With glorious Santa Monica State Beach and the famous Santa Monica Pier, it may seem the best things to do in Santa Monica, CA are obvious. But there’s much more to this southern California paradise.
As a Los Angeles local, I’ve been able to enjoy the best of Santa Monica, from amusement park thrills to strolling farmer’s markets and taking hikes in the Santa Monica mountains. We’ll go over all my favorites in this guide, including a few treasures that might even be new to other locals.
While you’re here, be sure to bookmark my guide on the best things to do in Los Angeles.
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21 Best Things to Do in Santa Monica, California
Santa Monica Beach
Relax on a beautiful, sandy beach dotted with palm trees and loaded with amenities
One of those rare places beloved by tourists and locals alike, Santa Monica’s beaches are simply sublime. Whether looking for a family fun day or a few hours of basking, the soft, golden sand and gentle surf are sure to please.
With plenty of fun things like beach volleyball courts, Santa Monica State Beach perfectly complements the active pier and Pacific Park. Guests can make use of bike rentals to enjoy the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.
North of Santa Monica State Beach, Will Rogers State Beach is lovely and peaceful, with a north beach playground for the kiddos.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? Huntley Santa Monica Beach is a beautiful Santa Monica, CA beachfront hotel just a 5-minute walk from Third Street Promenade.
Santa Monica Pier
Romp between fun-filled attractions on a wooden pier perched high over the Pacific Ocean
This famous pier is a wildly popular Santa Monica place to visit, filled with bright and engaging tourist attractions. Street performers engage audiences with interactive shows. Churros and funnel cakes scent the sea breeze, amping up the cheerful atmosphere.
Few amusement parks blend old-school carnival and stunning seaside beauty so effectively as Pacific Park. Boasting an oceanfront steel roller coaster and a world-famous Ferris wheel, this exciting attraction is equally fun for the young and young at heart.
The pier is within walking distance of Third Street Promenade and many excellent Santa Monica, CA hotels.
🌊 Love a good pier? Check out Torrance County Beach and a unique, horseshoe-shaped pier in Redondo Beach, just a few miles south of Santa Monica.
Third Street Promenade
Treat yourself to a visit to this luxe, tree-lined shopping and dining district
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (310) 393-8355
At the heart of downtown Santa Monica, CA, Third Street Promenade is a picturesque high street with plentiful restaurants and coffee shops. Fountains, sculptures, and light strings enhance the charming atmosphere.
In place of the lively acts on the pier, street performers here serenade passersby with relaxed tunes. Movie theaters and venues like Westside Comedy Theatre offer plenty to do once the shops have closed.
🍦Pro Tip: Don’t miss the chance to get a scoop or two at Sweet Rose Creamery. Homemade in Santa Monica, CA, this fan-favorite ice-cream shop serves a dozen delicious flavors including several Sweet Rose Creamery seasonal specials.
Santa Monica Farmers Market
Gather locally grown and sourced goodies in a cheery open-air market
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (310) 458-8712 | Hours: 8 am – 1 pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays
The Santa Monica farmers market is high on the list of LA locals’ favorite things to do in Santa Monica. Strolling open-air stands turns the chore of grocery shopping into a pleasant excursion you can look forward to.
You’ll find dozens of stalls offering the season’s best produce and handcrafted local delicacies. There’s a honey stand with a wonderful array of specialty sweets. Santa Monica farmers market flower vendors offer fresh, long-stemmed blooms perfect for creating arrangements.
Parking near the farmer’s market is a challenge, but the structures that serve the promenade offer lots of space. Just make sure to bring a wheelie cart if you plan on buying more than you can carry.
🍎 Pro Tip: The downtown location is just one of three farmers markets in Santa Monica, CA.
Museum of Flying
Let your mind soar among vintage aircraft and aviation exhibits
As the daughter of a pilot, the Museum of Flying holds a special place in my heart. I even learned to fly in a plane similar to the Cessna 172 parked out front!
An obvious choice for pilots and fans of aviation, the museum’s collection of jet age crafts also holds a lot of interest for WWII history buffs. Other highlights include a replica Wright Flyer and an unconventional homebuilt craft, the Rutan VariEZE.
Located on Airport Ave one block west of Bundy Drive, the museum is easy to spot thanks to an enormous Douglas DC-3, staged to mimic takeoff. Built at the Santa Monica airport in 1942, this airliner has been affectionately dubbed “The Spirit of Santa Monica.”
🚁 Love to fly? For a bird’s eye view of Santa Monica and the Los Angeles coastline, check out this Private Helicopter Tour.
Wonder at spectacular views in a blufftop park overlooking the famous pier in Santa Monica, California
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (310) 458-8300 | Hours: 5:30 am -11 pm Monday through Saturday, 6 am – 11 pm Sunday
Perched on a cliff overlooking the coast, Palisades Park offers sweeping views of Santa Monica Bay. You’ll find plenty of benches to enjoy this gorgeous vista, stretching from the Santa Monica Pier north to Malibu.
There’s plenty to enjoy in this bluff-top park any time of day. Grab a coffee on Third Street Promenade for an early Palisades Park stroll, when morning dew releases delicate scents from the rose garden. Come evening, grab a snack from a local food truck to enjoy appetizers al fresco with a dazzling sunset.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? Directly across Ocean Avenue from Palisades Park, highlights of the Oceana Santa Monica include bright rooms and cocktails served at an outdoor fireplace.
Fetch a drink for yourself while playing fetch with Fido at LA’s first and only canine social club
The first rule here is obvious: Must love dogs! Designed with our four-footed friends’ needs at the forefront, DOG PPL is the ultimate Santa Monica, CA dog park.
While fur-babies frolic, pet parents can enjoy a coffee or tea from the cafe, which also has a wine and beer list that’s nothing to sniff at. Dogs have to pass a behavioral assessment to gain entry to this members-only club, so you can be confident your pet won’t run into any ferocious Fido’s.
Annenberg Community Beach House
Swim, lounge, and play in the sand at a historic Santa Monica beach mansion
Annenberg Community Beach House is a great place to get away from the crowds that congregate closer to the pier. There’s a public swimming pool and lots of great fitness classes for all ages, including beach volleyball and paddle boarding.
A popular location for birthday parties, there are lots of fun things for the kiddos, including a playground and splash pad. One of the summer’s most popular events is a rollicking Cardboard Yacht Regatta.
Art lovers can tour a small gallery in the Marion Davies Guest House. Featured works include pieces from the City of Santa Monica’s collection. A rotating exhibit showcases local talent.
🚗 How to Get There: Annenberg Community Beach House is just five minutes away from the Santa Monica Pier, a straight shot north on Pacific Coast Highway. Turn left at Beach House Way into the parking lot. If you need a car for your visit, Discover Cars has great deals on Santa Monica rentals.
Loof Hippodrome and Carousel
Twirl on hand-carved wooden horses at a hundred-year-old amusement center
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (310) 458-8901 | Hours: 11 am – 8 pm daily | Tickets: $6
Celebrating its centennial in 2022, the Loof Hippodrome brings a pleasant touch of nostalgia to the bustling tourist area in Santa Monica, California.
Kids and adults alike love the classic carousel, which features hand-carved wooden horses. An old-fashioned soda counter serves frosty treats, often with a shorter line than other nearby food stands.
At the base of the Santa Monica Pier just off Ocean Avenue, the Hippodrome tends to be less busy than the west end of the pier. It’s a great spot to get a few minutes away from the crowd.
Heal the Bay Aquarium
Gain an inside perspective on local sea creatures in this aquarium run by a local environmental nonprofit organization
Exhibiting over 100 local species, this small award-winning aquarium is a great opportunity to get to know some of the native sea life in Santa Monica, CA. A popular hands-on activity is the sea star feedings, every Saturday at 1 pm and 3 pm.
The aquarium is another of the fun things around Santa Monica Pier that tends to be less crowded. Stationed under the pier, it’s easily accessed from the boardwalk or by taking the stairs down from the hippodrome.
🐬 Love sea life? Get a close-up vantage point to view wild creatures on this 2-Hour Kayak or Paddleboard with Sea Lions, which departs from Marina del Rey, just 20 minutes south of Santa Monica, CA.
Dig into artisan delights at this future-focused, zero-waste restaurant with yummy specialty coffees
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (424) 322-8040 | Hours: 7:30 am – 3 pm Monday through Friday, 8 am – 4 pm Saturday, 8:30 am – 4 pm Sunday | 🍽️ Farm to Table | $$
Anyone who’s struggled with a floppy paper straw knows that sometimes we sacrifice to be eco-friendly. Not so at Papille Gustative in Santa Monica, California! At this Main Street gem, every sustainably-sourced delicious bite is 100% delicious.
Chef Wendy Wahito’s farm-to-table artisan foods are beautifully presented works of edible art. Whether you choose a seemingly simple avocado toast or gourmet torched salmon, every dish is elevated to new heights.
🍳 Pro Brunch Tip: Don’t miss the Danish Rye Bar! One of these phenomenal toasts is perfect for small appetites, or you can combine a few to share.
Make fresh air and sunshine your workout partners at outdoor gyms, beachfront bike trails, and the Santa Monica stairs
📍 Various Locations
You’ll find loads of great fitness-related things to do in Santa Monica. The original muscle beach features classic workout equipment like steel rings and balance bars. If you’ve got moves to show off, the Santa Monica beach and amusement park make a fabulous backdrop for social media posts.
To get in some seaside cardio, visitors can rent bikes and hit the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. Beloved by locals, the bike trail extends 21 miles from Will Rogers State Beach to Redondo Beach.
Dedicated hardbodies love the Santa Monica stairs, which are two outdoor staircases, one wooden (170 steps) and one cement (199 steps.) These aren’t on the beach and have no facilities available, so bring anything you need. The nearest restroom is about half a mile south, where Adelaide Dr meets Ocean Ave.
⛔ Where to park: There’s lots of parking around the beach, but Adelaide Dr is permit-only and frequently patrolled by parking enforcement. This walking route will get you from parking along San Vicente Blvd to the Santa Monica stairs.
Santa Monica Mountains
Hike or bike through chaparral and oak woodlands on some of the most popular trails in Los Angeles County
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (805) 370-2301 | 👉 Scenic Santa Monica Electric Mountain Biking Experience
When you’re looking for a Santa Monica place in the great outdoors, head north on Pacific Coast Highway to the Santa Monica Mountains. The closest options for hiking and mountain biking are just north of the Pacific Palisades neighborhood.
Avid nature enthusiasts may want to venture a bit further from Santa Monica, CA, to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area. This wilderness sprawls between Topanga State Park and Point Mugu State Park. Over 500 miles of hiking trails explore a bounty of sights, including waterfalls, old movie ranches, and Native American centers.
🚗 How to Get There: First thing you’ll need is a car! If you need a rental, Discover Cars has great deals on rentals. Then, to check out the nearest trails, head north on Pacific Coast Highway and make a right on Temescal Canyon Road. To get to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, head north on Pacific Coast Highway and make a right on Malibu Canyon Road.
Wander pathways between modern structures and sculptures in this urban park with an inventive playground
When you’re looking for a budget-friendly activity, check out Tongva Park. Located at the corner of Ocean Avenue & Colorado Avenue near the pier, it’s a lovely spot to escape the crowds.
Artistic, modern-feeling designs around the park put a fresh spin on classic green space. Super Awesome Kids Park and Splash Pad provide hours of free fun for kids.
Tongva Park is also a good place for groups to meet back up after separating. The park is divided into 4 main sections: Observation Hill, Discovery Hill, Garden Hill, and Gathering Hill. Easily identifiable meeting places can be found in each area.
🛎️ Looking for a budget-friendly hotel? The Santa Monica Motel in Santa Monica, California is clean, affordable, and well-rated. Plus it’s just a 12-minute walk to the beach!
California Heritage Museum
Expand your perspective while touring exhibits dedicated to a diverse array of cultural treasures
For those looking for less touristy things to do in Santa Monica, California Heritage Museum will be right up your alley. Situated away from the busy tourist areas on Ocean Avenue, this Main Street gem presents distinctive works tied to California culture.
Right across the way, the historic mansion The Victorian hosts a boppin’ speakeasy with live music. The venue opens at 5 pm Wednesday through Friday, and 2 pm Saturday & Sunday (closed Monday & Tuesday.)
🍽️ Pro Tip: Wednesdays from 5 – 9 pm there’s a gourmet food truck circle in the California Heritage Museum parking lot. It’s perfect if you’re looking to pick up takeout but don’t know what you want, and a fun & casual spot for a weeknight date.
The Broad Stage
Be entertained by enthralling acts at this intimate venue showcasing a variety of performing arts
Many of the best shows in Santa Monica are found at this performing arts center. With just 500 seats, every member of the audience is brought in close to performances that celebrate our shared humanity.
Sister venue The Edye is a 100-seat black box theater that showcases innovative work by younger, emerging artists. Both venues are located at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center. They’re two of the best entertainment options in Los Angeles.
Get a lift from playful bites and smoky, infused cocktails at an eatery unlike any other
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (310) 450-4989 | Hours: 3 pm – 2 am daily, Closed Mondays and Tuesdays 🍽️ New American | $$ to $$$
Nostalgia is steeped in whimsical sophistication. Pairing luscious lobster rolls & burgers with a first-of-its-kind cocktail menu, Chef Chris Sayegh expertly blends childhood joys with tastes for grown-up palates.
Fond recollections and happy first impressions unite in treats like End of the Otter Pop, a delightful take on that last slushy sip of a 90’s summer icon.
For a next-level twist you can get only at Nostalgia, you may choose CBD or terpene-infused cocktails and mocktails. Not only do these organically derived mood-enhancers boost your beverage, but they’re also delivered in an actual puff of smoke.
🍹 Pro Tip: Try the Apples to Oranges – infused or otherwise, this apple brandy and blood orange creation is an absolute wow.
Savor South Mediterranean flavors with hand-crafted cocktails at a beach house restaurant with a rooftop bar
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (424) 320-2384 | Hours: 10 am – 12 am Monday through Thursday, 9 am – 1 am Friday & Saturday, 9 am – 12 am Sunday | 🍽️ Italian | $$ – $$$
Trendy scenesters flock to Elephante, an open-air eatery with an amazing ocean view. Specializing in light Italian dishes, Elephante delivers a taste of the Mediterranean to the Pacific coast.
This is one of the most popular restaurants in Santa Monica, California, for small groups. If you’re ordering lots of food, opt for a large round table near the view. Living-room-style arrangements with low tables and cushioned chairs are awesome when you’re grabbing a few drinks and apps with your besties.
🍹 Pro Tip: Exquisite Elephante cocktails pair perfectly with a Santa Monica sunset. Try not to make plans afterward, as the vibe is so enticing you may well want to stick around for dinner and dancing.
Browse galleries in an outstanding creative arts complex with a cafe and supper club
Tucked in a quiet corner of an industrial complex, this arts center is ideal for a relaxed outing that stimulates creativity. Art galleries display unique works of art that make beautiful remembrances of Santa Monica for art lovers. Boutiques connected to the showrooms offer a variety of artisan goods.
Bergamot Cafe serves unpretentious noms for breakfast and lunch. Dinner and drinks at supper club Birdie G’s are excellent for reflecting on your impressions of the art with a friend or partner.
Escape the crowds in this premium Santa Monica shopping district with low-key vibes and high-quality goods
To check out one of the locals’ favorite things to do in Santa Monica, try Montana Avenue. Upscale boutiques and markets focus on quality. Coffee shops and sidewalk cafes serve gourmet goodies. A new installation transforms one tree on each block into an illuminated work of art.
🌴 Interested in local life? You can find lots of Santa Monica stats in my guide to the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
ONYX Rooftop Lounge
Indulge in curated cocktails and small bites at a glamorous rooftop bar in downtown Santa Monica, CA
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (310) 394-2791 | Hours: 10 am – 4 pm Sunday through Thursday
At the corner of Ocean Ave & Santa Monica Boulevard, you’ll find Hotel Shangri-La, one of the best places to stay in Los Angeles. To visit Santa Monica with a touch of classic elegance, there’s nowhere better.
You’ll be transported to the golden age while sipping martinis at the ONYX Lounge, a rooftop bar with a 360-degree view, including a birds-eye look at Palisades Park and the Santa Monica Pier.
FAQs About Things to Do in Santa Monica
How do I spend a day in Santa Monica?
Relaxing on Santa Monica beach and playing on the Santa Monica Pier is a wonderful way to spend a day in Santa Monica.
What is Santa Monica most known for?
Most known for Santa Monica State Beach and the Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica offers a wealth of attractions and activities for locals and travelers to enjoy.
Is Santa Monica worth visiting?
Santa Monica is worth visiting for Santa Monica State Beach alone, with tons of great attractions within walking distance of the shore.
Is Venice Beach or Santa Monica better?
For families with young children, kid-friendly attractions like the Santa Monica Pier make Santa Monica better than Venice Beach. For single folks or young couples traveling on a budget, Venice Beach is better than Santa Monica.
Thanks for reading my guide to things to do in Santa Monica! For incredible destinations, you can visit from Santa Monica, check out the 27 Best Day Trips from Los Angeles.