A Tourist’s Guide to Santa Monica & Surrounding Areas

June 25, 2020
by Paul Gamble

So you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles. Maybe you’ll stay right in the center of Hollywood and commute out, or stay near the airport. How big is Los Angeles county exactly? It’s huge. How far are we from the beach if we stay in Downtown? About 15 miles. If I Get an Uber to Hollywood in the morning will I still be able to make it for dinner reservations that evening, and how far is The Getty Center from there? Well…  What’s Catalina Island?!?!?

There are a lot of questions to answer, and the hotel you choose when coming to visit Los Angeles will have a huge impact on how you feel about your vacation or business trip when all is said and done. Sure, everyone is different, and there usually isn’t a single answer for all. We’d rather not say that we are the exception to this rule, but we’re going to do it. We’ve spent a lot of time communicating with travelers from all over and learning about their successes or failures as Los Angeles tourists, and we think we’ve found the best way to go about it.

Simply put, the best way to experience Los Angeles is to get a hotel right here in Santa Monica. If you’ve already read enough of this long-winded article then please just take my word for it and go book your hotel.

Why should you stay in Santa Monica? You’re by the beach, out of the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, surrounded by the best restaurants, lots of walking and outdoor activities nearby, and centrally located to both the airport and Hollywood, while not too far from Anaheim (Disneyland) and the museums, boating, hiking, and everything else that makes up Los Angeles. There’s much more, so keep reading and let us really sell you on this one because it’s a winner.

 

Things to Do in Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a beach town. It’s beautiful with a vibrant history, but it all revolves around the ocean. This doesn’t mean you have to throw on a wet suit and dive off the end of the pier if you want to experience it, but it does mean you’ll need sunscreen because you are going to want to be in the sun and you’ll want to be as laid-back and relaxed as you can possibly be if you want to blend in.

Santa Monica is relatively small, most things can be reached by beginning at the Pier. From here you can walk to Venice Beach in about 10 minutes right along the sand and check out all of the shenanigans down there. Tons of active/leisure adventures like bike and scooter rentals to ride up and down the beautiful Marvin Braude Bike Trail that extends all the way from the Pacific Palisades all the way south through the entirety of Santa Monica to Torrance Beach. We aren’t suggesting you bike the whole trail, but a mile or two in Santa Monica or down to Venice is a ton of fun for the whole family. I’ll go into some individual details below and eventually continue on to our next topic, the convenience of the distance of everything from Santa Monica.

 

The Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier is the most obvious and glaringly fun amusement pier right in the heart of Santa Monica. It lights up at night and is open late, it’s a ton of fun for kids with bumper cars, carnival games, and the big ol’ ferris wheel. There’s even a little roller coaster that zips above the various amusements every 2-4 minutes.  Most of the popular hotels are centrally located around the pier, and so are the best restaurants, so you can start a day here and work your way out, or eat on the pier and watch the tide roll away.

Bike & Scooter (Motor & Pedal)

The Marvin Braude Bike Trail extends from the Palisades all the way down to Torrance Beach, which means it goes straight through Santa Monica. This trail is an awesome way to enjoy the afternoon, and there are a number of rental opportunities right around the Santa Monica Pier where you can get a bike, tandem bike, bike with baby seat, little car with 4 sets of pedals, little go-kart style cruisers with canopies, and all sorts of other stuff.

Shopping on the 3rd Street Promenade & Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica maintains a very chic scene and environment, and the shopping options in the city follow suit. There are also some neat dinosaur statues on the promenade, so if you have to bring some children along with you for the shopping spree you can always use the dinosaurs as a distraction. If that doesn’t sound like enough shopping for you, remember that Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is a 20 minute drive from Santa Monica.

The Beach Life

This isn’t a hard one to figure out. Get the sun screen & towels, rent a few umbrellas or bring your own and set yourself up with your family on the beach for an afternoon. The places that offer the umbrella rentals often can provide you with toys and games, as well as coolers and everything else you might need down on the sand. Get all spontaneous and head out there at least once!

*pro tip: turn on the AC in the hotel room after a long day on the beach for the ultimate in sleeping experience. Savvy travelers take advantage of tired children for a visit to their hotel’s bar/restaurant after dark.

Santa Monica Historic Sites

The Santa Monica Yacht Harbor Sign: One of the most recognized and notable historic sites in Santa Monica is right at the top of Samo’s Crown Jewel, the Sport Fishing & Boating sign at the top of the Santa Monica Pier. 

The Looff Hippodrome: Originally built in 1916 by Charles I. D. Looff to house one of their famous Looff carousels, and the building still stands on the Santa Monica Pier today below the aforementioned sign.

Casa Del Mar Hotel: Head back up to Ocean Avenue and stroll down a few blocks to arrive at Casa Del Mar. Originally constructed in 1926, this private beach house was one of the most successful beach clubs in Southern California ever between the 20s and 40s, attracting countless Hollywood celebrities and hit-makers.

Camera Obscura Santa Monica: The Santa Monica Camera Obscura building has been there at 1450 Ocean Avenue since 1955, and houses a camera obscura designed by Weldon J. Felton. This camera is publicly accessible, so head inside for a real treat on one of your walking trips.