Santa Monica is famous for its beaches, dining, bars, and sunny tourist attractions.
If you love the sun and the liveliness of the small but loud town, then there are countless options for where to go, what to see, and what to do.
Not sure where you should head to first? No sweat!
Here are our picks for the best places to visit and fun things to do in Santa Monica, California.
Things To Do In Santa Monica
1. Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is probably one of the most iconic locations in California.
Located along the seaside stop of Route 66, it’s fun for the whole family (pets included) and packed with multiple options for what to do.
Activities at the pier include Pacific Park, which has a roller coaster and, of course, the beautiful Ferris wheel that lights up gorgeously at night.
There’s the Playland Arcade for some exciting games, a carousel with endless history to its name, and the whimsical and enticing Santa Monica Pier Aquarium to explore.
You can also opt to rent a bike, head to a souvenir or beach shop, or just stroll through the pier and watch the world go by.
Musicians line up to play all throughout the boardwalk and, as one of the most famous Santa Monica attractions, it’s always busy enough to people-watch.
Address: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
2. Santa Monica State Beach
The Santa Monica State Beach measures 3.5 miles along the California coast, dividing the shore from the bigger town at large.
It’s packed with activities and a trip here is easily among the top 10 free things to do in the town.
At this amazing state beach, you can rent bikes, go to a picnic area, swim under lifeguard surveillance, take your kids to the playground, or book some items for water sports.
There are also lots of pathways that allow you to walk easily through the lovely sand, with spots peppered with chess tables, volleyball courts, and small scenic locations throughout.
Naturally, this beach is known for just being an iconic place to do standard beach things – like building sandcastles, lounging on the sand by the ocean, going for a quick swim, or working on a tan.
It offers nothing short of the quintessential beach experience, and that’s why it’s a good choice to head to this weekend to unwind.
Address: Ocean Ave at Colorado Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
3. Annenberg Community Beach House
The Annenberg Community Beach House is a huge facility open to the public located just north of the Santa Monica Pier.
It was built in the 1920s, during the Gold Coast era of California, and began as a privately owned mansion by the beach, belonging to none other than Marion Davies.
The Annenberg Community Beach House is now state-owned – and it’s among the best things to do in Santa Monica.
It’s essentially turned into the equivalent of a cultural center by the ocean and is an amazing location for anyone who seeks a getaway this weekend.
At this beach house, you’ll find playgrounds, beach cords, a swimming pool, and a splash pad, all bathed in the luxurious and fun beach town glory reminiscent of the roaring 20s.
Just like how it was considered the place to be when Marion Davies owned it, it still very much holds up a reputation for being the center of the beach community.
There are even rotating art exhibits and free tours!
Address: 415 Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica, CA 90402, United States
4. Looff Hippodrome
The Looff Hippodrome is named after its creator, one very famous German man named Charles Looff.
Looff was based in Brooklyn in the late 1800s but was known across the country for creating some of the nation’s most beautiful and exquisite carousel rides.
After the East Coast had been filled with Looff works, he moved over to Long Beach in California, where the Santa Monica Pier was slowly growing in popularity.
The town of Santa Monica was, at the time, investing a lot in the betterment of that pier and commissioned Looff to work his magic.
They gave him a whole pier to work with, and he and his sons began work on what he called Pleasure Pier.
The plan Looff had involved building a hippodrome amusement park.
A hippodrome is, essentially, a kind of open-air stadium of Greek history.
Traditionally, hippodromes were used for chariot races, but Looff planned to fill the “stadium” with circle swings, a masterful carousel, a roller coaster, a restaurant, a dance hall, and a Wurlitzer.
Visitors loved the fun and exciting entertainment site and it was the highlight of the pier.
The Looff Hippodrome was successful for years before Looff died in the middle of new construction for additions to his masterpiece.
All new renovations were stopped, but the current rides were maintained and stayed popular.
When the town started to consider removing the pier in favor of putting up a resort, a set of powerful storms nearly took out the two-story oval structure first.
The Pier Restoration and Development Task Force, formed in 1983, eventually managed to get the Looff Hippodrome the status of a historical landmark.
It was then restored to its former glory, though it sadly lacks the essential Looff carousel, replaced instead by one made in 1922.
Though it has changed from years of events, the Looff Hippodrome is still one of the main places to visit in the town.
Address: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
5. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Termed as one of the most beautiful places to go in the US, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is made up of delightful Mediterranean sightseeing opportunities.
The mountains reach the sea in a rather sudden and theatrical manner, creating one of California’s must-see tourist attractions, reaching near to Oxnard as it stretches from this town and beyond.
In this national recreation area, there are many options for things you can enjoy.
Ride a horse, play sports, go mountain biking, or visit a recreational spot.
You can surf on the sea below or even climb a mountain – all within the same day!
Over 20 different parks are located within the area, with some of the top picks being the Topanga Creek State Park, Point Mugu State Park, and Malibu Creek State Park.
Most of its 500-mile stretch is open to the public with all of its campgrounds and wonders.
Address: 401 W Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, United States
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6. Third Street Promenade
Third Street Promenade is located in the very center of downtown Santa Monica, the hub for shopping and fun in the town in a way that is uniquely California.
It covers three blocks of traffic-free land, just to the Santa Monica Pier’s east.
Pedestrians love this haven and it’s a great place to head to for some urban sightseeing.
Packed with shops, stores, eateries, and more, Third Street Promenade is full of things to see and is basically an outdoor shopping mall.
You’ll see common and known retail outlets and restaurant chains as well as some more local offerings.
There are also lots of street musicians providing entertainment, much to the glee of the crowd, as they showcase their talents.
Events are also held throughout the year, so keep an eye out!
Address: 1351 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
7. Santa Monica Farmers Market
The Santa Monica Farmers Market is open all year round on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, no matter the weather.
So if you head over this weekend, you’ll be guaranteed to see the best the town has to offer in local wares.
Since 1979, the Farmers Market has been a tradition in this California town.
It sells a wide range of items, including things like local produce, flowers, nuts, locally harvested cheese, locally harvested meat, freshly caught fish, and more!
Different events are also held at the Farmers Market, such as street musician performances and live cooking demonstrations.
Fresh and hot meals are served up from different stalls around the market, giving you plenty of options for a quick savory bite.
With the diverse products and fantastic selection, this is one of the places to go you shouldn’t miss!
8. California Heritage Museum
The California Heritage Museum is located within a house dating back to the Victoria era.
Its building is called the Roy Jones House and it welcomes visitors to Santa Monica with all sorts of information about the wonderful and diverse state, making it one of the best places to go on vacation to glean this sort of education from.
The heritage museum covers a laundry list of topics.
Think about it: California’s a complex place!
It has deserts, mountains, coast, and forests.
It’s packed with influences from multiple different cultures.
Celebrities call it their home, rural areas have modern amenities, and renewable energy is farmed in expanses of dry sand.
It’s quite impressive!
This museum takes a look at all these different factors that go into making the state what it is.
Whether you’re looking to learn about the Pacific Ocean’s ecology, the state’s cultural history, the Golden Age of cinema, the architecture of the Roy Jones home, or even the origin of skateboarding, this place has it all!
The permanent exhibit here highlights the Jones’ family history and the legacy of its house.
Temporary exhibits take turns popping up throughout the year, all telling tales through documents, artifacts, photos, and memorabilia.
There’s so much to discover, which is why a trip here is one of the most fun things to do in Santa Monica.
Address: 2612 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405, United States
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9. Route 66 End of the Trail Sign
Santa Monica, California is famous for many things, but one of those things is a simple road: Route 66.
It’s the country’s most famous road, arguably, and once upon a time, it was just one stop along the way of the East-to-West migration path.
When the Interstate Highway System was created, the rambling, winding road became less popular, but 85% of it remains in use to this day.
Few realize that Route 66 ends somewhere specific, and that place happens to be in Santa Monica, where the Route 66 End of the Trail Sign is erected.
Highway 66 was decommissioned officially in the year 1985, and there have been many rumors about the location of the original sign, with some believing this to be but a movie prop.
The Route 66 End of the Trail Sign isn’t an official highway sign, but it’s still one of Santa Monica’s points of interest.
Plus, it’s fun to speculate about its many rumors, and visiting it is one of the town’s free things to do.
The route will take you through old-fashioned diners with their neon glows, and it’s really nostalgic to drive down and appreciate the world left behind with the road’s end.
With all that in mind, this is a great place to head to for something a little unique in the town.
Address: 330 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
10. Palisades Park
If you’re looking for one of the best places to visit in California, Palisades Park is definitely on the list!
Located by the ocean between Ocean Avenue and the beautiful beach, it is a bluff-top park that gives you the most stunning panoramas of the coastline.
Spanning 26 acres, this park is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
All around, you’ll see rose bushes, palm trees, ocean views, and seating areas that come together to make this one of the best town spaces in town.
Palisades Park is also joined with a number of other attractions and is home to some of its own, such as installations of art, courts for playing pétanque, and connections to the beach.
Don’t forget to walk to Inspiration Point on the northern side to get the most gorgeous views!
Address: Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
11. Bergamot Station Arts Center
Bergamot Station Arts Center isn’t just famous in California, but across the world for being a creative space full of art and beauty.
Between the years 1875 and 1953, this location was the site of a railroad station, after which it was used for different warehouse purposes in the manufacturing and packaging industries.
Eventually, the abandoned lot was purchased by the town of Santa Monica, and in 1994, its five acres were opened anew as the Bergamot Station Arts Center we know today.
It’s full of rotating exhibits that showcase a mix of classical and contemporary works from artists that hail from many corners of the planet.
Parking and admission are free, which is why it’s famous as one of the fun, exciting options for what to do in Santa Monica.
The architecture of the building itself is pretty impressive and worth exploring.
As you finish up your tour, you’ll come across a cafe that sells hot drinks and sweet treats – a worthy finishing flourish after taking in all that art!
Address: 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404, United States
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12. Museum of Flying
Attention, aviation enthusiasts!
The Museum of Flying might be one of the best places to see in California to suit your interests.
It is thematically situated near the Santa Monica airport and spans 22,000 square feet in size.
The Museum of Flying showcases the history of technology in the industry of flight, documenting its changes, growth, and development over the years.
A wide range of displays and exhibits allow for comprehensive coverage, making it one of the most informationally rich Santa Monica attractions.
Several different kinds of aircraft are displayed at this museum.
You’ll view jet age crafts, a replica Wright flyer, and the nosepiece of a Boeing 727.
Crafts include those from many of South California’s aviation companies, like Hughes Aircraft, Northrop, Boeing, North American, and Lockheed.
Other great activities here are the children’s area with hands-on exhibits, the theater with documentaries and films, an aircraft display plaza outside, guided tours, and even an interactive flight simulator!
Address: 3100 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405, United States
13. Pono Burger
Pono Burger offers something different from the usually greasy, fatty burgers you’ll find everywhere else in California.
It specializes in healthy burgers, alongside other meals, made with locally sourced ingredients that are 100% organic.
Beef is grass-fed, burgers are hand-crafted, and options to go with your burger include milkshakes, fries, craft beer, and sandwiches.
Pono Burger is operated by Chef Makani, a native of Hawaii, and the atmosphere is fun, vibrant, and quirky.
It’s modern, welcoming, and absolutely delicious.
When it comes to mealtimes, Pono Burger is simply one of the best things to do in Santa Monica, so pop in for lunch today or dinner tonight!
Address: 829 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
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14. Santa Monica Camera Obscura
Santa Monica Camera Obscura is located in the aforementioned Palisades Park, right in the middle of the town.
It is contained within a very small room, the door to which may be locked.
Simply knock on the door next to it and you’ll be able to receive a key – in exchange for temporarily leaving the front desk your driver’s license – to enter.
The unassuming room holds a large white disk with a wheel.
Operating it lets you shift a mirror and lens from a turret in order to project an image onto the disk.
The image simply takes the form of whatever is passing through the outside at the moment.
This is the Camera Obscura.
The Camera Obscura is thought to be one of the world’s first optical inventions, and it might date back to the era of ancient Greece.
Some experts think it and other devices like it would have been used by Renaissance-era painters to project images to paint onto their canvases.
In the Victoria and Edwardian eras, such cameras became common attractions along the sea for tourists and visitors, both in America and in Europe.
This particular camera was built in 1898 by Robert F. Jones, then gifted to this California town in 1907.
After 50 years spent documenting the world on the beach and pier, it was set up in the Adult Recreation Center.
Today, the center, still in its mid-century building, is a place for art and cultural community, often holding events and classes.
The Camera Obscura is its centerpiece.
Only very few of this type of camera remain in operation in the country.
To think that this hidden gem is so near to a bustling, fun tourist hub!
As such, this is one of the places to visit you should head to, especially if you have an interest in photography.
Address: 1450 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
15. Santa Monica Stairs
Santa Monica Stairs were never meant to be one of California’s tourist attractions, but the hidden gem tucked neatly into an unassuming residential area has gained popularity as of late, especially among the fitness-oriented crowd.
The public walkway has over 300 steps made of a mix of concrete and wood and anyone climbing up or down is sure to feel the burn in their legs.
199 steps of concrete and 170 steps of wood across two sets of stairs are the exact details of this unique and unusual spot.
The wooden stairs are wider but the concrete ones have a banister for stability, so it’s really up to you which one works best.
If you’re lucky, there might be some grab-and-pay water bottles, sold for $1 based on an unsupervised honor system, to fuel you at the top of the stairs.
It’s pretty common for the stairs to be busy with people exercising, and that might be one of the unintentionally cool activities for tourists to do at least once while here.
You’ll see some seasoned experts performing sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, or jumping rope between their laps of the stairs.
Do keep in mind that there aren’t any facilities here, as it’s a residential area’s staircase, so you’ll have to run over to the nearest restroom on Ocean Avenue if you need to go.
Address: 699 Adelaide Dr, Santa Monica, CA 90402, United States
16. Tongva Park
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Located just off Ocean Avenue, Tongva Park covers six acres in the southern area beneath Santa Monica Pier.
This urban park is everything you need for a fun and relaxing evening, with enough activities and things to see to keep you occupied without being overwhelming.
The space used to be a parking lot, but Los Angeles turned it into a green area!
Sculptures, gardens, playgrounds, a fountain, and picnic locations make for great walks through the space, and the accompanying ocean breeze of the California coastline is always a welcome addition.
It’s tranquil and minimal, but it certainly does the trick as an idyllic and beautifully designed spot for resting your feet and mind.
Address: 1615 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
17. Sweet Rose Creamery
The humble and quaint Sweet Rose Creamery serves some of the best ice creams in California.
It was first opened in 2010 by Shiho Yoshikawa, an executive chef, with his business partners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan in Brentwood Park.
Now, it’s expanded to five different neighborhood branches, each one using organic, locally sourced ingredients to create high-quality treats.
Lots of different flavors are available at Sweet Rose Creamery.
There are classics, like chocolate and mint chip, and also more unorthodox options like cherimoya coconut and sweet potato swirl.
There are also sorbets made dairy-free with cool options like kiwi and horchata coconut to choose from.
If you’re craving some ice cream, Sweet Rose Creamery is one of the most recommended places to go!
Address: 225 26th St #51, Santa Monica, CA 90402, United States
18. Santa Monica Place
If you love shopping, you’ll find that a stroll around Santa Monica Place may be one of the top things to do in Santa Monica, California.
It has a mix of familiar names and lesser-known brands and eateries.
Most interestingly, the shops you may recognize, like Bloomingdales and Nordstrom, actually have local twists.
For example, both stock accessories and fashion trends are made by designers from the town, and there are more than a hundred original art pieces showcased at Bloomingdales.
For a fun meal, head up to the rooftop to enjoy a lovely dining experience.
There are so many different cuisine types to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that you like!
Address: 395 Santa Monica Pl, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
19. Broad Stage
Broad Stage is located in the Santa Monica Performing Arts Center and has been open since 2008.
It seats 500 people and is this California town’s most modern and technologically advanced space for the performing arts.
It’s also the biggest, and its repertoire of performances means it’s the best place for stage shows in town!
Musicals, theater shows, symphonies, dance shows, and orchestral performances dot the Broad Stage’s calendar.
It’s a great fun place to go for a great show, whether at night or during the day.
Need something a little more intimidating?
Head to the adjacent theater called The Edye, another one of the town’s points of interest for performances.
Address: 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
If you’re looking for cool things to do in Santa Monica, California, jAdis should be on your list of places to visit.
It’s a one-of-a-kind location that’s chock-full of science fiction memorabilia and paraphernalia, antique instruments of science, and a collection that grows and grows.
jAdis was founded by Parke Meek, an antique collector and well-known designer for furniture.
Three decades ago, he and his partner Susan Leiberman opened jAdis together.
Functioning as part science “museum”, it mainly focused on Meek’s fascinating private collection of all sorts of curiosities of science until it grew to include a prop rental service.
Meek’s items have appeared in countless different shows and movies, including X-Files, Batman and Robin, and Waterworld.
jAdis also boasts cool replicas, like the town of Lost children’s headpiece and a robot from Metropolis.
For a long time, jAdis was closed to the public, open only to private collectors and movie studios, but it was opened for a few hours weekly with a $1 entry fee a while later.
In 2010, Meek passed away.
jAdis continues its tradition of opening to the public for a low fee.
It is now run by Leiberman, who also has a shop next door, and Mel Bloch, a lifelong friend of Meek.
Block loves talking about Meek’s life and is happy to show visitors in.
A mix of memorabilia and items designed by Meek’s own genius is visible throughout the store.
Van de Graaf generators, celestial spheres, Tesla coils, antique orreries, switchboards, and more can be seen all throughout this incredibly unique store!
Address: 2701 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405, United States
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Start Planning Your Trip To Santa Monica
Santa Monica attractions speak truly of the best the town has to offer.
They’re lively, culturally rich, great for shopping and dining, and touched with just a little sprinkle of history.
You’re truly spoiled for choice when it comes to what to see, which places to visit, and the kinds of fun stuff to do.
Hopefully, this list has helped you pick out your favorite choices for activities in one of the best towns in California!