Santa Monica Complete Travel Guide

Did you know, there’s a little gem on the west coast of California that comes alive at dawn? Santa Monica has long been attracting tourists from all walks of life. What fascinates me, however, is to visit the west coast’s only amusement park sitting on a pier by the beach. And so our first stop of a 2 weeks long coastal drive with a 5 months old baby begins here.

First Impression

Take a guess what striked me the most at first?

Homeless people. Lots of them.

My first impression of Santa Monica is how amazingly diverse this little town presented itself. Although I was taken back by the number of homeless people at first, it didn’t take long for me to lower my guard. I realised most of them are harmless, and just happily going about their days. There’s also an equal amount of police cars roaming around that actually made us feel quite safe.

First night, I didn’t sleep all night. Maybe it was the jet lag, or maybe it was the thrill of coming to a new place, I don’t know. While Kyra was still soundly asleep, I sneaked out to the beach long before sunrise, and took this shot.

Santa Monica sunrise

I met a local man flying his drone at sunrise. We shared the same sympathy towards the youths camping under a tree on the beach. He told me he flies drones as a hobby, quite often he can see whales and dolphins swim by from above. Looking up at the glowing clouds above my head, Santa Monica is stunningly beautiful, especially behind these alluring lights.

The rest of the family soon joined me. 100 meters to the beach from our hotel, we were opened up to a stretch of sand with a tiny ferris wheel rotating at the horizon. Coming from the bustling city of Los Angeles, this place screams lifestyle. We see locals walking dogs, kids riding bikes, couples cuddling on a hammock, tourists taking photos, mums doing yoga, mates on the monkey rings, hot girls showing off their flexibility on a trapeze, and of course the carefree wanderers minding their own business. It’s a vastly dynamic yet harmonious community enjoying the best of California!

Santa Monica diverse culture

If this is the first time you’re visiting Santa Monica, here are some useful information to guide you around.

Info On Demand

This is a free service organised by the concierge team, simply visit them at the visitor centre, or SMS 310-499-2928.

They can assist with:

  • Parking assistant
  • Events
  • Directions
  • General Info
  • Restaurant Recommendations

Getting Around

The Free Ride

Catch a ride any day of the week from 11:30 am to 9:00 pm. It’s always good to give them a heads up by sms 310-895-9204. Alternatively, you can simply hop on or wave them down at:

  • Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
  • Shutters on the Beach
  • Doubletree Suites Santa Monica
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Santa Monica Place
  • 3rd Street Promenade
  • Main Street

Big Blue Bus

Almost anywhere you’d like to go in Santa Monica, the Big Blue Bus (BBB) can take you there!

Cost: $1.25 (exact change only)

Tap Card is the most convenient way of travelling by public transport in LA, the card costs $1. You can top up and use it for buses and metro! Travel between LA and the coast with ease.

Plan your trip with Go Metro

Tap card

Rent A Bike

Every time we walk pass here, there’s always a line of people outside. Santa Monica Bike Center has all kinds of bikes to suit your group. Especially for families, you have so many options to choose from.

Santa Monica is safe to travel on bicycles, lots of fun exploring the parks and beaches. Best of all, it’s good for our health and our planet!

SM bike center

An alternative option is rent a bike from Breeze Bike Share.

SM Bike share

Hire A Car

This option is best suited for visitors stopping over at Santa Monica from a road trip. If you plan to stay for a couple of nights, I don’t really see the need for a car.

On Foot

Santa Monica has beautiful boardwalk right in the heart of where it’s all happening. Walk along the beach, walk to the pier and walk around the shops. They’re not far from one another, you’ll discover so much more by doing a bit of exercise.

Things To Do

We stayed in Santa Monica for 4 days, and I felt like we still missed out on a lot. Here are some ideas on what to do there. (sms concierge to confirm the dates and times!)

Visit the iconic Santa Monica Pier. (If travelling with baby, the boardwalk is very bumpy, I would recommend taking a baby carrier instead of a stroller.)

Take a free historical walking tour.
Farmers market is on every Wednesday, Saturday and Sun until 1pm on Main St.
Food truck is on Tuesdays from 5-10pm.
Bring a hammock, set it up on the beach and watch the most amazing sunsets.

Take a walk along the beach, and lose yourself in Pacific Park.

Up early? Perfect for a morning run, followed by a work out at Muscle Beach.

Sign up a class at Trapeze School.
Shop at Bloomingdale’s.

Shop at Third Street Promenade.
Take the kids out and have some fun at Tongva Park.

Explore Venice Beach.

Don’t miss Santa Monica’s sunsets! After dark is when the party begins. Pacific Park lights up the city, pumping music and vibrant crowds. Meet some hippy friends along the way!

Where To Eat

Bubba Gump Shrimp is a must-try on Santa Monica Pier. Although inside is very hot in summer, but seafood is absolutely delicious here! Their unique decor and alfresco deck looking out to the ocean attracts big crowds, which explains the never-ending long queue outside.

Service is excellent and personal, staff all have a sense of humour, and you’ll feel well taken care of by your assigned waiter.

Their specialty drinks not only look funky and pretty, the cups can also stack on top of each other!

Whatever the magic sauce they put in those prawns, had me thinking about this place even til now!

Cha Cha Chicken is one of the most popular best value eats in Santa Monica. Authentic Caribbean Food conveniently sits on the main road. Ideal for groups of friends to hang out in the evenings. If you don’t have the patience to line up, call them and order takeout!

Where To Stay

Seaview Hotel is one hidden gem that wasn’t advertised on any of the major hotel sites at the time of our booking. We were so lucky to have found this place, it sits alongside the other 5 star hotels on Ocean Avenue at a fraction of the price. We can’t ask for a better location, the main beach is literally a 1-minute walk down the road.

It may not look glamorous from the outside for a first impression, but once checked in, inside is quiet and relaxing. Rooms are clean and comfortable. Basic amenities like TV, Fan, Fridge are all included, and there’s a little courtyard to hang out. Water pressure is good, being able to have a nice cool shower after a long summer day is very important!

Wifi is easy to connect and super fast, whoo!

Staff is helpful and accommodating. They have luggage storage facility too. After looking around and comparing the price, this hotel offers the best value in the best location.

Hot Tips

If you’re paying by cash, further discounts apply!

Don’t Be A Stranger!

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