Things to do in Santa Monica

Santa Monica’s Pier Restaurants

It’s time for supper by the sea. Eat, drink, and be merry at these restaurants on the Santa Monica Pier.

Tourists, A-list celebrities, families, bachelor and bachelorette parties, couples on dates — they all know that one of the best things to do in Santa Monica is to head down to the Santa Monica Pier.

While you’re there, a scrumptious meal is practically a requirement. From celebrity-favorite haunts to food carts offering quick eats on demand, these Santa Monica Pier restaurants are everything your oh-so-discerning palate has been waiting for.

Seafood

Seafood dishes and waterfront dining go together, like clams, oregano, ahi, and avocado. On the Santa Monica Pier, you can eat fresh, tasty fish and crustacean dishes.

1. The Albright

Yunnie and Greg Morena run a tight ship at The Albright, a pier restaurant that first launched in 1977. The menu focuses on sustainable seafood and local California ingredients, and the drinks menu, replete with craft beer and wine, follows the same ethos.

Appetizers lead the way, such as a crispy calamari dish with chipotle aioli and Baja ceviche with mahi-mahi and shrimp. Then come classics, such as fish and chips and seared salmon with arugula pesto.

Splurge on fresh seafood, charged according to market pricing. Raw oysters come straight from the boat. Whole lobsters, Dungeness crab, and rock crab wait their turn in The Albright’s in-house saltwater tank. Add drawn butter and a little corn on the cob, and enjoy your feast!

Photographer: Kawai So

2. Rusty’s Santa Monica Pier

Rusty’s Santa Monica Pier is a sister restaurant to The Albright. It has the same management team, but Rusty’s has a more party-ready feel versus the laid-back loungey vibe you get down the street. People come here to eat, drink, and party, especially when karaoke and DJ-led jams kick up on the weekends.

An outdoor patio helps increase capacity and allows you to take your kicked-back chats outside. The menu is an accessible mishmash of savory appetizers, fresh salads, and entrées, such as penne pesto pasta and grilled salmon with lemon butter sauce.

Come by during happy hour for nacho fries, fried pickles, and coconut-crusted shrimp with Thai chili dipping sauce. All are priced to encourage doubling up, and they go perfectly with signature cocktails, such as Rusty’s Nosotros Mezcal Ruby Red Paloma (tart and fruity) and Tennessee Mint Peach Tea (whiskey with an herbal peach punch).

3. The Lobster

We’ll give you three guesses of what The Lobster seafood restaurant specializes in, but we bet it’ll only take you a second to figure out how tasty dinner here can be. The Lobster opened its doors at the corner of Ocean Avenue and the Santa Monica Pier in 1923, giving it a century-long track record of culinary excellence.

Its position at the western end of Route 66 makes the restaurant an icon for travelers who come for the name and stay for the grub. And boy, is that grub good.

An oyster sampler, Santa Barbara uni with lemon and ponzu, and Nantucket Bay scallops with scallion-ginger marinade and smoked roe showcase Chef Govind Armstrong’s penchant for balanced dishes with lots of seafood-friendly acid.

Continue with steamed or grilled Maine lobster, black chitarra pasta, or a big plate of crab-fried rice with hot honey rainbow carrots on the side. Cocktails come with quirky names, such as 99 Problems But a Peach Ain’t One and Khee to My Success.

Pair those with views of the Ferris wheel and pier on one side and palm trees on the other for a nice setup indeed.

4. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

You may recognize the name of this Santa Monica Pier food emporium from a little movie called Forrest Gump. What started as a fictional restaurant chain evolved into a real line of eateries dubbed Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

The menu takes cues from the movie’s Southern setting. (Forrest was born and raised in Alabama.) Movie memorabilia lines the restaurant’s walls. As for the food itself, expect shrimp cooked in every way and with every accompaniment imaginable — as far as Southern cuisine goes.

This restaurant’s chefs steam shrimp in beer, stir it into mac and cheese, serve it chilled with cocktail sauce, batter it, fry it, and make it into gumbo. The occasional piece of flame-grilled salmon and earth-bound options, such as pork ribs and fried chicken, ensure there’s something for everyone.

But let’s face it — we’re all here for the shrimp — and maybe that Box O’ Chocolates for dessert. You may not know what you'll get, but we bet it’ll be delicious.

Photographer: Christopher Stark

American Cuisine

Get a slice of Americana — and maybe a slice of BBQ chicken pizza to go along with it — at these restaurants built on the down-home cookin’ and comfort food we know and love.

5. Big Dean’s Ocean Front Café

If you plunked your favorite neighborhood sports bar on the Santa Monica Pier, it might look and feel like Big Dean’s Ocean Front Café. A whopping 23 TVs are positioned around the restaurant, all tuned in to whatever big-time sporting events are on the docket.

The food is what you’d hope for when you’re starving by the seventh-inning stretch or celebrating your team’s latest touchdown. Buffalo wings, world-famous burgers, tacos, seafood baskets, and sandwiches make it easy to eat with one hand and point at the screen with the other.

Draft beers come in 20- and 32-ounce sizes, and there are specialty beverages (hard seltzer, cider, etc.). Nonalcoholic options are also available. And with the pier’s carousel practically across the street, you can go for a ride at Pacific Park, refresh at Big Dean’s, and be back exploring before you know it.

6. Pier Burger

Sometimes, all you want is a simple burger and a milkshake. At Pier Burger, simplicity and flavor happily coexist on a short, sweet, and totally tempting menu. The menu includes three burger options, the same number of hot dogs to try, crispy chicken and local sea bass on buns, as well as a mix of adult and nonalcoholic beverages.

Finish with a milkshake, float, or Pier’s signature concretes — the unique blend of chocolate custard, chocolate chunks, Oreo cookies, and M&M's will make your sweet tooth jump up and say hooray.

Photographer: Enric Cruz López

7. Seaside on the Pier

Seaside on the Pier is the next best thing to a picnic on a Santa Monica beach. As a bonus, you won’t even have to examine every bite of your salad for sand. It all starts with brunch. Here, you can scarf down a breakfast burrito or a syrup-doused pile of buttermilk pancakes with a mimosa or michelada.

Later on, the menu shifts to lunch and dinner favorites. It's brimming with crab cakes with lemon-caper remoulade, a lobster BLT, burgers, pizza, and entrées, such as chicken alfredo and 12-ounce rib-eye steaks.

The rooftop bar ups the ambiance when you nurse your post-dinner cocktails at sunset, all made even better thanks to a panoramic view of the pier and beach.

Mexican Cuisine

It’s less than a three-hour drive from Santa Monica to Mexico, but we totally understand if you prefer to get your tacos and ceviche closer to home. These are authentic eats, too. There aren't any celebrity-touted Jidori chicken breast tacos or fusion flan to be seen.

Get ready to satisfy your craving for chips, salsa, and an icy-cold margarita at one of these Mexican restaurants on the Santa Monica Pier.

Photographer: Jarritos Mexican Soda

8. MariaSol Cantina

The team at Santa Monica Pier's MariaSol brings the beachy cuisine of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas to the very end of the Santa Monica Pier. Sample dishes like crab enchiladas, ahi poke tostadas, carne asada wet burritos, and Puerto Nuevo lobster plates with the rolling waves as your soundtrack.

The agua frescas are fruity and refreshing, and the margaritas are so plentiful and diverse that you can order yours traditional, infused with jalapeño, or spiked with pomegranate liqueur.

The restaurant’s event room sits above the main dining room and is highly popular for special occasions. Family reunions, birthday parties, and graduation shindigs feel extra celebratory with the ocean in the background.

9. Blue Plate Taco

Your next Santa Monica Pier food fix could have some Baja spice if you decide to dine in at Blue Plate Taco. Owner Jenny Rush prioritizes organic and sustainably farmed ingredients that help bring even the most recognizable dishes to a new level of excellence.

Whether you’re sharing some poblano and corn queso dip and calamari frito or keeping an entire plate of barbacoa tacos to yourself (totally understandable), you’re bound to leave Blue Plate Taco with a belly as full as your heart.

10. Sol-Agave

As Restaurant Guru’s 2022 Best Mexican Restaurant, Sol-Agave in Santa Monica has a reputation to live up to — and it does that with aplomb. Although the concept began as a 17-foot food truck, there are now a slew of locations in Southern California, including the one by the Santa Monica Pier.

Dishes are full of fresh seafood, quality produce, and meats cooked in accordance with tradition. The guacamole sampler is a real crowd-pleaser. Each dollop of avocado dip is topped with langosta, carnitas, or a simple pico garnish. Fried calamari has a similar twist, this time courtesy of a queso fresco sprinkle and chipotle aioli.

Even tried-and-true entrées, like tenderloin medallions, have been reimagined with orange chipotle sauce, mango, and tamarind glaze. For seafood, try the pulpo. This octopus-based creation is smoky from time on the grill, while guajillo oil sauce, veggies, and champagne vinaigrette add character, crunch, and acidity.

Asian Cuisine

If you’re hungry for something beyond burgers and tacos, Asian cuisine might have the fire and spice you’ve been craving. Make a day of it by hitting the rides and kiosks by the pier during the day, then gorging on sushi and heading to venues with karaoke in Santa Monica.

11. Japadog

The humble hot dog gets a gourmet makeover at the Japadog food stand, an award-winning concept that introduces a high-end hot dog cart experience to the Santa Monica Pier. Japadog is a bridge between American and Japanese cuisine. At Japadog, the all-American hot dog is adorned with everything from teriyaki mayo to soba noodles.

The tonkatsu dog is a breaded hot dog smothered in cheese, while another option has pork sausages with seasoned rice and grilled beef. Side dishes and desserts are just as intriguing. Try some takoyaki balls, butter and shoyu french fries, or a matcha parfait.

If you still have room after your dog and fry spread, take a scoop of black sesame ice cream to go and savor the rich, nutty flavor as you meander down the pier.

12. Sushi Roku

Sushi Roku pays homage to the long-standing tradition of rolled sushi and fresh, carefully sliced sashimi. But the menu also takes some liberties, playing with flavors from Latin America and Europe. The resulting taste combinations have helped make the restaurant chain one of the most respected in the nation.

Imagine something as simple as a garden salad transformed by adding pears, almonds, and yuzu ginger dressing. Seared albacore with ponzu and crispy onions, burrata and cured salmon with walnuts and fresh dill vinaigrette, and popcorn shrimp rolls with asparagus and wasabi truffle soy — every bite more surprising than the last.

Drinks are similarly inventive, and the mocktails are particularly adventurous. We recommend you try the Zen Garden. The muddled cucumber, pineapple, mint, citrus juice, and tonic water are the right amount of refreshing after a day spent in the sun.

Photographer: Louis Hansel

13. KazuNori - The Original Hand Roll Bar

KazuNori restaurant calls itself The Original Hand Roll Bar and has even registered a trademark for the moniker. Hand rolls are crispy sheets of nori wrapped around warm rice and a strategic assembly of top-notch ingredients.

There are two ways to order. You can walk up to the counter and buy portable eats, such as 3-hand roll combos, sashimi, and hand rolls sold à la carte.

It also has a to-go menu with a toro bento box and a hand roll kit with enough goodies to make 20 hand rolls. It sounds like the perfect setup for a Japanese beach picnic on the shores of California, and we're here for it!

Open-Air Pier Restaurants

Not all Santa Monica Pier restaurants are sit-down affairs. Among many wonderful things to do in Santa Monica, one of the best (and easiest) options is to simply head to the beach and see what happens. Check out the little shops, play some games, go on some rides, and satisfy your hunger with snacks from one of these convenient kiosks.

14. Hot Dog on a Stick

Hot Dog on a Stick is an institution. Although the eatery is probably best known for its mall kiosks, it’s a perfect fit for the fun, festival-like atmosphere at Santa Monica Pier. As the name suggests, its main offering is a skewered hot dog dunked in batter and fried.

It’s a highly portable treat that’s also ridiculously tasty. Add a hand-stomped lemonade and a bucket of fries, and you’re good to walk at least another couple of miles.

15. Soda Jerks

Step back in time with a treat for two (or just for you) at Soda Jerks, an old-style soda fountain serving all kinds of sweets. A classic malted is a no-brainer, especially if you plop in two straws and share it with your sweetheart.

It also has sundaes, some with hot fudge and others decorated with swirls of raspberry sauce, coffee syrup, and hot caramel. Finish with a dusting of potato chips or pistachios for good measure.

The “fountain service” menu is one of the most special and nostalgic offerings on or near the pier. Flavored cokes, soda pop, egg creams, rickey’s (soda water with cherry or lime syrup), and phosphates. It’s a trip down memory lane for older generations and a chance to find new favorites for everyone else.

A Feast to Remember: The Culinary Delights of Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier has restaurants of all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking for a quick snack on a stick, steak and potatoes, or a sushi roll with Brazilian influences, you can find it all here within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean.

Cap off a dream weekend by the sea with an even dreamier night at the theater. Our groundbreaking shows are packed with surreal storylines and edgy acrobatics that are as thrilling as they are inspiring. Book tickets for our shows in Santa Monica today and revel in the unexpected.

More articles about