Best Things To Do In Santa Monica, California

We do hear a lot of people say they didn’t enjoy their trips to Los Angeles, of all the US Cities this is the one people like least. We think we know a few reasons as to why, as we too have had hugely disappointing trips to Los Angeles. One of the reasons we give is most people DON’T go to Santa Monica.

When People think of the Los Angeles, California lifestyle; They think of Sun, Sea, Sand, Palm trees, Stunning scenery, and a laid back vibe. So when they arrive in Hollywood to find tramps, Litter, and Smog It’s easy to see why people are Disappointed. To get the Real Los Angeles Beach Vibe head to the Stunning neighborhood of Santa Monica. Here are all the BEST things to do in Santa Monica while you are there.

Santa Monica Beach

Best Things To Do In Santa Monica, California

The Obvious big draw to Santa Monica is the 3+ Miles of stunning Pacific Coast Beach where the endless sprawl of Los Angeles finally tumbles into the Pacific Ocean. The 3 Mile Stretch of Santa Monica Bay’s 35+ mile Coastline has some of the cleanest and best-maintained beaches in L.A.

The Beach is what makes Santa Monica the “L.A” of their imagination. Golden sands blue sea Palm tree-lined boulevards, beautiful people, and the outdoor lifestyle. It’s all here. The Beach feels a million miles away from the bustling metropolis of L.A and it’s the perfect getaway. A place to relax and recover from the crazy days spent in Hollywood, Downtown, or hitting the shops on Rodeo.

It’s also the perfect place for a sportier pursuit. A run down the stunning oceanfront walk/cycle path is bucket list stuff, as is biking it, rollerblading, or even just strolling along for a few miles checking out the world-famous Lifeguard huts, the Volleyball courts, beach homes, and hotels. It’s the type of place where you need to keep pinching yourself to remind yourself you are not dreaming.

Slap bang right in the middle of the beach is of course the Santa Monica Pier…

Santa Monica Pier – Pacific Park

Santa Monica Pier is a terribly tacky tourist trap but one that is just so much fun and so much a part of the Santa Monica Experience we are willing to overlook it completely. We love the Pier and we love the Amusement park that takes center stage. Any visit to the area simply has to include a visit to the pier and Pacific Park.

We take an in-depth look here.

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

It’s no secret, we love a good aquarium. Ok so this is not the BEST Aquarium in the Country, or California, or even L.A, but the location and the very reasonable $5 entry mean it’s well worth checking out.

The Exhibits are all on the small scale but focus on the life that can be found in and around the water around the pier. It won’t take your breath away but it’s a nice break from the bustle of the pier and shows you exactly what is in the water under your feet. The money raised also goes to help protect these creatures and “heal the Bay”

Palisades Park

Palisades Park is not really a place to go to, more of a place you will inevitably end up in. It is the green space the occupies the edge of the coastal bluff that runs most of the length of the Santa Monica Seafront. Standing above The PCH it provides a relaxing space away from the busy Ocean Avenue. There is not much to the Park just a green space and a few benches and picnic tables. What makes it worth visiting are the simply jaw-dropping views of the coastline, starting at the pier and heading off around the bay to Malibu, backed by the Santa Monica mountains it is a truly stunning place to visit.

Third Street Promenade

Set Back from the ocean this is Santa Monica’s “Main Street” Lined with Shops boutiques, and Restaurants filled with a lively crowd, Performers, Sculptures, fountains, and street sellers. It’s got everything you would expect from a tows main shopping area all with a distinctly Californian Vibe. It’s the sort of place you yourself time and time again even if you never really intended to.

Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica Place by MaceRich on CC3.0

Attached directly to the South Eastern end of Third Street Prom is this flashy upmarket Multi-Story Mall. Filled with excellent dining options and every store imaginable it’s a bustling mecca for shoppers looking for some retail therapy or a great place to eat. It’s a typical corporate affair filled with chain restaurants and big-name brand shops but sometimes all you want is a Cheesecake Factory and a look around Bloomingdale’s

Original Muscle Beach

Origional Muscle Beach
Muscle Beach by David Baxendale on CC2.0

While Venice beach Muscle beach gets all the attention, this is the Original. The Gym started as a gymnasium focusing on Gymnastics rather than pumping Iron, but it shot to fame when it opened its weights compound. When this was shifted to Venice its fame moved with it but the gymnastics portion of the Gym remains and you can still see people strutting their stuff on the pommel horses or O-rings.


Take a look at the pictures above, we don’t need to say much more. Sunsets in Santa Monica are AWESOME! Either from the Beach, Pier or Palisades. Watching the Sun Dip into the Pacific here is one of the most satisfying ends to a long day we can think of.

Tongva Park

Tongva Park Santa Monica
Tongva Park By Scott Garner on CC2.0

Tongva Park is an old disused concrete car park converted into a beautiful park with an art installation and kids’ play area. It is a wonderful example of what to do with disused land!

We especially like the Park at night as it is fantastically lit and has even more of an air of the surreal with the bright City lights acting as the perfect backdrop.

Camera Obscura Art Lab

Camera obscura
Camera Obscura by Lorie Shaull on CC2.0

This is a relic from the early 1900s and was an incredibly high-tech attraction in its time. Now it’s nothing more than a throwback to a simpler time and is really quite disappointing if viewed by modern standards. But that would be to miss the point. Viewed as a historic cultural relic it’s a fascinating and brilliant landmark of the City. It will only take a few minutes of your time to experience the “Camera” and take a peek back to a time without pocket-sized supercomputers!

It is staggering to think of the progress we have made in a little over 100 years from this to the power of 4k wonder cameras we nonchalantly carry around in our back pockets. We love how this moment of history has been preserved and restored for us all to enjoy.

Santa Monica Stairs – Miss

We didn’t want to add this, as quite frankly it really isn’t something to do. But we fell for this “must-do” attraction too though so thought we would put it in to warn you off.

Billed as one for the Fitness buffs, but it isn’t. It’s a few steps. Comparable flights can be found in any city or town. If you are a fitness buff wanting a test, this is not it. They are not particularly long, or steep. If you are not a Fitness Buff, definitely skip as all you will find is a couple of flights of steps in a residential neighborhood, with no view.

Instead explore the flights of stairs and overpasses that take you from palisades park, over the PCH, and down to the beach. Any expenditure of fitness is at least rewarded with Stunning Views.

Pacific Coast Highway – Malibu

Santa Monica Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, Or Route 1, runs straight along the edge of Santa Monica’s stunning Coastline. Probably our favorite road in the whole country, The PCH runs the whole length of the West Coast. And the stretch between Santa Monica and San Fran is some of the most beautiful and Iconic. If you can make it the 300 or So miles up to San Fran you are in for a truly stunning adventure.

However, even if you just make the short trip up as far as Malibu, The 30 or so miles of coast road as still utterly stunning. And incredibly famous. Whenever a Film or TV show wants some Open Coastal road they head here. The Fast and The Furious, Point Break, The Hills, Grease, and The OC to name just a few.

Hire a car and hit the open road for a true realization of the American Open Road.

Venice Beach

Adjacent to Santa Monica is the infamous Venice Beach. While this obviously does not belong on a Santa Monica Things to Do list is should definitely be on your L.A to-do list and as such, we thought we would just give you a little nudge, you know as it’s next door. Head over to our Venice Beach Guide for everything you need to know about Venice Beach, California.

Route 66

Route 66 Terminates in Santa Monica, so it can serve as the perfect place to start your Route 66 Odyssey, However, we much prefer ending it here. So err, yeah one of the ” Best Things to do in Santa Monica is to get on a road and drive thousands of miles away…I think we should end the list here before we get even more carried away…

What to Eat in Santa Monica

Santa Monica is packed with just about every chain restaurant you can imagine. So you will never go hungry. However, We can do a lot better than that!

  • Meat on Ocean – the fabulous ocean setting and wonderful decor mean NOTHING. This is all about the Steaks and the hand butchered 30Day+ Dry Aged Monsters served here are
  • Perry’s Beach Cafe – Classic Beach Cafe serving Cali Style diner food right on the beach. Location, Location, Location.
  • Cha Cha Chicken – Simple cheap and delicious Jerk Chicken Joint. Right near the ocean amongst many overpriced tourist traps. Bring Your own booze too!
  • Huckleberry Bakery – Incredible Sandwiches and Baked goods that really are to Die for. Worth coming to Santa Monica for, even if our huge list of things to do isn’t enough by itself!
  • Nobu Malibu – Yes we know this isn’t in Santa Monica, it’s not even close. But it’s close enough we just had to pop it on the end as it is SO worth the trip. The Original Nobu (Sort of) and easily the best!

Staying in Santa Monica

When We stay in L.A. We stay in Santa Monica. There are a few downsides and upsides of the stunning locale, laid-back vibe, endless amenities, and restaurants, and did we mention the Stunning Views? It’s just the best place in L.A. to stay.

The Downsides are the lack of parking, a problem in most locations. The Rather steep hotel prices, which is a price worth paying, and the fact you may have to travel quite far to most attractions. But in reality, You will end up moving about quite a lot on any L.A trip. But in Santa Monica, if you don’t want to go anywhere you won’t need to as you have everything on your doorstep. The same can’t be said for that Motel in Hollywood, even if it was half the price!

  • The Georgian – Historic Hotel is Right on the Coast with phenomenal views from the Ocean Front Rooms
  • Shutters On The Beach – The Hotel Of Choice for the Rich and the Famous. If Money isn’t the issue, Stay here.
  • Hotel Shangri-la – As the name suggests this is a relaxed and tranquil hotel right by the ocean.
  • Cal Mar Suites – Very Basic, but the fantastic location and pretty cheap in comparison. But one to treat as somewhere to crash only!

Have Your Say

What do You like to do in Santa Monica? Have we missed off your favorite? Is one of our Favourites no good in Your opinion? Do you think running up some stairs is fun? Whatever you have to say just drop us a comment below, we love hearing from you. And if you have any questions, just fire away.

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