Whether you’re planning your first trip to California or looking for something to do this weekend, these are the best things to do in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Graced with a beautiful coastline, world-class shopping, top dining experiences, and the Santa Monica Pier, there are plenty of fun things to do on your visit to California. I grew up in Southern California, and taking the coastal drive on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Oxnard to Santa Monica and Venice Beach is one of my favorite things. The weather in California is hard to beat, and it’s a great place to visit any time of year.
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Start your visit with a trip to Santa Monica State Beach. Soak in the sun, and hop over to 3rd Street Promenade for plenty of delicious places to eat. The Third Street Promenade is an outdoor shopping mall home to popular stores and designer shops. Take a stroll, ride your bike or drive to the Santa Monica Pier to catch a ride on the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster just before sunset.
From LAX – 13 miles
From Hollywood – 14 miles
This is a walkable city. You can also rent a bike from Santa Monica’s Breeze Bike Share program to explore the area.
Best Fun Things to do in California
1. Santa Monica Beach
No visit to Southern California is complete, without a trip to the beach. Take a dip in the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica State Beach, pose for a picture with a lifeguard tower in the background, and get that California glow while lying on the beach. Walk or ride a bike along the boardwalk, while soaking in the iconic views of the pier and surfers in the ocean.
2. 3rd Street Promenade
Need something to wear? Searching for the perfect gift? 3rd Street Promenade, located in downtown Santa Monica is a three-block stretch featuring well-known shops and restaurants. Catch street performers singing and performing in the mall, hoping to get tourists’ attention. Buy local favorites at the Santa Monica farmer’s market and grab a drink at one of the many restaurants.
Looking for things to do in Santa Monica at Night? Grab a late-night bite at Mel’s Diner, visit Pacific Park until midnight or do some late-night shopping at Third Street Promenade. Most shops close at 9 pm.
- Parking is free for the first 90 minutes in the parking structures. No validation is required.
1351 3rd Street Promenade
3. Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier is a great place to visit on a date, with your family or by yourself. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel and catch the views of the top attractions in the area and the Pacific Ocean. Get an adrenaline rush on the West Coast roller Coaster. Tickets for each ride cost $8.50.
- You can drive onto the pier and park for $2 per hour.
380 Santa Monica Pier
4. Venice Beach Boardwalk
Venice Beach is about a 45-minute walk from Santa Monica, with a very different scene. You’ll see plenty of vendors showing off their creative skills and selling t-shirts and art. Stop by Muscle Beach Gym, an open-air gym, and the Venice Skate Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, get some new ink or a piercing at one of the tattoo shops along the strip. Walk inland, and don’t miss the Venice Canals on your visit.
1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291
5. Santa Monica Mountains
Hike, camp, and enjoy nature on the Santa Monica Mountains. Hikes vary from easy to challenging, so there is something for everyone.
Popular Trails include:
- Mishe Mokwa Trail to Split Rock
- Satwiwa Loop Trail
- Solstice Canyon Trail
- Backbone Trail
- Cheeseboro Canyon Trail to Modelo Trail Loop
Best Places to Stay
Shutters on the Beach – If you’re looking for luxury on your trip, this place is it! Just steps away from the beach, this California resort has a luxe outdoor swimming pool with unbeatable ocean views. The pier is a 5-minute walk away.
Viceroy Santa Monica – Stay in an oceanfront room for the ultimate Southern California getaway. This luxury resort is located a block from the beach and features a fitness center, beach yoga, and a pool so you can stay active on your trip.
Palihouse Santa Monica – A charming boutique beach lodge with roots in California since the 1920s. Most rooms feature a kitchen, walk-in closets and vintage style decor. It’s a short seven-minute walk to Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade.
Huntley Santa Monica – Luxurious guest rooms with city and ocean views, this hotel is only a short walk to Santa Monica’s 3rdStreet Promenade. A visit to the Penthouse restaurant is a must during your stay!
California Packing Guide: What to wear
- The weather in Southern California is comfortable year-round, but you’ll want to wear a jacket and bundle up during the winter months.
- Keep it casual during the day with comfy flats, graphic tees, and shorts or a flowy sundress.
- Pack a pair of heels for dinner dates and nights out exploring. Whether you’re lounging by the pool or sun-bathing at the beach, pack a few of your favorite sustainable bikinis.
- Sun protection is key, whether you prefer boho style hats or straw hats, bring one of each, so you have options.
- Travel in style with a stylish handbag and practical luggage that isn’t too bulky to carry around.
Whether you’re looking for something romantic to do, searching for things to do with the family, or planning your first trip to California, these are the best things to do in Santa Monica.
California Travel Guides:
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