With miles of scenic coastline, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares throughout the city, and close proximity to the cultural and culinary offerings of the greater Los Angeles area, Santa Monica is a versatile destination that meets the needs of every traveler.
An ideal mix of outdoor opportunities, sandy shores, and urban adventures means Santa Monica exudes relaxed sophistication. Visitors can enjoy laid-back beach vibes and family fun then hit the town for some retail therapy and world-class dining, including many places outdoors where you can savor your meal and the warm weather.
Choose your home base
Nowhere in Santa Monica is too far from the beach, and many hotels are within easy walking distance of shopping, dining, and activities. For a dreamy retreat, snag a suite at Shutters on the Beach. With its Cape Cod-style shutters and balconies, beach butler service, and award-winning restaurants overlooking the water, the property beckons guests to meander the grounds and savor exquisite ocean views. The onsite spa, One, is the ultimate place to recharge and relax.
Hotel Casa del Mar is another good choice for discerning travelers. Originally built in 1926, it was—and remains—a playground for the Hollywood A-list. Loews, with its expansive pool deck flanked by towering palm trees and 13 cozy fire pits, is a sublime vantage point for taking in the Pacific Coast sunset. And for travelers who prefer an Art Deco vibe, there’s The Georgian Hotel and Hotel Shangri-la. Staying further away and want to enjoy the beach in style for the day? Several hotels offer cabana service.
Iconic landmarks and postcard-worthy spots
Santa Monica may be best known for the Santa Monica Pier, home to Pacific Park. Here, visitors can revel in a carnival atmosphere unlike any other place on earth. The West Coast’s only amusement park located on a pier, it features the Pacific Wheel—the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel—and the Wester Coaster, a double-helix-style steel roller coaster that gifts riders with unparalleled ocean and city views before plunging 55 feet at 35 miles per hour. Families, couples, and friend groups alike will love the beachside bumper carts, carnival rides, midway games, souvenir shopping, and fair food (hello funnel cake) at this high-energy attraction that helps define Santa Monica.
At some point visitors will surely find themselves at Third Street Promenade, a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare teeming with shops, cafés, and entertainment venues. The south end of the esplanade is where you’ll find Santa Monica Place, a collection of stores such as Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Rolex, Coach, The Gourmandise School, and more.
Incomparable beach time
Santa Monica’s beaches are the California ideal: Long stretches of soft, sandy shores, optimal surfing conditions, and people-watching galore. A good jumping-off point is the Annenberg Community Beach House, which features spectacular views, community and cultural events, volleyball courts, a historic tile pool with a marble deck, free Wi-Fi, and plenty of activities for the kids like a splash pad and playground. Built in 1929 for Marion Davies by William Randolph Hearst, the location was once a playground for the rich and famous. Now, it is available for all to enjoy. Visitors can also rent beach/all-terrain wheelchairs here, as well as at three Perry’s Café & Beach Rentals locations at strategic locations along the beach.
You may know the famous Muscle Beach in Venice, but did you know that the Original Muscle Beach is in Santa Monica? It’s a bit different than its weightlifting-focused counterpart. Instead, you’ll see gymnasts and athletes practicing on parallel bars, rings, swings, and ropes, alongside families there for the fun and photo opportunities.
One of the best ways to see the Santa Monica shoreline is via the Marvin Braude Beach Trail (known to locals as “The Strand” or South Bay Bicycle Trail). Active travelers will relish its 22 miles of smooth pavement that starts at Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica and finishes in Torrance. Bike rentals are plentiful if you’re not traveling with your own two wheels.
Another enhanced beach option is Santa Monica Picnic Co., which partners with other locally owned businesses to pamper guests with picturesque picnics on the beach or at a location of your choice. In addition to picture-perfect meals featuring charcuterie, freshly-baked goods, and fragrant flower arrangements, the picnics include beverages, fresh linens, tableware, seating, and mood lighting. Guests can also add extras like potted plants, sound baths, live acoustic music, or even a deejay for a completely customized experience.
All that fun works up an appetite and Santa Monica knows how to please discerning eaters. The Buffalo Club (dinner only) is a favorite among locals, offering ultra-fresh, seasonal dishes. Guests can enjoy dinner under the stars, surrounded by lush greenery in its inviting, English-style courtyard. Standout menu items include baby zucchini blossoms, tempura soft shell crab, prime rib chop for two, and the 48-hour-marinated boeuf bourguignon. After dinner, check out Cult for artisan cocktails like the Oaxacan Mule or the Watermelon Sugar High, a refreshing, beachy cocktail made with rum, melon, and mint. (For those who aren’t afraid of a breakfast cocktail, Cult doubles as a coffee shop and café with a full menu of its own and outdoor dining.)
Another all-day alfresco spot is Élephante. Snag a seat at the rooftop bar for fantastic ocean views and an Italian-inspired menu of small plates, pasta, pizza, and luscious desserts. It’s a smart choice for health-conscious diners and those with dietary restrictions, thanks to the plenty of seafood, big salads, and fresh vegetables offered. Don’t miss the diver scallops and mango-pineapple sorbet. For classic Southern Italian cuisine, make a beeline for La Puglia. The wood-fired oven is the heart of the kitchen and, in addition to house-made pasta and cured meats, they serve decadent pastries, organic juices, and incredible wines.
If Fido is in tow, they’ll be welcome at Art’s Table. Serving breakfast all day plus a sizable lunch and dinner menu, this dog-friendly cafe also features a “social hour” on weekday afternoons. Come for the stellar drink specials; stay for the lively outdoor patio scene and friendly service. And for a quick pick-me-up between shopping stops, there’s Dr. T House, which serves up bubble tea, healthy smoothies, creamy shakes, and more.
Friends, family, fun
One of the best things about Santa Monica is the wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy. Whether you’re visiting with family, on a friends’ trip, or traveling for business and simply need a break, there’s a new adventure around every corner.
Families with younger children will want to visit Cayton Children’s Museum. The 21,000-square-foot facility features hands-on activities for kids 10 and under, including the Courage Climber (a web of ropes suspended from the ceiling), an interactive theater, and a repurposed first responder helicopter where they can see what it’s like to helm a rescue mission. Stroll past the foliage-covered life-size dinosaurs on Third Street Promenade and make a stop at Puzzle Zoo Toy Store.
The North Beach Playground, another family-friendly destination, features barrier-free equipment, accessible surfaces, and sensory play elements. Swings, slides, and climbing equipment inspire activity and imagination among all who visit.
At the Museum of Flying, visitors can learn about the history of aviation, see vintage aircraft and artifacts, and even take the pilot’s seat in a MaxFlight full-motion simulator. Heal the Bay Aquarium, another iconic Santa Monica attraction, is located beneath the Santa Monica Pier. On view are more than 100 species of local fauna, in addition to educational programming focused on conservation and sustainability. Beach-accessible wheelchairs are available here for rent.
A scenic hub to explore greater L.A.
While Santa Monica packs plenty inside its 8.3 square miles, its location just eight miles north of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and 13 miles from downtown Los Angeles makes it a convenient base camp to explore the greater L.A. area. The famous shops of Beverly Hills, trendy Hollywood nightclubs, and distinctive cultural and picturesque neighborhoods inside the City of Angels are all just a short drive away.
A Santa Monica getaway means visitors don’t have to choose between beach life and urban exploration. With its scenic beaches, friendly locals, and sophisticated retail and dining scenes, Santa Monica is a crowd-pleasing destination where travelers can truly have it all.