, criss-cross fence that it replaced.
Santa Monica tourist guide
The majestic Santa Monica mountains can be seen in the northwest. These are some of LA's best views. If you look closely, you can see the coastline arch around Pacific Palisades and Malibu. Look at the jewel tones of the Pacific Ocean. It's simply breathtaking.
6. Take a beachfront ride along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.
Santa Monica trip planning
The concrete bike trail known as the Marvin Braude Bike Trail runs 22-miles from Pacific Palisades to Torrance Beach.
Join the trail near the Santa Monica Pier, and ride 3.2 miles north to Will Rogers State Park at Pacific Palisades, or 2 miles south to the Venice Beach Pier.
Rent a bike from Perry's Cafe and Beach Rentals, Helen's Cycles, Santa Monica Bike Center, or Bike Attack Electric.
7. Stroll along the beautiful Ocean Front Walk.
The pedestrian Ocean Front Walk runs 6 miles from Pacific Palisades (Will Rogers State Park) down to Marina Del Rey, and overlaps a smaller section of the Marvin Braude Trail where bikers and pedestrians share the path.
Join the trail near the Santa Monica Pier, and walk 3.2 miles north to Pacific Palisades (Will Rogers State Park) or 3.8 miles south to Marina del Rey.
8. Swim or visit the playground at the Annenberg Community Beach House.
Drive or walk to the Annenberg Community Beach House 1.5 miles north of the Santa Monica Pier. No membership is required. Pay a small fee to use the stunning swimming pool.
There's also a splashpad and playground on the sand, with swings, a sandbox and climbing structures. This is adjacent to the Back on the Beach Cafe where you can eat at a beach table and sink your feet into the sand. There's also a kiosk for snacks.
Here's another perspective on the playground and splashpad, with the swimming pool tucked away in the background.
9. Enjoy waterfront restaurants at Santa Monica.
There are two great options at or near the pier. Eat at the upscale The Lobster or Del Frisco's Grille. There's also beachside dining at the cafe at the Annenberg Beach House.
10. Relax at quiet Tongva Park.
Peaceful Tongva Park is located in downtown Santa Monica, just a short distance from the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier. This is a great, free activity for kids, and has a modern playground and splashpad.
It's also ideal for adults wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of LA. It's the perfect oasis, tucked away just steps from the busiest streets of Santa Monica. You generally wont find many people here.
Take a seat on the bench and enjoy the fountains and gardens.
Watch your kids in the Discovery Hill Play Area. There are a few picnic tables adjacent to the playground. The playground equipment is modern and innovative, with a climbing wall, slides and fun climbing structures.
The small splashpad is adjacent to the playground, and a lovely place for kids to cool off.
Find the best places to eat in Santa Monica.
Fast food: The Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier have fast food outlets. There's also a food court at the top of Santa Monica Place.
Upscale restaurants. The Lobster (with views) or Del Frisco's Grille at the Santa Monica Pier.
Casual restaurants: Mariasol at the end of the Santa Monica Pier (mexican food). The Albright (seafood) and Rusty's Surf Ranch (bar and grill) are also at the Pier.
Trendy restaurants: Dine with the cool crowd inside a stylish restaurant. These restaurants are scattered throughout Santa Monica and include Cassia (Southeast Asian), Forma (Italian), and Little Prince (American), and the Bungalow Bar and Grill.
Trendy coffee shops: 10 Speed Coffee, Expresso Cielo, and Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee.
Brunch: Blue Daisy (crepes), Bondi Harvest.
Santa Monica's best hotels.
Luxury hotels: The Huntley Hotel, Fairmont Miramar, Hotel Shangri-La, and Shutters on the Beach.
More affordable: Bayside Hotel, Le Meredien Delfina, Sea Blue Hotel, Hampton Inn.