Over the years, Santa Monica has never lost its beach town soul, even as it has become more glamorous with luxury beachfront hotels, sophisticated restaurants, and high-end boutiques. Today you can experience the best of both worlds: broad California beaches with surfing and volleyball, plus a sophisticated, city-within-a-city scene. On your next visit, try some of Santa Monica’s ultimate experiences.
Wake up by the beach in a stylish hotel
If you’ve ever dreamed of your own beach cottage, it probably felt a bit like Shutters on the Beach. Effortlessly chic, this gray-shingled hotel’s bright and breezy rooms are both relaxed and elegant, with balconies overlooking the expansive sands of Santa Monica’s beach. Hang by the pool or rent a beach cruiser at the hotel, then set out on the bike path that stretches for 22 miles along the shore. Shutters is just one of many high-end resorts to choose from in Santa Monica; other fantastic options include Casa Del Mar, Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, and the Viceroy Santa Monica.
Take a stroll along a historic pier
A lot of fun begins where Route 66 ends, on the landmark Santa Monica Pier. Its neon gateway sign is one of Southern California’s most recognizable icons, and the pier, which opened in 1909, puts you out over the surf, with spectacular views up and down the coast. Go for a spin on the beautifully preserved 1922 Looff Hippodrome carousel and catch a glimpse of the world beneath the waves at the Heal the Bay Aquarium (the former Santa Monica Pier Aquarium).
Enjoy old-school fun at Pacific Park
With its updated roller coasters and bumper cars, Pacific Park, on the Santa Monica Pier, brings the classic amusement park experience into a new era. The West Coast’s only amusement park on a pier, Pacific Park has an arcade where you can fine-tune your skills at Whac-A-Mole or the Balloon Bust. Then take a ride and enjoy incredible coastal panoramas on the Pacific Wheel, the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel.
Escape to a bungalow on the bluffs
Inspired by both Santa Monica’s chilled-out vibe and the romance of a Baja California-style casita, The Bungalow is the beach life incarnate. With its raftered ceilings, funky furnishings, and game room, this hideaway on the grounds of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is like a private beach club—as conceived by surfers. Hang out on the patio with a craft cocktail as you take in one of Santa Monica’s unforgettable sunsets.
Browse the Third Street Promenade
With an all-star retail lineup that includes the likes of Lululemon, Abercrombie & Fitch, and a spectacular Apple Store, the open-air Third Street Promenade is a shoppers’ paradise. Browse the stores as you walk this vehicle-free thoroughfare, where busking musicians serenade passersby and the fantastical topiary dinosaurs add a whimsical touch. Afterward, if you have children in tow, check out the Cayton Children’s Museum—it’s right across the street.
Also, don’t miss…
Art lovers will definitely want to stop at the 26th Street Art Center, aka Bergamot Station, a onetime water-heater factory and warehouse complex that’s now home to one of Southern California’s leading collection of galleries. And for high-end fashions in a low-key setting, go to Montana Avenue, where you’ll find cool boutiques, restaurants, and a good chance of spotting a few A-list celebrities.