Must See LA, Santa Monica

Best Sites of Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica has become one of the more upscale beach front cities in LA.  Offering great shopping, an amazing dining selection, and some of the widest beaches in the county, it’s easy to spend a few days here taking it all in at a laid back pace.  Here are our picks for the best of what there is to see in Santa Monica.

3rd Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade

This is the jewel in Santa Monica’s crown, a outdoor pedestrian street lined with moderate to upscale shopping which runs into one of the nation’s most architecturally interesting open air malls, Santa Monica Place.  Throughout the day there are street performers lining the walkway.  Unlike other parts of the city, the performers must audition for a spot on 3rd Street, so they are the cream of the crop.

The Santa Monica Rings

Just south of the Santa Monica Pier on the beach along the boardwalk, there is a collection of outdoor fitness equipment, open to the public year-round.  While it’s fun to play on the parallel bars and poles, the highlights are the rings, sequences of metal rings that are meant to be used to swing across like Tarzan.  Often, especially in summer, locals will line up to swing across the rings.  Trust me, it’s really fun, but it is totally a workout.

The Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier SignNext to 3rd Street Promenade, this is the most visited attraction in Santa Monica.  While Santa Monica has been home to several piers over its life, this is the final one, home to a several restaurants, the Ocean Park Amusement Park (owner of the huge ferris wheel), a carousel, a trapeze school, and even offers fishing.  If you have never been to Santa Monica, this is a must visit, and is especially spectacular when lit up at sunset.

Walk from Santa Monica to Venice

This is the highlight of any trip to Santa Monica.  The paved walkway that connects Santa Monica to Venice takes about an hour to walk and runs by the edge of Santa Monica’s super wide beache.  Along the way, you’ll find several burger joints and bike rental shops.  This is one of the best  ways to spend an afternoon at the beach.

Santa Monica Aquarium

A neat place to visit, super convenient to the beach and the pier.  Located underneath the pier, many people don’t even know the Santa Monica Aquarium exists, and it’s totally worth stopping in.  While small, it offers visitors the ability to feed sea creatures, a touch tank, and up close a personal views of what lives in the sea.  There are a lot of special events and ongoing programs, so to see what’s going on – check out their website.

Bike North along the Beach

While most people rent bikes to travel South to Venice and into Marina Del Rey, the paved path heads North from the pier for about 3 miles, offering an easy ride into a way less populated area.  Doing this ride will give you a different view of Santa Monica and, during the busy summer, take you to less crowded volleyball nets.

Hiking the Santa Monica Mountains

Technically in the Pacific Palisades, the hikes are super close to Santa Monica and can easily be done in a half day.  While there a number of hikes spread out through the mountains and Will Rogers State park, two nearby trails are Rivas Canyon Trail and Murphy Ranch Trail.

Sunset Over Santa Monica BeachSunset from the Cliffs

There are several spectacular sunset spots in Santa Monica, but my personal favorite is along the cliffs of Palisades Park (the strip of land the runs North along Ocean Ave from the Pier).  Here you can see the entire beach stretch out in both directions, with a great view of Pacific Park’s lights twinkling in the night one way and the mountains disappearing to Malibu the other. (more info)

Getty Villa

Admire ancient art, while strolling through some of Santa Monica’s most interesting architecture and gardens.  Possibly most impressive the upscale attraction is FREE to visit, but you need a ticket in advance.  (more info) While technically on the very lower end of Malibu, it’s just on the very edge of Santa Monica and easily accessible by public metro bus 534 within minutes from downtown Santa Monica.

The Wide, wide beaches

Of course these made the list.   I recommend traveling a bit North to avoid some of the crowds around the Pier.  If you travel to the Northern end of the beach (about 3 miles North of the Pier) you can lounge in the sand that was set to the TV show Baywatch.