Quick Answer Guide: 11 Best Things to Do in Santa Monica

‌Top Things to Do in Santa Monica‌

‌Best Things to Do During the Day in Santa Monica‌

‌Best Things to Do Outdoors in Santa Monica‌

‌Best Things to Do at Night in Santa Monica‌

‌Free Things to Do in Santa Monica‌

Those who are wondering what to do in Santa Monica needn’t worry, as the city is a world-class destination for beaches, shopping, dining, and adventuring. Let us be your travel guide for some of the city's most fun things to check out. Here are some of the best things to do in Santa Monica for visitors of any age and interest.

Top Things to Do in Santa Monica

There are some must-do activities in Santa Monica and places to visit in Santa Monica that travelers shouldn’t miss, whether you're in town for a day trip or a quick weekend getaway. Make sure to add these attractions to your itinerary to get the full Santa Monica activities experience.

1. The Santa Monica Pier

  • Perfect For:‌ Amusement park lovers
  • Website:www.santamonicapier.org
  • If You Go:‌ Be sure to bring your walking shoes as it can be a trek along the wooden pier out to the ocean.

Set at Santa Monica’s westernmost point, the iconic and historic Santa Monica Pier is a sight not to be missed on any trip to this seaside city. Dating back to 1909, this attraction is well-suited for visitors of any age and interest — hosting a lineup of entertainment, including street performers, shopping and dining spots, and, of course, the legendary Pacific Park amusement park near the end of the walkway. Here, you can ride the roller coaster or Ferris wheel, among other fun thrill rides. If you want to explore the Venice Beach Boardwalk, keep walking south along the beach once you've passed the pier, which is a scenic route to reach another local landmark.

2. Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place

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The pet-friendly Third Street Promenade is closed off to street traffic and can be a fantastic spot to shop, dine, and listen to some local musical talent by street performers. From big-name brands like Patagonia, Lululemon, Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters to smaller, more local shops like Acorn Store, a children’s store, there’s something here for everyone.

At the end of the promenade, visitors will encounter Santa Monica Place, an outdoor shopping mall serving as a three-level open-air destination for dining and browsing upscale stores like Coach, Tiffany & Co., and Nordstrom.

3. Santa Monica Beach

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Running parallel to one of southern California's (or maybe even America's!) most famous driving routes, the Pacific Coast Highway, this 3.5-mile stretch of sand is technically divided into two sections: north of the pier and south of the pier.

North of the pier, you can visit the universally accessible North Beach Playground, which has barrier-free equipment and sensory play elements. On the south side of the pier, you should be sure to check out the Original Muscle Beach and Carousel Park. West of the beach, you will be looking out into the Pacific Ocean!

Best Things to Do During the Day in Santa Monica

There are certain attractions and activities in Santa Monica that are only open during the daytime — which means you should definitely have these top spots on your radar for a sunshine-soaked excursion.

4. Museum Hopping

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Aerospace lovers unite — at the Museum of Flying, which is located by the Santa Monica Airport. Here, aircraft fanatics can admire Douglas World Cruisers, a replica of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s biplane, a U.S. Navy Skyhawk, and even check out the cockpit of a real Boeing 727 airliner.

There’s also the California Heritage Museum on Main Street, which is set in a historic 1894 Victorian-style house with period pieces such as craftsman furniture, art, and photographs that showcase what the area looked like in the 1890s.

Finally, there’s also the Santa Monica History Museum, which is adjoined to the Santa Monica Public Library and showcases exhibits on the life of the Tongva people, who were the original inhabitants of the Santa Monica Bay area — and has archived more than 600,000 photography prints, negatives, glass-plate negatives, and slides about the history of the region. These are also great spots to stop in on a rainy day.

5. Browse Montana Avenue

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Montana Avenue, a local favorite shopping and dining district, is located at Santa Monica’s northern edge, showcasing more than 150 eateries, shops, and art galleries to check out. It feels like a more local spot to spend time away from the touristy bustle of the promenade and the pier.

There admittedly isn’t much of a nightlife scene here — but from sunrise to sunset, I love to walk down this quaint street and browse the cute storefronts, which include everything from local bakeries to upscale juice bars, spots selling ice cream cones, outdoor cafes, picturesque boutiques, and more.

Best Things to Do Outdoors in Santa Monica

Santa Monica can be an outdoors lovers’ paradise with seemingly endless cloud-free days and plenty of parks, people-watching opportunities, beaches, and outdoor spaces spread across the city. Here are some of the best spots to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine across Santa Monica.

6. Bike the Strand

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Formally called the “Marvin Braude Bike Trail” but casually referred to as “The Strand,” this Santa Monica-origin bike path spans 22 miles from northern Santa Monica down to Redondo Beach in Los Angeles’ South Bay region. Rent a bike at one of the multiple Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals locations — and cycle to your heart’s content.

If you’re starting in Santa Monica, this seaside journey starts at Santa Monica’s Will Rogers Beach and travels along the ocean, passing by the Santa Monica Pier, snaking down to Marina del Rey, which is located 8.7 miles from Will Rogers Beach, passing the Manhattan Beach Pier and Hermosa Beach Pier and arriving Torrance Beach, where you can admire the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the distance.

You can either bike back up to the Perry’s you rented the bike from originally or return it to another Perry’s location down south and catch a rideshare back to Santa Monica. I love biking along this trail. You don't have to do the whole thing -- any portion of the trail is scenic and beautiful. You can also stroll this route since it's also an oceanfront walk if you don't feel like biking.

7. Self-Guided Mural Tour

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There are nearly 200 street art murals, all within the roughly 8 square mile radius and eight neighborhoods of Santa Monica. Various organizations from the city of Santa Monica, local business improvement districts, and private groups such as Beautify Earth (a non-profit whose mission is to transform every wall into a beautiful piece of art!) beautify and offer color to the walls of Santa Monica’s buildings.

Explore the wall art of the Downtown Santa Monica/3rd Street Promenade area, Montana Avenue, and Ocean Avenue neighborhood — it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the area and get some steps in… I love wandering around and taking photos of the local artists' work.

Best Things to Do at Night in Santa Monica

For night owls, there are plenty of things to do in Santa Monica after sunset. From magic shows to comedy performances, here’s where to explore this west coast city after dark.

8. Illusion Magic Lounge

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The Illusion Magic Lounge features a rotating cast of the world's top-performing magicians in an intimate theater space that’s family-friendly and accessible to visitors and locals alike. Visitors can enjoy amazing drinks and bites and watch unforgettable magic shows in a space with a whimsical ambiance.

The theater was established in 1998, first opening as Magicopolis by magician Steve Spill, who performed alongside his wife and assistant Bozena. In 2019, Steve retired and sold the business to Randy Sinnott, who was the former president at the Magic Castle — and Dan Trapp, who is the owner of Pattern Bar and Hill St. Bar & Restaurant.

9. M.I.'s Westside Comedy Theater

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  • Perfect For:‌ Those who love to laugh
  • Website‌: www.westsidecomedy.com
  • If You Go:‌ Enjoy no drink minimums and affordable tickets.

For nearly a decade, the Westside Comedy Theater has showcased a lineup of hilarious Stand Up, Sketch, and Improv shows seven days a week (with no drink minimum and affordable tickets) in an intimate, welcoming venue. The space hosts a beer and wine bar with more than 30 different types of beers in the bottle or on tap.

Those who want to try their take on comedy can even sign up for one of the theater’s stand-up, Improv, and Sketch performance classes and learn the “art of laughter” for themselves.

Free Things to Do in Santa Monica

There are plenty of awesome things to do in Santa Monica that don’t cost a single cent. Here’s how and where to explore the city for free.

10. Local Parks

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There are plenty of opportunities to soak in the great outdoors in an urban setting in Santa Monica. My favorite thing to do on a relaxing weekend is bring a picnic basket and blanket to a sunny Santa Monica park and relax on the soft grass in the sunshine.

Palisades Park’s 26 acres boast unparalleled views of Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific Ocean with a paved walking path, benches, bathrooms, and plenty of places to set up a picnic on the grass. It runs from the Santa Monica pier alongside Ocean Avenue in downtown Santa Monica.

Closer to the beach, the bustling, beachside Ocean View Park is a favorite amongst locals for its awesome location and amenities. There’s a basketball court, six tennis courts, a lush grassy area, and a walking path that connects to the beach.

Tongva Park, which is extremely close to the pier, offers six urban acres of space to spread out, split into four main areas: Observation Hill, Discovery Hill, Garden Hill, and Gathering Hill.

11. Annenberg Community Beach House

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  • Perfect For:‌ Sports and sand lovers
  • Website:www.annenbergbeachhouse.com
  • If You Go:‌ This is open to all, year-round.

The public spaces of the historic Annenberg Community Beach House, which is a public site that’s open to all and requiring no membership or reservations, is a free place to spend time year-round, right next to the beach. Get ready to get active with some sports, or relax and soak up the sun.

The spaces, including the courtyard, splash pad, and sandy areas, are open daily on a first-come, first-served basis with no charge to access. There are other areas where you can pay to reserve year-round, such as the sports courts and fields and canopies in the sand in the summer season.

I love their beachfront, on-site cafe called “Back on the Beach Cafe.” It's literally right on the beach --- which means you can eat or drink to your heart's delight while watching the swaying palm trees, directly sinking your toes into the soft Santa Monica sand.

Santa Monica is a fantastic spot to visit year-round for travelers of any age and interest. Whether you're into theater, the great outdoors, hiking, biking, beaches, shopping or eating a drinking, there's always something here for everyone.