Santa Monica, California, is a famous beach destination and a popular weekend getaway from Los Angeles. The city is home to the iconic Santa Monica Pier, the Museum of Flying, the Hippodrome and other attractions. Stroll along the Third Street Promenade to browse shops and have lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants. Stay at one of the luxury hotels or check into an affordable hostel on your weekend getaway or day trip. Here are the best things to do in Santa Monica, California. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Park and Aquarium
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An iconic destination in Santa Monica, the picturesque pier is a well loved and celebrated landmark. The 100-year-old structure is a pivotal component of the Santa Monica’s history, and provides a distinct and well-known seaside recreational spot for both visitors and locals.
The pier is host to a variety of attractions, ranging from small shops and cafes to vast music festivals stretching across the deck. If you are wondering what to do in Santa Monica, California today, this is a great place to start exploring. Two of the main attractions on the Pier are Pacific Park, an amusement park complete with multicolored rollercoasters and vibrant rides, and the Aquarium, located underneath the Pier. It regarded as one of the most superior aquariums in the nation.
2.Santa Monica Beach
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Stretching three and half miles, the Santa Monica State Beach lines the coast, dividing the city from the shore. Following the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway, the Santa Monica Beach lies on either side of the famous Santa Monica Pier and provides an array of recreational and entertainment opportunities for beach goers.
On the beach, manned lifeguard stations, playgrounds, picnic areas, bike rentals, water sport rentals, and wooden pathways facilitate easygoing and safe entertainment for visitors. Additionally, volleyball courts, chess tables, and other landmarks line the popular and scenic location.
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3.Downtown Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade
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The primary tourist district of Santa Monica offers visitors an array of shopping and dining opportunities throughout the palm tree lined promenade. Closed off to cars, the district is pedestrian friendly, allowing for safe wandering up and down the block. Known for its vibrant nightlife and diverse array of upscale shopping options, the area is a year-round attraction.
Open-air cafes, bistros, and dining spaces are scattered throughout the Promenade while tables line the street and food cart vendors set up shop at various blocks. The bustling area is lively, active, and constantly buzzing with eager visitors and vendors alike. Throughout the year, various attractions are hosted within the Promenade, turning the busy district into an event venue.
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4. Pono Burger, Santa Monica, CA
© Pono Burger
Open for lunch and dinner, Pono Burger is the West Coast’s approach to a typical burger joint. Serving only organic, grass fed beef and locally sourced ingredients, Pono’s offers this iconic American dish, a high quality and carefully prepared burger. Chef Makani, a Hawaiian native, remains mindful of her roots and considers her restaurant’s impact, citing improving individual bodies and the world itself as one of her motivations.
The shop’s menu, which offers a selection of burger varieties, milkshakes, hand cut fries, and craft beer, all fulfill those same intentions. The space itself is quirky, with a building exterior resembling a renovated farm structure and an interior that is simply outfitted, balancing minimalistic and modern to create a welcoming and unforgettable dining experience.
829 Broadway, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-584-7005
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5.Santa Monica Farmers Market
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The Santa Monica Farmers Market is an expansive, citywide event that occurs throughout the week. The Saturday market has two locations, while the Sunday and Wednesday markets each have one. These markets are renowned nationwide and have gained accolades for the diversity of their products and the refined nature of the facility spaces.
Throughout the year, the Santa Monica offerings include a diverse variety of fresh, locally grown produce alongside a selection of locally harvested meats and cheeses, regionally caught fish, specialty nuts, and freshly cut flowers. If you are looking for things to do in Santa Monica with kids, this is a great place to visit. The market is open year round, yet the fare varies seasonally based on availability. The clientele is broad, and the atmosphere is typically lively and bustling with market goers, all scoping out the available merchandise.
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6.Mercado, Santa Monica, CA
Mercado, a dinner-based, fine dining Mexican eatery, is known for its delectable menu and expansive number of tequila offerings. Located in the core of downtown Santa Monica, Mercado serves authentic fare and offers a menu comprised of both classic and contemporary Mexican dishes. Mexican born chef Jose Acevdeo uses his experience and expertise with flavor and cuisine typical of Mexican meals to create high quality dishes from fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
The restaurant is relaxed yet high end, with upscale décor combined with a welcoming atmosphere. If you are looking for romantic date night ideas, this is a great place to try. The two story dining space is laden with trendy details, including industrial features, ambient lighting, and an entire wall of windows, giving the restaurant an intimate yet open feel.
Third Street Promenade, 1416 4th St, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-526-7121
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7.Chomp Eatery and Juice Station Santa Monica
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Located next door to DK's Donuts in the small shopping mall on Santa Monica Boulevard near 17th, Chomp Eatery and Juice Station is a small, modern eatery where you can get highly satisfying meal that will also be good for your health. They offer 30 flavors of cold on-site pressed juice mixes, organic produce purchased from local farms, and a menu with many gluten-free, vegetarian, or dairy-free options. Their juicy burgers are made from grass-fed beef and the chicken is free range. They make their own mayo and use no preservatives. They are a perfect proof that healthy does not mean tasteless or boring. If you are not convinced, just try their bacon melt with applewood bacon, Tillamook cheddar and pepper jack cheese, grilled jalapeño, grilled onions, grilled bell pepper, and cilantro aioli, all piled up on sourdough bread.
1612 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404, Phone: 424-238-3398
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8. Museum of Flying, Santa Monica, California
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This space and air museum is located at the edge of Santa Monica near the Santa Monica airport. This 22,000 square foot space is host to an array of exhibits and displays, allowing guests to experience the history of flight technology and better understand the growth of the industry and changes in aircraft development. Two dozen aircraft are featured in the museum, ranging from a replica Wright flyer, to a collection of jet age crafts, including a Boeing 727 nosepiece.
The museum also holds a collection of significant artifacts and rare aviation art, along with a series of historic documents and artifacts pertaining to aviation history. The museum provides both hands-on and interpretive centers, including an interactive flight simulator and tours guided by staff.
3100 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA, Phone: 310-398-2500
9.BoxUnion, Santa Monica, California
BoxUnion is one of Santa Monica's premiere fitness course experiences, offering high-intensity boxing workouts for participants of all ages and experience levels. The studio's standard 45-minute course emphasizes strength training and muscle sculpting, set in low lighting to high-energy music selections. Courses are led by experienced coaches, who focus on mind and body techniques to bring out the inner champion in all course participants. Punches and other defensive movements are incorporated into all workouts, with an emphasis on moving to the music fluidly as a team. A comprehensive form and footwork course is also offered for beginners, along with one-on-one champion training sessions for more advanced participants, which are available both in studio and at home for an additional fee.
1755 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401, Phone: 310-882-5508
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10.Santa Monica Mountains
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One of the most frequently visited natural attractions in California, the Santa Monica Mountains rise up from behind the city, casting their shadows over the municipality and stretching nearly to the ocean. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area begins at the base of the range, providing guests with various entrances into the vast, urban green space. Nearly 20 parks throughout the mountains provide guests with ample opportunity to explore.
Walking paths and hiking trails are common throughout the space, providing access for those on foot as well as mountain bikers, horse riders, and other sport enthusiasts. Campsites, recreational spots, and other features are available throughout the Mountain range.
11.BOA Steakhouse Santa Monica
© BOA Steakhouse Santa Monica
BOA Steakhouse Santa Monica is a top-tier steakhouse and seafood restaurant that serves as the second outpost of a West Hollywood favorite, known for its gourmet steak offerings and world-class signature rubs and sauces. Diners can choose from steak offerings like Japanese wagyu, dry-aged New York strip steaks, bone-in Kansas City filets, and bison ribeyes, paired with sauces and rubs like black truffle butter, blue cheese crust, Cabernet sauce, and creamy horseradish. Seafood entrees range from saffron jumbo prawns and jumbo lump crab cakes to Nova Scotia lobster tails and sauteed Chilean sea bass. A vegan menu is available for diners with alternative diets, including chile rellenos prepared with pomegranate molasses and walnut cream and nidi Bolognese with almond-based ricotta. A Wine Spectator-awarded wine selection is paired with excellent craft cocktails by house mixologists.
101 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401, Phone: 310-899-4466
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12.Sweet Rose Creamery
© Sweet Rose Creamery
Sweet Rose Creamery is a quaint Santa Monica ice cream parlor that serves as one of Los Angeles' only homemade local ice creameries, originally opened by executive chef Shiho Yoshikawa and business partners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb in 2010 within the Brentwood Country Mart. Five neighborhood locations of the ice cream parlor are offered today, crafting high-quality desserts from locally-sourced and organic ingredients. All ice creams and toppings are made in house, with flavors ranging from classic mint and chocolate chip variants to unique sweet potato swirl and cherimoya coconut varieties. Dairy-free sorbets are also served up in flavors such as horchata coconut and kiwi.
2726 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405, Phone: 310-260-2663
13.Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, CA
© Rustic Canyon
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar serves farm-to-table New American cuisine (all made from locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients) in a modern, sophisticated setting. You’ll be blown away by exquisite dishes, such as the ‘Sunburst’ Squash Salad, Ricotta Dumplings & Butterbeans, or Olive Oil-Poached Passmore Ranch Trout.
They also offer an extensive wine list, artisanal beers, and handcrafted cocktails, like the Maple Berry Smash. Rustic Canyon was founded in 2007 by successful restaurateur, Josh Loeb, who also runs Milo & Olive, Huckleberry, and Sweet Rose Creamery. Jeremy Fox is Executive Chef. You’ll find this wine bar in the heart of Santa Monica.
1119 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-393-7050
14.Milo & Olive
© Milo & Olive
Milo & Olive is a charming neighborhood bakery and pizzeria that serves a bakery-drive breakfast daily, as well as wood-fired pizzas, farmers’ market-inspired salads, and small plates throughout the day and night. Enjoy incredible eats, like Sweet Cream Brioche, Ricotta Crostini, Kale Lasagna, or Wood-Fired Butternut Squash with Vanilla Date Butter.
Milo & Olive is run by successful restaurateur, Josh Loeb, and wife and pastry chef, Zoe Nathan. Loeb also owns LA’s Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, and Sweet Rose Creamery. They are joined in the kitchen by Chef Erin Eastland. You’ll find this adorable, friendly eatery in Northeast Santa Monica.
2723 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-453-6776
15.Del Frisco's Grille, Santa Monica, California
© Del Frisco's Grille
Serving late afternoon and early evening meals, Del Frisco’s is an energetic and bold American bar and grill situated in an ideal location. Overlooking the renowned Santa Monica pier, Del Frisco’s embraces California cool with a menu that reflects typical favorite dishes infused with creative and unexpected flavors.
The ingredients, all locally sourced, make vital contributions to the fresh and vibrant flavors crafted by Del Frisco’s staff. The interior ambiance, which offers several dining room options, features contemporary chic décor, including bold colors and complementary accents, fostering a tasteful fine dining experience.
1551 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-395-7333
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16.Looff Hippodrome, Santa Monica, California
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Located adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier, the Hippodrome is a large, open air building that made the National Historic Landmark registry in the 1980s. A hippodrome was originally an ancient Greek building historically used for horse racing. This dome, however, was built on the Pacific Coast shoreline in the early 20th century.
Now, the Santa Monica based Hippodrome is a nationally recognized landmark, and it has hosted a variety of historic attractions during its lifetime, including roller coasters and carousels. Today, the Hippodrome features a full-scale family based amusement park with a variety of attractions, rides, shops, and cafes.
200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-394-8042
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One of Santa Monica’s little-known gems, Palisades Park is a narrow public park which runs along the top of a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The park stretches for 1.6 miles, from Colorado Avenue to the north city limit overlooking the Santa Monica Canyon. The park was established in 1892 and was later landscaped with walkways, formal entrances and plantings. There is also an iconic fence made from eucalyptus wood salvaged from routine city tree-trimming in 1913. The historic park is popular with walkers who come to enjoy great views of the sea and to admire the plants and birds in the gardens. There is also a veteran’s memorial – 4 stone markers honor all the Veterans who lost their lives in foreign wars.
Palisades Park, Arizona Blvd and Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
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18.Annenberg Community Beach House
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The Annenberg Community Beach House was formerly a luxurious private beach-front estate which was built in the 1920’s. Today the complex is a community resource offering locals and visitors an amazing recreational beachfront facility which is open to everyone. Facilities at the Beach House include an art gallery where you can admire the work of local artists, a swimming pool, a children’s splash pad, beach canopies, volley ball courts and soccer fields. You are also welcome to use the grounds for small gatherings. The beach house complex is the ideal place to spend a fun day on the beach, and is open all year round. The pool is closed from October to May.
Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica, CA 90402, 310 458 4904
19.Cassia, Santa Monica, CA
This dinner centric restaurant is known for its effortlessly cool approach to dining. Providing Southeast Asian flare fused with delectable French ingredients and fresh California flavors, the restaurant features a menu that is eclectic and diverse. The kitchen staff creates truly unique dishes and flavor combinations that could only be authentically crafted in California. The menu features a variety of seafood-based meals featuring locally grown and sourced ingredients.
The interior offers a fresh and vibrant atmosphere that feeds off the youthful and creative energy of the food. The trendy ambiance is upscale but relaxed, proving that Cassiala takes a modern approach to the contemporary fine dining landscape.
1314 7th St, Santa Monica, California, Phone: 310-393-6699
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It’s amazing what a little lateral thinking and a few plants can do to a dusty car park. Just a few years ago, Tongva Park was just that – a boring asphalt parking lot. After a phenomenal transformation, Tongva Park is now a 6-acre urban oasis where Santa Monica locals can spend enjoyable outdoor hours. The park is divided into 4 areas, namely Discovery Hill, Garden Hill, Gathering Hill and Observation Hill and encompasses a children’s play area with splash pad, a natural amphitheatre, long winding pathways, beautiful gardens and shaded picnic areas. The entire park also benefits from free Wi-Fi and is easily accessible by public transport.
Tongva Park, 1615 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
21.Santa Monica History Museum
Founded by the Santa Monica Historical Society in 1988, the Santa Monica History Museum first opened its doors to the public in 1988. With a mission to bring the interesting history of the city to all residents, the museum has gone from strength to strength, benefitting from numerous donations of artifacts, photos and much more. As you make your way through the permanent exhibition hall you will learn all about the early days in Santa Monica. Here you can trace the origins of the inhabitants and learn about the people who were responsible for the establishment of the city. The museum also hosts regularly-changing temporary exhibitions to highlight various specific periods.
Santa Monica History Museum, 1350 7Th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401,
310 395 2290
© Gulzada Construction Company
If you love architecture, especially the quirky deconstructivist-style of architecture popularized by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, you owe it to yourself to take a drive by his home in a quiet Santa Monica suburb. The Gehry House is exceptional in that it appears to be made up of random shapes attached to a standard California bungalow. Instead of designing his own residence from scratch, Frank Gehry purchased a bungalow and then allowed his remarkable artistic knack for the unusual to take over. The resultant house is a brilliant piece of architecture featuring leaning glass cubes juxtaposed against tall corrugated walls which appear unfinished – a hallmark of his style. Since this is a private home no tours are permitted.
Gehry House, 1002 22nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403
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23.Camera Obscura Art Lab
© Santa Monica Conservancy
Conveniently situated in Palisades Park, the Camera Obscura Art Lab is a community art space where all budding artists can come to have creative and educational fun. Local artists are on hand to tutor and advise - through their Artists in Residence program the lab offers a variety of workshops and lectures which are open to all. The Art Lab is also home to the original Santa Monica Camera Obscura which was moved to this location from its original site on the beach in 1955. Visitors are welcome to come and enjoy the camera, which offers an altogether unique view of the surrounding area.
Camera Obscura Art Lab, 1450 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401
24.California Heritage Museum
Located in the heart of Main Street, the California Heritage Museum is housed in a striking Victorian building designed by architect Sumner P. Hunt in the late 1800’s. The interior of the museum is even more amazing, showcasing the great diversity of landscapes, cultures and traditions which are interwoven in California. The ground floor of the museum is furnished with period pieces which reflect the Victorian origins of the home, while the upper floor is devoted to an art gallery which features rotating art exhibitions. These cover all genres – anything from Andy Warhol to amazing quilt “paintings”. Please check their website to see what’s on during your visit.
California Heritage Museum, 2612 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405,
310 392 8537
25.The Broad Stage
© The Broad Stage
It would be a shame to visit Santa Monica without taking the time to attend a performance at the Broad Stage. The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage is located at the impressive Santa Monica College of Performing Arts Center, where it provides one of the most outstanding performance spaces in the state. The intimate, yet impressive theatre can seat just 500 lucky audience members at a time, which means that meaningful rapport can be established between the artists and the audience. The theatre produces a full calendar of stellar productions in just about all genres from opera and symphony to musicals, world-music and jazz.
The Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401, 310 434 3200
25 Best Things to Do in Santa Monica, California
- Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Park and Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of foxtrotromeo - Fotolia.com
- Santa Monica Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Bayda - Fotolia.com
- Downtown Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade, Photo: Courtesy of mtaira - Fotolia.com
- Pono Burger, Santa Monica, CA, Photo: Pono Burger
- Santa Monica Farmers Market, Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Place - Fotolia.com
- Mercado, Santa Monica, CA, Photo: Mercado
- Chomp Eatery and Juice Station Santa Monica, Photo: Chomp Eatery Facebook
- Museum of Flying, Santa Monica, California, Photo: Courtesy of sephirot17 - Fotolia.com
- BoxUnion, Santa Monica, California, Photo: BoxUnion
- Santa Monica Mountains, Photo: Courtesy of Kit Leong - Fotolia.com
- BOA Steakhouse Santa Monica, Photo: BOA Steakhouse Santa Monica
- Sweet Rose Creamery, Photo: Sweet Rose Creamery
- Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, CA, Photo: Rustic Canyon
- Milo & Olive, Photo: Milo & Olive
- Del Frisco's Grille, Santa Monica, California, Photo: Del Frisco's Grille
- Looff Hippodrome, Santa Monica, California, Photo: Courtesy of barmalini - Fotolia.com
- Palisades Park, Photo: Lux Blue/stock.adobe.com
- Annenberg Community Beach House, Photo: Annenberg Community Beach House
- Cassia, Santa Monica, CA, Photo: Cassia
- Tongva Park, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- Santa Monica History Museum, Photo: anon/stock.adobe.com
- Gehry House, Photo: Gulzada Construction Company
- Camera Obscura Art Lab, Photo: Santa Monica Conservancy
- California Heritage Museum, Photo: Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com
- The Broad Stage, Photo: The Broad Stage
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Bayda - Fotolia.com
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