Santa Monica is the quintessential California beach town and the perfect place to visit if you are looking for that famous "California vibe".
There are many attractions in Santa Monica that will make your time here just wonderful: sandy beaches lined with tall palm trees where you can sunbathe or surf, a downtown area that is a dreamland for shopping lovers and foodies, more museums than you might assume, and several green parks where you can relax, play, or workout.
The list of things to do in Santa Monica is long and has some unique experiences that you won't want to miss.
Are you curious to discover the 20 best Santa Monica attractions? Then keep reading and get ready to plan a perfect Santa Monica gateway.
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There are many iconic Santa Monica attractions, but one that you really shouldn't miss is the Santa Monica Pier. A historic landmark of California, the Pier has been a staple for every visitor since 1909.
Featured on countless California postcards, the Pier offers fun for the whole family with an amusement park, roller coaster, a 100-year-old carousel, and many food stands and restaurants. It’s also a fantastic scenic viewpoint and a favorite fishing spot for locals.
The Santa Monica Pier is a famous spot for the Pacific Wheel, the world's only solar-powered Ferris wheel overlooking the ocean that lights up gorgeously at night. A fantastic activity to do at the Pier is getting a ride on the Pacific Wheel at sunset.
Address: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Among the best Santa Monica tourist attractions is its beach, of course. A beloved beach destination for the Hollywood elite, Santa Monica State Beach is an absolute must-visit.
Stretching for 3.5 miles along the California coast, Santa Monica State Beach is packed with activities to do - most of which are free!
Visitors can dip their toes in the soft and golden sand, sunbathe, swim under lifeguard surveillance, and play a wide range of water sports, with the most popular being surfing.
Along the beach, there are many shops for renting water sports equipment, as well as bikes to explore the beachside promenade.
Santa Monica State Beach also has picnic areas with public BBQs, kids' playgrounds, volleyball courts, and chess tables scattered all around.
You will also find many restaurants, cafes, and bars just across the street from Santa Monica State Beach to fill up your tummy!
Address: Ocean Ave at Colorado Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
If you ask a local which places to visit in Santa Monica, they will undoubtedly direct you to Third Street Promenade. This spot is the city's shopping hub in the very center of downtown Santa Monica.
Covering three blocks closed off to the traffic, Third Street Promenade is the heaven of every shopaholic thanks to its retail outlets, local shops, and Santa Monica Place, an open-air three floors shopping mall featuring brands boutiques and luxury shops.
But Third Street Promenade also stands out for its dining options with the many restaurant chains, eateries, and cafès.
One iconic restaurant is Mel's Drive-In, spotlighted in the 1973 film "American Graffiti," where you can enjoy a classic American meal.
Another great dining option is Wexler's Deli, an old-school Jewish deli serving mouthwatering pastrami sandwiches.
Third Street Promenade is made lively by talented street musicians who will entertain you during shopping and urban sightseeing.
Address: 1351 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401
The list of Santa Monica attractions includes another famous shopping spot, the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Established in 1979, this thriving market brings together locals and tourists alike in different neighborhoods, Pico, Main Street, and Downtown, depending on the day of the week.
Open all year round on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Santa Monica Farmers Market features an impressive range of products, including locally harvested cheese and meat, freshly caught fish, flowers, prepared foods, and crafted artisan items.
Everything sold here is from California, as the market is committed to supporting local farmers and small food businesses with an eye on sustainability.
Whether you are looking to do some shopping or grab a freshly-made meal, the Santa Monica Farmers Market is the place to go.
Address: 2640 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90404
There are many popular attractions in Santa Monica; one of those is the most iconic highway: Route 66.
Once upon a time, just a stop along the East-to-West migration path, Route 66 covers 2,448 miles and originally ran from Chicago through the Midwest and down to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica.
Nicknamed "The Main Street of America," Route 66 is world famous, so an unmissable thing to do while in Santa Monica is taking a selfie in front of the Route 66 End of the Trail Sign.
Rumors speculate about the location of the original sign, with some believing this to be but a movie prop.
Nonetheless, the trail sign has become a mecca for tourists to visit. You will find the trail sign right beside the Santa Monica Pier, so it’s impossible to miss!
Address: 330 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Also Read: The Must-See Route 66 Attractions
If you are looking to visit iconic spots in Santa Monica, you can’t miss Muscle Beach.
This historic landmark has been around since the 1930s, and it became famous for being the training venue of wrestlers, acrobats, stunt performers, and gymnasts who would star in movies during the Great Depression.
The original spirit of the equipped beach was a mix of sociability and wellness, and it was a gathering place for those who enjoy non-competitive exercise and body care.
Muscle Beach, conveniently located near Santa Monica Pier, is still frequented by sporty people to use its outdoor equipment, which includes rings, ropes, and parallel swings.
But besides those showing off their athletic skills, plenty of onlookers hang out at Muscle Beach to watch the athletic displays.
This open-air and oceanside gym is free to visit and use so everyone can try their skills on the sandy Muscle Beach.
Address: Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401
If you're looking for one of the best places to visit in Santa Monica, don't miss Palisades Park.
Located by the ocean between the promenade Ocean Avenue and the beach, this 26-acre park is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
The park was established in 1892 and was later landscaped due to its growing popularity. One of its most peculiar items is the 1913 fence made from eucalyptus wood salvaged from the city tree-trimming.
Boasting stunning coastline views, Palisades Park is filled with palm trees and rose bushes, creating a bucolic environment that inspires relaxation. The park has many shaded seating areas perfect for enjoying a picnic.
It offers visitors many activities, including courts for playing pétanque and tennis and art installations such as the Santa Monica concrete sculpture and the totem pole.
But Palisades Park is particularly popular for offering unforgettable viewpoints of Santa Monica Bay. For the most gorgeous view, walk from the park's northern side to Inspiration Point.
Address: Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
One of the top spots in town for shopping is Santa Monica Place. Located adjacent to Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Place is a big shopping mall on three levels boasting exciting retail, dining, and entertainment.
This venue houses many luxury brands and high-end clothing stores alongside lesser-known and more affordable shops with original creations by local designers.
Santa Monica Place is also a great spot in town for a fun dining experience as it has several eateries like “The Cheesecake Factory” and the “LouLou Restaurant Rooftop & Lounge”.
This trendy shopping place is also often featured in Hollywood movie scenes. It turns into a winter wonderland around Christmas with sparkling lights, Santa's holiday cabin, and a stunning Christmas tree.
The Looff Hippodrome is among the fabulous Santa Monica attractions. Located on the Santa Monica Pier, this unique building houses an old-fashioned carousel that makes visiting the pier worth it.
Its inventor, the German Charles Looff, was a Brooklyn-based artist who traveled across the country in the late 1800s to create beautiful carousel rides.
When Looff arrived in Santa Monica, the pier was growing in popularity, and he decided to participate in the project by building a hippodrome amusement park.
Looff planned to fill this Greek-inspired stadium with circle swings, a roller coaster, a restaurant, and a dance hall beside the carousel.
The Looff Hippodrome was a success for years, but the original carousel was sold several decades after Looff's death.
So the merry-go-round was replaced by a new one built in 1954 by a company famous for producing craftsmanship carousels.
The Looff Hippodrome remains reminiscent of its heyday, which makes it a Santa Monica must-see.
Address: 1619 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401
If you love the outdoors, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is among the top-notch destinations in Santa Monica.
A magical site where the mountains reach the sea, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the nation’s largest urban national park, with cultural and historic sites located throughout.
Get ready to explore Native American cultural sites, pristine beaches, and over 500 miles of trails to enjoy your time.
This recreation area is indeed famous for its scenic hike with lots of plants and oceanic viewpoints.
If you are not much of a hiker, check out the Solstice Canyon Hike, a 3-mile long trail that passes by a waterfall and the Roberts Ranch House, an operating movie set since 1927.
Another popular hiking trail is the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Split Rock, stretching almost 6 miles, with great views and a shallow river crossing.
In this national recreation area, you can do many more things besides hiking: horseback riding, mountain biking, climbing, and surfing - visitors are spoiled for choice.
Address: Calabasas, CA 91302
Also Read: 15 Most Beautiful Cites in California
California has a varied heritage, and one of the best places to learn about it is the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica.
The museum is hosted in a gorgeous Victorian-era house built on Main Street, the city’s most charming street. This 1894 house is something special because it was built for the founder of Santa Monica’s son.
The California Heritage Museum displays a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Jones family history and the legacy of its house.
The temporary exhibits showcase a wide range of topics like the Pacific Ocean's ecology, Hawaii's influence on Santa Monica's lifestyle, the Golden Age of cinema, and the origin of skateboarding.
On Sundays, the museum becomes one of the locations of the Farmers Market, hosted in the house's outdoor area.
Whether you prefer photography, textiles, watercolor paintings, or memorabilia, you will find it in the California Heritage Museum.
Address: 2612 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Among the must-see attractions in Santa Monica is the Museum of Flying. Located near the Santa Monica airport, the museum's size is impressive, spanning 22,000 square feet.
Founded in 1974 by the second President of the Douglas Aircraft Company, the museum was originally part of the Douglas Museum and Library. Surprisingly, the collection did not include any aircraft.
When the museum became the Museum of Flying, the collection was enriched with outstanding aircraft, many of which are vintage.
World War II fighter aircraft, a replica Wright flyer, and the nosepiece of a Boeing 727 are among the air vehicles you can peer at in the museum.
Besides aircraft, the Museum of Flying displays installations and panels where you can learn the history and the development of technology and aviation.
The museum also boasts a children's area with hands-on exhibits, a theater showing documentaries and movies, and an interactive flight simulator.
Address: 3100 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405
If you are looking to do something unique during your stay, the Santa Monica Camera Obscura is hands down the spot to visit.
Located inside Palisades Park, this peculiar attraction is housed in a mid-century building.
The Camera Obscura is considered one of the world's first optical inventions that consist of a pinhole camera that gets images from the outdoors and projects them in a dark room.
In the Victoria era, these cameras were a common attraction both in America and Europe.
The Santa Monica Camera Obscura was built in 1898 by Robert F. Jones, who gifted it to the town in 1907.
The experience in the small room of Camera Obscura is special because visitors get to operate the “machine” by themselves, projecting the image of whatever is passing through the outside at the moment.
Since only very few of these types of cameras remain in operation in the country, the Santa Monica Camera Obscura is an attraction you shouldn't miss.
Address: 1450 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Among the best Santa Monica attractions is the Heal the Bay Aquarium. This award-winning aquarium is set beneath the Santa Monica Pier and displays hundreds of marine animals, including sea jellies, sharks, and eels.
Among the aquarium's top attractions are the "touch tanks," where you can interact with colorful starfishes hanging out here, hermit crabs, and sea urchins.
By visiting the aquarium, you won’t only learn about the fascinating underwater world and its living organisms but also what is affecting and endangering the marine environment.
The Heal the Bay Aquarium has the mission of protecting the Santa Monica Bay marine life by enacting public policies and organizing beach cleanups with volunteers.
Make sure to add this environmentally friendly and educational Santa Monica attraction to your itinerary to have a fun time while participating in making the planet greener.
Address: 1600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Also Read: The Best Aquariums in the US to Visit
Santa Monica is famous for its oceanfront urban parks, and Tongva Park is among the most beautiful. It covers a six-acre area and is a stone's throw away from the Santa Monica Pier.
The park is named after the indigenous Tongva people, who lived in the Los Angeles Basin as well as the Southern Channel Islands for centuries.
Tongva Park is divided into four main sections, each one with different features. Head to Garden Hill for relaxing moments among trees and fragrant plants.
At Gathering Hill, visitors can admire an art installation made from steel and attend free concerts.
Observation Hill is the spot to take in breathtaking ocean views and shoot as many photos as possible.
Last but not least, Discovery Hill is the park's area for the whole family as it boasts amenities such as a playground and a splash pad.
Address: 1615 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Being so close to LA, the movie industry world’s capital, it’s not surprising that there are many places in Santa Monica centering around the performing arts.
One such place is Broad Stage, a modern and technologically advanced space open since 2008 at Santa Monica College.
This theater seats 500 people who can enjoy a wide repertoire of performances both at night and during the day.
Broad Stage’s calendar is exceptional, and visitors can choose to attend musicals, theater plays, symphonies, dance shows, orchestral performances, and movie screenings.
The intimate yet impressive Broad Stage had been graced by performers of the likes of Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
If you love theater, movies, and live performances, you will have a blast at Broad Stage.
Address: Performing Arts Center - Music Building, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
The Bergamot Station Arts Center is a must-see in Santa Monica if you love art.
This internationally-famous creative space was opened in 1994, and today is a cultural hub that promotes arts and culture through live performances, exhibitions, educational programs, and mind-blowing installations.
Before it was an art and culture center, the huge property had undergone many transformations. It was a railroad station, a celery-packing operation, and an ice-making plant.
The Bergamot Station Arts Center features a plethora of private art galleries showcasing a mix of classical and contemporary works from both local and international artists.
The center’s mission is to promote the arts to the public, which is why there is no admission fee to visit. Another perk of this place? The parking is free too!
Check out the event calendar on the Bergamot Station Arts Center official website to see what's up.
Address: 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Another best thing to do in Santa Monica is visit the Annenberg Community Beach House. Located north of the Santa Monica Pier, this public facility has a fascinating history.
Built in the 1920s, it was originally the private mansion of Marion Davis, where she used to throw legendary beach parties.
The State of California acquired the mansion in the late 1990s to become a sort of cultural center offering lots of activities.
The Annenberg Community Beach House not only gives visitors access to Santa Monica State Beach, but here you will also find beach volleyball courts, soccer fields, a swimming pool, a splash pad, and rotating art exhibits.
The view deck and courtyard are the perfect areas in this beach house to relax, mingle with other visitors, and share a meal.
Address: 415 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90402
When on holiday, everyone looks for recommendations for the best places to eat and drink.
Among the top things to do in Santa Monica is stop by Sweet Rose Creamery, an ice cream parlor that will delight every palate.
Sweet Rose Creamery is one of Los Angeles' only homemade local ice creameries and is every local favorite neighborhood ice cream shop.
Opened in 2010 by executive chef Shiho Yoshikawa and two associates, the Sweet Rose Creamery has expanded to five neighborhood branches, including the beachside one on Main Street.
Each parlor uses organic and locally sourced ingredients to create high-quality ice creams available in many flavors.
If you are dairy intolerant or vegan, you will be glad to hear that Sweet Rose Creamery also serves dairy-free sorbets with delicious flavors.
There is nothing better than eating refreshing ice creams to beat the Santa Monica heat.
Address: 225 26th St #51, Santa Monica, CA 90402
Less than a mile away from the beach and the iconic Ocean Avenue is another tourist attraction, the Santa Monica Stairs.
These stairs are hidden in a residential area and were never meant to become a famous spot to visit.
The Santa Monica Stairs gained popularity among the fitness-oriented crowd during the aerobic-80s, and now the 170 wooden steps attract celebrities and influencers looking for a good workout.
Besides the steps made of wood, the Santa Monica Stairs has another set of 199 steps of concrete, which are more stable and are preferred by folks who are there to burn some calories.
You will likely find the stairs busy with people exercising, so get ready to share space while walking (or running) up and down the steps.
The Santa Monica Stairs are located off of Adelaide Drive near the Pacific Palisades and are among the unique and unusual things to do in Santa Monica.
Address: 699 Adelaide Dr, Santa Monica, CA 90402
Looking for more unique things to do in Santa Monica? Then Jadis should be on your list.
This one-of-a-kind prop shop is filled with the owner's collection of scientific curiosities and science fiction memorabilia and paraphernalia.
The shop's founder, Parke Meek, is a renowned antique collector and well-known furniture designer who opened Jadis three decades ago.
Besides displaying Meek's unusual private collection, Jadis operated as a prop rental store and science history museum.
If you are into sci-fi, you will be thrilled to see with your own eyes items that appeared in countless different shows and movies, including X-Files, Batman and Robin, and Waterworld.
You will get an idea of what this shop is about already from the storefront window, which features a cool replica of the famous headpiece from the City of Lost Children and a robot from Metropolis.
Jadis was closed to the general public for a long time, but Meek decided to open it for a couple of hours weekly with a $1 entry fee. Don't miss it!
Address: 2701 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Santa Monica is famous for being one of the best beach areas, a short drive from Los Angeles. Besides golden-sand beaches with perfect waves to catch, Santa Monica has plenty of tourist attractions, including a historic pier, green parks, historic sites, shopping, and dining.
Santa Monica is a great year-round destination, thanks to the sunny California weather. The best time to visit to enjoy the climate and avoid crowds is March through May and September through November.
The Santa Monica Pier. This hundred-year-old wooden pier is an amusement park that features a giant Ferris Wheel, a high-tech arcade, a roller coaster, and many eateries and souvenir shops. The Santa Monica Pier also houses the Looff Hippodrome with its old-fashioned carousel and an award-winning aquarium.
The legendary prop shop Jadis. Whether you are a sci-fi and movie geek or just curious to discover antique scientific instruments, this “cabinet of curiosities meets a rental shop” is the perfect spot to visit!
Santa Monica is the perfect holiday destination for everyone, thanks to the mix of relaxing and sporty activities sprinkled with culturally rich and artsy opportunities.
There are so many exciting things to do in Santa Monica that you truly be overwhelmed with options.
Spending hours shopping and tasting the creative California cuisine downtown, experiencing the So-Cal surf culture at Santa Monica State Beach, and having a blast at the Pier are just a couple of the best Santa Monica attractions.
We hope this Santa Monica attractions list will help you pick out your favorite things to do so you can have an unforgettable holiday.