14 Best Things to Do in Santa Monica, California

Rides lit up at night on the Santa Monica Pier

 TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

While most people visiting Los Angeles think of Santa Monica because of its famous beach and pier, there are plenty of other things to see and do. From shopping and nightlife to art appreciation, quirky museums, and luxurious spas, there's enough going on here to keep any visitor busy for a day, a weekend or even longer, depending on your interests. Health and wellness are a major highlight of the Santa Monica lifestyle, and as a result, the area has become a favorite retreat for those who just want to relax and pamper themselves. It's also one of the best places in L.A. to settle in for a few days and start feeling like one of the locals.

01 of 14

Unleash Your Inner Child at Pacific Park

Pacific Park Santa Monica Pier

StinkyJess / Getty Images

Pacific Park is a perfect stop for anyone traveling with little ones or those who are young at heart and in search of some nostalgic thrills. Located right on Santa Monica Pier, the amusement park offers 12 rides, including the Pacific Wheel Ferris wheel, the West Coaster (an oceanfront steel roller coaster), Shark Frenzy (a shark-themed version of the classic Tilt-A-Whirl ride), Inkie's Scrambler, a 44-foot tower plunge ride, and a giant swinging wooden ship, among other thrill rides.

Several kiddie rides are also available, as are traditional amusement park games like Whac-A-Mole, Balloon Bust, Mini Hoops, and Ring Toss. Fuel up with funnel cake, burgers, pizza, pretzels, popcorn, cotton candy, and ice cream from one of the many onsite restaurants and food vendors and shop for Santa Monica Pier souvenirs to remember your trip by.

380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
Phone +1 310-260-8744
02 of 14

Day Trip to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Ed-Ni-Photo / Getty Images

About a 40-minute drive from downtown Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area offers 157,700 acres of stunning outdoor scenery and over 500 miles of trails perfect for hiking. Other popular activities here include mountain biking, climbing, horseback riding, wildflower viewing, and camping. If you're looking for a break from all the hustle and bustle of the big city, definitely check out this beautiful western corner of Los Angeles County.

26876 Mulholland Hwy, Calabasas, CA 91302, USA
Phone +1 805-370-2301
03 of 14

Spend Some Time at Santa Monica Pier

Aerial View of Santa Monica Pier and Beach, Santa Monica, California, USA

Boden / Ledingham / Getty Images

There's a lot going on at Santa Monica Pier, home to the aforementioned Pacific Park as well as the legendary and historic 1920s carousel, which features 44 wooden animals and was featured in the classic Paul Newman and Robert Redford film, "The Sting." It is also where you'll find the Heal the Bay Aquarium, which we'll get into a bit later, and the Los Angeles outpost of the New York Trapeze School, where you can realize all your circus trapeze fantasies like a pro. In addition to the food court, there are several restaurants to suit every budget and taste. Summer concerts are sometimes held on the extended south side of the pier, so check the events schedule on the website before planning your trip. If anything, stop by long enough to catch a beautiful California sunset.

200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
Phone +1 310-458-8900
04 of 14

Relax on Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach in Los Angeles, California

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

Located right next to the popular pier, Santa Monica Beach is one of the best spots in the Los Angeles area to just sit back and enjoy the sun, surf, and sand, as well as a plethora of other beach activities you can do along the water. Grab a picnic blanket and spend some time unwinding along the Pacific, whether you prefer to flip through a book or magazine, or just sit and listen to the waves crashing along the shore. For a real treat, stick around for sunset.

Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
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05 of 14

Learn About Marine Life at Heal the Bay Aquarium

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in CA

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at the foot of the Santa Monica Pier, is a a great place to learn more about Pacific sealife, since the facility is run as a marine education center by the non-profit Heal the Bay. While it's nowhere near as large as the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Heal the Bay Aquarium still showcases more than 100 sea animals and plants found in Santa Monica Bay, featuring lots of sea creatures you can touch.

1600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
Phone +1 310-393-6149
06 of 14

Go for a Stroll Along the Third Street Promenade

Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA

TripSavvy / Kayte Deioma

Third Street Promenade is one of the L.A. area's best pedestrian shopping zones. Street performers provide a festive atmosphere on evenings, weekends, and daily during the summer. While many of the unique shops and food stalls that once gave the Promenade its charm have been replaced by chain stores and restaurant franchises, it's still a lively place to be. The pedestrian zone stretches three blocks from Broadway at Santa Monica Place to Wilshire Blvd.

1351 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
Phone +1 310-393-8355
07 of 14

Climb the Santa Monica Stairs

The Santa Monica Stairs in Santa Monica, CA

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley


One free activity that draws fitness buffs looking for a good workout is climbing the Santa Monica Stairs. There are two sets of very steep stairs stretching from Adelaide Drive at the top to Entrada Drive at the bottom. If you search on Google Maps for the Santa Monica Stairs, you'll be directed to 699 Adelaide, the address of house across from the top of the stairway pictured here. You'll find free street parking at the top and bottom, but since most people go to Adelaide Drive, it's sometimes easier to find parking on Entrada Drive and start at the bottom. 

699 Adelaide Dr, Santa Monica, CA 90402, USA
08 of 14

Walk, Bike or Skate Your Way Along "The Strand"

The Strand in Santa Monica, CA

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

The Marvin Braude Bike Trail, better known as "The Strand," is a 22-mile paved trail that runs from Will Rogers State Beach just north of Santa Monica to Torrance Beach in the south. There are plenty of places to rent bikes or skates so you can spend an hour or all day biking or skating along several miles of paved beach path that stretch as far south as Redondo Beach or north to Malibu. You'll find at least three bike and skate rental shops offering varying types of equipment right on or near the Santa Monica Pier.

Marvin Braude Bike Trail, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, USA
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09 of 14

Try Your Hand at Surfing

Surf Lessons in Santa Monica

TripSavvy / Kayte Deioma

Surfing is allowed between lifeguard towers 18 and 20, located at Pico Boulevard and Bay Street, and between 28 and 29, located at Ashland Avenue and Pier Street. A number of surf schools and private instructors are available to help would-be surfers at any state—whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced surfer—as is rental equipment. As a rule, always check in with the lifeguards before you start surfing.

Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
10 of 14

Embrace Your Inner Aviation Geek at the Museum of Flying

Museum of Flying in Santa Monica

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

Founded in 1974 by Donald Douglas, Jr., the second president of the Douglas Aircraft Company, the Museum of Flying opened in its current location in 2012 on the grounds of the Santa Monica Airport. The museum features several exhibits related to the Douglas Aircraft Company, as well as other historic planes, replicas, and models, including the Douglas DC-3 Spirit of Santa Monica you'll see out front, built at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica in 1942. Also worth checking out: a FedEx airplane cockpit that you can climb into for photo-ops.

3100 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405-6140, USA
Phone +1 310-398-2500
11 of 14

Go Swimming at the Annenberg Community Beach House

Annenberg Beach House, Santa Monica, CA

 TripSavvy / Christian Hundley


The Annenberg Community Beach House is a public swimming pool, community center, and gallery located right on the beach at the northern end of Santa Monica State Beach. The property, which initially featured a 100-room mansion William Randolph Hearst had built for Marion Davies in the 1920s, has gone through various incarnations as a hotel and beach club over the years. The villa itself was torn down in 1956, while the beach club continued operating until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, after which the city drew up new plans but lacked funding to implement them. Thankfully, Wallis Annenberg of the Annenberg Foundation came to the rescue and provided grant funding for the project.

In 2009, the Annenberg Community Beach House opened with the historic pool and the Marion Davies Guesthouse restored to their former glory, and brand new event spaces and recreation offerings, like beach volleyball, tennis, and soccer courts. Some can be reserved for a fee; others are free on a first-come-first-served basis.

415 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90402, USA
Phone +1 310-458-4904
12 of 14

See a Show at the The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage

The Broad Stage in Santa Monica,CA

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

The 500-seat Broad Stage (pronounced "brode") at Santa Monica College's Performing Arts Center is the largest and the most technologically advanced performing arts space currently operating in the area. There are two theaters, the main Broad Stage and the more intimate 100-seat black-box theater, The Edye. Performances here range from classical to cutting-edge, across theater, dance, and music, and have featured legendary artists like Patti LuPone, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Helen Hunt, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, among others.

Performing Arts Center - Music Building, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401-2000, USA
Phone +1 310-434-3200
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13 of 14

Visit the California Heritage Museum

California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica

TreipSavvy / Christian Hundley


Stop by the California Heritage Museum, located in a historic residence in the heart of Main Street, for a look at exhibits highlighting American decorative and fine arts. Past collections include a 30-year retrospective of quilts by textile artist Alice Beasley, photographs taken of the legendary Andy Warhol, and paintings inspired by a California road trip by Suong Yangchareon.

2612 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405-4002, USA
Phone +1 310-392-8537
14 of 14

See a Show at the Westside Comedy Theater

Westside Comedy Theater, Los Angeles, CA

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley


The improv, stand-up, and variety comedy club has gained a firm fan base since it opened in an alley behind the Third Street Promenade back in 2009. Stop by for a comedy class or to see the pros in action. You never know who will show up—past celebrity drop-ins have included comedians like Dana Carvey, Dave Chappelle, Zack Galifianakis, Hannibal Buress, Chris Tucker, and Kevin Pollak. If you're visiting the area in late-October, stick around for the Westside Comedy Festival, which is always a treat.

1323-A 3rd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA
Phone +1 310-451-0850
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14 Best Things to Do in Santa Monica, California