Set along California’s Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica has two claims to fame: its wide beach and its carnivalesque pier. At Santa Monica Beach, miles of sand host playgrounds, parks, picnic areas, staffed lifeguard stations, and the original Muscle Beach. Nearly 8 million visitors frequent the area each year, most of whom follow the boardwalk to the Santa Monica Pier, whose neon-lit arch and ferris wheel are instantly recognizable from film and TV.
Visit Santa Monica Beach on a hop-on hop-off bus tour and stroll to the end of the pier to see the sweeping arc of Santa Monica Bay, from Malibu to Palos Verdes. Dig your toes in the sand and watch the crowds go by, or get active with activities such as surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, and beach volleyball. For a bit more mobility, rent an electric bike or join a beach Segway tour. Families can enjoy a multitude of kid-friendly restaurants and shops, pet sea stars and sea urchins at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, or purchase tickets to Pacific Park to take a ride on the ferris wheel. Santa Monica is also a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles; visit on a full-day bike or coach tour of the LA area to see highlights such as Hollywood Boulevard and Beverly Hills.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and water if you plan to spend a long day in the sun.
- Smoking is prohibited at the beach.
- Leashed pets are welcome.
- Handicap parking is available on the pier. To access the water’s edge, wheelchair users can rent sand wheelchairs from Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals.
How to Get There
Santa Monica is 17 miles (27 kilometers) west of downtown Los Angeles. Parking is plentiful, especially on Main Street, 2nd Street, and 4th Street between Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard. Public transportation via buses is also readily available.
When to Get There
Santa Monica Beach and Pier are open year-round. The weather is mild throughout the year, but summer’s balmy temperatures and sunny skies bring crowds of vacationers. Visit outside of summer for lower prices and more availability.
Pacific Park and the Pacific Wheel
Located on the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Park is an amusement park packed with rides, games, food, and shopping. The iconic Pacific Wheel has appeared in more than 500 movies, television shows, music videos, commercials, and magazine editorials. Come nightfall, the wheel is illuminated by more than 174,000 LED lights that display dynamic, computer-generated light shows.