When it comes to California’s coastal cities, Santa Monica is one of the more popular destinations for travelers looking for a variety of attractions and experiences.
Located on the Santa Monica Bay just 15 miles from Los Angeles, this picturesque city with a population of less than 100,000 is mainly known for its pleasant climate and beaches.
The atmosphere around the city is a combination of energy and relaxation. These things, along with many top restaurants, shops, hotels, nightclubs and unique attractions, make Santa Monica the perfect base for your Southern California trip.
The city has several different shopping districts, including Montana Avenue in the north, Main Street in the south, and the Downtown District. Because the city is compact, it is easy to walk from one area to another.
Santa Monica also has several art galleries that host various events and festivals throughout the year, including the Santa Monica Film Festival.
Here are 15 of the best things to do in and around Santa Monica, California.
1. Learn about local history at the California Heritage Museum
Housed in a beautiful Victorian home known as the Roy Jones House, the California Museum of History is a great place to start your adventure in Santa Monica.
During your visit to this museum, you can not only admire the unique architecture of the house itself, but also learn about the local history through various exhibits showing artifacts, photos and documents.
There is a permanent exhibit highlighting the history of the house and the Jones family, and a number of temporary exhibits are shown throughout the year. On the Road, Broken Dreams and Art Quilts are just some of the past exhibitions.
2. Spend the day at the iconic Santa Monica Pier
No trip to Santa Monica is complete without a visit to the iconic Santa Monica Pier. For more than 100 years, this beautiful marina has provided locals and tourists alike with a place to relax and have fun in Santa Monica.
The pier itself is a great place to catch a stunning sunset, people watch or stroll along the boardwalk, all while soaking up the exciting atmosphere nearby.
The immediate quayside area has many services and attractions, including restaurants, cafés and shops. Pacific Park is another attraction near the pier; it features an amusement park with a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, carousel, and games.
The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is located below the pier and features a variety of marine life that makes its home in the Santa Monica Bay.
The Santa Monica Pier is also known for its many events throughout the year, including a music festival.
3. Kick back to the waterfront at Santa Monica State Beach
While the Santa Monica area is full of beaches, none are as accessible and exciting as Santa Monica State Beach.
Stretching nearly four miles along the length of the city, this popular and beautiful stretch of sand is where you’ll find crowds on hot, sunny days. However, if you are looking for a quieter place to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean, you can walk further to the beach.
Beach amenities include lifeguards, bathrooms, playground, picnic tables and wooden walkways. You can also rent bicycles and water sports equipment, and there are volleyball courts and chess tables on site.
4. Immerse yourself in the history of Southern California Airlines
The Museum of Flight at Santa Monica Airport showcases the history of Southern California aviation through a variety of exhibits and artifacts.
View historical artifacts and rare art related to flying. Learn how flying has evolved over the years and airlines like Boeing, Northrop and Lockheed.
Admire dozens of aircraft, including replicas of the Wright Flyer and the nose of a Boeing 727. Try Flight Simulator for a more interactive experience.
Guided tours led by knowledgeable staff are available.
5. Sweet Rose Cream
While ice cream parlors are common in Southern California, Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica is the only store in the Greater Los Angeles area that serves homemade local ice cream.
These delicious desserts and toppings are made on site using local, organic ingredients. Choose from a variety of familiar flavors and unique flavors, such as sweet potato swirls.
6. Experience shopping paradise on the 3rd Street Promenade
Downtown Santa Monica is a vibrant and exciting place. Right at the center of it all is the Third Street Promenade, a popular pedestrian shopping area spread over four blocks.
Along this palm-lined street, there are many shops, restaurants, cafes, hawkers and nightlife. Street performers entertain visitors throughout the day, and several events take place on the street throughout the year.
7. Enjoy the natural environment and scenery of the area
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the ideal route for a day trip, combining scenic road trips with the abundance of outdoor recreation in a pristine wilderness destination.
Enjoy views of the mountains and the Pacific Ocean in a beautiful area where you can frolic in the waves and climb the mountain on the same day. Pass by famous beach towns like Malibu and Oxnard. Hike 500 miles of trails and spend the night at one of the campgrounds if you don’t want to return to the hustle and bustle the same day.
You can also explore several state parks along the way, including Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park, and Point Mugu State Park.
8. Visit the Santa Monica Farmers Market
As you approach the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the first thing you’ll notice is the smell of freshly cooked food in the air. The second thing you’ll notice is the vibrant vibe. This historic market has been a Santa Monica tradition for more than 40 years and offers more than just fresh vegetables.
As you walk through the market, you’ll see street performers and live cooking demonstrations. You’ll be able to buy a range of produce, baked goods and freshly prepared meals. The market operates year-round.
9. Ride the South Bay Bike Path
Bring your bike or rent one in Santa Monica and head to Will Rogers Beach for a 22-mile journey along the coast.
The South Bay Bikeway is the longest seaside bikeway in the world. Witness beautiful coastal scenery and visit iconic sights including the Venice Boardwalk and Venice Pier as you pass through several coastal towns.
10. Spend the day at Annenberg Community Beach House
Imagine the excitement of living in a California beach town in the Roaring Twenties and add luxury beach houses and clubs.
The Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica was once owned by actress Marion Davis when it was here.
Today, the extensive grounds are open to the public, and the hotel houses many leisure facilities including a swimming pool, café, volleyball and tennis courts.
Marion Davies Guest House is also on the grounds and features an art gallery. Free tours are offered.
11. Enjoy art at the Bergamot Station
Bergamot Station used to be a train station, but is now a famous arts center, the perfect place to browse some galleries and exhibitions on a rainy day. Inside this five-acre complex, you’ll see modern and classical art from around the world.
Even this building stands out for its striking architecture. At the end of your architectural tour, sit back and enjoy a hot drink and dessert in the on-site café.
12. Eat Hawaiian food at Sea Salt Poke
Sea Salt Poke is a traditional Hawaiian restaurant serving Hawaiian cuisine with a focus on poke bowls.
You can choose to make your own poke bowl, with a variety of ingredients to choose from, or order from the chef’s menu. All ingredients are fresh and all toppings and sauces are made on site.
13. Watch a show on the expansive stage
Since 2008, the expansive stage at the Santa Monica Performing Arts Center has provided locals and visitors alike with a unique and intimate venue where people can enjoy a variety of artistic performances.
It’s the largest performing arts venue in the city, but with only 500 seats, you can bet on the cozy atmosphere. Theatre, dance, musicals, symphony and orchestra performances are among the events held throughout the year.
14. Eat a healthy meal at Pono Burger
When you think of burgers, you probably think of unhealthy, greasy fast food varieties. At Pono Burger in Santa Monica, you’ll find a different kind of burger.
Pono Burger serves a variety of healthy burgers and other items for lunch and dinner. All items on the menu are organic and made with local ingredients. The beef in the delicious artisan burgers is grass-fed only.
On the menu, you can choose from a variety of items to accompany your burger. Chips, sandwiches, shakes and craft beer are just some of the options.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Santa Monica, CA (CA)
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