Full travel guide to Santa Monica

From rustic farmers markets to all the fun of the fair, Santa Monica is Los Angeles’ eclectic little sister…

Team Wanderlust
28 July 2023
Promoted by
Audley California

From rollercoaster roarers to peaceful fishermen pierside, Santa Monica is one of the best spots on earth for sun, sand, and some serious people-watching. It’s also one of California’s most inclusive destinations, with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere to suit families and couples alike. Here’s how to make the most of your time…

At a glance

Santa Monica may be just 21km from central Hollywood and a 30-minute cab ride from the hustle and bustle of LAX Airport, but it couldn’t feel more different. That laid-back vibe the Golden State is so famous for is ubiquitous here, thanks to its lofty palm trees, surf-ready beaches and an abundance of independent shops and eateries. Sandwiched between Malibu and Venice, it’s a brilliant base for families looking to explore Los Angeles and its surrounds – whether you plan to get behind the wheel or take public transport; the relatively new Expo train offers a direct line to Hollywood.

If you only do three things…

Trace the cycle trail along Venice Beach (Visit California)

Take an e-bike tour of Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Santa Monica and Venice blend into one another, making an e-bike tour a convenient way to see the sights and soak up the history. Cruise beneath Santa Monica Pier, meander through Venice’s canals, and feel the ocean breeze as you ride along the beachfront. Best of all, as you sit back in your electric beach cruiser, pedalling or not, you’ll feel like a true local.

Go green in its parks

Thanks to its many emerald pockets, rarely does Santa Monica feel like a city. Its patchwork of parks are a delight to wander and relax in, with the palm-lined paths and widescreen ocean views of Palisades Park a favourite with both locals and visitors. Bernard Way Linear Park is another seaside swathe of green fringed by beaches, while away from the coast Tongva Park serves up six acres of rolling hills and Virginia Avenue Park hosts its own weekly farms market.

The view of the Santa Monica coastline from Palisades Park (Shutterstock)

Los Angeles is easy to explore from Santa Monica (Shutterstock)

Explore Los Angeles

With its proximity to the City of Angels, it would be remiss to stay in Santa Monica and not do a bit of exploring. It’s easy to tick-off Hollywood icons like Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, and Hollywood Boulevard in less than a day, while trips to the Griffith Observatory and Beverly Hills will require a bit more time and planning.

Gastronomic experiences in Santa Monica

Food is a way of life in Santa Monica (Visit California)

Go on a walking food tour

Sample the sights, sounds and sumptuous flavours of Santa Monica on a walking food tour. A local expert guide will take you through Downtown’s best foodie streets. You’ll try hand-made doughnuts, famous burgers, and fresh farm produce, regularly returning to the beachfront for a side of ocean views of course.

Gourmet picnic experience

A bounty of local cheese and fizz, Insta-worthy charcuterie boards, soft furnishings and intimate lighting – plucked from a glossy magazine… No matter whether you have something special to celebrate with your loved one or not, treating yourself to a gourmet picnic on Santa Monica’s squeaky soft sands promises an unforgettable experience.

Visit its farmers markets

Santa Monica’s quartet of farmers markets are more like mini food festivals, such is the city’s love for fresh produce. The Pico Market every Saturday features produce picked the day before, while the Wednesday market in Downtown Santa Monica is where many the city’s chefs choose to do their own shopping. Expect live music to accompany you, too, for this is a market experience like no other.

Where to stay in Santa Monica

Palihouse Santa Monica

This boutique beach lodge has a decidedly Mediterranean vibe, geared towards the discerning traveller. Indeed, its Moorish-inspired décor will make you feel like you’re in Sintra, rather than Cali. Nestled in a peaceful residential neighbourhood, it’s just a few minutes’ walk from Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, and the farmers’ markets.

The Huntley Santa Monica

At this stylish hotel in downtown Palm Springs, you’re in the heart of the action, with restaurants and bars, boutiques and galleries, all within walking distance. The lap-sized pool is overlooked by the San Jacinto mountains, there are 142 comfortable rooms and suites, and it’s home to a well-appointed day spa.

The Georgian Hotel

Quirky, historic, iconic: The Georgian Hotel is the epitome of all things Santa Monica. Its Art Deco-Romanesque Revival décor feels dramatic – harking back to the roaring twenties and California’s golden age of hospitality – and its reputation is one of rich and famous visitors, craving a design-focused yet cosy, intimate stay.

How to spend two days in Santa Monica

Day One


Stroll the streets of Santa Monica; shoppers will delight in the mix of chains and independent outlets throughout Third Street Promenade, while the rest of Downtown promises a mix of architecture, history, and culture. Perhaps stop at an all-American diner for brunch – the perfect fuel for your outdoorsy exploits.

Downtown Santa Monica is abuzz with locals (Visit California)

Santa Monica Pier at sunset (Visit California)


From Downtown, Santa Monica Pier is just a 10-minute walk. Stop to grab a snap at the ‘Route 66: End of the Trail’ sign (at the Pier entrance), before continuing onto discover carnival games, food stands, the epic rollercoasters of Pacific Park, and fisherman searching for today’s catch. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions, too.


Have you even been to Venice Beach if you’ve not had fish tacos? Stop for this delicious Mexican fare while strolling along the beachfront between Santa Monica and Venice; Plancha Tacos has a tasty tiger prawn variety. On your way back, detour for some ice-cream from the Salt & Straw scoop shop in Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Venice Beach (Visit California)

Day Two


Today it’s time to hit the waves! Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, surfing in California is essential. An intro surfing lesson on one of Los Angeles’ most famous beaches will help you pop-up, cut-off and – let’s be honest – wipe-out, with the best of them.

Do as the locals do in Santa Monica and try a surfing lesson (Visit California)

Find delicious food at Santa Monica’s farmers markets (Visit California)


Reward yourself after an active morning with a walk around one of Santa Monica four city-run farmers’ markets. Enjoy live cooking sessions, facepainting and balloon artistry for younger travellers, baked goods aplenty, and more organic produce than you could dream of.


Embrace true Santa Monica hipster vibes at Harvelle’s Blues Club – especially perfect for lovers of blues, jazz, and devilishly good cocktails. Established in the 1930s, it’s the oldest live music venue on the Westside, with performances from local, national, and international artists.

Enjoy live jazz music in Santa Monica (Shutterstock)

About the experts

Whether you’re fascinated by Santa Monica’s eclectic population (ahem: Muscle Beach-goers), or fancy exploring LA from a more laid-back locale, Audley’s Specialists can tailor-make a Santa Monica trip to suit you. They’ve visited, experienced, and are exceptionally passionate about California, and will help you get under its skin, too.

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