Planning a beach vacation in Southern California? Don’t forget to add the best beaches in Santa Monica to your itinerary. Santa Monica is a classic beach town that’s transcended to become an international destination.
Best known for its iconic pier and its location on the majestic Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica has miles of beachfront running the length of Santa Monica Bay. Spend your day sunbathing, surfing the Pacific, or riding the rollercoasters on the pier, all before catching an unbeatable sunset.
Ready to plan the perfect Santa Monica vacation? Find what you’re looking for at one of these favorite Santa Monica beaches.
Top-rated Santa Monica beaches
Santa Monica State Beach North
Taking the top spot is the absolute best of all the Santa Monica beaches. In combination with South Beach, Santa Monica State Beach North is not only the most convenient shore to visit but the most vibrant, packed with amenities.
Running three miles along the picturesque Pacific Coast, this Santa Monica beach features the iconic Santa Monica Pier, with its amusement parks, as well as endless golden sand. The famous pier draws travelers from around the world.
At the end of the pier, you’ll find Pacific Park, home to thrilling rides, arcades, and a Ferris wheel. Once the sun starts to set, Pacific Park comes into its own, lighting up the coast.
Aside from sunbathing, swimming in the ocean, and exploring the exciting pier at North Beach, you can check out the nearby Palisades Park. Enjoy some shade and lush lawns with the Pacific Coast Highway separating the park from downtown.
You can also explore the Annenberg Community Beach House, where you can pick up beach chairs, swim in the public pool, or kick back at the public house. Indulge in delicious California cuisine at Back on the Beach Cafe on their outdoor patio, soaking up the dramatic ocean views.
Santa Monica State Beach South
South of the pier, Santa Monica State Beach South continues along the coast all the way to Venice Beach. Like the sands further north, you’ll find plenty of crowds here, but the beach is so big that you can easily grab a private patch to call your own.
You can find parking closer to the ocean, making South Beach a lot more accessible. After you’ve explored the beach, head to the nearby restaurants and bars for a nice break during the day or a sunset experience in the evening.
The beach is also the location of the Original Muscle Beach, one of the top tourist attractions in Santa Monica. The outdoor gym once attracted famous bodybuilders and is still in operation today. If you want to get swole before taking to the water, this is the place to go.
Aside from working out or chilling on the beach, you can also walk or ride along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail that runs down to Venice Beach and as far as Manhattan Beach.
A short walk north of Santa Monica Pier will bring you to Sorrento Beach. This is the official location of Palisades Park and also a convenient starting point for the stunning drive north towards Malibu. Beachgoers can find parking on Montana Avenue on the other side of the highway, with the pedestrian overpass providing easy access to the soft, white sand.
The northern tip of Sorrento Beach features the classic bluffs that become a constant the further up the coast you go. Atop the bluffs, you’ll find Palisades Park, spanning a scenic 26 acres filled with public art, picnic spaces, restrooms, and kiosks. If you ever get tired of the sand, place your beach towel down right here for some unbeatable views.
For some friendly competition at Sorrento Beach, use any of their volleyball courts that have been here since the 1950s, or take a journey down the Marvin Braude Trail.
Will Rogers State Beach
Right before Highway One swings left and caresses the edge of the coastal cliffs, it runs along the edge of Will Rogers State Beach. As the northernmost beach on this stretch of sand, Will Rogers offers much the same views as elsewhere, just without the crowds of other top-rated beaches in Santa Monica.
As tourists converge around the pier, locals take the short walk north to the Pacific Palisades part of town for some peace and quiet. Join them to enjoy a more peaceful experience, albeit with the atmosphere of Santa Monica still lingering in the air.
Will Rogers State Beach marks the official beginning of the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, covering 22 miles south to Torrance Beach via Venice Beach.
Beachgoers can also enjoy some volleyball, surfing, and fishing from the shore. At dusk, watch the sunset from Gladstones Restaurant.
On a thin speck of beach just a minute from Inceville, Sunset Beach marks the northernmost point of Will Rogers State Beach. Separating the two is a rocky stretch without a speck of sand. This marks the end of Santa Monica and the beginning of a rugged yet spectacular coast.
On the edge of Sunset Beach, you may spot RVs parked with travelers enjoying the views. Compared to the popular beaches in the south, this beach is relatively empty and is known for its long right-hand waves. That’s why it’s a top spot for beginner surfers and those who prefer longboards.
Stick around for what promises to be a sunset that lives up to the beach’s name before walking across the highway to explore the start of Sunset Boulevard.
Ten minutes south of Santa Monica is an equally famous beach destination: Venice Beach. You can either choose to drive or ride the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. Despite its proximity to Santa Monica, Venice Beach has its own vibe.
Alongside the bike path, you’ll see the vibrant Venice Beach Boardwalk. Here, you’ll find every kind of local either walking, running, biking, or rollerblading along the coast and past an array of street performances. Along the boardwalk, you’ll also have access to restaurants, shops, and bars.
Like the rest of the best beaches in Santa Monica, Venice Beach comes with all the necessary amenities, from restrooms and showers to picnic tables and lifeguards.
Playa del Rey Beach
South of Venice Beach, on the other side of Marina Del Rey, Playa del Rey Beach is another spacious stretch of sand along the Pacific Coast. Away from the atmosphere of Santa Monica, the beach experience here is more calm and sedate. It makes it a great spot for families who can enjoy both the beach’s charm and that of the wider Playa Del Rey neighborhood.
If you’re driving to the beach, you can park along Pacific Avenue’s public lot towards the north end. This part of the beach is also renowned for its surfing.
Along Playa del Rey, you’ll find a bike path that runs down along the coast. There are also volleyball courts for some action under the sun. Behind the beach is a grassy park where the kids can run amok on the playgrounds, and you can enjoy a scenic picnic.
Dockweiler State Beach
Just a few minutes south of Playa del Rey is Dockweiler State Beach. Just like its neighbor, this beach is run by the county and provides a clean day on the sand. The flat surface leaves ample room for everyone to spread out; you won’t have to worry about rubbing shoulders with strangers.
Beachgoers will love the on-site amenities, including showers and restrooms along with lifeguards. Throughout the day, the fun is punctuated by the roar of planes flying overhead. That’s because the beach is right next to the busy LAX, making for a unique experience.
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When the sun falls, stick around not just for the sunset but for evening bonfires at the beach’s resident fire pits.
Las Tunas Beach
You’ll find rocks and sand in equal measure at Las Tunas in east Malibu. The thin slice of beach slowly gets pushed towards the Pacific Coast Highway as the waves and wind carve at it bit by bit. It’s a scenic spot away from the crowds, with the mesmerizing cliffs rising in all but one direction.
There’s not much room for sunbathing here, so it’s mostly a great opportunity to dip into the Pacific Ocean as you make your way along the beautiful coast road. You’ll find parking right off the highway, allowing you to climb down the rocks and into the water below.
Dip your feet in the water, walk along the shoreline, or swim out and see the rows of millionaire mansions standing along the cliffside.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Malibu Lagoon State Beach marks the point where Malibu Creek finishes its journey and reaches the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the year, the sand builds up and the creek pools, creating a lagoon separate from the ocean and the iconic Surfrider Beach.
To make your way to Malibu Lagoon Beach, park at the intersection of Cross Creek Road and the Pacific Highway. Here, you’ll find a dirt path down to the beach with its own lovely scenery. The lagoon offers pleasant, calm waters that are great for younger kids.
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For more adventure, check out Surfrider Beach. Not only is it a great place to surf, but there’s also excellent snorkeling to experience.