Searching for things to do in Santa Monica? You’ve already spent a day riding the Pacific Wheel, the West Coaster and the Hippodrome Carousel. You’ve taken a stroll through the Third Street Promenade, shopped at the posh boutiques and sipped cocktails at a rooftop bar. You’ve even posed for the obligatory photo in front of the Route 66 sign. Now that you’ve checked off all of the standard tourist activities, you’re ready to escape the hordes of visitors and see the authentic Santa Monica!
Things to do in Santa Monica
Let’s find out how SaMo locals enjoy this beautiful southern California city.
1. Climb the Santa Monica Stairs
Are you ready for a serious leg day? Join LA residents, and hit the Santa Monica stairs. Located on Adelaide Drive at Third Street, the wood and concrete stairs provide locals with a 24/7 workout center that costs absolutely nothing to join.
Practical Information: You’ll find the best parking spots on San Vicente at the top of the stairs. Local etiquette asks that you refrain from disturbing nearby residents or your workout companions.
2. Cruise the Beautiful Pacific Coast Highway
If you only have time to do one thing when you visit the Golden State, make this the one. Get ready to blow up your Instagram account with stunning photos of the California coastline and the Pacific ocean. Native trees, rocky cliffs and pounding waves span the coast for over 659 miles of breathtaking natural beauty.
Drive as far north as time permits. If possible, spend the night at a bed and breakfast in one of the many quaint little towns that dot the coast.
3. Go Swimming at the Annenberg Beach House
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst originally built an incredible 110-room mansion at this site for his mistress, Hollywood actress Marion Davies. Unfortunately, the original mansion has been demolished, but you can still tour the surviving guest house. The Annenberg Beach House sits on five acres of beachfront that provides locals with the perfect spot to enjoy a day of fun in the sun.
For a small fee, you gain access to the spacious pool, a playground for kids, beach chairs and a volleyball net. The beach house offers reasonably priced yoga, dance, and even synchronized swimming courses. Have lunch at one of the many picnic tables that are situated right on the beach. You can bring your own food or order from the onsite restaurant.
If possible, go on a Monday. The pool will be less crowded, and you’ll get in for half of the usual admission cost.
Practical Information: Pool season runs from June 14th through September 29th. The pool opens at 10 am and costs $10 for adults and $4 for children. Convenient parking at the adjacent lot costs only $12 per day.
4. Have a sandwich at Bay Cities Italian Deli
Conveniently located between Broadway and Colorado Avenue, Bay Cities Italian Deli has been serving the Santa Monica community since 1925. Choose from a mouth-watering array of authentic Italian subs, or create a customized sandwich from their immense selection of cold cuts, gourmet cheeses, fresh bread, handmade pasta and traditional garnishes.
Practical Information: Deli hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. Bay City is closed on Mondays.
5. Hike in the Santa Monica Mountains
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area comprises over 500 miles of hiking trails through pristine California wilderness. The easy Solstice Trail wanders just over two miles through the forest to a waterfall and the ruins of an abandoned ranch house. For experienced trekkers, the Backbone trail remains one of LA’s most popular long-distance hiking trails.
Check with the National Park Service website for current information about closures and regulations.
6. Shop for Treasures at Santa Monica’s Antiques Market
The Santa Monica Airport Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market proudly claims a spot among the top ten flea markets in the United States. Every other Sunday morning, locals head to the Santa Monica airport to peruse the extensive collection of antiques and oddities on display.
If you’re looking for something extra special and want to get a jump on the crowds, opt for early admission on the fourth Sunday market day.
Practical Information: The market takes place on the first and fourth Sunday of every month from 8 am to 3 pm. Admission for the first Sunday is $4. Fourth Sunday early admission is from 6-8 am, and costs $7. The market charges $5 for regular Sunday admission. Children get in for free. Leashed dogs are permitted. The market offers free parking.
7. Bike to Venice Beach on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail
No trip to the Los Angeles area can be complete without a visit to Venice Beach, the counter-culture capital of Los Angeles. You can get there with a short bike ride up the paved 22-mile bike trail, locally referred to as “the Strand.”
Venice Beach showcases the wonderful cultural diversity of southern California. Skateboarders will want to join in with talented Dogtown athletes at the nearby skate park. Do a little souvenir shopping with the local street vendors. Say “hello” to local legend Harry Perry who will be skating around while playing Jimi Hendrix songs on his electric guitar.
Practical Information: Remember to tip the street artists that make Venice Beach such a unique place to visit. You can rent bicycles all over Santa Monica. Shop around because bike rental prices vary. You should be able to rent a bike for the entire day for under $20.
Once you’ve had your fill of eccentric characters and bohemian pleasures at Venice, you can continue along the bike trail through Redondo and Hermosa to Torrance County Beach.
8. Pay Homage to the Great Poet Charles Bukowski at a Neighborhood Bar
When the brightness of the California sun gets to be too much for you, step inside the dark interior of BarKowski, and celebrate the life of LA’s most literary misanthrope, Charles Bukowski.
SaMo writers and artists come to this laid-back, retro 60s dive bar to unwind after work. You’ll be surrounded by friendly locals telling jokes and launching debates about the finer points of the poet’s prolific body of work. BarKowski offers an extensive beer menu, a pool table and a dartboard.
9. Visit McCabe’s Guitar Shop
While you’re in the area, stop by McCabe’s Guitar Shop just up the street from BarKowski’s. McCabe’s specializes in acoustic stringed instruments including exotic Celtic bouzoukis and Indian sitars. If you happen to be a picker, you’ll run into plenty of people to jam with at McCabe’s. The store also hosts regular music performances.
10. Learn Circus Arts at the Trapeze School at the Santa Monica Pier
Are you looking for a new kind of adrenaline rush? Book a lesson at The Trapeze School of New York. The school offers courses for beginners through advanced levels. Three expert trapeze and aerial ballet artists teach each 10-person class so that you get plenty of individual attention from instructors. You can buy a USB filled with pictures of your experience for $35.
Practical Information: Wear comfortable clothing, including socks. You’ll be swinging outdoors in the Santa Monica sunshine, so bring sunscreen. Check with the school for medical restrictions. Refunds can be difficult to obtain, so make sure that you’re ready for this experience before booking online.
11. Take a free yoga class
You’ll probably have some sore muscles after your foray into the trapeze arts. Why not stretch them out in a yoga class? Yoga classes abound all over SaMo, and you can attend some of them without paying a dime.
Every Saturday morning at 9 am, Roga at the Pier offers free yoga classes for all levels. Roga starts the day out with an optional 8 am run. If you’re not quite ready to leave the hotel, Santa Monica-based power yoga guru Bryan Kest has got you covered with a seven-day free trial of his online yoga classes.
Practical Information: Bring your own mat. Go early or book online because classes fill up quickly.
12. Take in a Show
Theaters and comedy clubs abound in Santa Monica. The Santa Monica Playhouse has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Stand-up acts regularly perform at Westside Comedy Center just behind the promenade. You can even test your skills at one of the center’s improv classes.
13. Workout at the Original Muscle Beach
Southern Californians love to workout. The original Muscle Beach located on the south side of the Santa Monica Pier started as a practice area for acrobats who were acting in movies in the 1930s. When the bodybuilding movement started to become popular in the 1950s, star athletes like Jack Lalanne and Joe Gold made Muscle Beach the place to be for fitness-oriented folks. Today Muscle Beach continues to attract bodybuilders, acrobats and gymnasts.
If an intellectual workout suits you better, play a few games at the nearby International Chess Park.
14. Buy Organic Fruits and Vegetables at the Farmer’s Market
Exercise comprises only a portion of a healthy California lifestyle. To truly live like a local, you’ll need to stop by Santa Monica’s fabled Farmer’s Market on a Wednesday or Saturday and pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables.
15. Boogie Down at Harvelle’s Blues Club
Harvelle’s has been showcasing Santa Monica’s best blues and burlesque since they opened in 1931. Blues, jazz, R&B, funk and hip-hop acts are served up with a healthy dose of the kind of southern-style grit that’s expected of an authentic blues joint.
Musicians can join in on the weekly jam night with the house band. Harvelle’s also welcomes new musicians at their free Happy Hour Singer-Songwriter events.
16. Do Some Fishing from the Santa Monica Pier
Despite the crowds, locals regularly spend relaxing days fishing off the Pier. Buy everything you need at the Pier Bait and Tackle store nearby. If you happen to be there on a Thursday, stay for a free Twilight Concert.
17. Take in the View from Palisades Park
Just a short stroll up from the Pier, Palisades Park offers the best views of the beach and the Santa Monica mountains. Spend a leisurely day admiring the public sculpture and sampling goodies from the food trucks that surround the park.
18. Go Gallery Hopping
Santa Monica boasts a thriving arts scene. The Bergamot Station Arts Center contains multiple galleries including the Santa Monica Museum of Art. The Getty Villa displays works of ancient Greek and Roman art surrounded by expertly cultivated botanical gardens. The 18th Street Arts Center hosts regular art openings with works from the artists involved in its award-winning artist residency program.
You’ve knocked on the Golden Door and spent your days in Santa Monica living like a California native. Now you can catch your flight while humming a Grateful Dead tune just like a local. Tell your friends back home “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
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