It might be simpler to make a list of things you can’t do in Santa Monica. A main attraction in one of the world’s most prominent cities, Los Angeles, there’s something for everyone in Santa Monica. Whether you love the crashing waves or a quiet bookstore, you’ll find a place for you and a ton of stunning things to do in Santa Monica, let’s take a loot!
Always remember to double-check dates, opening times, and weather conditions before traveling.
Fun Things to do in Santa Monica CA
Things to Do at Santa Monica Pier
The Pier is one of the best photo spots in Santa Monica at sunset, ideal to capture a magic palette of oranges and pinks when the sun goes down in town. Make sure to ride the Ferris wheel if nothing else!
If you like to fish, the end of the Pier is a popular spot to cast a line. You can pay for parking next to the Pier, but you can save money parking in some of the surrounding parking structures.
Go for a Walk on Santa Monica Beach
If you’re at Santa Monica Pier, head down the steps to the Santa Monica Beach. Whether you want to jump in the waves, throw a frisbee, or just sit in the sun, Santa Monica’s golden beaches are the place to do it.
Heal the Bay Aquarium
You might have been standing right above this aquarium and not even noticed it if you were under the Pier’s carousel! Just below the Santa Monica Pier, the aquarium is one of the top Santa Monica attractions. And it offers an excellent opportunity to learn about local conservation.
If you want to be hands-on, stop by the touch tanks or simply enjoy seeing this aquatic collective!
Enjoy all that Third Street Promenade has to offer
If you want a bit more room to walk around, stop by the Promenade! Third Street Promenade is one of the many amazing places to see in Santa Monica.
It has all the major stores you’d expect, like Anthropologie, H&M, and Brandy Melville if you like to shop. If that’s not your speed, there are also multiple bookstores, art galleries, and restaurants.
Explore Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
If you want to get away from the crowds, you may be surprised by how much natural beauty Los Angeles actually has.
This national recreation area has no entrance fee and is excellent for day hikes. However, there is only one campground here, and it has a ten-person minimum to reserve. There’s more info here.
Check Out Santa Monica’s Best Restaurants
Whether you’re by the water or in the heart of downtown, Santa Monica offers high-quality and unique dining options. Check out this list of places to stop from breakfast to dessert! No idea where to go first? Then, start by checking our super thorough guide to the best restaurants in Santa Monica!
Marvel at jAdis
Nerds rejoice! jAdis is a collection of sci-fi memorabilia, antique science gadgets, and all kinds of wonderful oddities. Right now, jAdis is only open on weekends. However, they do also take appointments.
Tour the California Heritage Museum
Why not learn a bit more about the state you’re traveling through if you’ve got extra time in the afternoon? Even native Californians could learn something from this museum!
With rotating events spanning musicians and artists to the history of awkward family photos, there’s always something fun and exciting here. Look out for food trucks when you stop by! Learn more here.
Attend a concert at McCabe’s Guitar Shop
You don’t have to buy an instrument here (though it is one of the best places to do so), but you should absolutely get tickets for a concert.
One of the many Santa Monica activities you should consider during your visit, the concerts are small and intimate, leaning more towards the indie and alternative side of the music scene.
Shop at Santa Monica Farmers Market
While this is one you have to time correctly, if you’re in Santa Monica on a Wednesday or Saturday between 8:00 am and 1:00 pm, pick up some fresh produce and meet local vendors! This is another great walkable option if near the Pier or the Promenade.
Discover the Museum of Flying
Located next to the Santa Monica Airport itself, the Museum of Flying transports you back in time. If you’re interested in aviation, you’ll love seeing the historical planes, uniforms, and artifacts!
Learn more about visiting hours, entrance fees, and current events on their website.
Visit the incredible Bergamot Station Arts Center
Bergamot features an eclectic collection of multiple art galleries all in one area. Exhibitions are on a rotating basis, so there’s always something new to see! Curious about it? Check how to get there and all ongoing exhibitions here.
Take a Snapshot with Iconic Route 66 End of the Trail Marker
While you may be just beginning your journey, historic Route 66 ends in Santa Monica. The iconic sign is an excellent addition to your trip’s photo collection! Look for it on the Santa Monica Pier… And don’t tell us that this ain’t one of the best things to do in Santa Monica!
Check out the Camera Obscura Art Lab
This is equal parts quirky art exhibit, public art instruction, and history lesson. This building in Palisades Park hosts a unique art experience more than 100 years old. In 1895, this camera to the outside world was created to capture life in Santa Monica in the early and mid-20th centuries.
The Camera Obscura itself allows the user to see just outside of the building and do some high-level people watching. Outside of the Camera, the art lab gives classes and keeps historical records of Santa Monica in the 1900s. Hours can be tricky, so always verify ahead of time.
Have a Picnic at Palisades Park
Whether you want to stop at the Camera Obscura or not, you should spend some time at Palisades Park. This city park spans about a mile and a half of Ocean Avenue. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy picnics, bike rides, and sunshine here.
Visit Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome
Named for its designer, Charles Looff, the Hippodrome is on the Newcomb Pier, adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier. The carousel, which gained the National Historic Landmark distinction nearly 35 years ago, is one of the main attractions in the Santa Monica area.
Relax at Annenberg Community Beach House
With amenities this nice, you’d think they’d be members only! The Annenberg Community Beach House remains free and offers a public beach, pool, and meeting place as well as cultural events throughout the year. Stop by the beach or view deck here if you want some mid-day sun and relaxation.
Book a Show at The Broad
Refined and artsy, The Broad is one of the best places in Santa Monica to catch a show. If you like stringed instruments, documentaries, or artists on the cutting edge of roots, jazz, and other poetry set to music, you’ll appreciate a seat at the Broad. Every ongoing event is published on their website.
Count the Steps on Santa Monica Stairs
Yep, it’s a set of stairs on a travel list. While it may seem strange, the Santa Monica Stairs have gained a good deal of traction as a tourist stop.
Not for the faint of heart, this is a great way to earn the meals you’ll have afterward! Don’t be confused by the residential look of this area; you’re in the right spot. Make sure not to park on Adelaide Drive as that’s residents only.
Shop at Santa Monica Place
If you like to walk and shop, this is the place to be in Santa Monica. With three levels and every store you could want, you can get your steps in while you pick up some keepsakes.
Looking for family Activities in Santa Monica? Check Cayton Children’s Museum
If you’ve got kids in tow, maybe they’re wondering what’s in it for them. If so, may I present the Cayton Children’s Museum? More than 20,000 square feet of space to play, learn, and get their energy out will be a delight for children and parents alike. Plan your visit heading to their website first.
Make an Appointment at the 18th Street Arts Center
This is the longest-running artists’ residency in Southern California, dating back to the late 1980s. A rotating set of modern exhibits awaits patrons. If you’re curious about what’s on display when you’ll be there, there’s a calendar of upcoming arts and exhibitions on 18th Street Arts Center’s website.
All into Fitness? Muscle Beach Santa Monica is the Answer!
You may be familiar with the United States’ fitness boom that happened in the early 20th century. However, you may not know that it all started in Santa Monica, California.
You might think of Muscle Beach and associate it with Venice, where the outdoor fitness area is. However, Muscle Beach was originally in Santa Monica. Try your hand at climbing the ropes and rings!
Explore Wilshire Boulevard
The famous Wilshire Boulevard isn’t a Santa Monica destination strictly, but it does start there. The west end is on Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue.
If you want a tour of some of LA’s most prominent areas and largest buildings, Wilshire takes you from Santa Monica to Grand Avenue in Downtown LA at the route’s eastern terminus.
Take a Look at the Statue of Santa Monica
If you’re heading towards Wilshire, near the corner of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard is a statue of the city’s namesake Santa Monica, or Saint Monica.
This 87-year-old statue is quite easy to overlook, though it stands 18 feet high. Historically significant, this was funded by the Public Works of Art Project as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
More things to do in Santa Monica
Looking for more things to do? The following list is packed with ideas… and it includes some great things to do near Santa Monica as well, read on!
- Fishing from the Santa Monica Pier
- Palisades Park
- The Broad Stage
- Surf Lessons
- Annenberg Community Beach House
- Take a lesson or see a show at McCabe’s
- Santa Monica History Museum
- Trapeze School of New York (TSNY)
- Looff Hippodrome Carousel
- Gehry House
- Cooking classes at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories
- Tongva Park
- Rooftop Cinema Club
- Black Santa Monica Tours and Concierge
Santa Monica Restaurants
- Our favorite restaurants in Santa Monica
- Happy Hour in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Events
- Santa Monica Restaurant Week (January/February)
- MAINopoly: Taste of Main Street (May)
- Main Street Summer SOULstice (June)
- Pier 360 Ocean Sports & Beach Festival (late June)
- 4th of July Parade (July)
- Jazz on the Lawn (August)
- COAST: Open Streets Festival (October)
- Montana Avenue Holiday Walk (December)
- Main Street Holiday Event & Holiday Parties (December)
- Christmas in Santa Monica (December)
Note: check event schedules before making plans, as conditions and dates are continually changing
Where to stay in Santa Monica
- Ocean View Hotel
- Stunning oceanfront condo
- Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier
- Hotel Shangri-La
- Santa Monica Loews Hotel
When you’re not discovering Santa Monica on your own, we suggest treating yourself to a tour. From private wine tours to kayak and SUP tours, cooking classes classes to tours of celebrity-owned homes, there’s a little something for everyone. Browse all the Santa Monica tours available on Viator by clicking here.
If you want to capture the memories from your trip to Monterey, we recommend hiring a professional photographer. A Flytographer photoshoot is one of our favorite souvenirs from our travels and we want to share them with you!