Santa Monica for a Day or a Weekend

  • 01 of 03

    Getaway to Santa Monica

    View from the Santa Monica Pier
    ••• Picture yourself here: View from the Santa Monica Pier. Courtesy of Getty Images/Tuan Tran

    Santa Monica, California is one of the best places in California to enjoy both a lively beach scene and a city atmosphere, all within a few minutes' walk of each other. In fact, National Geographic calls it one of the top 10 beach cities in the world, ranking it among places like Honolulu and Rio de Janeiro.

    Why Should You Go? Will You Like Santa Monica?

    You may want to go to Santa Monica just because you're heard so much about it. In that case, you're ready to browse the things you can do on the next page and find out how to pick a place to stay. Just keep reading for that.

    If you need a little more convincing...You'll like Santa Monica if you want to spend the day at the beach and the evening at a good restaurant. Its thriving arts scene may also be appealing. Hotels are on the expensive side, but you'll find plenty of moderately-priced places to eat downtown.

    What Is There to Do in Santa Monica?

    There's so much to do in this city by the sea that it's on the...MORE next page. 

    Best Time to Go to Santa Monica

    The most popular time to go to Santa Monica is summer, but the beach can get so crowded on summer weekends that you might have a hard time seeing the sand from all the people standing on it. May and June are also prone to gloomy, foggy days when the sun never shines. That happens so often that it has a name: "May Gray" and "June Gloom."

    Santa Monica weather is best in spring and fall - and in winter as long as it isn't raining.

    Isn't It Romantic?

    If your idea of a romantic getaway involves walking hand in hand on the beach at sunset, having a meal at a restaurant or staying in a hotel room with an ocean view, Santa Monica is a great place to visit.

     

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  • 02 of 03

    Top Things to Do in Santa Monica

    Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier
    ••• Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Millions of visitors go to Santa Monica every year. Most of them are day-trippers, but some stay overnight. No matter how long you plan to spend there, you'll want some ideas for how to spend your time.

    Most Popular Things to Do in Santa Monica

    If you look at photos of Santa Monica online, you could easily conclude that the beach and pier are the only things in town. This short list of things to do near the ocean includes the places people go most often.

    Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park: Santa Monica Pier is the home to one of the few remaining oceanfront amusement parks. It's also LA's only admission free amusement park. Go in the late afternoon to watch the sunset - and stay to see the lighted rides at night. Get all the tips and information you need in the Santa Monica Pier Guide.

    Santa Monica Beach: The beach at Santa Monica is big - 3 miles long and covering 245 acres of sand - and it has great views. It can be crowded near the pier, but you'll have more space to...MORE spread out just a short walk away from it. Find out more in the Santa Monica Beachgoers Guide.

    Beachfront Pathway: The paved, level beachfront pathway runs all the way from Will Rogers State Park north of Santa Monica to Redondo Beach, a trip of about 25 miles one way. The pathway passes through Venice Beach and runs past the end of the LAX runway, where you can watch airplanes taking off overhead. You can walk on it, run on it, or bike on it. If you left your wheels at home, Santa Monica Beach Bike Rentals is well rated. Or join the Electric Bicycle Tour of Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

    Palisades Park: The narrow sliver of land between Ocean Avenue and the cliffs' edge is actually a city park. It's a great place for a walk or a run, and if you like unusual things, check out the Camera Obscura at 1450 Ocean. It's an optical device built in 1899 that brings the outside scene inside in an interesting way.

    Santa Monica Farmers Markets: Not only do these outdoor markets have things you could take home to cook, but you'll also find stands selling things you can eat on the spot. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the market is on Arizona Avenue between Second and Third Street - and on Sunday, it's at 2640 Main Street.

    A Few More Ideas

    Museum of Flying:  If you're into aviation history, this one is for you. Founded as the Douglas Museum by Donald Douglas Jr., it focuses on Southern California's aviation industry and has several interesting aircraft on display.

    Trapeze School: If you ever wanted to run away and join the circus, or if you just like the idea of flying around through the air, you might want to take a lesson here.

    Take a Surfing Lesson: Just search online for "Santa Monica surfing lessons, " and you'll come up with dozens of companies willing to teach you.

    Annual Events You Should Know About in Santa Monica

    • Glow Arts Festival  This exciting event is kind of like Burning Man on the beach. Held in September, but only once every few years. The next one is tenatively set for 2018.
    • Twilight Concerts at the Pier  July through September - and they're free

    Santa Monica With Kids

    • Most kids love to play at the beach, nd the whole family can go for a bike ride on the paved, long, flat oceanfront path.
    • From a distance, all the rides at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier look like they're designed for bigger kids, but you'll also find a lot of smaller, fun ones for the little guys. While you're on the pier, check out the kid-friendly aquarium, too.
    • If the kids need to work off some excess energy, try the playground at Tongva Park. It's located just across the street from the entrance to the pier and the very cool play area is in the back corner.
    • Adventurous youngsters might also enjoy the Trapeze School or surfing lessons, which are mentioned above.

    Go Shopping

    If you came to Santa Monica to shop, these are a few ideas for places to go, with their pros and cons:

    • Third Street Promenade You'll hear a lot of hype about this pedestrian -only shopping area. Lots of people give high ratings in online reviews, but if you live in a place that already has a lot of mid-range chain stores, you may find it a bit ho-hum.
    • Santa Monica Place: This open-air shopping mall's stores include Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom.
    • Montana Avenue: It's my top pick if you're looking for something more interesting and unique than the chain shops on Third Street. You'll find more than 100 high-end boutiques and places to eat along a 10-block stretch. It's easy to start your exploration at Montana and Lincoln.
    • Santa Monica Airport Flea Market takes place on the first and fourth Sunday of each month. It's an outdoor market where they claim you can furnish an entire house in one visit. You can also deck yourself out with estate jewelry and vintage fashion. Or get something new for your garden.

    Art and Design

    • Santa Monica Design District: This area has lots of showrooms dedicated to modern home and workplace furnishings and design. See where they are on this map.
    • Bergamot Station: It doesn't look like much from the street, but once you get inside, you'll find more than 30 art galleries featuring some interesting contemporary art. If you're like me and the Handsome Honey, you may go thinking you'll spend a few minutes and end up wandering around for hours. It's a good thing they have a place to eat on site.

    Architecture

    I confess, I'm an architecture junkie and Santa Monica is a good place to see an interesting mix of styles and eras.

    • Charles Eames House:  One of about two dozen homes built as part of the Case Study Project in the 1950s, created by Charles and Ray Eames as an example of a home for two working artists. It's a little north of Santa Monica proper in Pacific Palisades. Get details about how to visit.
    • Art Deco Hotels: If you love art deco style, the Georgian and Shangri-La hotels are great examples of the style.
    • Frank Gehry Residence: Did you know that Frank Gehry's deconstructionist Santa Monica home played a big part in his career direction? 
    • Julia Morgan: The property that is now the Annenberg Beach House once was the home of actress Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst's longtime girlfriend. The former guest house (which is part of a much larger property designed by Morgan) is open for docent tours.

    Day Trips and Side Trips

    If you're in Santa Monica long enough to think you want to explore a little further, try these areas that are nearby:

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  • 03 of 03

    What You Need to Know About Going to Santa Monica

    santa monica district from the helicopter
    ••• Santa Monica from the Air. franckreporter / Getty Images

     ​Where to Stay

    Even though Santa Monica is a beach city, don't expect every hotel to be right on the beach. In fact, hotels that appear to be just across the road from the beach may be on a bluff above it instead. Finding an affordable, nice place can also be a challenge, too. But there's no need to worry. To get all the tips you'll need to find a place that - as Goldilocks would say - is "just right," check out the guide to how to find a place to stay in Santa Monica

    Where Is Santa Monica?

    Santa Monica is in Los Angeles County. It's about 20 miles west of downtown LA, which is a 30 minute-plus drive, depending on traffic.

    It can be devilishly hard to find parking in Santa Monica, with the downtown shopping area, the beach, and pier so close together. And it's even more difficult to find free parking.

    According to the City of Santa Monica website, 80% of hotel visitors do not use a car once they arrive in Santa Monica.Think about joining them and taking public...MORE transportation if you can. The LA Metro Expo Line began operating between downtown LA and Santa Monica in 2015.

    The nearest airport is LAX.