The coastal city of Santa Monica is a haven for celebrities and the well-to-do, owing to its idyllic surroundings, great attractions and pulsating nightlife.
Situated west of downtown Los Angeles, along a vast stretch of Pacific Ocean shoreline, Santa Monica offers an eclectic mix of delights. If it’s culture you’re seeking, there are museums and galleries aplenty. Or for more simple pleasures, its golden sands are a perennial temptation. And once night falls, Santa Monica reveals its hedonistic side in captivating fashion. Here’s our pick of 10 unique things to see and do here.
Enjoy the delights of a quintessential seaside pier
You know you’ve arrived in Santa Monica when you catch glimpse of the iconic ferris wheel (said to be the world’s only solar-powered attraction of its kind) that sits at the start of Santa Monica Pier. Jutting into the inviting waters of the Pacific Ocean, the historic pier dates back to the start of the 21st century and is a perennially popular staple of Santa Monica’s vibrant seaside community, jam-packed full of family-friendly activities, adrenaline-fuelling rides, street entertainers, restaurants and shops.
200 Santa Monica Pier
Kick back on a sun-kissed beach
For sun-worshippers, Santa Monica can’t fail to satisfy, with the city and its surroundings being home to some fabulous stretches of golden sand. In the heart of the city, directly under the pier, is Santa Monica State Beach, which offers sweeping views of the bay along with plenty of fun-filled activities including surfing and beach volleyball. Alternatively, a quick drive south of Santa Monica along the city’s Pacific shoreline will bring you to Venice Beach, which has gained legendary status down the years thanks to its bohemian spirit and promenade lined with funky shops, street performers and colourful murals.
And if reclining on a beach doing precious little but soaking up the rays isn’t quite your thing, one other option is to also explore the area’s sandy shores with the wind in your hair by joining a Santa Monica & Venice Beach Bike Adventure tour. During the fully guided bike tour you’ll discover what makes Santa Monica and its environs such alluring beach destinations by going on a bike ride led by a tour guide. You’ll pedal your way along the iconic Santa Monica beach bike path, marvelling at the breathtaking views of the Californian coast as you make your way towards Venice Beach. All bike equipment is included.
Book at GetYourGuide.com
Indulge your cultural side at a top class museum
Easy as it is to think otherwise, there’s a lot more to Santa Monica than sun, sea and sand. It’s cultural scene, for example, which is evidenced in the numerous exceptional museums to be found here. Among the very best is The Wende Museum, which is dedicated to collecting and displaying exhibits relating to the Cold War, all designed to enhance our learning and understanding of this tumultuous – and almost catastrophic – period of geopolitical tension.
10808 Culver Boulevard, Culver City
Or for a more quirky cultural experience, the 3DAR Trick Art Museum is a truly unique venue, where stunning 3D optical illusions are created from two-dimensional paintings. With paintings popping out of walls, floors and ceilings, guests can let their imaginations run wild, and are encouraged to interact with the displays to craft their own journey through this magical world that challenges our perceptions of reality.
1254 3rd Street Promenade / Fri-Sun 11am-10pm. Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm
Sink some pints at a beer brewing mecca
Since opening the doors to their first outlet back in 2003, The Dudes’ Brewing Company have grown to become one of Southern California’s most revered beer producers. They specialise in innovative approaches to classic beer styles designed to appeal to casual beer drinkers and craft fanatics alike. With four venues across the state, their Santa Monica outpost is ideally located just blocks from the water and offers almost 30 delicious brews on tap. There’s also an extensive food menu offering tasty beer pairings, including Neapolitan style pizza. Weekly trivia nights, monthly comedy shows and Yoga & Beer mornings help draw the crowds.
395 Santa Monica Place / Mon-Thursday 3pm-10pm Friday-Sat 11am–11pm Sun 11am-10pm
Discover Santa Monica’s artistic side
Santa Monica has a vibrant artistic scene and at its heart is Bergamot Station, an internationally renowned creative arts complex that’s home to some 30 prestigious galleries and creative businesses. Among its most renowned gallery spaces that resides here is the Peter Fetterman Gallery, one of the complex’s very first tenants when its eponymous owner – London born Peter Fetterman – opened his gallery over two decades ago. His intimate space boasts one of the US’s largest inventories of classic 20th century photography spanning works by a hugely diverse range of artists, all designed to promote greater awareness and appreciation of the powerful medium of photography.
Get a taste of Santa Monica’s diverse foodie scene
Food enthusiasts visiting Santa Monica won’t want to miss the chance to savour some of the city’s mouth-watering delicacies and treats. The 2-3-hour Santa Monica Walking Food tour lets you not only absorb the sights and sounds of downtown, but also the delicious flavours served up by some of the area’s most beloved eateries. The tour is led by a knowledgeable local guide who will accompany you as you stop off for such delights as an award winning cheeseburger, handcrafted doughnuts, and authentic Italian sandwiches, all the while regaling you with fascinating tales that bring Santa’s Monica’s rich history and culture to life.
Book at Viator.com
Hit the waves on a surfing trip
The waters around Santa Monica and LA offer some of the finest surfing conditions anywhere in California. Surf City Tours are a renowned local-based company that offer a range of tours that start in Santa Monica before venturing beyond – and among the most popular is their Santa Monica Surf Trip. Suitable for all ability levels, guests hop aboard a customised open-air surf buggy before hitting the Pacific Coast Highway. Over the ensuing 6 hours you’ll visit two iconic surf breaks, learn about the history of the area’s beloved beaches, and enjoy a picnic lunch with your feet in the sand, plus the chance to go on a hike or enjoy some shopping or sightseeing time. Lunch, wetsuit and board rental is included in the tour price.
Learn about ocean preservation while admiring stunning sea life
Located at beach level under Santa Monica Pier, Heal the Bay Aquarium is the perfect indoor attraction to head to on one of the city’s infrequent rainy days. Home to an incredible array of local marine animals and wildlife species, the aquarium is far more than a mere tourist site; it is also a dedicated education facility that fosters a deeper understanding of the importance of ocean conservation in southern California and beyond.
1600 Ocean Front Walk / Mon-Sun 12.30pm-5pm
Embark on a gourmet sailing adventure
It’s perfectly possible to admire Santa Monica Bay from dry land, but for those of a more adventurous disposition there’s also the chance to see it at closer quarters. Open to groups of up to 6 passengers, the Private Gourmet Sailing Adventure combines a trip around the scenic bay with a chance to enjoy gourmet food and wine in the sweet sea air. During the tour you’ll also be able to helm the boat under close supervision, swim with seals and dolphins, and catch fresh seafood that’s then cooked on-board and eaten al-fresco.
Book at Viator.com
Get snapped around Santa Monica by a professional photographer
If you like to return from a vacation with plenty of photographic mementos but find your own camera skills somewhat underwhelming, how about outsourcing the task to someone a little more proficient? The Private Santa Monica Photoshoot with Personal Photographer tour invites you to explore the city in the company of your own personal snapper who will capture pictures that you’ll be proud to show off on your social media feeds. Catering to individuals, couples and groups, you’ll be invited to craft your own customised 2-hour itinerary for the shoot. More than 50 professionally captured and edited photos are included, with an online photo gallery delivered by email within 5 days.
Book at Viator.com