Santa Monica, California offers more than its beach and year-round warm weather. Its proximity to the greater Los Angeles area makes Santa Monica the perfect base for vacationers and business travelers alike.
Santa Monica contains one of the most legendary beach scenes in the United States. Santa Monica also boasts an abundance of great restaurants and excellent nightlife spots. The 3 miles of shoreline are renowned as some of the best in the area thanks to the soft sands, ideal weather and bevy of attractions. “State Beach,” as its known, averages about 340 days of sunshine a year and acted as the backdrop for the popular television series “Baywatch.”
Santa Monica is a very walkable part of town, and you can easily explore the area by bicycle. One of the most scenic rides is along the 26-mile bike path, which runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean and is the longest beach bike path in the world. Make sure you ride the Ferris wheel at the pier and people-watching at the Third Street Promenade.
What Should You Pack?
When figuring out what to pack for the beach, there are two tips to keep in mind. First, forgetting an item isn’t the end of the world. Unless you’re heading for a remote, deserted island, chances are you can find a store where you can pick up the extras. Second, don’t stress out over making a packing list when there’s a stress-free beach travel essentials list for you below:
- Sunglasses and hats offer much-needed sunscreen and flip flops are perfect for navigating hot, sandy beaches. Go pack them now so you’re not kicking yourself later.
- What about those little items that make beach visits so much more enjoyable? For a little extra comfort on your trip, make sure you pack: Lip balm, sunscreen, bug spray.
- Beach toys and goggles are a must for kids. Building sandcastles and viewing the underwater wonders are perennial favorites.
- Take a first-aid kit with you. Hopefully you’ll only have to worry about a few minor scrapes from seashells, but having your own kit handy is a good precaution.
- Beach Bag – Your beach bag will likely contain a few of the items mentioned above. For a well-rounded bag, consider tossing in sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray, first-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
- Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bag, beach chairs, beach towels, beach umbrella or tent, beach cart and a cooler.
- Remember: Don’t wait until you’re parched to drink. When you’re out in the heat and sun, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking regularly. So take along a water bottle as well.
Weather – When to Visit Santa Monica
If you’re looking for deals, consider a winter trip. Winter and early spring are the seasons when you’ll find the lowest prices at Santa Monica hotels. This is probably the best time to visit, as you’ll find fewer crowds and less traffic, too. January is an especially good month to visit – the weather usually heats up enough to get a tan consistently throughout the month.
Summer is peak travel season in Santa Monica. This means you’ll find more crowds and higher prices at Santa Monica hotels. You’ll find some of our warmest weather consistently during these months, with the notable exception being the month of June. If it’s sun you’re seeking, skip June altogether. There’s a reason the local lexicon includes the words “June gloom”.
Autumn (late September to early November) is a great time to take advantage of their “Indian Summer” – a time of unseasonably warm, dry weather when the skies are usually sunny and clear and the weather registers at above-normal temperatures. And although temperatures are going up, prices at Santa Monica hotels begin going down in fall, following the busy summer season.
Santa Monica Attractions
Annenberg Community Beach House
Formerly a private beachfront estate that William Randolph Hearst built for actress Marion Davies, the Annenberg Community Beach House is now open to the public as a place to enjoy the Santa Monica sand in style. No membership is required—access to the courtyards, view deck, splash pad, sand sports courts, children’s play area, gallery, and Marion Davies Guest House is free. The historic pool is open in the summertime for a small fee.
Santa Monica Beach
This 3.5-mile stretch of public beach just west of Los Angeles draws millions of people annually to watch sunsets, stroll along the beachfront paths, sunbathe, people-watch, listen to musicians, surf, or ride the 1920’s carousel on Santa Monica Pier. This is recognized as the birthplace of beach culture: stilt-borne lifeguard stations, bikini-clad roller bladers, leggy palm trees, and those remarkable sunsets over the Pacific.
Santa Monica Pier
This old-timey seaside amusement park has an enduring popularity. Thousands of parents have been dragged by their children toward the Ferris wheel that sparkles at night above the nearly century-old pier. Here, sunset-gazers and cotton-candy-hawkers rub shoulders with elderly men fishing for Pacific mackerel along the 1,800-foot-long boardwalk; there’s a modest aquarium and a group of carnival rides, including a roller coaster and the 44-horse vintage carousel featured in The Sting. Nearby is the Third Street Promenade, a favorite pedestrian-oriented shopping/entertainment district.
Getty Villa Malibu
This megamansion sits on some of the most valuable coastal property in the world. Modeled after an Italian country home, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, the Getty Villa includes beautifully manicured gardens, reflecting pools, and statuary. The structures blend thoughtfully into the rolling terrain and significantly improve the public spaces, such as the new outdoor amphitheater, gift store, café, and entry arcade. Talks and educational programs are offered at an indoor theater.
Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach
Part of Malibu’s most beautiful coastal area, this beach is made up of three minibeaches—El Pescador, La Piedra, and El Matador—each with the same spectacular view. Scramble down the steps to the rocky coves via steep, steep stairways; all food and water needs to be toted in, as there are no services. Portable toilets at the trailhead are the only restrooms. “El Mat” has a series of caves, Piedra some nifty rock formations, and Pescador a secluded feel, but they’re all picturesque and fairly private.
Things to do in Santa Monica
Pedal or Not Electric Bicycle Tours
Santa Monica’s 1st all electric bicycle guided tour along the beach thru the Venice Canals. See sights where tour buses and cars can’t take you. Let the electric bikes take you further than you thought you’d go in this 2 1/2 to 3 hour adventure. Telephone: 310-917-1111 Web: Pedal or Not
Aloha Brothers Surf Lessons
Whether you’re a beginner looking to stand up for the first time or already a surfer looking for an experienced instructor to take your skills to the next level, they would love to help! Learn basic surf techniques: how to pop up correctly, understand positioning in the lineup, basic ocean safety and proper paddling, how to ride the wave, etiquette, how to conserve energy, etc. Telephone: 323-316-8108 Web: Aloha Brothers Surf Lessons
Aqua Surf School
They teach children, teens and adults. Gain lifelong positive memories, friends and surfing skills. We welcome visitors and locals of all levels from first time beginners to advanced. Their instructors are certified in cpr, first aid, lifeguarding, safety and hired based on their ability and passion to teach. Telephone: 310-902-7737 Web: Aqua Surf School
Poseidon Paddle & Surf
Poseidon Paddle and Surf is Santa Monica’s hub for Surf and Stand Up Paddle (SUP) lessons and rentals. In addition to Lessons and Rentals Poseidon is a full service surf shop selling swimwear, apparel, surfboards, paddle boards as well as beach accessories such as sunscreen, sunglasses, towels, etc. Telephone: 310-694-8428 Web: Poseidon Paddle & Surf
Sea Mist Rentals
Quick, easy and ultra-affordable bike rentals at Santa Monica Beach and Pier; immediate access to 26-mile bike path and more! Telephone: 310-395-7076 Web: Sea Mist Rentals
Best Santa Monica Restaurants
Dialogue Above $61
A 21-course tasting menu in a tiny room inside of a food court on the Promenade sounds like a not-very-funny joke. The meal will run you in the high three figures, but you’ll get to chat with the very friendly chef as you eat the inventive, unusual, and extremely delicious food. This is a place where you should go all-in, so ask for a seat at the chef’s counter, add on one of the wine pairings, and have a bunch of fun eating some outstanding food you’ll never encounter anywhere else. Web: Dialogue
Cassia $31 – 60
Cassia puts chef/co-owner Bryant Ng’s Southeast Asian culinary vocabulary at the center of its seafood-forward menu. Occupying the entire first floor of a classic Art Deco building in Downtown, there’s a French brasserie vibe that makes dishes like Ng’s pairing of snails and chickpea curry with clay-oven flatbreads, right at home. The service is family-style and the wine list is deep. Telephone: 310-393-6699 Web: Cassia
Rustic Canyon $31 – 60
Rustic Canyon has been doing farm-to-table dining (without the pretension or white tablecloths) since before it was cliche. Like every other seasonal spot, their menu changes all the time, so go ahead and embrace eating those vegetables you can only find for one week of the year. Your parents, out-of-towners you’re trying to impress, and early-in-the-game dates will all love it here. Telephone: 310-393-7050 Web: Rustic Canyon
Tar & Roses $31 – 60
Unlike almost every other restaurant ever, Tar & Roses has gotten better with age, and feels like it’s been around much longer than it actually has. It’s the sort of place that can be as casual or formal as you need it to be, with a menu that’s perfect for sharing. The oxtail dumplings are non-negotiable. Telephone: 310-587-0700 Web: Tar & Roses
Bay Cities Under $10
Tell anyone in the LA area that you’re eating in Santa Monica and they’ll be like, “Oh sh*t, can you bring me a Godmother?” And unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that they’re not asking you for a new family member – they’re asking you for Bay Cities’ famous sandwich. This family-run Italian deli does make one of the best sandwiches in the city, but you should also know that their meatballs are excellent. Telephone: 310-395-8279 Web: Bay Cities
Best Santa Monica Nightlife
Stepping into The Bungalow at The Fairmont Miramar Hotel is like stepping into the coolest California house party you’ve ever seen. From the cozy décor to the ping pong tables and readily available board games, it’s easy to feel comfortable here. Stop in early to avoid a long line (before 8pm), grab a Bungalow Margarita or Lychee Gimlet and let the night unfold in front of you. The crowd here is young and very trendy. Telephone: 310-899-8530 Web: The Bungalow
CAST at Viceroy Santa Monica is a glamorous Santa Monica bar and lounge that plays host not only to the trendsetting travelers staying at the hotel but also to some of Santa Monica’s finest locals, where it’s not hard to kick back thanks to poolside cabanas and weekend deejays. Telephone: 310-260-7511 Web: Cast
For unparalleled views of the Pacific, a staple in Santa Monica is The Penthouse, located at the top of the upscale Huntley Santa Monica Beach. Enjoy California cuisine alongside signature craft cocktails in one of their swanky restaurant cabanas all while you soak in the 360-degree views of the city and beach. Telephone: 310-393-8080 Web: The Penthouse
For anyone familiar with Los Angeles-raised author Charles Bukowski, add Barkowski to your must-visit list. Paying homage to Charles Bukowski, this retro 1960s-style Santa Monica bar offers up a daily Happy Hour from 5-7 pm that features $2 off wine and beer (regularly $5-$13) and $5 drinks. This dark dive bar is known for its selection of beers, with about 50 options available between draught and bottle. Telephone: 310-998-0069 Web: Barkowski
When you mention dive bars in Santa Monica, Chez Jay is inevitably going to come up in conversation. Known as the “celebrity dive,” Chez Jay has been serving Santa Monica nightlife for more than 50 years. Grab a seat at the bar and rub elbows with locals while enjoying a glass of wine or pint of beer. Chez Jay, too, has a happy hour, running from 4:30-6pm with specials on wine and a few food items. Telephone: 310-395-1741 Web: Chez Jay
Best Santa Monica Hotels
Casa Del Mar
One of the few hotels in the LA region with direct beach access, the Hotel Casa del Mar is an exceptional property where glamour and tranquility go hand in hand. Only minutes from the Santa Monica Pier and Main street, the Hotel Casa del Mar is the ideal location from which to start your shopping sprees and sightseeing tours. The hotel’s warm and professional service, two excellent restaurants and swimming pool overlooking the Pacific ocean make this one of the best hotel options in Los Angeles.
Palihouse Santa Monica 4.5
Designed to blend residential comfort with a classic and contemporary aesthetic, the property features various room categories including, Classic Guest Suites, Studio Residences, One Bedroom Residences and Two Bedroom Residences. Most rooms feature an authentic pied-à-terre layout, complete with fully equipped kitchens, separate vanity rooms, walk-in closets and statuesque windows, all reminiscent of European-style urban apartments.
They are Santa Monica’s new green and luxurious beachfront hotel. Shore Hotel is proud to be the first and only newly constructed LEED registered hotel in Santa Monica. Inspired by the convergence of Southern California’s spectacular natural landscape with a unique urban fabric, Shore Hotel is the destination of choice among luxury oceanfront hotels. A short walk from many attractions and just steps from the beach, Shore Hotel’s location on Ocean Avenue allows visitors to effortlessly enjoy endless sunshine and a range of activities year-round.
Viceroy Santa Monica
The Viceroy Santa Monica is best known for its sexy bar and pool scenes, but Viceroy Santa Monica boasts substance as well: friendly service, an environmental conscience, and a restaurant using locally sourced ingredients. Many of the 162 well-sized rooms and suites have ocean views, and all have sleek Hollywood Regency style and amenities like flat-screen TVs/DVD players and 24-hour room service.
JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot
When you’re not soaking in the dazzling surrounding area, treat yourself to a pampering session complete with massages and facials at their on-site spa. Encounter spacious settings in our rooms and suites offering plush bedding and flat-panel TVs for your utmost relaxation. Order a delicious meal to your door with our 24-hour room service or enjoy an elegant fusion of French and California cuisine at Cézanne. They also offer cocktails and light bites at Le Troquet Patio Lounge. Active travelers can maintain their workout routine at their fitness center and outdoor pool.