Santa Monica travel guide

Santa Monica Tourism | Santa Monica Guide

You're Going to Love Santa Monica

Santa Monica is one of the most famous (and most popular) beach resorts in the world. Along with its endless beach, Santa Monica offers family entertainment options, a relaxed vibe, and easy access to Los Angeles.

There aren't many better places to immerse yourself in California's beach culture. Stake out a space on the sand and spend all of your time soaking up the sunshine, playing volleyball, or learning how to surf. Rent bikes and cycle along the Strand to Venice Beach, strap on some roller skates or wander the length of the Santa Monica Pier, trying all of the amusement park rides.

If the beach isn't for you, Santa Monica has plenty of art galleries, shops, and restaurants to discover, as well as live dance and theater all summer long. And it's all a short drive from Universal Studios, Disneyland, and the bright lights of LA.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Santa Monica

1. The Beach

Santa Monica is built around its 3.5 mile-long beach that is easily accessible via wooden pathways, is fully staffed with lifeguards (as you'd expect from the filming location of Baywatch), and is a place to swim, surf, skate, sunbathe, and generally relax.

2. Open Air Art, Theater, and Dance Events

Santa Monica is a thriving cultural destination as well as a beach resort. The Twilight Concert Series brings free music and dance events to the seafront in summer. There's also a dynamic art scene, with the Bergamot Station arts complex and venues for up-and coming-artists like the Daniel Rolnik Gallery to enjoy.

3. Family Attractions to Keep Everyone Entertained

Santa Monica is a wonderful place to visit with your family. Pacific Park at the Santa Monica pier has a famous Ferris Wheel, a quirky Trapeze School, nightly live music, and an authentic 1920s carousel.

4. It's Easy to Explore the Coast Around Santa Monica

The "Strand" is a bike path that links together LA's coastal resorts, from Santa Monica in the north to Torrance County Beach in the south. You can easily rent bikes from the Santa Monica Bike Center, and head to famous spots like Venice Beach (just a few miles to the south).

5. You Can Get to Los Angeles Easily

Another great thing about Santa Monica is its proximity to Los Angeles. You can reach LA by the number 720 bus, the Big Blue Bus Express, or cruise into town via I-10 and be in Hollywood in under half an hour.

What to do in Santa Monica

1. Santa Monica Pier: Palm Trees, and the Pacific

The Santa Monica State Beach is where the social life of Los Angeles shows its colors - from ocean blue to deep tan. Land to sea, the comings and goings make for a people-watching paradise under the sun. The iconic Santa Monica Ferris Wheel towers over the scene at the old-school pier down the way, a funfair for everyone to enjoy. An aquarium offers indoor exploration for rainy days, while Palisades Park provides oceanside glory away from the hot sand for a bit of variety.

2. Third Street Promenade: Foot Traffic Galore

Downtown Santa Monica revolves around this lively promenade, one of the unique stretches of LA where pedestrians rather than cars run the show. It is a shopper's paradise beneath tropical trees, with every popular brand imaginable boasting the best California trends. Every time you walk Third Street, you're bound to see an impromptu street performance, run into an evening event, or do a double take at the wonderful characters sharing the pavement.

3. Venice Beach: Eccentric and Cool

This popular area lives up to its citywide reputation, with laid-back boutique stores and some of the quirkiest restaurants in town. There is a surprise around every corner - and around every canal! These human-made waterways give the area its name, and they provide for scenic strolls on the way to the beach. A bike path stretches through the sand, connecting Venice to Santa Monica. Don't miss the boardwalk either!

4. Getty Center: The Gem of SoCal

Overlooking LA is the world renowned Getty Center, a beautiful complex for art, research and conservation. The buildings and gardens themselves are a sight to behold, with elegant architecture, water elements and landscaping. Inside the museum, there is even more to see - most notably "The Royal End" by Paul Gauguin and "Irises" by Vincent Van Gogh.

5. Griffith Observatory: Spot the Sign

One of the largest urban parks in America, Griffith Park is home to the LA Zoo and the Griffith Observatory. With epic views of the Hollywood sign from atop the hill of the same name, this observatory has welcomed millions of visitors. Also offering science exhibitions and unique planetarium shows, a stop in Griffith Park is both varied and fun.

6. Hollywood: The One and Only

Hollywood is hard to miss, what with its name plastered famously across the hillside, and missed it should be not. Hollywood Boulevard is one of the most well-known streets in the world, home to the Walk of Fame. Huge Hollywood theaters host high profile movie premieres along this stretch, and the history of movie making is referenced at every turn. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity sightings!

7. Universal Studios Hollywood: Movie-making Madness

The greatest behind-the-scenes-look-at-Hollywood is found at Universal Studios, a theme park dedicated to movie-making magic. Besides boasting awesome thrill rides and over the top parades, the park offers views into the actual back-lots where sets are built. The Studio Tour puts visitors right in the middle of recreated movie sets from famous films like King Kong and Jaws.

8. Beverly Hills: The 90210

Beverly Hills is a neighborhood whose reputation precedes itself. Rodeo Drive is its famous thoroughfare, known for upscale shopping and celebrity sightings. The nearby Beverly Gardens Park offers gorgeous rose gardens and recreation. For dedicated fans, the more residential streets of Beverly Hills are host to self-guided celebrity residence tours.

1. Santa Monica Pier: Palm Trees, and the Pacific

The Santa Monica State Beach is where the social life of Los Angeles shows its colors - from ocean blue to deep tan. Land to sea, the comings and goings make for a people-watching paradise under the sun. The iconic Santa Monica Ferris Wheel towers over the scene at the old-school pier down the way, a funfair for everyone to enjoy. An aquarium offers indoor exploration for rainy days, while Palisades Park provides oceanside glory away from the hot sand for a bit of variety.

2. Third Street Promenade: Foot Traffic Galore

Downtown Santa Monica revolves around this lively promenade, one of the unique stretches of LA where pedestrians rather than cars run the show. It is a shopper's paradise beneath tropical trees, with every popular brand imaginable boasting the best California trends. Every time you walk Third Street, you're bound to see an impromptu street performance, run into an evening event, or do a double take at the wonderful characters sharing the pavement.

3. Venice Beach: Eccentric and Cool

This popular area lives up to its citywide reputation, with laid-back boutique stores and some of the quirkiest restaurants in town. There is a surprise around every corner - and around every canal! These human-made waterways give the area its name, and they provide for scenic strolls on the way to the beach. A bike path stretches through the sand, connecting Venice to Santa Monica. Don't miss the boardwalk either!

4. Getty Center: The Gem of SoCal

Overlooking LA is the world renowned Getty Center, a beautiful complex for art, research and conservation. The buildings and gardens themselves are a sight to behold, with elegant architecture, water elements and landscaping. Inside the museum, there is even more to see - most notably "The Royal End" by Paul Gauguin and "Irises" by Vincent Van Gogh.

5. Griffith Observatory: Spot the Sign

One of the largest urban parks in America, Griffith Park is home to the LA Zoo and the Griffith Observatory. With epic views of the Hollywood sign from atop the hill of the same name, this observatory has welcomed millions of visitors. Also offering science exhibitions and unique planetarium shows, a stop in Griffith Park is both varied and fun.

6. Hollywood: The One and Only

Hollywood is hard to miss, what with its name plastered famously across the hillside, and missed it should be not. Hollywood Boulevard is one of the most well-known streets in the world, home to the Walk of Fame. Huge Hollywood theaters host high profile movie premieres along this stretch, and the history of movie making is referenced at every turn. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity sightings!

7. Universal Studios Hollywood: Movie-making Madness

The greatest behind-the-scenes-look-at-Hollywood is found at Universal Studios, a theme park dedicated to movie-making magic. Besides boasting awesome thrill rides and over the top parades, the park offers views into the actual back-lots where sets are built. The Studio Tour puts visitors right in the middle of recreated movie sets from famous films like King Kong and Jaws.

8. Beverly Hills: The 90210

Beverly Hills is a neighborhood whose reputation precedes itself. Rodeo Drive is its famous thoroughfare, known for upscale shopping and celebrity sightings. The nearby Beverly Gardens Park offers gorgeous rose gardens and recreation. For dedicated fans, the more residential streets of Beverly Hills are host to self-guided celebrity residence tours.

Where to Eat in Santa Monica

Food lovers will find everything they need in Santa Monica, but its a particularly good place for healthy eaters, vegans, and organic food fans. The True Food Kitchen is a great place to find vegetarian, eco-friendly gourmet dishes, the Misfit Restaurant mixes traditional American eats with craft ales and cocktails, and Tacos Punta Cabras is a fantastic no-frills Mexican restaurant. Mariasol is another special place to eat, being right at the tip of the pier. Expect to pay $7-10 for a street food like tacos and $15-20 for mains at most restaurants.

When to visit Santa Monica

Santa Monica in August
Estimated hotel price
C$ 256
1 night at 3-star hotel
Santa Monica in August
Estimated hotel price
C$ 256
1 night at 3-star hotel

Santa Monica has the kind of climate that makes it a year-round vacation destination, but there are definitely some busier seasons that you might want to avoid. High summer (July and August) are the busiest months, so try visiting in October or between February and May. Even in spring, the weather will be sunny and warm enough to enjoy the beach.

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Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Santa Monica

Plane

Some charter airlines fly into Santa Monica Airport, but most visitors will probably use Los Angeles International (LAX) to get to Santa Monica. If you fly into the city's own airport, you can either use airport shuttles or rent a car to reach your accommodation. From LAX, the best option is to take the Big Blue Bus ($2.50) or LAX FlyAway bus ($8). You could also take a taxi, which costs between $30 and $35. The distance between LAX and Santa Monica is about 12 miles.

Train

Santa Monica doesn't have a train station, but it's not far from LA's Union Station, which has excellent rail connections to San Diego, San Francisco, and cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix. The Big Blue Bus Route 10 runs from Union Station to downtown Santa Monica.

Car

Most drivers approach Santa Monica via I-10, which runs across the southern USA, linking the city with Florida. If you are coming from northern California, I-5 is the road to take (or Route 101 if you fancy taking the coastal route). I-5 also links Santa Monica with San Diego to the south.

Bus

If you want to take a bus to Santa Monica from cities outside LA, the best option is to take a Greyhound to downtown LA, then switch to a city bus to Santa Monica. Take buses 720 or 704 or the Big Blue Bus number 10 from the bus station straight to the Santa Monica seafront.

Airlines serving Santa Monica

United Airlines
Good (2,839 reviews)
Lufthansa
Good (2,152 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (4,377 reviews)
KLM
Good (348 reviews)
Air France
Good (399 reviews)
British Airways
Good (1,414 reviews)
Delta
Excellent (3,047 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (1,324 reviews)
SWISS
Good (454 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Good (1,208 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (958 reviews)
Iberia
Good (915 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (1,413 reviews)
Austrian Airlines
Good (278 reviews)
Etihad Airways
Good (308 reviews)
Singapore Airlines
Excellent (320 reviews)
TAP AIR PORTUGAL
Good (538 reviews)
Brussels Airlines
Good (100 reviews)
Finnair
Good (694 reviews)
LATAM Airlines
Good (777 reviews)
Show more

Where to stay in Santa Monica

Downtown Santa Monica - the most energetic part of the city, Downtown is dominated by 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica's shopping hub. The Promenade is home to an endless variety of stores, along with street performers, galleries, and restaurants, all just a few hundred yards from the beach.

Popular Neighborhoods in Santa Monica

Main Street - Main Street is where Santa Monica's (many) artists and musicians hang out. If you want to check out imaginative modern art, small galleries like Mindfulnest and the Edgemar Center for the Arts make this part of town the ideal place to visit.

Pico Boulevard - Santa Monica's most diverse neighborhood, Pico is a great place to chill out and grab a bite to eat. Don't miss the Apple Pan, which serves up burgers and apple pie, and McCabe's Guitar Shop, a regular venue for folk concerts as well as a superb music emporium.

Where to stay in popular areas of Santa Monica

Most booked hotels in Santa Monica

Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel
Excellent (8.8, Excellent reviews)
C$ 1,079+
Huntley Santa Monica Beach
Excellent (8.6, Excellent reviews)
C$ 495+
Shore Hotel
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
C$ 516+
The Beverly Hilton
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
C$ 492+
Marina Del Rey Hotel
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
C$ 335+
Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
C$ 532+
See all hotels

How to Get Around Santa Monica

Public Transportation

Local buses are a good way to travel around the beach, downtown, and the pier and are provided by the Big Blue Bus Company. Basic fares are just $1.25, but express buses to the airport or central LA cost $2.50, so have enough change on hand to pay the driver.

Taxi

Cabs in Santa Monica charge around $2.85 for the meter drop, followed by $2.70 per mile, so it's not a cheap city to get around by taxi. Uber is active in the city and charge a $1.65 booking fee, then $0.90 per mile, so could offer some savings.

Car

Los Angeles is built around the needs of motorists, so having your own car makes sense if you want to explore the Metropolitan Area. Local outlets include Sixt, Avis, and Enterprise and rates can be as low as $20 a day, so it's a cost-effective option.

Car rental agencies in Santa Monica

Enterprise

Enterprise

Avis

Avis

Hertz

Hertz
Find car rentals in Santa Monica

The Cost of Living in Santa Monica

Shopping Streets

3rd Street Promenade draws shoppers from all over southern California, with major stores like Aldo, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Old Navy (as well as many independent vendors). But you should also check out Main Street and Pico for independent skate stores, bookshops, and galleries. Santa Monica Place is another must, with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Bloomingdale's.

Groceries and Other

Good places to pick up groceries in Santa Monica include Vons, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods along with locally owned delis like Erewhon Market. There's also a farmers market on Main Street on Wednesdays and weekends. Groceries aren't too expensive, at around $3.60 for a gallon of milk and $3.40 for 12 eggs.

Cheap meal
C$ 17.59
A pair of jeans
C$ 66.13
Single public transport ticket
C$ 1.70
Cappuccino
C$ 5.41