Santa Monica Beach: The Complete Guide

Santa Monica beach, Los Angeles, California, USA
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Santa Monica Beach has something for almost everyone. The beach itself is wide and flat, and the sand is soft and well groomed. The surroundings are eye-popping, with a line of palms topping a high bluff, view of the Santa Monica skyline and Pacific Coast Highway, and a colorful amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier.

It's free to visit, and you can find a long list of things you can do there below, most of which are also free.

On the downside, it can be jam-packed in the summer, especially near the pier. Even when the water is at its summer warmest, you may not want to go swimming because of water quality issues, which are detailed below.

There more to Santa Monica than just the beach and if you want to go for more than just a day, here's how to plan a weekend in Santa Monica.

What to Do at Santa Monica Beach

  • Watch People: Santa Monica Beach is one of the best places in all of LA for people-watching. Visitors especially like the stereotypical sights: scantily-clad volleyball players and lifeguard towers that could be in any "Baywatch" episode. Tourists and locals alike can spend hours watching fitness freaks doing yoga, scores of runners, bicyclists, and dog walkers, some of them wrangling a half dozen or more all at once.
  • Relax on the Beach: Bring beach blankets, chairs, umbrellas, coolers and lots of sunscreen. And don't forget your summer reading. Or you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas from Perry's Beach Cafe. The further you get from the pier, the less crowded the sand will be.
  • Walk, Run, Bike, Skate: By far the most-used part of the beach is the flat, paved path that runs from a little north of Santa Monica Beach all the way to Redondo Beach, about 25 miles in all. You could spend a few minutes or all day on it, walking or running — or on wheels: bicycles, roller blades, or old-fashioned roller skates. But don't try to take a motorized scooter: They are not allowed.
  • If you left your wheels at home, Santa Monica Beach Bike Rentals is well rated. Perry's Beach Cafe offers pedal and electric bike rentals that you can take one way for a small drop-off fee. You can find more rental companies in the guide to bike, skate, and surrey rentals.
  • Visit the Pier and Amusement Park: Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park amusement park have plenty of things to keep you amused, including the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel and an antique carousel.
  • The free series Twilight Concerts at the Pier takes place on selected Wednesdays in August and September as part of a Pier-wide festival that includes immersive art, food, games and interactive activations along the Pier promenade.
  • Swim: In the busy season, you'll find lots of lifeguards on duty during daylight hours. A few people swim, but the Pacific is chilly, ranging from the upper 50s to mid-60s. That's why a lot more opt to wade in and splash around instead. Sadly, the area around the pier is reported to have some of the dirtiest water in all of California. To get current and predicted conditions, you can zoom in on Santa Monica using the map at the LA County Public Health Department.
  • Surf: Santa Monica's south-facing beach gets fewer surfing-worthy waves than the west-facing beaches between Venice to Redondo Beach. But when the waves are big enough, you can go surfing north of the pier. First, check the Santa Monica surf report. And check the water quality using the link above. For beginners, several companies offer surfing lessons which you can find with a quick search for "surfing lessons santa monica."
  • Play on the Beach: You'll find dozens of sand volleyball courts along the beach, both north and south of the Pier. They are available every day on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Visit the Beach House: For a more refined beach experience, go to the Annenberg Community Beach House, where the kids can enjoy the splash pad, and everyone can use the swimming pool, take a yoga or fitness class, visit an art gallery, or rent equipment for sand play.
  • Play Chess: The Santa Monica International Chess Park has dozens of table boards and one board with human-sized pieces. It's at 1652 Ocean Front Walk south of the pier and near Muscle Beach, where Seaside Terrace intersects Ocean Front.
  • Work Out: Today's Muscle Beach is south of Santa Monica in Venice Beach, but the original one that drew acrobats, muscle men, and bathing beauties was just south of the Santa Monica Pier. You'll still find athletic equipment there, for use at no charge including rings, parallel bars, balance bars and more.

What to Know Before You Go to Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach is a state beach, but the City of Santa Monica operates it. It's three miles long, stretching from Will Rogers Beach to Venice Beach.

  • There is no entrance fee, but all the nearby lots and streets have parking fees.
  • Parking lots and restrooms are open from dawn to dark, more or less, but closed at night, except for a few near or on the pier.
  • Neither alcohol nor pets are allowed on the beach.
  • You'll find plenty of restrooms (about a dozen) along the beach. If you've gotten sandy or saltwater-soaked, most of them also have showers.
  • You can get food at the pier or at Perry's Beach Cafe along the path north of the pier. You can also go into downtown to Third Street Promenade, which is only a couple of blocks away.
  • You can't sleep or camp on Santa Monica Beach.

How to Get to Santa Monica Beach

Driving to Santa Monica State Beach is easy, Take I-10 west to where it ends at Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1). Several large paid public parking lots are near the pier along Pacific Coast Highway are at beach level.

You can also park downtown on top of the bluff, which is about 110 feet above the beach. That may sound like a good choice if you plan to do something else there after you leave the beach. But think about all the gear you may have. If you choose to park there or nearby in downtown, you can take Colorado Ave. downhill to the pier to get to the beach. Otherwise, you will have to walk down (and back up) one of several stairways that range from 40 to more than 170 steps.

If you want to take public transportation, Google maps can help you plan your trip or use the LA Metro trip planner.

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