Stretching scenically along a 3.5-mile piece of Pacific coastline, and averaging 280 days of sunshine a year, it’s always a great time to visit Santa Monica. Plus, there’s an extraordinary number of things to see, do, and experience across the city’s walkable 8.3 square miles, making it the ideal base for a wide variety of Southern California adventures.
HOW TO SPEND 24 HOURS IN SANTA MONICA
Kick-start your day with the perfect blend of sightseeing, exercise and orientation, on the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail. Rent bikes at Santa Monica Bike Center ($20 for two hours) and explore this beautiful oceanside path — connecting Santa Monica with Torrance County Beach, and passing through Venice, Hermosa and Redondo Beach along the way. Picturesque photo spots abound as you pedal along this paved, scenic path.
Return your bike, then head right across the street to the landmark Santa Monica Pier — one of California’s oldest pleasure piers. Set at the westernmost point of the city, it offers stunning ocean views, over a century’s worth of history and is packed full of family-friendly attractions, shops and restaurants.
Ride the wooden horses at the carousel; take a spin on Pacific Park’s solar-powered Ferris wheel; get up close to marine life at the Heal the Bay Aquarium; and snap a selfie in front of the pier’s most recognizable backdrop — a Route 66 sign that marks the western terminus. In the mood to try something different? Book a two-hour class at TSNY Los Angeles, where you can learn to soar through the air with the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop!
Worked up an appetite? Take a seat for lunch at Seaside on The Pier. Comprising two separate eateries — a gourmet Sandwich Company and a Grille & Rooftop Bar — this is a top spot for either quick eats to go or a more leisurely sit-down meal. Create your own handcrafted sandwiches and enjoy them on Santa Monica’s iconic, three mile-long golden beach or opt for seafood and salads with a side of sweeping coastal views, on the grille rooftop.
Next, rest and digest with a stroll around Santa Monica. Just two blocks east from the ocean, Main Street offers chic boutiques, upscale art galleries, patio-lined cafés, a classy weekly Sunday farmers market, as well as the walk-in Santa Monica Visitor Information Center, where the helpful staff is always happy to point you in the right direction. Walk the length of this popular thoroughfare and be sure to pause at the California Heritage Museum — housed in one of the first Victorian houses — for a fascinating tour of local history.
A short walk away, the world-famous Third Street Promenade is another Santa Monica must-visit. Lined with big-name brands and shopping aplenty, it’s an amazing outdoor experience. Shop ‘til you drop or simply browse the unique window displays, as you are serenaded by street entertainers.
As the sun starts to lower towards the horizon, head back towards the beach for drinks with a view at ONYX. Perched atop the iconic Hotel Shangri-La, this indoor/outdoor rooftop bar and lounge is the only one of its kind in Santa Monica — a cool retro mix of Studio 54 and Rat Pack-era Vegas. Cozy up in one of its 1950s waltzer fairground-style booths, sip on sophisticated cocktails and enjoy one of the best sunsets on the West Coast.
Finally, round off your evening at one of the city’s coolest live music venues: The Basement Tavern. Located at the bottom of The Victorian, this cool speakeasy boasts eclectic live bands, handcrafted cocktails, and a trendy local crowd. On the hunt for a hip, LGBTQ-friendly nightcap instead? Simply make your way two floors up to The Birdcage, where Miami meets the Hamptons.
MAKE IT 48 HOURS IN SANTA MONICA BY ADDING:
Do like the locals on day two and hit the beach for a relaxing morning. Whether you want to take a dip in the incredible outdoor pool, try a yoga class, or enjoy a game of beach volleyball there’s something for everyone at Annenberg Community Beach House. After working up an appetite, there’s no need to leave your perfect seaside spot thanks to onsite eatery Back on the Beach Cafe. With delicious brunch staples, kick back at one of its umbrella-covered tables right on the sand.
Spend the afternoon shopping along Montana Avenue. Stretching for 10 blocks, this tree-lined street’s shopping district is filled with popular eateries, juice bars, more than 150 boutiques and the historic Aero Theatre. Finally, no trip to Santa Monica is complete without a visit to Bergamot Station; Southern California’s largest art gallery complex which spans a staggering eight acres. Browse its numerous independent art galleries for unique souvenirs that are sure to make a statement.
Get a different perspective of Santa Monica’s famous sunsets with a walk in Palisades Park.
Running the full length of Downtown Santa Monica, this beautiful 26-acre space boasts more than a mile of cliff-level ocean views, as well as some awesome public art sculptures. Continue your stroll back to Montana Avenue and head to the casual neighborhood joint, Spumoni Trattoria & Pizzeria. Just off-the-beaten-track, this friendly Italian is renowned for its authentic handmade pasta, specialty Spumoni ice cream and excellent house red. Dine out on the sidewalk patio for a side of celeb-spotting. In the mood to party? End your final day in town at The Bungalow, on the grounds of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, for great music and a fun atmosphere that lasts well into the night.
MAKE IT 72 HOURS IN SANTA MONICA BY ADDING:
Spending the entire day lounging in luxury is a popular pastime thanks to Santa Monica’s range of iconic, five-star oceanview hotels. Book into Hotel Casa del Mar, known for its Palm Terrace Pool overlooking the beach; stay at the stylish Shutters on the Beach, moments from the Santa Monica Pier; relax with the in-crowd at the Viceroy Santa Monica; or get treated like royalty at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel or Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows.
However you spend your day, toast your final evening in town with a glass or two of wine at locals’ favorite, Upper West Restaurant on Pico Boulevard before heading out for some live entertainment. Music lovers will enjoy the famous, yet intimate concert venue, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, while theater aficionados should make a beeline to Morgan-Wixson Theatre.