Things to do in Santa Monica

Best Santa Monica Beaches

Swim, surf, sail, and see the sights to your heart's content at Santa Monica's best beaches.

The beauty of Santa Monica's beaches is hardly a hidden secret. After all, it's what this city by the sea is known best for, and visiting them is often one of the most popular things to do in Santa Monica, CA.

With sights that inspire the hearts of artists like us and endless opportunities for adventures, these seaside wonders are worth visiting while you're in Santa Monica.

Popular Beaches

At the most popular Santa Monica beaches, you get the authentic, local experience. Despite being crowded, these must-see beaches will have you jumping for joy.

1. Santa Monica State Beach

One of the most popular beaches in the area is Santa Monica State Beach, just over a mile from downtown, and it's no wonder why. With 3.5 miles of shoreline, there's plenty of space to plant your feet in the soft, golden sand for a day of fun in the California sun.

In the heart of the beach is the iconic Santa Monica Pier. With an aquarium, arcade, and full amusement park on the boardwalk, this beach is truly an all-day, family-friendly affair.

We recommend hopping on the roller coaster. While zipping down the winding tracks, you'll be greeted with some of the most unconventional views of Santa Monica Bay. While you're here, check out some of the best Santa Monica Pier restaurants for a genuine culinary adventure.

Photographer: Mathias Paulet

2. Sorrento Beach

Get the whole ocean shebang at Sorrento Beach, from sunbathing and surfing to swimming. For these reasons—and many more—it's one of our favorite places to chill out and unwind in between shows.

Situated a mile from the heart of the city and the Santa Monica Pier, it has a prime location alongside Palisades Beach and Ocean Avenue. This beach features vast, sunny shores, and you'll love soaking up the rays as the salty breeze blows through your hair.

If you have kids in tow, stop by the North Beach Playground on your way to the shore. Children can climb the massive rope nets to see everything they'll soon experience once they reach the sand.

Family-Friendly Shores

Beachside escapades are some of the best family-friendly affairs around. After all, what's not to love about getting down in the sand with your kids and combing for shells? Visit these beaches to make memories that last a lifetime.

3. Dockweiler State Beach

How do sandcastles, bonfires, and s'mores sound? Dockweiler Beach has 288 acres to explore, and it's just a 7-mile drive from downtown. It has showers and restrooms, along with plenty of picnic facilities for when hunger strikes.

But it's truly unique because it has the only RV campground on the beach in LA County. At the campground, you'll find full indoor facilities, including restrooms, hot showers, and a laundry room.

This beach is right next to Los Angeles International Airport. Whether that's a pro or a con for your family is up to you. Some children may delight in seeing planes zoom overhead, while others may find the noise distressing. But if you can deal with the roaring jets above, you'll be treated to an unforgettable adventure.

4. Playa del Rey Beach

Playa del Rey Beach is just north of Dockweiler State Beach, and it's the perfect setting for a seaside stroll through soft sands. It's quieter than its southern neighbor, which attracts families with younger children who want to avoid the crowds.

Sure, you can spend your day playing volleyball or exploring along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, but the giant playground catches children's attention. It's loaded with fun, nautical-themed equipment and has shades over the climbing structures, making it a prime choice on particularly sunny days.

5. Manhattan Beach

At Manhattan Beach, you'll find 2.1 miles of sand alongside a cement path perfect for biking or pushing a stroller. It's around a 30-minute drive from downtown Santa Monica, but it'll be worth it once you arrive. Surfers are often out with their boards, especially around the northern section.

At the end of the pier, you'll find the Roundhouse Aquarium Teaching Center. It's free, although donations are accepted, and children revel in the chance to get up close and personal with marine life. Here, they'll get to peer into what life is like under the sea for over 100 species. Some are even safe to touch.

Photographer: Jake Blucker

6. Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach sits on the edge of Santa Monica Bay, about 19 miles from downtown. With nearly two miles of ocean frontage, it's perfect for swimmers and excellent for surfers. The beach attracts a lot of attention from tourists and locals alike, and the briny breeze elevates the experience, adding a laid-back vibe to an already leisurely location.

If you're looking for something unique to truly delight the littlest ones in your group, take a trip to the beach during winter. The county builds sand berms, big piles of sand bulldozed into hills, to stop damage from high winter tides and severe winter storms.

Brave the steep slopes with a sled and zip down to the bottom to get this beach's full experience.

Surfing Spots

The Santa Monica area is practically synonymous with surfing, and for good reason. These beaches offer the chance for beginners and pros to hang ten.

7. Venice Beach

Venice Beach is among the most popular destinations in the state, and it's just three miles from the heart of downtown. Yes, you can join in on some typical beach activities, such as swimming and surfing, but the real fun comes from the quirky vibes it exudes.

Street performers look for chances to showcase their artistry along the boardwalk, while a popular skate plaza attracts swimwear-clad skaters. Its natural eccentricity and Bohemian influence attract surfers looking to embrace the lax atmosphere. The surf here is mellow and suitable for beginners to get their feet wet.

Don't worry if you didn't pack a surfboard. You'll find loads of rental shops ready to lend you one.

Photographer: Stephen Leonardi

8. Will Rogers Beach

Surfers seeking less crowded beaches make their way 3 miles north of downtown Santa Monica to Will Rogers Beach. It's our go-to spot when we need a quiet place to reflect.

While less popular than Venice Beach, there are still stretches of coastline to share, and on weekdays, it's pretty empty. The northeastern part of the beach often has some of the best opportunities to hang ten for beginners and pros alike.

When you need a break, settle in on the soft sand and see what the day has in store. Dolphins and whales call this stretch of the Pacific Ocean home and can sometimes be spotted performing aquatic acrobatics just off the shore.

The sunsets here are worth waiting for. They set the sky ablaze with colors that create a serene ambiance to reflect on your day.

Photographer: Sarah Sheedy

9. Sunset Beach

In the laid-back beach town of Huntington Beach, about a 40-mile drive from downtown Santa Monica, you'll discover a peaceful reprieve from the bustling Santa Monica lifestyle. It'll take about an hour to get to Sunset Beach by car, but you'll be glad you went.

With world-class surf breaks and miles of sand to meander through, it's the perfect low-key escape when you still want to get out on your board without contending with the crowds.

If you want a break from surfing, check out some local gear rentals to get a new perspective. You'll be kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding the day away before you know it.

Scenic Sunsets and Relaxing Retreats

At these relaxing beaches, outstanding sunsets and tranquil sights are the norm. Some offer exciting things to do in Santa Monica, while others beckon you to stop and appreciate their almost otherworldly beauty.

10. El Segundo Beach

El Segundo Beach is a true hidden gem, but probably not for the reason you'd think. Unlike the other beaches in the area, which offer all sorts of amenities, this one is pretty bare-bones. However, that's a big part of the appeal. It doesn't attract as much attention as more popular beaches, possibly because it sits in front of an oil refinery.

If you overlook the factory behind you, this beach offers stunning views and is often a quiet place for sunbathing and watching the sunset over the coastline. With a closing time of 10 p.m. and a prime location just 15 miles from downtown, you'll have ample time to watch the blazing colors fade into the night from your soft, sandy vantage point.

11. Malibu Lagoon State Beach

When it's time to get out of the city, Malibu Lagoon State Beach is the place to go. It's almost 12 miles from downtown, but well worth the trip. Getting to the shore is one of the most beautiful Santa Monica hikes, and the journey there is half the fun.

As you step onto the parking lot, you'll be greeted with views of the salt marsh. Following the trail through the shrubs and greenery, you'll eventually make your way to Malibu Lagoon and all the birds that love to sit on its surface.

Parts of the walk may be wet, but it should be manageable, barefoot or in sandals. Depending on the time of day, tide pools may sit exposed, nestled between sand and stones.

This expanse of beach is particularly suitable for aquatic sports, such as swimming and surfing. We recommend taking some time to sunbathe and appreciate the area's natural beauty.

12. Torrance Beach (RAT Beach)

With silky sands and rocky cliffsides towering overhead, Torrance Beach offers some of the region's most dramatic vistas. It's only 22 miles from downtown Santa Monica. Situated between Redondo Beach and Malaga Cove, it's affectionately known to locals as RAT (Redondo and Torrance) Beach.

This popular beach offers a concession stand, restrooms, and showers for a smooth visit. Here, you can swim, surf, or scuba dive. No matter what aquatic sport you enjoy, you can do it here.

Photographer: Alexander Simonsen

13. Redondo Beach

While visiting Torrance Beach, hop on over to Redondo Beach for even more stellar sights. This beach is 20 miles south of downtown Santa Monica. It was once a commercial port, but today, it's a thriving hub for tourists and beach-goers, featuring restaurants, shops, and live music.

Perhaps the most romantic part about it, however, is the esplanade on the shore, offering breathtaking views of the sunset. The colors here look larger than life, almost too vibrant to be real.

14. Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve

At Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve, you won't find the stereotypical Californian sandy beaches, but the views justify the 25-mile drive from downtown Santa Monica. Lace up your hiking boots and explore the uneven bluff edge through the grassy park.

A few rugged trails will grant you beach access, but they're steep and unsafe for young or inexperienced hikers. However, those who dare to follow the path down are greatly rewarded. Because it's such a struggle to get to the shore, it's often completely empty. Enjoy the solitude, or bring a friend along for the ride.

15. Lunada Bay Beach

Just south of Palos Verdes Estates Shoreline Preserve and about 27 miles from downtown Santa Monica sits Lunada Bay Beach, a ripe location for exploring. There are no restrooms or facilities here, but it's a chance to truly immerse yourself in nature.

Sitting atop the bluff, you can see straight out to Santa Catalina Island on the horizon, and it's stunning at sunset. For a more awe-inspiring adventure, take the steep trails down the bluff to the bay and travel north.

In 1961, an enormous freighter collided with the Palos Verdes Peninsula on a particularly foggy day. The SS Dominator's remains remain there today, rusted and worn from the sea's constant onslaught but still quite visible during low tide.

16. Cabrillo Beach

Visiting Cabrillo Beach takes you on a 31-mile journey outside Santa Monica into the Long Beach area. From whale watching to aquatic sports and lounging in the sun, your opportunities are endless, just the way we like them.

At the end of whale watching season comes a particularly exciting time. During the full and new moons, grunions emerge and venture out onto the sand. They lay their eggs there by the moonlight (or lack thereof), and visitors are free to watch and even catch some fish by hand.

During this spectacular season, people flock to the sands in droves with flashlights to catch a glimpse of the miraculous event.

Discover the Best of Santa Monica's Shores: A Beach for Every Mood

No matter what you're hoping to get out of your beach adventure, Santa Monica has one to meet and exceed your expectations. Adventurers rejoice at the opportunity to explore the region's rugged, untamed beauty. Families cheer as they frolic through the soft, shimmering sands, and surfers hang ten at every opportunity.

While you're in town, treat yourself to one of our shows in Santa Monica. Our stories take you on out-of-this-world journeys, and our dazzling displays and expert craftsmanship ease you into disbelief.

Each show is an opportunity to evoke thrills and cheers as our daring performers show off their bravery, hanging in midair high above the stage. It's a chance to open your mind to a universe that knows no limits, where our skills blow your expectations away.

Every moment, we defy conformity and push limits far beyond what seems possible, immersing you in the moment and taking you along for the ride.

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