While Los Angeles has been busy producing movie stars of the past and present, Santa Monica, California has established itself as a tourist hotspot that should pop up on your bucket list in the near future.
During the day, recreate iconic scenes from Baywatch, while running across the famous Santa Monica Beach, or get some exercise in the Santa Monica Mountains or cycling the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. Lights from the iconic Ferris Wheel follow picturesque sunsets viewed from Santa Monica Pier, before you find dining and atmosphere on the 3rd Street Promenade.
Here are 12 amazing things to do in Santa Monica will give you the ultimate vacation experience!
SUN YOURSELF AT SANTA MONICA STATE BEACH
Although the “End of Route 66” sign at Santa Monica meant the end of the road for travelers migrating west during the early 1900s, it remains as a landmark reminding modern-day tourists that the adventure in sunny California is only beginning. Step down from the Santa Monica Pier onto the sunbaked sands and enjoy a day on this beautiful 3.5-mile stretch of the Los Angeles coastline.
Go for a stroll on the Ocean Front Walk to see fitness junkies still pumping iron in the Original Muscle Beach. And the afternoon swells are always friendly to newcomer surfers readying their form on the shore, before testing if their surf lessons actually paid off.
Spend time lounging on the beach beneath an umbrella to enjoy Santa Monica State Beach’s picturesque scenery of the Pacific Ocean, reaching endlessly towards the horizon. Grab some snacks and lay out your blanket for an impromptu picnic, or treat yourself to an elegant, curated experience by the Santa Monica Picnic Company.
Details: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
PLAY AT SANTA MONICA PIER
You’ll feel like a kid again as the wooden planks of the Santa Monica Pier knock beneath your feet as you zip from attractions. Since 1909, it’s offered a place for fun and recreation for all ages, and it’s one of the best things to do in Santa Monica.
The iconic Pacific Park Amusement Park sign welcomes you as screams ring from the West Coaster from thrill riders going around the roller coaster’s double-helix loops. Take in panoramic views of Southern California from 130-ft high when you reach the top of the Ferris Wheel, go for a casual ride on the hand-carved carousel horses, or even for high-flying acrobatics in the Trapeze School.
See the underwater world come to life with more than 100 sea animals swimming playfully inside the Heal the Bay Aquarium. And if you have an hour to spare, take a historical Walking Tour away from the crowds, where you’ll learn about the pier’s history and things most tourists overlook.
Details: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
SWIM AT ANNENBERG COMMUNITY BEACH
Summertime in Santa Monica is always a popular time when the warm weather gives an excellent excuse for hanging out all day at the Annenberg Community Beach House. Step inside this beachfront estate where the 110 rooms have been repurposed from guest rooms into a thriving community center designed to keep all ages active, in and out of water.
Go for a splash in the outdoor swimming pool designed to perfection with a marble deck and decorative white columns to stay consistent with the mansion’s opulence. And if the sound of the ocean waves comes calling, the house is steps away from dipping in the refreshing salty waters.
After drying off, grab a friend to play a round of doubles on the tennis courts, offering scenic views between each set. And when the competition really heats up, serve and spike your way to victory on the volleyball court.
Details: 415 Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90402 | Website
GRAB LUNCH AT THIRD STREET PROMENADE
You can’t go an entire day at the beach without working up an appetite. Luckily, mouth watering aromas sweep over the Santa Monica State Beach from the nearby 3rd Street Promenade. There’s something for everyone to sink their teeth into, and the outdoor seating set up right on the promenade creates the perfect ambiance. Ocean breezes rustle the leaves of palm trees overhead as you stroll the pedestrian-only blocks en route to your next meal.
Fuel up with specialty sandwiches handmade in Barney’s Beanery, while enjoying front-row seats to people watching on the promenade. Stuff your mouth with creative waffles crafted in Bruxie. Experiment with flavors of trendy SoCal cuisine dishes served in 1212 Santa Monica. Or get a taste of clean eats inside the Misfit Restaurant. And there are plenty of traditional staples, like Chipotle and Johnny Rockets, in case you’re craving familiar flavors instead.
Details: 1351 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
GO BACK IN TIME AT SANTA MONICA HISTORY MUSEUM
The contemporary building housing the Santa Monica History Museum is a major contrast to the historical collection exhibited inside of it. The archives about Santa Monica’s history have been dusted off and put on display for you to travel through time to different periods in the Santa Monica Bay area.
New exhibition openings in the Santa Monica History Museum are always exciting, as you get to explore new perspectives of Santa Monica. The information-rich galleries proudly showcase details about the historic communities and neighborhoods in Santa Monica. Learn about notable people who helped shape Santa Monica. Read stories published over a century ago in the Santa Monica Outlook Newspaper archives. See the history of the Santa Monica Pier, before heading there for the day to see how it changed for modern times.
The interactive exhibitions in the Santa Monica History Museum will even have the kids asking to stay just a few more minutes during your visit.
Details: 1350 7th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
SHOP TIL YOU DROP AT SANTA MONICA PLACE
If you’ve managed to stay within your shopping budget by the time you reach the end of Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, you can celebrate by splurging at the luxury retail boutiques found in the Santa Monica Place shopping center. Famed architect Frank Gehry used the same design expertise that led to buildings, like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, to design the open-air venue worthy of the posh boutiques housed in it.
Window-shopping tourists are always welcome to wander each of Santa Monica Place’s three levels to try to imagine the lives of California’s rich and famous who shop there. Shop the latest runway fashions lining the racks inside Louis Vuitton and Burberry, gawk at the sparkling gems adorning the glass displays inside Tiffany & Co., or catch the latest films streaming on the big screen in the ArcLight cinemas.
Details: 395 Santa Monica Pl, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
EXPLORE THE MUSEUM OF FLYING
Taxi the runway near the Santa Monica Airport, and the road leads to a hangar housing the Museum of Flying. The roaring jets taking off nearby create the perfect soundtrack to exploring the history of aviation.
The modern jets parked in the adjacent airport show just how far technology has come when you see the machines exhibited inside the Museum of Flying. You might need your neck pillow to keep your head tilted to the ceiling as you walk the hanger. Restored vintage aircraft, propeller plans, twin-engine jets, crop planes, and more hang overhead, rendering them in flight.
Walk around the parked Boeing jet whose sheer size is jaw-dropping, and learn about the timeline of the local Southern California Douglas Aircraft Company. Interactive tours led by passionate staff provide you with everything you’ve ever wanted to know about aviation and the aircrafts exhibited inside the museum.
Details: 3100 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405 | Website
TAKE IN AN AMAZING VIEW AT PALISADES PARK
It’s your lucky day whenever you can find street parking on Ocean Avenue when you pull up to Palisades Park. Top-up the meter, because it’s best to explore the park’s 26.4-acres without worrying about time running out.
Sea-fresh scents from the Pacific Ocean greet you the moment you step out of your car, letting you know the vast body of water is an arm’s length away. Start your stroll along the 1.6-mile park sitting on a bluff overlooking the golden sands of Santa Monica Beach.
Scenic views follow you down the entire palm-tree-lined trail paving its way through the park. On your left, you’ll have the silhouette of the Santa Monica Mountains towering in the distance. But on the right, ocean waves rush towards you in an unobstructed view.
After you’ve snapped countless photos trying to capture the scene’s beauty, visit the Camera Obscura Art Lab to see how vintage cameras worked.
Details: Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
RELAX AT TONGVA PARK
Slip away from the crowds on the Santa Monica Pier to Tongva Park to escape into a serene oasis of beauty named after one of the Native Indigenous tribes. You’ll arrive within seconds after crossing the street, but the contrasting lush green fields compared to the sandy shores makes it feel like a world away.
Paved pathways wind around the grassy lawns, that are far from your typical backyard landscapes. Commissioned sculptures decorate Tongva Park, showcasing ingenuity with creativity and functionally.
Enter into the wireframe observation deck for a view overlooking the park and Santa Monica Beach. Further along the path, the forested area hides hidden gem waterfalls, only discovered when you follow the sound of the rushing waters. Lastly, let the kids run around on the park playground to dry off from swimming in the ocean, so that you can finally get something to eat at the Third Street Promenade.
Details: 1615 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
CYCLE THE MARVIN BRAUDE BIKE TRAIL
The weather in California is much too lovely to spend all day stuck in traffic. So, ditch the four wheels for two as you set off on a biking excursion along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.
Locals will gladly point you to the starting point of ‘The Strand,” a nickname given to the 22-mile route. Kick-off at Will Rogers State Beach and pedal in sync to the sounds of pulsating waves crashing to the Santa Monica Bay coastline running alongside the route.
Slow down as you encounter Santa Monica Pier, to stay vigilant for unsuspecting tourists rushing towards Santa Monica Beach. Then show the fitness buffs at Venice Beach that cycling is just as good of exercise as hitting the weights. Dodge traffic as you navigate through Marina del Rey, before cruising by the last coastal wetlands in LA flooded by the Ballona Creek.
The route ends at Torrance County Beach, where you can reward yourself in the sparkling waters of the Pacific.
HIKE THE SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS
What you don’t see while viewing the Santa Monica Mountains from afar, are bands of hikers trekking through the rugged landscape. Its 500 miles of trails provide several options for adventure, regardless of if it’s your first time hiking or someone practically living on the trails.
Hiking gear isn’t necessary, but it sure makes for better photos while posing on the summit of Sandstone Peak. After all, you’ve earned it after surviving the tough hike up to the range’s tallest peak at 3,111-ft. Alternatively, hike the Backbone Trail that runs more than 60-miles along the mountain ridges.
Scenic hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area reveal its diverse landscape. Trek the 3-mile hike of the Solstice Canyon Loop Trail or take in views on the Paseo Miramar Trail. At the end of the Escondido Falls Trail awaits the tallest waterfall in the mountain or strut the walk of fame on a hike to Paramount Ranch, where MASH and Westworld were filmed.
NOSH AT THE SANTA MONICA FARMERS MARKET
Shop local to support California farmers during the weekly farmers’ markets. From the historic Downtown Farmers Market on Arizona Avenue, which ranks as one of the largest markets in the state with upwards of 60 vendors, to the Sunday Farmers Market set up weekly on Main Street, the atmosphere is always friendly and welcoming to everybody.
Crowds at the markets are filled with parents pushing strollers in hopes of passing on their health-conscious lifestyle to their kids, celebrities attempting to hide their faces in designer glasses and scarves, and local restaurant chefs picking through the crops to find the best of the harvest to use for the night’s patrons.
Walk to the beat of live bluegrass music to white tents lining the pedestrian-only streets, that contrast the vibrant-colored tables below them. Each exhibit’s organized rows feature produce like green apples, plump oranges, yellow lemons, red radishes, and green herbs, as if it was fine art on display at art galleries available for purchase.
Details: 250 Arizona Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO CALIFORNIA
- SANTA BARBARA: 19 Things To Do In Santa Barbara You Can’t Miss
- CATALINA ISLAND: 20 Phenomenal Things To Do In Catalina Island
- NEWPORT BEACH: 22 Things To Do In Newport Beach You Can’t Miss
- HOLLYWOOD: 18 Amazingly Fun Things To Do In Hollywood, CA
- SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: 29 Amazing Things To Do In Southern California
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