What to See and Do in Santa Monica

Santa Monica is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles and its easy to see why with its miles of gorgeous beaches and a hip center. It's a community that manages to balance a beach vibe with a cosmopolitan flair, providing locals and visitors alike with a diverse place to explore. On top of its enviable geographic location – and sometimes because of it – Santa Monica has a bevy of incredible attractions. Several of these attractions have to do with the landscape: beaches with soft sand and picture worthy blue lifeguard towers plus a gorgeous beach walk area running parallel to the beach with green foliage and palm trees. Add into that the glimmering water of the Pacific Ocean as the sun (which appears bright and yellow nearly every day) hits it and you have a recipe for outdoor bliss. Santa Monica also has a variety of museums featuring items ranging from historical artifacts to modern art. In addition, shopaholics will enjoy the shopping that can be found in Santa Monica, particularly along Third Street Promenade, the most famous street in Santa Monica. And then...there's the pier, Santa Monica's most prominent landmark and an impossible to miss attraction. From nature to amusement parks, Santa Monica has an attraction to delight a wide range of interests. 


Camera Obscura
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

Turn into a spy at Santa Monica's Camera Obscura as you learn more about how cameras work. Camera Obscura is an interesting little attraction that houses a camera obscura, which is an optical device that lets you project images far in the distance on a large white disk which is in the room. You'll learn about the history and makings of the camera obscura device and what its uses have been over the years. In the case of the Santa Monica Camera Obscura, it is over 115 years old as it was built in 1898. It has spent a large portion of its life documenting the nearby beach happenings.

Main Street
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

Main Street is a historic street in Santa Monica that is home to some of the beach community's hippest restaurants, bars and shops. Another great thing about Main Street is that it's located just a block from the beach, making for an easy escape to happy hour from the beach or a quick return to the beach after shopping to catch the sunset. The history of Main Street can best be seen at the California Heritage Museum. When it comes to shopping, you'll find that the shops on Main Street are much more eclectic and independent than its famous neighbor, Third Street Promenade.

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is located at the beginning of the Santa Monica Pier on the lower level and is one of the top things to do while exploring the pier. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium strives to educate visitors on marine life and preservation practices and what is needed to continue keeping the oceans and sea creatures healthy. While touring the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium you'll see over 100 species of animals, including sea urchins, octopus and even sharks. You'll get the chance to see the feeding of some of the aquarium animals and learn how they live in the wild and what they need to survive.


Palisades Park is a gorgeous park in Santa Monica that is right next to the coastline and encompasses over 25 acres. It's beach front location provides visitors to the park with views of the ocean. Watch the sunset, observe some surfers or simply enjoy the rhythmic nature of the waves. Palisades Park is home to walking paths and is dog friendly, making it an ideal place to hang out for awhile if you're traveling with your dog. Yoga is also a common sight to see in the park – if you're a yogi bring your mat and get centered in the nature-filled wonder of Palisades Park.

California Heritage Museum
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

The California Heritage Museum is located in the Roy Jones house, a stately green house built in 1984 for Roy Jones, who had strong roots in Santa Monica as his father, Senator John Percival Jones, was the founder of the beach adjacent community. The architect for the house was the acclaimed Sumner P. Hunt. Today, the home houses a museum full of American fine arts and crafts. Special exhibits are often held inside the California Heritage Museum and include historical subjects like Navajo textiles and the skateboard evolution in California plus fun exhibits like awkward family photos.

Ocean Front Walk
Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki

Like most famous beach towns, Santa Monica has a long boardwalk-style path to bike, skate, jog or simply walk down. However, what makes the Santa Monica boardwalk (referred to as the Ocean Front Walk) special is that it's more like a hiking trail that goes through nature as it is lined with bright green grass and tall palm trees whose branches provide spots of shade over the path. You'll get a great workout in and will enjoy stunning views from every angle – gorgeous ocean waves to the west and the cosmopolitan beach vibe of Santa Monica to the east.

Santa Monica State Beach

Santa Monica State Beach looks like the opening credits for the 90's television show, Baywatch, as it has a large expanse of golden sand, blue lifeguard towers and wave after wave of salty seawater gently crashing to shore. Santa Monica State Beach is three miles long and has an enviable location on the Santa Monica Bay. Views of the Santa Monica Pier and the nearby Santa Monica Mountains can be seen from your spot on the sand and the Santa Monica Ocean Front Walk is a stone's throw away. If you choose not to blissfully lie on the beach all day, you can go boogie boarding or surfing in the water, or try stand up paddle boarding beyond where the waves break.

Third Street Promenade is the most famous street in Santa Monica. It's a busy and vibrant wide street, which is lined on both sides with excellent shopping opportunities and dining experiences. There are also a few movie theaters located on Third Street Promenade because, after all, this is Los Angeles. Popular shops on Third Street Promenade include Anthropologie, H&M, Abercrombie and Fitch and 7 for All Mankind. On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is also a large Farmer's Market which has local artisan goods for sale in addition to produce located on one of the side streets off of Third Street Promenade.

Bergamot Station Arts Center

Hip Santa Monica wouldn't be complete without a good art museum, which can be found at Bergamot Station. If you love art then you definitely can't pass up Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica, which consists of multiple art collections throughout the unique building, which is actually an old trolley station that has been converted into the art gallery. Even those who typically don't like art museums will find Bergamot Station interesting and intriguing since it offers a dynamic art viewing set up as it has unique abstract sculpture art using miscellaneous parts you'll recognize like cars and basketball hoops.

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier is the pinnacle of the LA neighborhood of Santa Monica. It's the image that first comes to most people's mind when they think of Santa Monica: a long, wide pier that is packed with fun. A roller coaster, Ferris wheel and other rides jut up from their spots on the pier, colorfully curling against the skyline and providing a lit up atmosphere at night. Carnival-style games also line the pier along with Carnival food and other eateries. Those wanting to do some shopping can do so in souvenir shops on the pier. A great family spot, the Santa Monica Pier provides all-day entertainment for people of all ages.


Meet Gina Douglas Tarnacki

Gina Tarnacki is a freelance writer and marketer and an avid traveler. When she's not busy finding a creative way to squeeze in a few more vacation days so she and her family can explore the...  More About Gina