18 Fun Things to Do in Santa Monica

  • 01 of 19

    The Top Santa Monica Attractions

    Santa Monica Route 66 End of the Trail Sign
    Santa Monica Route 66 End of the Trail Sign. Kayte Deioma

    People visiting Los Angeles think of Santa Monica for the beach and the famous Santa Monica Pier, but there are plenty of things to do in Santa Monica, even if you're not a beach person. From shopping and nightlife to art appreciation, quirky museums and pampering spas, there's enough to do to entertain you for a day, a weekend or a week or more, depending on your interests. Health and wellness is a big focus of the Santa Monica lifestyle so it's a popular retreat for people who just want to relax and pamper themselves in a healthy way. It's one of the places in greater LA where it's easy to settle in for a few days and start feeling like a local.

    It's also a great place to get along without a car if you're comfortable on a bike. Many Santa Monica residents leave their cars at home and cycle within city limits with some especially bike-friendly zones. Walking and local buses are also easy options, both local and tour buses leave from Santa Monica to anywhere...MORE else you want to go in the LA area. With the arrival of long-awaited Metro service in early 2016, you can finally take the train into Los Angeles. Rideshare is another great option if you want to take a long walk to take in various sights and catch a ride back.

    Santa Monica is a beach city of around 90,000 residents surrounded where it doesn't front the ocean by the City of Los Angeles. Venice to the south, Pacific Palisades to the north, Brentwood, Sawtelle and Mar Vista to the east, are all neighborhoods of LA, but Santa Monica is a city with its own city government and services. Like Long Beach, it has its own downtown with high rise buildings quite close to the beach, but most of the city is residential with predominantly two to four-level apartment buildings within 20 blocks of the beach and single-family homes farther away. There are several retail areas and a major commercial area occupied primarily by Internet and tech companies like Yahoo and Google. Santa Monica and Venice have become known as Silicon Beach, so you might be doing your beach run next to the gal who designed that phone app you're using.

    Santa Monica is by far the most visited beach in Los Angeles County for actually going to the beach, although neighboring Venice Beach has as many people walking its famous boardwalk.

  • 02 of 19

    Santa Monica Pier

    Aerial View of Santa Monica Pier and Beach, Santa Monica, California, USA
    Boden/Ledingham / Getty Images

    There are tons of things to do right on Santa Monica Pier. It is home to Pacific Park, a mini-amusement park with a Ferris Wheel, a small roller coaster and some other small rides. There's also a separate carousel and a food court. It is also home to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, the New York Trapeze School. In addition to the food court, there are also several restaurants. Summer concerts are held on the extended south side of the pier.

  • 03 of 19

    Santa Monica Beach

    Aerial shot of Santa Monica beach
    JCS/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0

    Other than what's going on at the pier, Santa Monica Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the LA area for just enjoying the sun, surf, and sand, as well as many other activities you can do on the beach or on the water.

  • 04 of 19

    Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

    Little sharks in a tank
    Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images

    Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is a small Aquarium of Pacific sea life run as a marine education center by the non-profit Heal the Bay. It is located at the foot of the Santa Monica Pier. It's nowhere near on the scale of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, but their are over 100 sea animals and plants found in the Santa Monica Bay, with lots of sea creatures you can touch. Admission is $5. Kids 12 and under are free.

    Continue to 5 of 19 below.
  • 05 of 19

    Third Street Promenade

    Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA
    Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA. Kayte Deioma

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

  • 06 of 19

    Bike or Skate the Strand

    Santa Monica Beach Bike Path
    Santa Monica Beach Bike Path. Kayte Deioma

    The Marvin Braude Beach Trail, better known through Santa Monica 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 to spend an hour or all day biking or skating along the miles of paved beach path south as far as Redondo Beach and north to Malibu. There are at least three bike and skate rental shops with varying equipment right on or near the Santa Monica Pier.

  • 07 of 19

    Bergamot Station Arts Complex

    Bergemot Station Art Center in Santa Monica, CA
    Bergemot Station Art Center in Santa Monica, CA. Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

    Bergamot Station is a complex of upscale art galleries in former industrial warehouse space in Santa Monica. You have to know where you are going to find it since it's in an out-of-the-way area, but if you're a contemporary art fan, it should be high on your list of places to visit.

    2525 Michigan Ave.
    Santa Monica, CA 90404

  • 08 of 19

    Surfing Santa Monica

    Surf Lessons in Santa Monica
    Surf Lessons in Santa Monica. Kayte Deioma

    Surfing is allowed between lifeguard towers 18 and 20 (Pico Blvd. and Bay St.), and between 28 and 29 (Ashland Ave. and Pier St.). There are surf schools and private instructors for beginners through advanced surfers, and rental equipment available. Always check with lifeguards before surfing.

    Want to take a surfing lesson? Here is a list of authorized surf instructors in Santa Monica.

    Continue to 9 of 19 below.
  • 09 of 19

    Santa Monica Place

    Santa Monica Place Mall
    Santa Monica Place Mall. Kayte Deioma

    Santa Monica Place has some unique shopping and dining opportunities, sometimes disguised behind familiar names. Bloomingdales and Nordstroms at Santa Monica Place both carry fashions and accessories by local designers, and Bloomingdales has over 100 pieces of original art on display. Rooftop dining elevates a variety of cuisines to a memorable experience.

    395 Santa Monica Place
    Santa Monica, CA 90401
     

  • 10 of 19

    The Museum of Flying

    Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, CA
    Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, CA. Kayte Deioma

    The Museum of Flying is located on the grounds of the Santa Monica Airport. Founded in 1976 by Donald Douglas Jr, the second President of the Douglas Aircraft Company, at another nearby location, the opened in its current location in 2012. It features a number of exhibits related to Douglas Aircraft Company, as well as other historic planes, replicas and models, including the Douglas DC-3 Spirit of Santa Monica out front, built at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica in 1942. There's also a cockpit of a FedEx plane that you can climb into sticking out the front of the building. They also offer a variety of aviation-related programming and events to supplement their exhibits.

    For an additional fee, visitors can ride the Maxflight Simulator, which will let you simulate flying a variety of different planes. However, unlike a video game, it will physically pitch and roll 360 degrees turning you upside down inside of it. Check for discount combo tickets on Fridays.

    3100 Airport Avenue
    Santa...MORE Monica, CA 90405
    www.museumofflying.org

    Note: There may be City signs on Ocean Park that lead to the old location, not the new one.

  • 11 of 19

    The Annenberg Beach House

    Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica
    Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. Kayte Deioma

    The Annenberg Community Beach House is a public swimming pool, community center, and gallery located right on the beach at the north end of Santa Monica State Beach.

    The property originally featured a 100-room mansion that William Randolph Hearst built for Marion Davies in the 1920s. It went through various incarnations as hotel and beach club over the years. The mansion itself was torn down in 1956, but the beach club continued operating until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. After that, the City drew up new plans but lacked funding to implement them until 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 recreation and event spaces.

    There are beach volleyball, tennis, and soccer courts available. Some can be reserved for a fee, others are free on a first come basis. Stand Up...MORE Paddle Board rental is available year round.

    The gallery hosts temporary exhibits by local artists. The Beach House also has an artist/writer in residence program and schedules other programming from music to lectures.

    415 Pacific Coast Hwy
    Santa Monica, CA 90402
    annenbergbeachhouse.com

  • 12 of 19

    M.I.'s Westside Comedy

    Westside Comedy Theater
    Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. Courtesy of Westside Comedy Theater

    Far and away the winner for Favorite Los Angeles Comedy Club is M.i's Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. The improv, stand-up and variety club has gained a firm fan base since they opened in an alley behind the 3rd Street promenade back in 2009.

    1323-A 3rd Street Promenade
    Santa Monica, CA 90401
    www.westsidecomedy.com

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  • 13 of 19

    California Heritage Museum

    California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica, CA
    California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica, CA. Kayte Deioma

    California Heritage Museum is a historic residence in the heart of Main Street that presents exhibits of American decorative and fine arts.

    2612 Main St 
    Santa Monica, CA 90405​
    californiaheritagemuseum.org

  • 14 of 19

    The Broad Stage

    The Broad Stage
    The Broad Stage at Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    The 538-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 Santa Monica. There are actually two theaters, the main Broad Stage and the more intimate block box theater, The Edye. Performances range from classical to cutting edge in all variety of performance fields from nearby and around the world including some great family programming.

    1310 11th Street
    Santa Monica, CA 90401
    www.thebroadstage.com

     

  • 15 of 19

    Magicopolis

    Magicopolis
    Magicopolis in Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Magicopolis

    Magicopolis is a magic stage show in Santa Monica with magicians Steve Spill and his wife, Bozena Wrobel, performing large illusions and close-up magic interspersed with comedy and music.

    1418 Fourth Street
    Santa Monica, CA. 90401
    Fri-Sun
    magicopolis.com

  • 16 of 19

    The Santa Monica Playhouse

    Santa Monica Playhouse
    Santa Monica Playhouse. Kayte Deioma

    The Santa Monica Playhouse is a small theater with a big reputation. They've been producing plays continuously since 1960 when they were founded by Belgian-born actor/director Ted Roter, James Arness (Gunsmoke), and Eric Braedon (The Young and the Restless, Rat Patrol).

    In addition to their calendar of classics and world premier evening plays, they are one of the Top Live Family Entertainment Venues in LA.

    1211 4th Street 
    Santa Monica, CA 90401
    www.santamonicaplayhouse.com

    Continue to 17 of 19 below.
  • 17 of 19

    The Camera Obscura Art Lab at 1450 Ocean

    Camera Obsura in Santa Monica, CA
    Camera Obsura in Santa Monica, CA. Kayte Deioma

    The Camera Obscura is a quirky thing to do in Santa Monica, but it will amuse photographers and other physicists. If you're not familiar with the concept of a Camera Obscura, it's a dark room that acts like the inside of a camera by letting in a controlled amount of light. The light beam projects an image of the scene immediately outside onto a plate in the dark room. In this case, the light source is a periscope on top of the building that you can move around to face the ocean or the street. The image of the scene outside is projected on a circular plate-like a table in the middle of the room. You tip the table to adjust the focus.​​

    The Camera Obscura is part of is part of a community center in Palisades Park at 1450 Ocean that used to be predominantly a senior center but is now the Art Lab with all-ages art workshops and fitness classes. The Camera Obscura can only be accessed when the center is open, M-F 9 am-3 pm and Saturday 11 am-4 pm. Check-in at the office with an ID to...MORE borrow the key. It's free.

    1450 Ocean Ave.
    Palisades Park
    Santa Monica, CA 90401

  • 18 of 19

    The Santa Monica Stairs

    Santa Monica Stairs
    Santa Monica Stairs. Kayte Deioma

    A free activity that draws fitness buffs looking for a good workout is the Santa Monica Stairs. There are two sets of very steep stairs from Adelaide Drive at the top to Entrada Drive at the bottom. If you search Google Maps for the Santa Monica Stairs, it will take you to 699 Adelaide, which is the house across from the top of the stairway pictured here. About a block down, at the end of 4th Street, is a second stairway with concrete stairs in a switchback design, rather than a straight shot up wooden stairs like these.

    There is free street parking at the top and bottom, but since most people go to Adelaide, it's sometimes easier to find parking on Entrada and start at the bottom. This stairway is right where Amalfi Drive dead ends into Entrada. The second one is across from where Entrada Drive, Channel Road, and the Ocean Avenue Extension come together, technically on Ocean Ave Ext, between the garages of two houses.

  • 19 of 19

    Santa Monica History Museum

    The Santa Monica History Museum has a permanent exhibit on the city's history and another on Douglas Aircraft, featuring a plane under construction. Another permanent feature is an interactive activity where you can print out a historic newspaper front page featuring a photo of you. The museum also stages temporary exhibits related to the city's role in popular culture.