Santa Monica California
Santa Monica, California offers more than its beach and year round warm weather. Its proximity to the greater Los Angeles area makes Santa Monica the perfect base for vacationers and business travelers alike.
Some of the reasons why people visit Santa Monica are:
- a walkable 8.3 square miles (21.5 km²)
- 3.5-miles stretch of coastline
- laid-back beach town atmosphere with big city sophistication
- eight neighborhoods offering a diverse mix of shopping, dining, entertainment, outdoor recreation
- easily accessible public transportation and rentals making it easy to go car free
For travelers aiming to discover the rest of Los Angeles and the greater Southern California region, Santa Monica serves as a convenient hub for broader exploration.
Reasons to base yourself in Santa Monica:
- only eight miles (13 km) north of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- only 13 miles (21 km) from the heart of Downtown Los Angeles
- easy access to neighboring areas and attractions
- close to other popular Southern California cities such as Beverly Hills and Hollywood
Understanding Santa Monica’s neighbourhoods
Santa Monica is in fact home to one of most iconic beaches in California. But did you know that Santa Monica is also home to eight different neighborhoods all with their own personality? Below we give you a rundown of every neighborhood, how the neighborhoods differ, and what you can expect from visiting each. By Spencer Spellman
Just a few blocks east of the Pier you will find the downtown & 3rd Street Promenade neighborhood of Santa Monica. Santa Monica’s downtown hub is a destination for shoppers looking for everything from designer duds and home décor to artisan coffee and handcrafted chocolate. You’ll also find the famous open-air, pedestrian-only 3rd Street Promenade, home to dozens of retailers, some of the city’s best people watching, and lively events like outdoor movie screenings and popular farmers markets. Neighborhood landmarks include the historic Georgian Hotel and the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. By Robin Jones
Set just two blocks from the Pacific Ocean, Main Street stretches nearly a mile, with a unique laid-back collection of restaurants, boutiques, coffee shops, and salons. Independent retailers and small, local chains—many with health-focused options—anchor the tree-lined blocks between Pico Boulevard to the north and the city of Venice to the south. On Sundays, families and residents flock to Heritage Square for the bustling farmers market, which features live music, and free valet parking for cyclists. Just two blocks to the west is Ocean Park Beach, a five-acre park just south of the iconic Santa Monica Pier. By Elizabeth Jenkins
Accessed by major thoroughfares Wilshire Boulevard and the Santa Monica 10-Freeway, Mid-City is a burgeoning arts district anchored by destinations like the 18th Street Arts Center and Bergamot Station, home to more than 40 galleries. A diverse array of dining options adds to the neighborhood’s appeal. Arriving in early 2016, the Exposition Light Rail will also ferry visitors to the streets here with a new stop at Bergamot Station. By Molly Woodstock
Think of Montana Avenue as a laid-back alternative to Rodeo Drive. Lining the northwest edge of town, just a few miles from Ocean Avenue, the Santa Monica Pier, and Third Street Promenade, a 10-block stretch boasts more than 150 boutiques and retailers. During the daylight hours the street hums with stylish locals and visitors sipping espressos in chic cafés and browsing at shops from high-end designers—all with a friendly and welcoming vibe. By Robin Jones
The Santa Monica Airport—which services private and charter planes—has long been home to an aviation museum, the Museum of Flying. First opened in 1974, the museum was completely refurbished in 2012 and houses a trove of historic aircraft and a modern flight simulator. Other attractions include a garden of native plants, a twice-monthly antique market, two restaurants, and two observation decks. To the north Ocean Park Boulevard runs all the way from the sand to the city’s eastern edge. Tucked among the numerous residences, you’ll find delicious, locally owned restaurants, some of the city’s best shops, and aviation-themed Clover Park’s spacious recreational fields and green spaces. By Elizabeth Jenkins
This bustling thoroughfare connects Santa Monica State Beach to the west and downtown Los Angeles destinations like Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center to the east. Hotels (both luxury and economy) line the blocks, as do a rich variety of restaurants and boutiques. Neighborhood landmarks include Virginia Avenue Park and Santa Monica College. Santa Monica High School, whose notable alums include Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe, and Carson Daly, also resides on Pico Boulevard. By Elizabeth Jenkins
Ocean Avenue is famous for the gem located at its southern end: The 106-year-old Santa Monica Pier, with its oft-photographed Ferris wheel, is justifiably popular with visitors thanks to a mix of amusement rides and games found at Pacific Park, the venerable theme park at its tip. Seafood restaurants and beaches populated with tanned surfers, sun worshipers, and body builders also top the list of reasons to spend a day in this neighborhood. And don’t miss the chance to snap a picture by the End of the Route sign on the Pier for the legendary Route 66, which ends its 2,500-mile journey a few blocks away at Olympic and Lincoln Boulevards. By Robin Jones
Beginning at Ocean Avenue and running all the way through Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and into downtown L.A., Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles is one of the most well-known streets in town. It borders the Third Street Promenade on its southwestern edge, borders the hugely popular Douglas Park, known for playing fields, lawn bowling, reflecting pools, and natural landscaping. Eateries catering to every palate line the avenue, with a concentration of Mexican restaurants serving both new and old favorites. Numerous designer consignment shops dot the avenue as well, catering to fashionistas on a budget. The strip ends at the scenic Palisades Park, known for its inspiring sunset vistas. By Elizabeth Jenkins
Santa Monica is the perfect beach town. More so than adjacent Malibu or Venice Beach, Santa Monica manages the ideal balance of seaside charm and coastal sophistication. This makes it an entirely attractive travel destination. At just 8.3 square miles, you’ll find Santa Monica to be very walkable, yet with a laid-back warmth to it.
The city also offers plenty to do. Your itinerary can be as complex or as simple as you wish—fill your days with museum-hopping and world-class shopping, or relax on the beach and watch the world go by. Here are some of the top Santa Monica attractions and activities.
Santa Monica Beach
The long, wide expanse of Santa Monica Beach is distinguished from other Southern California shorelines by the sheer extent of activities one can enjoy. Both sand and ocean are clean and beautiful, making for some grade-A beachcombing, swimming and surfing. But that’s not all. Bike down the 26-mile bike path, the Marvin Braude Bike Trail (also known as The Strand), with the wind at your back and the crash of the waves in your ears, indulge in some seaside chess, try your hand at a game of beach volleyball, or stop to enjoy the outdoor activities offered at the Annenberg Community Beach House. After a day out, stick around for the finest Santa Monica attraction of all—a fiery beachside sunset.
Popular activities at the beach include:
Although a very popular Southern Californian attraction, the beach is also very large (3.5 miles long) which provides plenty of room for summer crowds. Manned lifeguard stations, paved walkways, restrooms and restaurants are plentiful and easy to find.
The South Bay Bicycle Trail is a 22-mile long, paved trail that starts in Santa Monica and finishes at the Torrance County Beach while passing through Venice, Hermosa and Redondo beach. Bicycle rentals, bike tours and hotel loaner programs are available for visitors.
Surfing and Paddleboarding
Bay St., just south of Hotel Casa del Mar is a popular surf spot because of easy accessibility, a sandy beach break and a spread out line up (not too crowded). Rentals and lessons adjacent to the beach offer beginners an introduction into surfing Southern California.
Santa Monica Pier
When one thinks of Santa Monica, the attraction of the Pier inevitably comes to mind. Its red and yellow Ferris wheel is a city icon. The Pier offers Pacific Park, a full service amusement park, combined with plenty of restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops, as well as an entertaining arcade with more than 200 games. Pacific Park’s solar-powered Ferris wheel makes it the only one of its kind in the region. By day, marvel at the historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel, check out the street performers, or snag a stick of puffy cotton candy. The views of Malibu and the South Bay are pretty outstanding and make for the perfect evening when watched with a beer in hand. Stick around past sunset and you might just catch live local music to the sound of the nearby waves. The Pier is a must-visit Santa Monica attraction that really sets Santa Monica apart as an ideal destination for families and visitors of any age.
Popular attractions at the Santa Monica pier include:
The pier has 7 restaurants, ranging from fine seafood to classic American food. Because of the unique location over the Pacific Ocean, visitors come for the view as much as the food.
Located on the pier, the Pacific Park amusement park features a five-story West Coaster roller coaster, the nine-story Pacific Plunge tower ride, the only over-water miniature golf course, and the nine-story Pacific Wheel ferris wheel – the only over-water ferris wheel in California, and the first solar-powered wheel in the world. More than 6 million visitors a year stop at this iconic Santa Monica attraction and popular photo spot.
The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is located at beach level under the historic Carousel. Featuring hands-on presentations and interactive exhibits, the Aquarium is a part of Santa Monica’s own “Heal the Bay” program, an initiative to educate, inspire and empower its visitors to be stewards of the environment.
Ocean Front Walk
This wide, paved footpath extends south from the Pier and is lined with shops and restaurants. The kids will love the stone-walled sandbox with a concrete Viking ship in its midst. An interactive dragon’s head looming in the grass nearby rounds out this children’s attraction. A row of volleyball courts is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
A National Historic Landmark, the 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel is where Paul Newman worked in The Sting.
The Playland Arcade is packed with over 200 games and attractions in Santa Monica, from the classic to the contemporary. Play PacMan while your kids try out Dance-Dance Revolution… or vice versa.
Fishing from the Santa Monica Pier is a popular pastime with local residents and also available to visitors. Pier Bait and Tackle offers gear, poles and bait for fishing in the Pacific Ocean.
Ready to go shopping? With multiple walkable shopping neighborhoods, great sales and designer threads are always within arm’s reach. Whether you prefer name brands or global couture, you’ll find it here. But where Santa Monica shopping really shines is with independent boutiques that reflect the city’s casually sophisticated style. From the quaint little shops of Montana Avenue—Lucy, Splendid, Ruti, Citron—to the glittering storefronts of Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom at Santa Monica Place (to say nothing of the extensive Third Street Promenade), you won’t want for options.
Popular shopping areas / activities include:
A pedestrian-only, open-air shopping destination is only two blocks from the city’s beaches and is noted for its weekly farmers market, street performers and people watching along with its variety of stores.
SANTA MONICA PLACE
Anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, Santa Monica Place features a wide range of luxury and specialty shops such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Michael Kors and Emporio Armani as well as a third floor rooftop deck with views of the Pacific Ocean.
Named by Travel + Leisure as the best farmers market in the county, Santa Monica’s four weekly farmers markets attract the city’s residents and local chefs with the fresh produce, flowers, meats, cheeses, nuts, fish, and more.
Arts & Culture
Santa Monica is home to more than 75 museums and art galleries; clearly this is a city that embraces culture. The abundance of public art and sculpture as well as street performers shows that all of Santa Monica’s art isn’t locked up within four walls, either. Must-visit Santa Monica attractions include L&M Arts, a branch of the New York City gallery by the same name, Bergamot Station (an old train depot containing some 35 galleries). If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure to check the calendar for live events, farmers markets, and the popular summer concert series. The variety of art and culture, along with a host of great restaurants, make Santa Monica a perfect date spot for locals and tourists alike.
Stick around past sunset and you’ll find the city shifts and changes. Locals from all over the LA area head to Santa Monica, where the combination of walkable and casual make for a memorable evening no matter what the occasion. Start with happy hour on a rooftop bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean, such as Suite 700 at Hotel Shangri-La at the Ocean or Sonoma Wine Garden at Santa Monica Place, and end the night dancing at Circle Bar or Bar Copa, or sidled up to the counter at one of the city’s dive bars, such as Chez Jay.