Top 10 Things To Do and See in Santa Monica

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Los Angeles is a big city, both by population and by the area it covers. Despite its growing population, it’s still relatively spread out and low-density. If you’re visiting the Los Angeles area for the first time, it’s useful to think of greater Los Angeles as a series of neighborhoods, not one big city. In L.A., however, the neighborhoods are really independent cities of their own. One of the most beautiful cities in the greater Los Angeles area is Santa Monica. You can arrange Santa Monica car rental right at LAX when you fly in. You might find better lodging deals in less popular neighborhoods, but you’ll find everything from shopping to beaches to nightlife, all within easy walking distance of the city’s main attractions.

When most people think of Santa Monica, they think of the famous Santa Monica Pier. But the area has a lot more to offer, whether you want to spend a fun day or a whole week. Besides being a beautiful seacoast spot, Santa Monica has a relaxed, laid-back, friendly vibe. It’s easy to feel like a local after just a few hours of poking around. Here’s a list of the Top 10 Things To Do and See while you’re in Santa Monica from your friends at Value Rental Car:

Santa Monica Pier

No mention of visiting Santa Monica landmarks would be complete without a mention of the Santa Monica Pier. The pier is great fun whether you’re a young, single person or a family with small children. It’s not a huge destination like Disney World or one of the other amusement parks in the greater Los Angeles area. You can see the whole thing in half an hour if you’re in a hurry, but there are so many things to do you can spend several days if you like.

The Santa Monica pier juts out into the Pacific Ocean, so it’s a great place to catch a cool breeze on a hot day. Of course there is lots more to the pier than watching the waves. There’s an arcade, carnival rides, souvenir stands, restaurants, food stalls, and even concerts and movies. If you’ve got a big family in the back of your Santa Monica rental car, you’ll appreciate the free admission to the pier’s attractions. You will have to pay for each ride on the famous Ferris wheel, and any of the other dozen or so rides. Still, it’s a bargain.

Santa Monica Beach

The Los Angeles area has a lot of beaches. The Santa Monica Beach is probably the most popular beach there is. It’s not quite as picturesque as some other nearby beaches. The beach is basically a very wide, flat expanse of sand between the Pacific Coast Highway and the waves. It’s really big, and even when it’s crowded, there’s plenty of room to relax and sunbathe. The swimming is first-rate, and you can take surfing lessons to increase your fun.

There are many parking lots within an easy walk to the seashore. There are several pedestrian bridges straddling the highway that make crossing to the sand a breeze. The beach has a lot of amenities that many beaches lack. There are a dozen public restrooms, many with showers. There are a handful of volleyball courts on the shore, great for playing or just watching. If you have a family in tow, you’ll appreciate the playgrounds and gymnastic equipment in several places along the shore. There are lots of picnic tables, but no fire pits. You’ll find lifeguards on duty during the day, so swimming and surfing is safer than at some out-of-the -way beaches in the area.

Marvin Braude Beach Trail

If you want to roll along the beach instead of sunning yourself, you’ll love the Marvin Braude Beach Trail. Good luck asking the locals for it by name, though. Everyone in Santa Monica just calls it “The Strand.” It’s a 20-mile ribbon of pavement that runs from nearby Will Rogers State Park to Torrance. You can park your rental car at any number of lots along the strand, and rent bicycles or skates to make the scenery pass by faster. There are a handful of skate and cycle rental stalls right at the Santa Monica Pier as well. Here’s a nifty video of a ride down The Strand:

Museum of Flying

The Museum of Flying is housed at the Santa Monica Airport. It has a nice blend of educational exhibits and fun activities to amuse visitors of all ages. The museum was founded by Donald Douglas Junior in 1976. It contains many examples of planes made by the Douglas Aircraft Co. The exhibits are interesting to look at, and some are interactive. You can climb into the cockpit of a cargo plane, and for a nominal fee, you can also enjoy the Maxflight Simulator. Unlike flying simulators designed for home computers or gaming consoles, the simulator also physically pitches and rolls as you steer it. It will even turn all the way around if you do a barrel roll. Catch a guided tour for the most fun.

Annenberg Community Beach House

The Annenberg Beach House looks like a private country club, but it’s open to the public and has no membership fees. It’s more of a community recreation location than tourist destination, but all are welcome. There’s a wide range of activities available, including swimming in their historic pool, tennis, volleyball, splash pad, and various cultural events. There’s also a game room that’s perfect for children who’ve had enough fun and sun outside. You can also rent a stand up paddle board for use in the ocean just outside the beach house fence.

Third Street Promenade

The Third Street Promenade is one of the liveliest pedestrian malls anywhere in Los Angeles. Over the years, many of the food stalls and quaint local shops have been pushed out by franchise stores and eateries, but the promenade is still a great place for people watching, strolling, and shopping. The Third Street Promenade is especially fun after sunset, with lots of buskers along the walking route. There’s also a walking tour of the area held by the Santa Monica Walking Tours every Saturday morning.

Bergamot Station

The Bergamot Station is a funky converted warehouse space that houses numerous art galleries and related cultural activities. It’s not within walking distance of the seaside attractions we’ve listed, but it’s easy to get to from the 10 Freeway in your Santa Monica car rental, and there’s lots of parking nearby.

The warehouse buildings are huge, and cover an 8-acre area. The location is named after the trolley station that served the area, and a flower that grows in the area. It’s been an art complex since 1994, and  is currently the largest attraction of its kind in California. It’s fun to visit any or all of the forty or so art galleries at Bergamot, and there’s a cafe onsite if you want to make a day of it. The Bergamot has recently been purchased, and it’s soon to be known as the 26th Street Art Center. The new owners plan to keep the existing galleries, plus add new 120-room hotel.

The Santa Monica Playhouse

Other theaters in the Los Angeles area are better known than the Santa Monica Playhouse. However, The Santa Monica has the best live entertainment for children and families in the city. The playhouse is modestly sized, but has a long pedigree of entertaining productions since it was founded in 1960 by local actors, including the actor who starred in TV’s Gunsmoke. You can also sign up kids and teens for theater workshops that will help them with their budding performance skills.

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is a throwback attraction. It’s a small, interactive aquarium that’s short on big exhibits but big on fun. Admissions ranges from cheap for adults to free for kids under 12, so it’s an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon if you have a big group to amuse. The aquarium stressed education about marine conservation, but it’s more fun than a typical aquarium. There are over 100 exhibits, and many allow you to touch the fish, shellfish, and plants on display. You’ll have to plan your excursion to the aquarium to make sure they’re open. They’re closed to the public on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays to make way for local school groups.

The Broad Stage

The Broad Stage is a large (500+ seats) venue located at Santa Monica College. It’s a state of the art performing arts space that has everything from traditional stage plays to avant-garde music performances. There are actually two stages at the Broad (pronounced “Brode”), including a smaller stage called The Edye. It’s a less casual place than the Santa Monica Playhouse, but it still has lots of performances that are suitable for the whole family. If you’re searching for directions, be sure to avoid confusing the Broad Stage for the Broad Museum. They’re both named after the same patrons.

Value Rental Car has Santa Monica car rental rates that can’t be beat. Rent a car at LAX, and you’ll be able to visit all the attractions that nearby Santa Monica has to offer!

Photo courtesy of the The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division