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18 Best Things to do in Santa Monica, California

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Santa Monica, California, is a popular beach city in western Los Angeles County, welcoming millions of tourists annually. It’s a hotspot for travelers worldwide, with quick travel time to and from Los Angeles and convenient access to Orange County and San Diego via the Pacific Coast Highway.

With over 300 sunny days per year, Santa Monica offers ideal weather conditions for outdoor activities, attracting tourists from all over the world.

Planning a trip to Santa Monica can be overwhelming; it’s a large beach town with lots to see and do, including the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica State Beach, and the 3rd Street Promenade.

Santa Monica offers exciting attractions from beaches to museums, parks to ocean views, shopping, great bars, and dining options for families and large groups, couples, or solo travelers.

As you plan your itinerary, remember the following activities and attractions to ensure your visit is memorable. Here are the best things to do in Santa Monica, California.


  • Most significant landmark – Santa Monica Pier
  • Best park – Palisades Park
  • Free activity – Third Street Promenade
  • Activity for kids – Santa Monica State Beach
  • Activity for adults – Santa Monica Stairs
  • Place to eat – FIG Restaurant
  • Nightlife – The Room Santa Monica
  • Place to stay – Ambrose Hotel

Things to Do in Santa Monica, California

1. Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

Address: 380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401

The world-famous Santa Monica Pier is an iconic 1,600-foot-long pier built in 1909. It was the first concrete pier on the West Coast. The first attraction, a carousel, opened on the pier in 1916. Today, Santa Monica Pier receives approximately 5 million visitors annually, enjoying its Ferris wheel and other attractions.

The Santa Monica Pier has had a tumultuous history and was finally restored to its glory in the 1980s. Since then, the pier has drawn crowds from all over the world to see it firsthand.

The main attraction on the Santa Monica Pier is Pacific Park, the amusement park. The park looks directly over the Pacific Ocean and features 12 thrilling rides, midway games, food, and shopping.

The oceanfront steel roller coaster, the West Coaster, and the Pacific Wheel, the first solar-powered Ferris wheel, are the main tourist attractions that draw crowds to the Santa Monica Pier.

Along with Pacific Park, visitors can fish, shop, ride the merry-go-round, play arcade games, watch street performers, enjoy live music, try one of the many food vendors, and explore the Heal the Bay aquarium below the Santa Monica Pier. 

Don’t miss the international chess park, with permanent chess tables and a human chessboard for players and spectators. It’s a one-in-a-million attraction! There are numerous lodging options nearby — try the Ambrose Hotel for a convenient five-minute drive from the pier.

See Related: Things to Do in Venice

2. Santa Monica State Beach

Santa Monica State Beach Scenery

Santa Monica State Beach is great for bringing young kids and the whole family. There’s a vast stretch of sandy beach to be enjoyed, and with great year-round weather, you can always find something to do. Santa Monica Beach stretches over 3.5 miles, attracting more than 8 million visitors annually.

This Santa Monica beach is home to sports courts and activities; visitors can enjoy the beach volleyball courts, play basketball, or run or walk along the path near the beach. The path is popular for bikers, runners, and walkers and stretches three miles from Will Rogers State Beach south to Venice Beach.

If you want to see more of the Santa Monica bike path into Venice Beach, a guided bike tour is a great way to see the sights while enjoying the weather.

The original muscle beach workout area on Ocean Front Walk is just south of the Santa Monica Pier. It features ropes, parallel bars, and swings where fitness enthusiasts can enjoy a great workout in the sand.

Santa Monica State Beach is also home to North Beach Playground, a fun jungle gym with swings, climbing areas, sensory play elements, slides, and more for children between the ages of 2 and 8.

3. Santa Monica Farmers Market

Crowd in Santa Monica Farmers Market
image by La Citta Vita is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 155-199 Arizona Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

The Santa Monica Farmers Market is a popular activity for locals and tourists. It’s a great way to see the city and support local farms and businesses while interacting with locals.

The most popular (and largest) Santa Monica Farmers Market is in downtown Santa Monica and occurs every Wednesday and Saturday. The Wednesday market began in 1981 and has grown to include nearly 75 California farms. You’ll find fresh produce, coffee and tea, farm-fresh eggs, and poultry, among many other items.

The Saturday Santa Monica Farmers Market is adjacent to Third Street Promenade and features the largest percentage of certified organic growers in any market.

Another Saturday Farmers Market in Virginia Avenue Park features fresh produce picked the day before. Visitors can eat their treats while they relax on the lawn, enjoy coffee and breakfast items, and take in the hustle and bustle of the morning market. The Saturday Farmers Market is open from 8 am to 1 pm.

Lastly, the Sunday Farmers Market is located in Heritage Square and is known as Santa Monica’s Main Street Farmers Market.

Food and drink offerings include breakfast burritos, crepes, pancakes, baked goods, and fresh brews from local coffee shops. The Sunday Farmers Market is great for kids; there are activities like face painting and balloon art for them to enjoy. 

See Related: Best Places to Travel in Your 20s in the US

4. 3rd Street Promenade

Third Street Promenade Aerial View

Address: 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401

The 3rd Street Promenade is a car-free promenade in downtown Santa Monica where visitors can walk, shop, and dine in a beautiful outdoor setting. The Third Street Promenade offers shopping options from over 150 retailers, making it a favorite destination for more than 10 million people each year.

From apparel to restaurants, bookstores and art galleries, street performers, and much more, 3rd Street Promenade has plenty of fun things to do for the whole family.

The majority of shops, entertainment, and dining are all within walking distance of each other, making 3rd Street Promenade an easy way to spend a few hours in downtown Santa Monica.

If you visit Santa Monica, the 3rd Street Promenade has some of the best shopping, and you’ll get a taste of the laid-back atmosphere that Santa Monica offers. For an easy-access hotel nearby, try the Huntley Santa Monica Beach.

See Related: Things to Do in Lodi

5. Palisades Park

Palisades Park Scenery

Palisades Park is a 26-acre park along Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. It features incredible panoramic views of Santa Monica Bay, picnic areas, a rose garden, the historic Camera Obscura Art Lab, monuments, and plenty of benches to rest.

Public art monuments in Palisades Park include a Civil War cannon, a statue of Santa Monica from 1934, and the Idaho Gate, a craftsman-style archway built in 1912.

Located near the affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood, Palisades Park is an ideal location to spend a few hours — take a picnic, go for a stroll, and enjoy the stunning views of the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains from the bluff top park.

The park has over 30 species of plants and trees for visitors to enjoy. You’ll find a paved path throughout the park, ideal for biking, walking, or running. Explore the coastline and experience Santa Monica like the locals with a stroll through Palisades Park. The park is open from dawn to dusk each day. 

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

6. California Heritage Museum

California Heritage Museum

Address: 2612 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405

The California Heritage Museum is in a tiny 19th-century home filled with state and local history artifacts. The home is a Historic Landmark located on Main Street in Santa Monica. The exhibits are carefully curated to represent Santa Monica’s history properly and take about an hour to explore.

Past exhibits at the California Heritage Museum include Project: Warhol Photographs, Art Quilts, and Ocean Park Portraits, photographs that captured local business owners in their establishments that have provided culture, food, and entertainment in Santa Monica for many years.

If you plan to visit on a Saturday, the Main Street Farmers Market will be open nearby and is a great place to grab lunch or snacks before heading to the museum.

On Wednesdays, the museum hosts a Food Truck night for visitors and locals to enjoy tasty local cuisine on the lawn of the museum. The California Heritage Museum is open from 11 am to 4 pm, Wednesday through Sunday.

7. Visit Venice Beach

Venice Beach Aerial View

Venice Beach is 2.5 miles south of Santa Monica, easily accessible via Neilson Way or Main Street. You can walk from Santa Monica to Venice Beach in about 40 minutes.

If you’re in Venice Beach for a few hours or staying the day, there are many tours and trips to experience the city as a local. Try this electric bike tour along the coast.

For a change of scenery, stroll the Venice Canals on Dell Avenue. Watch the locals at the Venice Skate Park, right near the beach. Shop and eat in luxury on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Check out the tiny shops and souvenir stand on the Boardwalk, and people-watch as you enjoy the easy walk with beautiful ocean views.

The beaches in Venice are ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. Try your hand at surf lessons with a local. While there, watch the bodybuilders lift heavyweights at the iconic Muscle Beach (the original is located in Santa Monica).

See Related: Best Tropical Vacation Spots in the World

8. Sweet Rose Creamery

Sweet Rose Creamery Entrance
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 2726 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405

Do you have a sweet tooth waiting to be satisfied while in Santa Monica? Look no further than Sweet Rose Creamery, the homemade ice cream shop on Main Street in Santa Monica.

Sweet Rose Creamery is popular with locals and tourists because of its commitment to providing tasty ice cream using fresh ingredients, working with local farmers, and supporting the community.

This popular ice cream shop is known for choosing seasonal flavors based on the items that Executive Chef Shiho Yoshikawa finds at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets. Previous seasonal flavors have included watermelon sorbet, mango fro-yo, blueberry muffin, matcha strawberry crunch, and olive oil lemon wafer.

Sweet Rose Creamery offers dairy-free ice cream for guests with dietary restrictions. You’ll also find ice cream cakes and sandwiches on the menu. As for toppings, you’ll find toasted marshmallows, brownie bites, waffle cone crumbles, sprinkles, almonds, and much more.

After a long day of exploring Santa Monica, pop into Sweet Rose Creamery for a delicious cone made from the freshest ingredients and support local farmers and businesses along the way. Sweet Rose Creamery is open Wednesday through Sunday til 10 pm. They also have a location in Brentwood. 

9. Tongva Park

Tongva Park Entrance
Debbie Ann Powell –

Address: 1615 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Located between Ocean Avenue and Main Street lies Tongva Park, a popular urban park in Santa Monica. It’s a 6-acre public park with unique structures, art sculptures, unique plants, and trees for the public to enjoy.

For families visiting Santa Monica, Tongva Park has a playground, picnic area, splash pad, a walking path, and open space to run around and soak up the beautiful weather. Pack a meal and spend several hours people-watching, playing games, and enjoying time together.

Tongva Park is split into four sections: Observation Hill, Discovery Hill, Garden Hill, and Gathering Hill. As you explore the area, you’ll enjoy beautiful views of the Santa Monica Pier and the sparkling Pacific Ocean.

Strolling through the park, you will encounter various sustainable plants. Tongva Park is home to more than 30,000 plants and 300 trees, most of which are native to the area and are highly drought-tolerant.

Tongva Park is a great way to exercise or relax in a peaceful environment for a break from the beach, shopping, or the pier.

See Related: Family-Friendly Spring Break Ideas

10. Annenberg Community Beach House

Address: 415 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90402

Annenberg Community Beach House can be found at Santa Monica State Beach and is a public beach facility for locals and tourists. The Beach House has a variety of visitor activities, including soccer and volleyball courts, convenient beach access, a splash pad, a playground, and a courtyard area with tables, chairs, and umbrellas to set up camp for the day.

The Beach House pool is one of the remaining elements of the historic Marion Davies Estate. The marble deck and its gorgeous tiles were restored by hand and remain a relic of the past in Santa Monica.

With paid admission, visitors can access the sparkling pool and its deck, lockers, and changing rooms, so spending the whole day at the Annenberg Community Beach House is convenient. This public swimming pool is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a spot to hang out all day in the sun without being on the beach.

From the second-floor pool deck, you can enjoy amazing bay views. Fitness classes, including yoga, beach volleyball, and floating workouts, are also free. There are also children’s gym classes for the little ones.

If you want to hit the beach, there’s an easy access point from the beach house. You can rent paddle boards and sign up for surfing lessons through the community house.

11. Marvin Braude Bike Trail

Marvin Braude Bike Trail and Skyline
image by Jengod is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Trailhead: Will Rogers State Beach, 17000 CA-1, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

Spanning 22 miles along the Santa Monica coastline, the Marvin Braude Bike Trail is a popular bike path that visitors and locals enjoy. It’s commonly known as The Strand to locals. The trailhead is located and begins at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades.

It continues southbound along the beach and passes through Santa Monica State Beach, then underneath the Santa Monica Pier. The path then passes through Venice Beach, Dockweiler State Beach, El Porto Beach, Manhattan County Beach, Hermosa City Beach, King Harbor, Redondo Beach, and Torrance County Beach.

The Marvin Braude Bike Trail is open daily and is a fun way to experience the various beach towns in Southern California on a day-long ride. You can make the trip as long as you want, stopping for a bite at one of the many restaurants.

See Related: Best Walking Cities for Vacation in the US

12. Tar & Roses Restaurant

Tar & Roses Restaurant Interior
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 602 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90401

For a delicious bite to eat at 3rd Street Promenade, stop at Tar & Roses in Santa Monica. Serving up a globally-inspired dining experience, the Tar & Roses menu was contains only the highest-quality ingredients and fresh, local products.

With entree items, including chili crab cake, balsamic glazed ribs, and venison loin, there are many options for every craving and palette. Popular starters include octopus skewers, shishito peppers, and oxtail dumplings—the menu changes based on the season and available ingredients. Tar & Roses only uses the freshest ingredients and can adapt its menu based on local farmers’ harvesting.

Try one of the many whites and reds from the wine list to pair with dinner. Noteworthy beers include a pear cider, the Surfridge IPA, and a Belgian ale with cherries.

For a buzzing atmosphere, welcoming staff, and unique, fresh dishes in Santa Monica, stop at Tar & Roses for a memorable, fresh dining experience. Tar & Roses is open for dinner every night at 5:30 pm. It is closed on Sundays.

13. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Aerial Scenery

The Santa Monica Mountains are a coastal mountain range in southern California, Santa Monica specifically. The mountain range is 150,000 acres and is the world’s largest urban national park. The mountains stretch through Malibu and downtown Los Angeles and contain many hiking and biking trails that visitors and tourists enjoy.

Within the mountains is Point Mugu State Park, which consists of five miles of ocean shoreline, beaches, sand dunes, and two river canyons. Visitors can swim, surf, and fish at Point Mugu State Park and enjoy a fun day in the sunshine.

The mountains are free to explore, and there are a few popular hikes and noteworthy spots to see. These include the M*A*S*H site, where some scenes from the TV show were filmed. Escondido Falls is a 200-foot waterfall accessed via a 3.8-mile hike. Descend Temescal Ridge to Skull Rock and a view of Santa Monica Bay.

The trails in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area offer challenging hikes and accessible footpaths for all fitness levels and ages. You’ll never run out of things to see, from historic walks to mountain trails, ocean views, and waterfalls.

See Related: Most Beautiful Valleys in the US

14. Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica Place Aerial View
image by Kevin Labianco is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 395 Santa Monica Pl, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Santa Monica Place is an outdoor shopping mall at the end of the 3rd Street Promenade. Lined with palm trees and home to many popular boutiques, Santa Monica Place draws in guests and locals for its excellent shopping and energetic atmosphere.

Featuring high-end luxury shops like All Saints, Coach, and Louis Vuitton, to restaurants like Cheesecake Factory, True Food, and Johnny Rockets, there’s plenty to see and do at Santa Monica Place.

The mall hosts a few events for guests to enjoy throughout the year, and a live DJ spins in the plaza on Saturdays from 2 to 5 pm.

On the mall’s third floor is the Cayton Children’s Museum, with interactive exhibits and fun play places for children and families to enjoy. It’s a great way to spend a few hours indoors with your kids. Exhibits include a real-life helicopter, a miniature marketplace, and a reactive virtual reality to engage children and foster creativity and curiosity.

Santa Monica Place offers guests a relaxing shopping environment, tasty restaurants to enjoy a meal, and a cool, open-air design to enjoy the beach city’s perfect weather. Shop til you drop, explore the mall, and enjoy its many amenities in Santa Monica, California.

15. Santa Monica Stairs

Santa Monica Stairs Aerial View
DocFreeman24, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 699 Adelaide Dr, Santa Monica, CA 90402

For fitness lovers looking for a great workout while traveling or on vacation, the Santa Monica Stairs are a set of outdoor stairways that descend from Adelaide Drive to Santa Monica Canyon.

The canyon stairs from Adelaide Drive consist of 170 wooden and concrete steps that offer a vertical change of 110 feet. The other canyon stairs begin at 4th Street and lead to Ocean Avenue. This stairway has 189 concrete steps and a few right and left-hand turns.

Los Angeles’ fitness-obsessed community keeps the Santa Monica Stairs fairly crowded regardless of day or time. You’ll find locals and tourists at both stairways, challenging themselves physically and mentally to get to the top.

For walkers, runners, and curious visitors, the Santa Monica Stairs offer a taste of the fitness and culture of Los Angeles, right near the beach in Santa Monica. If you fancy a stroll or want to experience the stairs, we recommend going early to beat the rush!

See Related: Best California Road Trips | Your Ultimate Guide

16. Experience Santa Monica Nightlife

Santa Monica Night Lights Scenery

Address: 1348 14th St, Santa Monica, CA 90404

For the night owls and social butterflies, Santa Monica, California, has an exciting nightlife with bars, pubs, live music, and other forms of entertainment for visitors to enjoy.

Start your evening at The Chestnut Club, a modern cocktail bar and intimate space for enjoying a night out on the town. With craft cocktails, including a Paloma, Aperol Spritz, and the Chestnut Old Fashioned, guests have various creative libations. Enjoy small plates, including a cheese plate, shrimp ceviche, and the New York hot dog. Chestnut Club is open til 2 am and offers a laid-back, relaxing vibe.

Try ONYX Rooftop Bar in the Shangri-La Hotel for a luxurious Hollywood glamour experience. With a timeless Art Deco design and direct ocean views, ONYX Rooftop Bar has an excellent location and is open until 12 am on Friday and Saturday and 10 pm Sunday through Thursday.

End your evening at The Room Santa Monica with craft cocktails, hip-hop music, leather couches, and a moody vibe. The Room is open Thursdays til 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays til 2 a.m.

17. FIG Restaurant

FIG Restaurant Interior
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 101 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90401

FIG gained popularity in Santa Monica with a rustic yet refined dining experience for its enticing atmosphere, delicious menu, and ideal location. FIG is an American bistro committed to using seasonal, fresh items from local farmers and sources in southern California.

FIG has a variety of menus, including breakfast, a weekend brunch, and a dinner menu. Popular breakfast items include the breakfast burrito and the smoked brisket hash.

For lunch, the spicy fish tacos and FIG burgers are popular items. Dinner items are mouthwatering and delicious, including spaghetti pomodoro, braised beef short rib, and foraged mushroom pizza.

Signature cocktails at FIG include a cucumber margarita, Lillet lemonade, and a lavender-infused gin with lemon and honey.

FIG is located inside the Fairmont Miramar and is open daily for breakfast from 7 am to 11 am. Brunch weekend hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 pm. Dinner hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 pm to 10 pm. 

See Related: Things to Do in Sonoma

18. Museum of Flying

Museum of Flying

Address: 3100 Airport Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90405

The Museum of Flying is located at the Santa Monica Airport. It features a display and exhibit area on the history of flight and the development of the aviation industry in southern California.

In particular, the museum showcases the history of the Santa Monica Airport with over 20 aircraft, including the replica Wright Flyer and the nose section of a FedEx 727.

The museum also features an Early Aviation hangar, a display gallery with most aircraft, an interactive area with open cockpits, and a screening room where visitors can watch aviation-related documentaries. Volunteer docents at the museum can answer questions and provide group tours.

Whether you’re an avid aviation fan or you need a break from all the LA sunshine, the Museum of Flying is a great way to learn and explore Santa Monica’s history and admire all the aircraft of the past. The museum is small but well-curated and ideal for families with young children. There is a lot to see, and the aircraft will keep kids interested and engaged.

The Museum of Flying is open from 10 am to 4 pm on Thursday through Sunday.

Tours in Santa Monica

1. Santa Monica: Ghosts of the Coast Haunted Walking Tour Top Recommendation

Come explore the spooky side of Santa Monica on a guided walking tour of the town's most haunted sites. Hear first-hand accounts of paranormal activity at The Georgian Hotel, Chez Jay, and other iconic locations. As you scan the city skyline for rooftop spirits, you'll also learn about Santa Monica's rich history and ties to the gold rush and the day of the dead. This chilling tour is perfect for anyone looking to add a little excitement to their next vacation.

2. Los Angeles: Santa Monica and Venice Electric Bike Tour

Looking for an electric bike tour in Los Angeles that's fun, engaging, and informative? Look no further than the Santa Monica and Venice Electric Bike Tour! You'll have the opportunity to ride an electric beach cruiser along the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice, including Muscle Beach and the Venice skatepark. And because you can choose your own comfort level with an electric bicycle, this tour is perfect for riders of all skill levels.

3. Wine Tour from Los Angeles & Santa Monica to Malibu

Looking for an incredible wine tour experience in Los Angeles and Santa Monica? Look no further than our Wine Tour from Los Angeles & Santa Monica to Malibu! From the city to the majestic coast to rugged mountains and canyons, this tour has it all. Sip wine in Malibu and the surrounding areas while experiencing the local culture and viewing the incredible scenery along the way. Locations vary daily based upon availability and may include Los Angeles, Malibu, Santa Monica.

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