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Things to Do in Santa Monica

Updated: May 11, 2024
 By Mel

Just 16 miles from Los Angeles, Santa Monica is loved by locals and tourists alike. With a beautiful beach, a famous pier, great restaurants, and a unique vibe, Santa Monica is worth a visit when you are in LA.

Here are the top things to do in Santa Monica, as well as directions from Downtown LA and Hollywood, and other helpful information.


Best Things to Do in Santa Monica

This iconic seaside town is THE place to go for sun, sand, dining, shopping, and most of all people-watching. The cast of characters here provides endless entertainment!

It's not all beach though. Santa Monica's parks are beautiful and the Santa Monica Mountains are right there.

Here are the best things to do and the most popular attractions in Santa Monica.


Santa Monica State Beach 

This 3.5-mile stretch of beach has so much to offer besides sun, surf and sand!

Swim in the ocean with lifeguard protection. Rent water sports equipment from shops along the beach. Go surfing - and if you don't know how to, take lessons! 

Take advantage of the free activities. There are playgrounds, beach volleyball courts, and picnic areas.

Near the beach, there are cafes and restaurants, plus some lovely beachside resorts and hotels.

Santa Monica Beach is free to visit and is open from sunrise to sunset.

If you have come by car, parking is available on the street or in the 9 main lots available along the beach. Read more below.


Santa Monica Pier

In the middle of Santa Monica Beach, is the famous Santa Monica Pier, jutting out 1,651 feet into the Pacific Ocean.

The grown-ups will enjoy the people-watching, novelty shops, and street performers, while the little kids will love the historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel.

Grab a bite from one of several restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp or food kiosks selling snacks like hot dogs and tamales.

It's free to visit Santa Monica Pier, which is open 24 hours a day though shops and food vendors keep their own hours.

Parking is available both on the pier deck and within two additional lower lots. Click here for seasonal hours and parking rates.


Pacific Park

Part of the Santa Monica Pier is known as Pacific Park--the west coast’s only amusement park on a pier!

With a dozen amusement rides, including a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and more, there's something here for everyone in the family.

There’s an arcade too, as well as food stands and souvenir shops.

Check the website for hours, as they can vary due to weather, season, and special events.

Enjoy the rides at Pacific Park with tickets here.


Annenberg Community Beach House

This free-to-visit public facility north of the Santa Monica Pier, is a great spot to stop at during your day at the beach.

Swim in the pool, grab a beach chair and tan, play on the beach volleyball courts or soccer fields, and let the kiddies run free on the splash pad.

For something a little extra, check out the rotating art exhibits and cultural events that take place here. Also, there is free Wi-Fi!

See the website for hours and other information.


Original Muscle Beach

This Santa Monica landmark, just south of the pier, has been around since the 1930s. The beach garnered fame in the 1950s when Jack LaLanne and other famous bodybuilders came here to work out. 

Though today’s muscle men work out at Muscle Beach Venice, there is still a gymnastics area here.

Both adults and youth can use gymnastics equipment like parallel bars, rings, chinning bars, swings and ropes, plus the small jungle gym and a padded gymnastics area.

Find out more here.


Third Street Promenade

This three-block pedestrian area in downtown Santa Monica is perfect for shopping and dining and urban sightseeing.

Along Third Street between Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard, restaurants and local shops line the sidewalks.

Chain stores and high-end boutiques can be found in Santa Monica Place, an outdoor shopping mall.

The restaurant scene is great and you can dine while enjoying street musicians. There is also some cool street art to see.

Find out more about here.


Santa Monica Farmers Market

Since 1979, the Santa Monica Farmers Market has been supplying locals with fresh produce, freshly caught fish, locally harvested meat and cheese, flowers and more.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 8 am to 1 pm, there are more than 40 vendors who set up their stalls next to the Third Street Promenade. 

Food stands are out for you to snack on homemade foods and street musicians are out to entertain. 

The market is open year-round, rain or shine, not that it ever rains in Southern California!


Tongva Park

Tongva Park just two blocks from the pier, is one of the most beautiful parks in Santa Monica.

It’s six acres and has four themed main sections: Garden Hill, Observation Hill, Gathering Hill, and Discovery Hill.

Discovery Hill is family-friendly with a play area and splash pad. Garden Hill is filled with trees and plants and is perfect for relaxing. 

At Gathering Hill, park visitors can peer over a huge steel art installation, called Weather Field. There are also free concerts here in a natural amphitheater.

Have your camera out for Observation Hill, where there are spectacular views of the ocean.


Heal the Bay Aquarium

If you want to see the marine life up close, head to the Heal the Bay Santa Monicaier Aquarium.

With over 100 local species on display, hands-on activities and daily educational programs, this aquarium is a great spot for those who want to take a deeper look into marine science.

General Hours are Wednesday-Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm. Tickets: Adults and kids 13+: $12.00; Kids 12 and under free.


Palisades Park

Another one of Santa Monica's gorgeous parks, the 26-acre Palisades Park is located at Ocean Avenue between Colorado Avenue and Adelaide Drive.

Palm trees line the paved paths which are popular with locals who come here to jog, stroll and take in the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.

With benches, picnic areas and restrooms, Palisades Park is a great place to hang out before or after spending time at the pier.


Broad Stage

For some indoor culture, the Broad Stage offers an impressive array of performing arts.

See musicals and plays, listen to orchestral performances, and attend film screenings in this intimate 500-seat theater.


Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Where the mountains meet the sea, the Santa Monica Mountains are one of the most beautiful public parks in America. 

Within the Recreation Area, there are twenty parks with over 500 miles of trails and 41 miles of coastline.

Hike, bike, walk, ride horses, climb, camp, swim, surf, or just sit back and take in the glory of Mother Nature.

There are also Native American cultural sites, historic ranches, and former movie set locations. 

See what else there is to do at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.


Sweet Rose Creamery

Last but not least, do not leave Santa Monica without a pit stop at the Sweet Rose Creamery at 2726 Main Street between Ashland Ave. and Hill St.

This local ice cream maker creates scrumptious flavors using ingredients from local, organic farmers. Everything is made from scratch in-house.

Their approach is that Mint Chip should taste like fresh mint. So they use fresh mint!

Try classics like Old Fashioned Vanilla made with whole, organic Tahitian vanilla beans and a splash of Madagascar vanilla extract.

For a 'pick-me-up', try Bonito Coffee, a latte-like flavor w freshly ground Catuai medium-roast beans from Ojai’s farm-to-cup Bonito Coffee Roaster. It doesn't get better than that!


How To Get to Santa Monica

LA is famous for its car culture so you won't be out of place driving to Santa Monica.

Public transportation may not be the fastest, but if you don't have a car, you can still get to Santa Monica.

At only 8.3 square miles large, Santa Monica is a very walkable city so once there you won't need a car to get around.


By Car

Santa Monica is 16 miles (26 km) from Los Angeles. Without traffic, the drive is 25 minutes.

Use this Google Maps link for exact driving directions from your point of departure.

There is plenty of parking in Santa Monica. Find more information below.


By Public Transportation

From Downtown Los Angeles or Pasadena, you can take the rail train by the Metro Expo Line. It takes 45 minutes from Downtown LA to beach-side Santa Monica and costs just $1.75 one-way.

Stops are at Downtown Santa Monica, near Third Street Promenade, 26th Street, near Bergamot Station, and 17th Street, near Santa Monica College

The Big Blue Bus offers various routes throughout LA that stop at or near Santa Monica Beach.

One-way tickets cost $1.25 in cash for each ride or $1.10 for contactless tap-to-pay.


FAQs:

When is the best time to visit Santa Monica?

The best time to visit Santa Monica is between September and November. You’ll avoid the beach crowds from the summer months and enjoy some of the warmest weather of the year.

You can also find better prices for Santa Monica accommodations and airfare in the fall.


Where can I park in Venice?

At Santa Monica Beach, there are 9 parking lots. The lots cost between $7 to $18 per day.

There are also several public parking lots and structures along 2nd Street and 4th Street.

They are operated 24 hours every day and are free for the first 90 minutes. After that, the rate depends on the time of day and how long you park there.

On-street parking meters and pay machines at are typically $2.50 per hour in the Downtown and Beach Meter Zones and $1.25 per hour in all other citywide meter zones.

Find out everything you need to know about parking in Venice.


Is it easy to get to Santa Monica from Hollywood?

Yes. If you have a car, the drive from Hollywood to Santa Monica will be more convenient but not necessarily faster. If it’s during rush hour the Metro might just be quicker!

By public transportation, take the Metro Red Line and transfer at Union Station/Downtown for the Metro Expo Line that will take you all the way to Santa Monica.


Can I walk from Santa Monica to Venice Beach?

Yes. The distance between them is just over two miles. You can bike or rollerblade as well on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.

Check out Santa Monica Bicycle Rentals or Sea Mist Rentals for rentals.

Things to do in Santa Monica

Another option is to hop on the Big Blue Bus Route 1 which travels from Santa Monica to Venice.


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About The Author

Mel

Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!
Updated: May 11th, 2024
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