Santa Monica Travel Guide

With an average of 340 sunny days per year, miles of sandy beach that fade into the deep-blue Pacific, world-class dining and shopping opportunities, and family fun galore, Santa Monica vacations are the Southern California getaway you’ve been dreaming about! Let this Santa Monica Travel Guide help you decide which Santa Monica restaurants are worth splurging on and give you tips for saving money, like booking Santa Monica vacation rentals.

We tried to include the best of Santa Monica, but if you think we missed something, please let us know!

What to Do in Santa Monica

santa monica pier

The Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica vacations are not complete without a trip to this iconic wharf that is so much more than a place to fish. Pacific Park, an amusement park for kids of all ages, boasts a five-story roller coaster, the Pacific Plunge, a literal plunge ride, as well as an above water mini-golf course. The crowning jewel of the Santa Monica Pier is the nine-story Pacific Ferris Wheel, so be sure to ride this symbol of Santa Monica vacations. It’s particularly romantic at night, so let the kids play games below while you snuggle up with your partner, inhale sea breezes, and watch the lights of LA twinkle.

Santa Monica vacations don’t stop there! A beach level aquarium lets you participate in hands-on activities and interactive displays. Your family can take Trapeze classes at the Trapeze School—no previous experience required—and fly high above the beach or you can play over 200 games at Playland Arcade or visit the National Historic Landmark carousel built in 1922. Stroll along Ocean Front Walk, a paved walkway that takes you past Santa Monica restaurants and shops. Stop at the sandbox with a Viking ship made of concrete and grassy area with an interactive dragon, so the kids can play while you snack or shop.

Visit the Epitome of Southern California Beaches

With over three miles of carefully maintained shore where you can soak up the famous California Sun, Santa Monica vacations are perfect for beach lovers. Stroll barefoot over white sand and people-watch for unique LA locals, or, if you’re lucky, catch a movie shoot in session. View or join intense chess games at Chess Park, where you can be a rook or pawn on the human-sized board, or head to the original Muscle Beach to watch the flips and jumps as gymnasts strut their stuff. Santa Monica vacations allow you to pedal a stretch of the South Bay Bicycle Trail, which boasts more than twenty miles of beachfront paths with ocean views that fade into the horizon, or check out volleyball games on courts open to the public that attract high caliber athletes. Witness the spikes and sets of a future Olympic competitor from the bleachers or join in.

santa monica surfing

Mild waves make Santa Monica Beach a great place to swim, body surf, and boogie board. The calm water is particularly good for younger kids, and the sand is great for building castles. Bring a picnic from your Santa Monica vacation rental and give yourself the day to enjoy the sounds, smells, and sights of this quintessential spot for Santa Monica vacations. Santa Monica Beach also boasts the amenities at the Annenberg Community Beach House, a restored landmark that now houses a cafe, snack vendors, and equipment rentals. There is even a pool, a water playground for children, a lounge deck, a picnic area, and lockers. Santa Monica vacations have everything you could want.

Sunbathing is a serious pastime here, so Santa Monica vacations should include daydreaming, napping, reading, or gazing at the sparkling blue ocean as your stress melts away. For an extra luxurious day at the beach, book yourself a Beach Butler through Perry’s, who will set up your chair and umbrella, bring you food, drinks, and tanning products as you relax, and clean up everything when you leave.

Back to top

What to See in Santa Monica

Santa Monica vacations are artsy, and talented people showcase their skills at art gallery openings, the theater, music venues, dance performances, and film festivals and screenings. Dozens of stages around town produce plays, and the Santa Monica and Miles Memorial Playhouses are good bets. You can explore over a hundred years of Santa Monica history and architecture on a walking tour led by the Santa Monica Conservancy, and you may even see celebrities walking their dogs or getting coffee from Starbucks.

Back to top

Where to Shop and Eat in Santa Monica

santa monica restaurant

Third Street Promenade

Santa Monica vacations offer this pedestrian-only three-block area decorated with animal topiaries, fountains, pavilions, flowers, and even blue streetlight posts as a hotspot of Santa Monica restaurants and stores. Street performers like mimes, dancers, and live musicians add to the ambiance, and you might even see a celebrity. For Asian fare, head to Monsoon Cafe for weekday Happy Hour, when drinks and select rolls are cheaper. Have traditional warm English ale—or order your beer cold if you prefer—and other British classics like fish and chips at Ye Olde King’s Head, one of Santa Monica’s favorite restaurants. They also offer quality desserts like bread pudding or apple pie you can share while sitting on the terrace.

Upscale Dining

Santa Monica restaurants can get pricey, but Santa Monica vacations are all about the food, so splurge a little. Celebrate a birthday or anniversary with beautifully presented French cuisine and a fancy wine list at Melisse, a nationally recognized and Zagat-honored Santa Monica restaurant. Absorb stunning city and ocean views from The Penthouse in the Huntley Hotel, where you can start your evening in the swanky lounge with a signature cocktail and feel like a member of the Hollywood elite. Another choice for Santa Monica restaurants is The Galley, Santa Monica’s oldest surf and turf destination, with candle lighting and friendly service.

Other Eats

At the pier, visit the highly-recommended Lobster for fresh, lobster and other seafood and seasonal dishes as well as views of the sea. One of the best Santa Monica restaurants for burgers, sweet potato fries, and beer is Father’s Office. Expect a crowd, and you may have to eat your gourmet burger standing up, but you won’t care. It’s that good, and Santa Monica vacations should contain new experiences.

Back to top

When to Visit Santa Monica

One of the best aspects of Santa Monica vacations is the year-round temperate weather and almost constant sunny skies, so timing can be based on your schedule. The Pacific Ocean is chilly, so if you want to swim, surf, or dip your toes, summers are best. Summer is also high season for Santa Monica vacations, so expect more people and higher rates, but also more activities like Shakespeare festivals and free concerts on the pier.

Back to top

What to Bring to Santa Monica

Bring your California attitude. Proper Santa Monica vacations are laid back and footloose. Stroll, don’t run—wander instead of taking direct routes. Bring a love of fresh food, sunny skies, and clean ocean air.

Back to top

Local Services in Santa Monica

Santa Monica prides itself on the cleanliness of its beach. The sand is cleaned and raked daily by the city, and “trash valet” service is available Friday through Sunday and holidays. Lifeguard stations are manned during the days, and the city’s lifeguard headquarters can be reached 24/7, providing peace of mind during Santa Monica vacations. Information Centers are scattered throughout the city, where you can receive helpful tips to make the most of your Santa Monica vacation.

Back to top

What to Know About Santa Monica

With only about eight square miles to its name, Santa Monica vacations can easily exclude a car, and the streets are pedestrian-friendly. A car is not necessary unless you plan to visit some of the Los Angeles area attractions outside Santa Monica such as Disneyland, Beverly Hills, or Hollywood. The best Santa Monica vacations take advantage of the easy-going attitude of the locals and embrace the small city for what it is—an escape with great food and even better sunsets.

Swimsuits are the uniform for Santa Monica vacations, so feel free to bare some skin while participating in outdoor activities. Remember the dress code here is casual and even upscale Santa Monica restaurants will seat patrons who are wearing jeans.

Back to top

Getting to Santa Monica

Less than ten miles north of LAX, Santa Monica vacations can start at this international airport served by most airline carriers. With lots of options, you can choose the flight to fit your schedule and budget. If you’re close enough to drive into Santa Monica, try the famed Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, for dramatic ocean views to jump start your Santa Monica vacation.

Back to top

Why Santa Monica vacation rentals?

Santa Monica vacations deserve a home as relaxing as the beach, as trendy as the restaurants, or as laid back as the Southern California attitude—whatever fits your style. With Santa Monica vacation rentals, you can choose from upscale condos with entertainment systems, cottages with lushly landscaped courtyards, or even beachfront houses with ocean facing private patios. Walk to the beach, bring your pet, and say good-bye to only one cramped bathroom. With a Santa Monica vacation rental, you can live like a local and save money.

Back to top