Things to do in Santa Monica

Quirky and Unique Things to Do in Santa Monica

When in Santa Monica, do as the locals do. Embrace the quirky and weird and ride the vibes that make this city by the sea so unique.

We’ve always felt right at home in Santa Monica. It’s a city where innovation, charm, and artistry combine to create something larger than life. From parks that seamlessly blend urban and natural environments to shows that captivate you, this city is no stranger to pleasing all who visit.

When looking for unique things to do in Santa Monica, it’s only natural to want to explore its quirky and unusual side. Here, you can ride roller coasters by the seaside, take a long mountain hike, and find giant donut signs bigger than you.

Let’s jump in and explore all the fun things to do in this vibrant city.

Outdoor Adventures

The great outdoors beckons in and around Santa Monica. Its comfortable climate and stunning natural vistas make it a true paradise for hikers and nature lovers alike.

1. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Most people think of Santa Monica as a seaside gem, and it is! But, just north of it are the Santa Monica Mountains, where nature reigns supreme. The untamed lands of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area feature over 500 miles of trails, and they’re all at your beck and call.

When it’s time to take a break from the sand or the sprawling urban landscapes, explore the wilderness and experience Southern California in a new light. Hiking is by far the most common pastime here, but mountain biking and horseback riding are welcome as well.

You can control your own journey, whether you choose to hike down to the stunning Malibu shores or climb the mountains for unforgettable views. At the top, you can see for miles and be reminded of the vastness of this world.

Photographer: ronatory

2. Annenberg Community Beach House

Tourists and locals are welcome at the Annenberg Community Beach House. The historic pool offers spectacular coastline views, and you can soak in some rays on lounge chairs in the courtyard or spike a volleyball on the courts. While you’re visiting, glimpse into local heritage at the Marion Davies Guest House.

Members of the Santa Monica Conservancy await to guide you through the property’s grand history and the small art gallery on-site. The gallery showcases select works from the City of Santa Monica Art Collection and features local artists and their unique styles and mediums.

Community and cultural events are frequently hosted here, so keep your eyes open if you’re planning a trip.

3. Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square

Walking through Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square is like walking through the essence of Santa Monica condensed into one 6-acre space. Here, you’ll discover an eclectic blend of modern art sculptures interspersed with native greenery as you meander through winding trails.

The playground blends the natural and urban aspects of the park, with gently curved lines echoing the various works of art throughout the grounds. Slides are affixed to the slope of the hills amid miniature cliffs as if they were natural extensions.

Children love exploring and climbing these unique pieces, and parents can appreciate the artistry from their shaded vantage points along the sidelines. During the summer months, a splash pad adds a brief reprieve from the heat.

4. Marvin Braude Bike Trail

Santa Monica’s pristine weather practically begs bikers to get out and pedal as often as possible.

The Marvin Braude Bike Trail weaves through the entire city and connects it to other beachside towns in the area, making it a breeze to get around. It begins at Will Rogers State Beach and extends to Torrance County Beach, spanning 22 miles along the coast.

If you’re visiting and don’t have a bike with you, don’t sweat it. Visit one of the numerous bike rental shops throughout the area, and they’ll help you make your dreams of biking along the Pacific Ocean come true.

5. Santa Monica Stairs

Push yourself to your limit at the Santa Monica Stairs, where two sets of stairs take you nearly 110 ft. above the starting point.

This site may be one of the most unique things to do in Santa Monica — after all, how many places do you know where people visit just to climb the stairs? Locals love it as a free circuit for their cardio, doing laps up one staircase and down the other.

The wooden set goes straight up in three landings over a span of about 170 steps, and the 189 concrete steps take a more winding trail, turning left and right. Regardless of your path, you’ll probably feel the trek the following day.

Arts and Culture

Tourists and locals can explore Santa Monica’s rich culture through a series of arts centers and museums across the city. Unravel the tapestries of the stories that helped create the city we know and love at these hubs for arts and culture.

6. Bergamot Station Arts Center

Art lovers rejoice at the Bergamot Station Arts Center, the largest gallery on the West Coast. Visual and performing arts expand the facility, introducing visitors to the unique styles local artists embrace. You can find everything from fine art galleries to theater performances within these walls.

Each exhibit has its own suite; some may be open at different times or by appointment only. If you want to see a specific exhibit, we recommend checking out the schedule online before popping in.

Regular cultural activities and community events fill the calendar, inviting the public to connect with and embrace their artistic side. While you're here, check out The Crow's daily live comedy shows.

7. California Heritage Museum

Situated in a house on Main Street and surrounded by picturesque boutiques and galleries, the California Heritage Museum gives visitors a taste of local history.

The building is an 1894 historic landmark called the Roy Jones House. It’s one of the city’s few remaining Victorian-style mansions, and within it, you’ll discover a taste of life in the early 1900s.

As you explore, discover a revolving door of exhibits, which change frequently and showcase local art, history, and culture. During summer months, food trucks await, and on weekends, you’ll find the bustling farmers market right outside.

8. Museum of Flying

Santa Monica’s history is in the skies as much as the seas on its shores, and this is showcased at the Museum of Flying.

This museum has been part of the city’s vibrant cultural scene since 1974, when the second president of the influential Douglas Aircraft Company founded it. Since then, it's expanded dramatically, and its list of exhibits includes aircraft and other aviation artifacts.

It has an entire exhibit reserved as an interactive area for children to explore. If you’ve brought kids with you, they can fulfill their dreams of sitting in the cockpit of a real plane. From the communications area, you can listen to the local control tower radio while getting a front-row seat to the Santa Monica Airport’s runway.

Photographer: Artem_Apukhtin

9. 18th Street Arts Center

Discover what happens when creative minds come together at the 18th Street Arts Center. Home to one of the best artist residency programs in the country, the center's aim is to create meaningful, significant art to share with the public.

This artist community strives to subvert expectations and cultivate positive thinking and change. Kind of like we do. With so many innovators in one space, the exhibits are in constant flux. Many pieces only remain on display for a few months at a time before they’re replaced with something newer.

Fun for the Family

There’s no shortage of things for families to do in this grand city. From a day on the town exploring Santa Monica’s shopping scene to discovering what truly lives under the sea, everyone in your family, regardless of age, is bound to have a good time.

10. Heal the Bay Aquarium (Santa Monica Pier)

After a day exploring everything Santa Monica Pier offers, pop in for a quick visit at Heal the Bay Aquarium. It's nestled right underneath the pier at beach level under the historic carousel, and it’s worth seeing at least once.

You probably won’t need more than an hour or two to get through everything here, especially if you don’t have kids. However, you'll discover all sorts of local species within its walls.

This hidden gem emphasizes conservation efforts in the greater Santa Monica Bay area. For the last 18 years, it’s welcomed over 1 million people, helping to spread messages of advocacy and community action.

Photographer: Andrew Gwizdowski

11. Santa Monica Place Shopping Mall

Sure, you’ve been shopping before, but have you experienced Santa Monica shopping? What’s usually a fun adventure is taken to a whole new level. Explore a shopping district brimming with liveliness and more indoor and outdoor venues than you can reasonably expect to explore.

Santa Monica Place is in the heart of downtown and spans three levels. Here, trend-setting isn’t just encouraged; it's embraced. Explore family-friendly stores alongside those that cater to adults only — Snack under the warm sun or by starlight in the outdoor dining plaza.

This massive seaside mall hosts numerous community events throughout the year, including live local music.

Food and Drink

With vibrancy exuding from every street in Santa Monica, you don’t have to go far for good eating. Even something as simple as donuts can become a memorable experience in this city.

12. Randy’s Donuts

Since 1952, Randy’s Donuts has been one of the region’s most iconic restaurants. It’s not particularly fancy, but the donuts it sells are delectable and crafted using secret recipes and proprietary ingredients.

The expert craftsmanship behind the kitchen counter results in one of the airiest, fluffiest giant donuts you’ll ever sink your teeth into. You won’t be able to miss this notable restaurant.

Its massive rooftop donut sign is visible long before any other signs as you approach it down the street. Be sure to snap a few photos to commemorate your visit, then feast on some of the freshest donuts in Santa Monica or anywhere else.

Photographer: Minha Baek

13. The Misfit

On the ground floor of the iconic Clock Tower Building just blocks from the beach, you’ll find The Misfit. The city’s unique charms shine through, with effortlessly chic vibes melding with historic Art Deco architecture. While the building itself is a sight to behold, the food is the real star of the show.

Before 5 p.m., the whole family can enjoy the environment, but after that, it maintains a strict PG-13 rating, and no one younger than 18 is allowed to set foot inside. Expansive menus bring seafood and other typical Californian cuisines to life, honoring the diverse cultural history that influenced the local food scene.

The menu features fan favorites, such as chorizo mussels and clams prepared in a white wine sauce and jicama shrimp tacos served alongside avocado, corn slaw, and chipotle aioli.

14. The Bungalow Santa Monica

The Bungalow in Santa Monica opens its doors to grace all who enter its threshold with unforgettable dining five evenings per week. The entire ambiance is designed to foster creativity and romantic socialization.

Numerous dining rooms set the stage for the night, from the cozy Game Room with its unique patchwork flooring to the outdoor deck, where your meal will taste all the more delicious under the sky. Even the menu is no-nonsense, with offerings such as spicy fish tacos and carne asada fries.

Although the food is simple, you can’t beat the culinary journey you’ll take your taste buds on. Sometimes, down-to-earth is exactly what you need to elevate a good night to a great social experience. When you're done, top your night off with wine tasting in Santa Monica.

Entertainment

After a busy day bustling around at beaches and attractions, why not check out the thriving entertainment scene? We’re here for the laughs and grand performances you’ll find in this city.

15. Westside Comedy Theater

Laugh until you cry at the Westside Comedy Theater, where improv, stand-up, and sketch comedy reign supreme. Each show is unique in its combination of on-the-spot jokes and laughter. It all starts as the comedian reads and bounces off the audience to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

From amateur nights to improv competitions, the robust calendar of shows is the king of funny business. For a different take on a fun night, check out the comedy classes, where you’ll learn how to channel your own hilarity.

Even kids can get in on the action. Sign them up for a class, and they’ll learn how to think on their feet and create witty comebacks and one-liners sure to impress.

Photographer: Tumisu

Explore Beyond the Beach: What to Do in Santa Monica

Santa Monica truly has something for everyone, no matter what sparks joy. We’re in awe with how easy it is to go from the lax surfer vibes of the city’s beaches to the high-energy appeal of its dining and shopping scene.

We adore how a city that preserves and protects the land it’s on also knows how to put on a good time. That’s why we’re so fond of our shows in Santa Monica, where we show the same passion for what we love.

Every time we take the stage, we create worlds that seem impossible at first glance. We flip what’s expected on its head, subverting the typical expectations to advance our innovative imagination.

When we take the stage, there are no limits, and no dreams are too big to bring to life. If you say we can’t do it, we charge in head-on to prove we can, and we will. We’ll jump through hoops to create an unforgettable, awe-inspiring experience — literally. Don’t believe us? We’ll bend over backward to prove it.

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