Santa Monica is one of the most famous (and most popular) beach resorts in the world. Along with its endless beach, Santa Monica offers family entertainment options, a relaxed vibe, and easy access to Los Angeles.
There aren't many better places to immerse yourself in California's beach culture. Stake out a space on the sand and spend all of your time soaking up the sunshine, playing volleyball, or learning how to surf. Rent bikes and cycle along the Strand to Venice Beach, strap on some roller skates or wander the length of the Santa Monica Pier, trying all of the amusement park rides.
If the beach isn't for you, Santa Monica has plenty of art galleries, shops, and restaurants to discover, as well as live dance and theater all summer long. And it's all a short drive from Universal Studios, Disneyland, and the bright lights of LA.
Santa Monica is built around its 3.5 mile-long beach that is easily accessible via wooden pathways, is fully staffed with lifeguards (as you'd expect from the filming location of Baywatch), and is a place to swim, surf, skate, sunbathe, and generally relax.
Santa Monica is a thriving cultural destination as well as a beach resort. The Twilight Concert Series brings free music and dance events to the seafront in summer. There's also a dynamic art scene, with the Bergamot Station arts complex and venues for up-and coming-artists like the Daniel Rolnik Gallery to enjoy.
Santa Monica is a wonderful place to visit with your family. Pacific Park at the Santa Monica pier has a famous Ferris Wheel, a quirky Trapeze School, nightly live music, and an authentic 1920s carousel.
The "Strand" is a bike path that links together LA's coastal resorts, from Santa Monica in the north to Torrance County Beach in the south. You can easily rent bikes from the Santa Monica Bike Center, and head to famous spots like Venice Beach (just a few miles to the south).
Another great thing about Santa Monica is its proximity to Los Angeles. You can reach LA by the number 720 bus, the Big Blue Bus Express, or cruise into town via I-10 and be in Hollywood in under half an hour.
Santa Monica has the kind of climate that makes it a year-round vacation destination, but there are definitely some busier seasons that you might want to avoid. High summer (July and August) are the busiest months, so try visiting in October or between February and May. Even in spring, the weather will be sunny and warm enough to enjoy the beach.
Some charter airlines fly into Santa Monica Airport, but most visitors will probably use Los Angeles International (LAX) to get to Santa Monica. If you fly into the city's own airport, you can either use airport shuttles or rent a car to reach your accommodation. From LAX, the best option is to take the Big Blue Bus ($2.50) or LAX FlyAway bus ($8). You could also take a taxi, which costs between $30 and $35. The distance between LAX and Santa Monica is about 12 miles.
Santa Monica doesn't have a train station, but it's not far from LA's Union Station, which has excellent rail connections to San Diego, San Francisco, and cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix. The Big Blue Bus Route 10 runs from Union Station to downtown Santa Monica.
Most drivers approach Santa Monica via I-10, which runs across the southern USA, linking the city with Florida. If you are coming from northern California, I-5 is the road to take (or Route 101 if you fancy taking the coastal route). I-5 also links Santa Monica with San Diego to the south.
If you want to take a bus to Santa Monica from cities outside LA, the best option is to take a Greyhound to downtown LA, then switch to a city bus to Santa Monica. Take buses 720 or 704 or the Big Blue Bus number 10 from the bus station straight to the Santa Monica seafront.
If you want a quintessentially California vacation, accommodation near Santa Monica beach is a no-brainer. Excellent seafront hotels include the Viceroy Hotel, Casa Del Mar, and Shutters on the Beach, but expect to pay a little more for a sea view. Inland alternatives include the Georgian Hotel in the center of town and the comfortable, elegant Ambrose Hotel. The Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier is great for families, while HI Los Angeles Santa Monica offers budget rooms and dorm beds within walking distance of the beach.
Downtown Santa Monica - the most energetic part of the city, Downtown is dominated by 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica's shopping hub. The Promenade is home to an endless variety of stores, along with street performers, galleries, and restaurants, all just a few hundred yards from the beach.
Main Street - Main Street is where Santa Monica's (many) artists and musicians hang out. If you want to check out imaginative modern art, small galleries like Mindfulnest and the Edgemar Center for the Arts make this part of town the ideal place to visit.
Pico Boulevard - Santa Monica's most diverse neighborhood, Pico is a great place to chill out and grab a bite to eat. Don't miss the Apple Pan, which serves up burgers and apple pie, and McCabe's Guitar Shop, a regular venue for folk concerts as well as a superb music emporium.
Local buses are a good way to travel around the beach, downtown, and the pier and are provided by the Big Blue Bus Company. Basic fares are just $1.25, but express buses to the airport or central LA cost $2.50, so have enough change on hand to pay the driver.
Cabs in Santa Monica charge around $2.85 for the meter drop, followed by $2.70 per mile, so it's not a cheap city to get around by taxi. Uber is active in the city and charge a $1.65 booking fee, then $0.90 per mile, so could offer some savings.
Los Angeles is built around the needs of motorists, so having your own car makes sense if you want to explore the Metropolitan Area. Local outlets include Sixt, Avis, and Enterprise and rates can be as low as $20 a day, so it's a cost-effective option.
3rd Street Promenade draws shoppers from all over southern California, with major stores like Aldo, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Old Navy (as well as many independent vendors). But you should also check out Main Street and Pico for independent skate stores, bookshops, and galleries. Santa Monica Place is another must, with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Bloomingdale's.
Good places to pick up groceries in Santa Monica include Vons, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods along with locally owned delis like Erewhon Market. There's also a farmers market on Main Street on Wednesdays and weekends. Groceries aren't too expensive, at around $3.60 for a gallon of milk and $3.40 for 12 eggs.
Food lovers will find everything they need in Santa Monica, but its a particularly good place for healthy eaters, vegans, and organic food fans. The True Food Kitchen is a great place to find vegetarian, eco-friendly gourmet dishes, the Misfit Restaurant mixes traditional American eats with craft ales and cocktails, and Tacos Punta Cabras is a fantastic no-frills Mexican restaurant. Mariasol is another special place to eat, being right at the tip of the pier. Expect to pay $7-10 for a street food like tacos and $15-20 for mains at most restaurants.