Santa Monica Beach Vacation Guide

A Santa Monica vacation means beaches, shopping, sightseeing and more. Santa Monica California is a hot spot for beach goers of western Los Angeles County, but people also come visit from all over the world. Read on for information about hotels, vacation rentals, the Pier, festivals, and other things to do on your vacation.

The number one attraction has to be the beach of course, and there is Santa Monica Beach, Will Rogers State Beach and Venice Beach to choose from.

The Santa Monica Pier is also quite popular, with a vintage carousel, an aquarium, an arcade, fun rides, games, restaurants, treats and people watching.

Santa Monica Beach

People from all over the world flock to Santa Monica Beach in Southern California to see what all the excitement is about.

This very wide, sandy beach can be extremely crowded on warm summer weekends. If you enjoy people watching, you won’t be disappointed by the “show”. Right in the middle of the beach is the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park, at the end of Colorado Avenue. This old pleasure pier holds plenty of action such as a ferris wheel, a roller coaster, an antique carousel and more.

Also on the pier are shops, restaurants and good old fashioned carnival games. People can fish here as well.

Just east of the pier is Carousel Park, a children’s playground. There is also an active chess park just south of the pier at Seaside Terrace. It contains 24 tables with boards to play on.

The original Muscle Beach with all its exercise equipment is just to the side of the pier. Underneath the pier is the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, an educational exhibit on ocean ecology.  Call 310-393-6149 for more info.

The South Bay Bicycle Trail goes along the back part of Santa Monica Beach and stretches from Will Rogers State Beach 22 miles south to Torrance Beach where the Palos Verdes Peninsula begins.

Santa Monica Beach also offers a snack shack, showers and restrooms, lifeguards, a playground, and places to play basketball and volleyball. Other activities include the favorite standbys such as swimming, surfing and boogie boarding. You can also rent beach equipment

Above the beach on the north side of the pier, there is a lovely bluff at the top of which is Palisades Park, where you can stroll down paths amongst the grass and palm trees while looking out over the sea. Or you can picnic at one of the benches. You can also find shuffleboard courts here, and a senior recreation center. Several paths lead from the park down to the beach.

Just north of Santa Monica State Beach is Will Rogers State Beach, a 3 mile long stretch of sand. The further north you go, the less crowded it is. Here, as at most state beaches, you’ll find lifeguards, a snack shack, showers and restrooms. There you can enjoy swimming, surfing and volleyball.

5 Things to do in Santa Monica

Here are FIVE things you must do next time you find yourself in LA’s most famous beachside city.

Walk

Granted, I know we love our cars but walking through Santa Monica is a totally different experience than driving through it. If you really want to get the vibe of the city I suggest parking your car and just start wandering. I can guarantee it won’t be long until you stumble into a shop/bar/eaterie that you otherwise would have never noticed driving.

While you’re exploring, make it a point to walk through Palisades Park. Located along Ocean Blvd., Palisades Park allows visitors stunning views of Santa Monica beach and pier. It’s a great spot to take it all in and one of the best spots for photos.

Eat

There are seriously ENDLESS options when it comes to restaurant and eateries in Santa Monica. Which, can be both a good and a bad thing. So how do you possibly narrow down your options? Well, I say follow your gut on this one.

Third Street Promenade is riddled with different restaurants so you really can’t go wrong walking through there. If you’re in the mood for some coney island-esque treats head to the pier. But if you’re feeling adventurous, go off the beaten path. Santa Monica is home to some amazing, one-of-a-kind eateries so take full advantage of it. Need suggestions? Check out EaterLA.

Drink

Again, there are so many options when it comes to bars in Santa Monica, it can be hard to decide. Whether you want a pub, a lounge, rooftop, or wine bar this city has it all. Some of my favorites are Esters Wine Shop & Bar and ____. Also, don’t forget that the party doesn’t have to stop once the sunsets. Santa Monica has a very active and lively nightlife.

See

Whether you decide to walk, which you really should, or drive there is something to see at nearly every corner in Santa Monica. So my suggestion is to pick out a few places or things and just go from there. Some of the more notable points-of-interest are the end of ROUTE 66 SIGN, the CAMERA OBSCURA located in Palisades Park, THIRD STREET PROMENADE shopping center, and the AQUARIUM located at the end of the pier.

Play

Whether you have kids or not, the Santa Monica PIER is a great place to have some old-fashion fun. With shops, live entertainment, and PACIFIC PARK, the pier is always a good time. If you want a glimpse of the pier’s past, check out the LOOFF HIPPODROME.

Santa Monica Beach Hotels

Most lodging is found around the Pier and Third Street Promenade areas. This also makes them within walking distance to the beach, ideal for your Santa Monica vacation. A few others are further inland.

To see a list of some of the most popular hotels with their contact information and basic features, go to our Santa Monica Hotel page.

Some of the more popular hotels include:

  • Travel Lodge — There are two, but the one by the beach is on Ocean Ave.
  • Doubletree Hotel — Convenient location near Convention Center, Third Street Promenade and 4 blocks from the beach.
  • Shutters Hotel — Beautiful beach front hotel.
  • Casa Del Mar — This oceanfront hotel also has some 3 and 4 bedroom suites.
  • Hotel California — Modest motel style lodging within walking distance to the Santa Monica pier.
  • Hotel Oceana — Across from Palisades Park.
  • Fairmont Miramar Hotel — Lush gardens and bungalows along with a ten story tower.

Santa Monica Vacation Rentals

If you’re looking for Santa Monica vacation rentals, try and find something between 4th Street and Ocean Ave. or Ocean Front Walk. Streets numbered higher than 4 are going to be almost too far to walk to the beach. However, you’ll be more likely to save some money by staying well inland.

Also, the less you have to drive and find parking, the more relaxing your beach vacation will be. If your vacation home comes with a parking spot, all the better!

The area down around the Main Street District is ideal, because the neighborhood has cute houses, and you’re within walking distance of the beach, and Main Street shops and restaurants.

The area north of Wilshire is nice, but to get to the beach, you must cross Palisades Park, take stairs down the bluff, and cross Pacific Coast Highway. The views are great, but it may be too much of a hike for some.

Shopping In Santa Monica

There are three main shopping areas near the beach in Santa Monica:

  • Third Street Promenade — a pedestrian only street with lots of shops between Wilshire and Broadway.
  • Main Street Historic District — This strip of Main Street runs between Pico and Rose, near the Venice Beach border. Lots of more unique shops, plus California’s first Starbucks.
  • Santa Monica Place — A multi-level shopping center with large department stores and a 5 story parking garage with a food court on the top level. Located at the end of the Third Street Promenade between Broadway and 4th and Colorado and 2nd.

Other Things To Do On Your Santa Monica Vacation

Other possible things to do before or after spending the day at the beach include visiting the Museum of Flying at the south side of Santa Monica Airport.

Another popular activity for adventurous visitors is to stroll down famous (or infamous) Ocean Front Walk in neighboring Venice Beach, with all its assortment of characters doing, wearing, displaying and/or selling things that will amaze.

A third option of things to do on your Santa Monica vacation is to check out the many art galleries at Bergamot Station at 2525 Michigan Ave. (well inland).

Getting There And Getting Around

Located where the 10 freeway intersects Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy. 1), it is faster to get to from most inland areas than Malibu (to the north), or beaches south of LAX. But its convenient location also means a lot of traffic in the area to contend with.

One way to get around on your Santa Monica vacation without hassling driving and parking is by taking the Big Blue Bus or Mini Blue Bus.

Santa Monica has an excellent bus system and almost half of the buses are fueled on Liquefied Natural Gas, which is much cleaner for the environment. The ride costs a dollar (2 for the express buses) and has convenient routes around town.

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