Looking for the perfect blend of West Coast cool and seaside charm during your cruise through Southern California? The best things to do in Santa Monica, CA, are brimming with both! Nestled on Santa Monica Bay just 15 miles from Los Angeles, this unique beach town exudes a casual sophistication all its own.
Renowned for its beautiful beaches and year-round sunshine, Santa Monica serves up a tempting menu of delights. There’s sun and surf for beach fans, beautiful parks for nature lovers, museums and galleries for culture vultures, delicious dining for foodies, and loads of places to shop til you drop. Not to mention world-famous attractions like the Santa Monica Pier!
Ready to discover what to see & do in Santa Monica? Grab your sandals and pack this complete guide to the best places to visit in Santa Monica, CA.
Got more travel plans on the horizon? Check out all our other attractions guides and our California Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Must-see places to visit in Santa Monica, CA
Santa Monica Pier
Want to touch down on Santa Monica’s most famous landmark? Then head over to Santa Monica Pier for some serious strolling, and much more! Set along the final seaside stop of the famous Route 66, this bayside icon is more than just a great place to take in stunning views. It’s also loaded with fun, family-friendly options.
Explore a bevy of attractions in Pacific Park, a lively activity-filled area that combines rides, games, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Got youngsters in tow? Let them ride the historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel or take them for an up-close encounter with sea life at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
For a change of pace, rent a bike. Take in the sights and sounds of the colorful street performers, lining the boardwalk. When hunger strikes, dig into a tasty meal at one of the Pier’s many restaurants. As the sun sets, take in an incomparable view straight down the coastline all the way to Malibu.
Ever seen a park on a pier? If not, you need to head over to Pacific Park to see how it’s done! Set on the iconic Santa Monica Pier, this two-acre oceanfront amusement park hits a home run with visitors of all ages.
This entertainment mecca has it all. Take your pick from dozens of thrilling rides like Shark Frenzy and Pacific Plunge. Test your skills and vie for prizes in the games arcade. Soar aboard the Pacific Wheel – the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel – and enjoy spectacular views of the Santa Monica coastline.
Worked up an appetite? Pacific Park has you covered with a fantastic array of delicious treats ranging from burgers to ice cream to funnel cakes. Enjoy!
Looking for a park with panoramic views? Then you’ll want to do some rambling at Palisades Park. One of Santa Monica’s iconic gems, this lofty haven stretches 1.6 miles along the bluff overlooking the Santa Monica coastline.
This lush, cliff-top oasis is a magnet for walkers, bikers, and nature-lovers. Dating back to 1892, the park will enchant you with charming 19th-century touches such as landscaped walkways, formal entrances, and an iconic fence made from century-old eucalyptus wood.
Palisades Park is a floral treasure trove, so stop and smell the roses! Relax under the towering palm trees, unpack a picnic, and look out over the glittering Pacific Ocean. Be sure to stroll out to Inspiration Point for some of the most spectacular views on the SoCal coast.
Ready for an upbeat twist on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”? Check out Tongva Park. What used to be a parking lot has been transformed into a vibrant green space that invites you to kick back and cool off. This is a hidden gem, so put it on your “must-see” list.
Set just off Ocean Avenue, this tranquil oasis boasts gardens, walking trails, playgrounds, and waterfalls. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of the boardwalk. Stretch out on manicured lawns, stroll the winding pathways, relax by the fountain, or let the kids loose on the playground.
You’ve got plenty of activity options at Tongva Park. Take the kiddos to play at Discovery Hill. Brought a picnic? Unpack it at Gathering Hill. Looking for an infusion of art? Explore the intriguing sculptures at Observation Hill.
Feeling refreshed? Now you’re ready to get back to the beachfront buzz!
Santa Monica State Beach
Want to experience the destination made famous by TV’s Baywatch? Carve out some time to visit Santa Monica State Beach, one of Southern California’s most popular attractions. Stretching 3.5 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway, this oceanside gem is home to the iconic Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Beach is jam-packed with options for both surf-lovers and landlubbers. Stroll the paved walkways or hop on a bike and scoot down the scenic Marvin Braude Bike Trail, as it hugs the stunning shoreline.
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If you’re up for some group fun, try your hand at a round of beach volleyball. Time to cool off? Head beachside and dive into those rolling waves or rent some gear and feel the wind as you zoom over the water.
Ready to continue finding more fun things to do in Santa Monica? Refuel at one of the local food trucks or restaurants. End the day taking in a brilliant Santa Monica Beach sunset.
Annenberg Community Beach House
Ever wanted to walk in a star’s footsteps? You can do just that at the Annenberg Community Beach House. Originally a luxurious beachfront estate built by William Randolph Hearst for Hollywood star Marion Davies in the 1920s, it’s now a modern community beach club open to the public.
Loaded with leisure options, the beachfront Annenberg Community Beach House is popular with locals and visitors alike. Explore the five-acre Marion Davies Guest House, and take your pick of activities. Stroll through the art gallery to admire the work of local artists. Check out the rec room to try your hand at board games or ping pong.
Looking for some outdoor activities? Work up a sweat on the tennis courts or the soccer field. For a cooling experience, rent a surfboard and hit the waves. If you just want to just chill out, refresh yourself with a dip in the pool, or hang out with the kiddos at the splash pad.
If you’re getting a bit famished, slide into the Back on the Beach Cafe. Located at the Beach House, this popular local restaurant & cafe serves up delicious California cuisine with dramatic beach and ocean views.
Santa Monica Place
If shopping is your thing, Santa Monica Place is where you want to be. Just two blocks from Santa Monica Beach on the 3rd Street Promenade, this outdoor shopping mall offers a plethora of tempting spending options.
Anchored by a glittering Nordstrom storefront, Santa Monica Place offers a fantastic selection of stores and restaurants. Explore this three-story, eclectic mix of world-famous names and lesser-known brands.
Browse high-end vendors like Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, and Armani, but don’t stop there. Pop into some of the mall’s unique boutiques to find something that’s truly one-of-a-kind.
When you’re ready for a bite, you’ve got plenty of options around Santa Monica Place. Choose from popular eateries like The Cheesecake Factory, Johnny Rockets, and True Food Kitchen. Even better, head up to the rooftop to take in the gorgeous ocean view while you dine!
Santa Monica Stairs
Who’d have guessed that an outdoor stairway could become a major tourist attraction? Put on your kicks and swing by the Santa Monica Stairs to see what the buzz is all about.
Tucked away in a quiet residential area, this hidden gem has become a fitness mecca. This unassuming hotspot consists of a pair of outdoor stairways descending from Adelaide Drive in Santa Monica to Santa Monica Canyon in Los Angeles. It’s an awesome workout built right into the landscape!
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You may want to limber up as you ponder the stats—152 wooden steps and 18 concrete steps, separated by three horizontal landings (phew!), with a vertical rise of 110 feet. Ready to feel the burn? Throw on a good playlist and start climbing!
3rd Street Promenade
Love the idea of shopping in the sunshine? That’s exactly what you can do on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, a world-famous alfresco shopping destination. The pedestrian-only, pet-friendly Promenade makes for ideal shopping, dining, and people-watching. It’s also home to Santa Monica Place, the town’s shopping mecca.
Set in the heart of downtown, this traffic-free shoppers’ paradise offers goodies ranging from designer fashions to farmers’ market produce. It’s packed with trendy retailers, tempting eateries, and talented street musicians who’ll keep you entertained on the go.
Check out the 3rd Street Promenade’s other features. Slip into the movie theatre, or check out the Augmented Reality Museum. Outside, snag a bench, kick back, and savor some beautiful landscaping, including fountains and quirky hedge sculptures.
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Not quite done for the day? Grab a spot at one of the Promenade’s lively restaurants and bars, tuck into a delicious meal, sip a craft cocktail, and watch the beautiful people go by.
What do you get when you rehabilitate an old railroad station? You get a unique and artsy enclave called Bergamot Station. Home to a vibrant community of contemporary and fine art galleries, this is the perfect place to visit when you’re craving a leisurely day packed with visual delights.
After previous lives as a train station and warehouse, this one-of-a-kind location was finally resurrected in the 1990s to become the Bergamot Station Arts Center. Today, it’s known around the world as a unique space devoted to art. Take your time to browse the rotating exhibits. You’ll get an eyeful of classical and contemporary works by artists from around the world.
Ready to treat your palate? Settle in at the rustic Birdie G.’s Cafe and tuck into some delicious home comforts made with local ingredients. Rose petal pie, anyone?
Looking for a giant-sized playground that has something for everyone? Skip on over to Clover Park, one of Santa Monica’s largest and most popular outdoor recreational sites. Spanning over 17 acres along Ocean Boulevard, this is the perfect spot to get the gang together for some outdoor fun.
Before you hit the road, be smart and book yourself a picnic table and grill. Pack a hamper, along with the sporting equipment of your choice. Then put on your shoes, head to the park, and take your pick of activities. Hit the baseball diamond, the soccer field, the tennis court, or the volleyball beach.
Now unpack that hamper, stake out a picnic table, and fire up the BBQ grill. Chow down. You’ve earned it!
Original Muscle Beach
Want to see where the fitness boom took off in North America? Then you’ll want to speed-walk over to the Original Muscle Beach to get the scoop. Created a century ago as a training ground for gymnasts and acrobats, over time, the site has become a haven for fitness buffs and bodybuilders – and for people who like to watch them. Think of it as a workout playground for grownups.
Set just south of the pier at Santa Monica State Beach, Original Muscle Beach is where SoCal’s most sculpted citizens like to flex and strut their stuff. On weekends, view some amazing gymnastic feats on the rings and parallel bars. It’s a friendly vibe, so feel free to join in. Test your skills on a rope climb or ring swing.
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Prefer not to relive your high school gym class days? No problem! Just hang out, take in the action, and sip on a smoothie.
Heal the Bay Aquarium
On the hunt for a place that will be a hit with the kiddos? Look no further than Heal the Bay Aquarium. Tucked under the iconic Pier, this spot is one of Santa Monica’s most popular kids’ attractions.
Step inside this oceanside haven to learn all about the aquatic creatures living in Santa Monica Bay. Explore exhibits with over 100 local species ranging from sea jellies to stingrays. Experience hands-on activities like “touch tanks,” enjoy fun educational programs like animal feedings, or tune in to lively talks by the aquarium’s scientists.
Don’t forget to hit the gift shop on your way out. The kids are bound to want something to remind them of their visit!
Museum of Flying
Heads up, aviation enthusiasts! The Museum of Flying may be one of the best places in California to indulge your passion. Spanning 22,000 square feet, this site offers intriguing insights into the history of flight technology.
Step inside this vast space to take in a sweeping showcase tracking the development of flying machines from the days of Orville Wright all the way to today. Get awesome close-up views of aircraft ranging from a replica “Wright flyer” to a Boeing 727.
The Museum of Flying is kid-friendly, so let the youngsters have fun with hands-on exhibits in the children’s zone. Alternatively, slip into the theater to view fascinating films and documentaries. Take a guided tour, or take the challenge of testing your skills on their interactive flight simulator.
The sky’s the limit!
Cayton Children’s Museum
Looking for a family-friendly spot that gives little ones plenty of room to roam? Then you’ll want to pack up your small person and toddle over to the Cayton Children’s Museum. Nestled inside Santa Monica Place, this amazing experience-based museum offers a wealth of play space and learning activities.
The expansive Cayton Children’s Museum spans 21,000 square feet and features loads of discovery-based exhibits and space for immersive play. Designed for kids ages 0 to 8 (and their families), this unique spot offers a hefty helping of art and cultural activities, including workshops, camps, classes, and special events.
Explore the hands-on art studios and state-of-the-art theater. You and your youngster(s) can engage with interactive displays ranging from a mini-marketplace to a real-life helicopter to indulging in augmented reality.
What could be better than a safe, enriching place where children can spread their wings and explore?
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Looking for a wide-open space where you can take your pick of parks? Pack up your gear and head for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Renowned as one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US, this is one of California’s must-see tourist attractions.
This vast natural playground offers an eclectic mix of options for sightseers and outdoor enthusiasts. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is home to 20 different parks, so take your pick. Guess what? It’s a quick day trip – just 30 minutes – from Santa Monica!
Whether you’re craving adventure or just some tranquil time in the Wild Blue Yonder, you’ll find it here. Explore 500 miles of trails, including the famous Backbone Trail, on foot, on bike, or on horseback. The mountains literally reach the sea, so you can plumb the depths and scale the heights on the same day!
Santa Monica Brew Works
Need to take a break from the typical SoCal activities? Pull up a chair and enjoy a pint at Santa Monica Brew Works, the city’s first independent craft brewery. Located in Mid-City, less than two miles from downtown, the taproom is the perfect spot to escape the buzz of the Southern California shoreline.
Quench your thirst with a craft beer flight featuring favorites like the 310 Blonde Ale, Inclined IPA, and PCH Golden Chocolate Porter. If you’re craving extends to the stomach, indulge in a slice of ‘za from Emmy Squared, the brewery’s popular pizza restaurant.
Want to save some cash? Head to Santa Monica Brew Works from 5 pm to 6 pm Monday through Thursday for their happy hour, voted the best in the city!