How to spend a full day in Santa Monica, California

With only a short time to spend in Los Angeles, we decided to spend a full day visiting Santa Monica.

Santa Monica has a laid back and interesting vibe. Think beachy bohemian types on roller bladers, tourists, buskers tapping out a beat in hopes of a dollar coming their way and often the smell of marijuana on the streets (as it’s legal in LA). The weed smell really bothered me walking around the streets but I guess that’s LA for you, you’re not meant to smoke it in public, but people do. We honestly smelt it everywhere, it was so overwhelming in some places that we actually couldn’t stick around (read more about that here – I liked this article).

Apart from the pot-heads and the amount of street people begging for money in LA, Santa Monica itself is pretty cool. I love a beachy town and spending the afternoon on Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach is a really lovely way to spend your day.

Below I’ve listed a few things that we really enjoyed including checking out, including the famous signs, the famous pier and the famous beaches. Be sure to check these items off your list when you visit Santa Monica.

Note that this list is in no way exhaustive – it’s just a handful of really cool things that we did while we were travelling through Santa Monica and I would recommend!


Get a photo with the Santa Monica sign

The 100-year old Santa Monica Pier is the official end of Route 66 – and also where Forrest Gump ran to, before turning around to run back to the east coast. It’s an iconic location and a very popular one too. Be sure to get a photo with the “end of the rail sign” at the start of the pier – you might just have to wrestle some other tourists out of the way first.

Check out the Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier is a large pier at the foot of Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica, California. The Pier is always open, year-round and is a popular spot for tourists and families.

You won’t miss the iconic entrance! Stop by the Pier Shop at the bottom of the ramp for visitor information and pier history.

On the pier you can check out the free historical walking tours (I say free because that’s what it is advertised as but it’s America – nothing is free. You are expected to tip your guide at least $5). These hour-long tours feature stories about how the Pier has changed over 100 years, the apartments above the Merry Go-Round, hidden nooks and crannies of the Pier, the original Muscle Beach, celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin and much more.

Note that you can also cycle along the beach promenade and onto Santa Monica Pier.

Check out the map below to get your bearings: 

Have lunch somewhere by the water or on the Pier

There are a heap of options in Santa Monica for lunch – some expensive and some cheap, do your research and you’ll find one that suits your budget. We opted for lunch on the pier at a place called Mariasol. It has nice water views, the standard Mexican fare and big margaritas.

Spend a few hours at the beach

Santa Monica beach is an iconic example of the famed Southern California beaches. The beach by the pier is great in terms of things to do, it is usually pretty packed with people and street performances.

The ‘Muscle Beach’ near the Pier is famous, it’s also worth walking or cycling up to Venice Beach and checking that out too. There is a popular trail called the Marvin Braude Beach Trail (known to locals as “The Strand” or South Bay Bicycle Trail), it is a 22 mile long paved trail that starts in Santa Monica and finishes at the Torrance County Beach.

Check out Pacific Park

This amusement park is packed with rides, games, food and all kinds of family fun.

Check out the park map below to get your bearings: 

Although sad to leave Santa Monica, after a full day here we headed back to Downtown LA to go to our next destination… San Francisco! Stay tuned for another blog post to come with all of our favourite things to do and our favourite places to see in the bay area.

Shannon Clarke - Editor, The Wild Hideaway
Shannon Clarke - Editor, The Wild Hideaway

Shannon is a travel and lifestyle writer with a keen taste for global adventure – whether it be snorkeling in the waters of Fiji, or exploring the art and architecture of Barcelona. When Melbourne calls her back home, she spends most of her time exploring and planning weekend road trips. To fund all of her trips, Shannon is a freelance writer and marketer – she was named the Australian Young Marketer of the year in 2017!

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