On the Pacific Coast, just a stone’s throw from LAX, Santa Monica is an ideal base for families wanting to explore the greater Los Angeles area. It combines the laidback lifestyle of a Southern Californian beachside community with the sophistication of buzzing LA, while being an easy day trip from Hollywood or Universal Studios. But with a sweeping stretch of sand, oceanfront trails and a vibrant cultural and dining scene, you might never want to leave!
1. Family-friendly activities in Santa Monica Pier
Built in 1909, Santa Monica Pier has been a beloved landmark and family attraction for more than a century. Aside from its famous amusement park packed with classic rides and arcade games, it’s also home to the Heal the Bay Aquarium where you can get up close to Californian marine species. There are plenty of dining options to suit all tastes, ranging from hot dogs and cotton candy (fairy floss) to gourmet cuisine. Be sure to ride the Pacific Wheel, the world’s first and only solar-powered Ferris wheel that’s at its shining best when illuminated at night.
2. South Bay Bicycle Trail - great routes for biking with the kids
Stretching 35km from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance County Beach, the South Bay Bicycle Trail is the world’s longest oceanfront bike path. Popular with both adults and kids, thanks to its flat and paved terrain, the trail has a safe cycle lane where you can plod along while skaters whizz by. It takes in the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Boardwalk, as well as winding through Hermosa and Redondo Beaches. You can easily hire bikes at Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals, with cruiser, mountain bikes, low riders and even beach wheelchairs available. Make sure you and the kids remember the ‘road rules’ and stay on the correct side of the path!
3. Experience dining in Perry’s Cafe Santa Monica with feet in the sand
Perry’s is also a great place to begin a day on the sands of Santa Monica, with a beach butler service offering lounge chairs, an umbrella, a cooler and a wind guard. Parents can kick back and soak up the So-Cal lifestyle while the kids are busy building sandcastles and splashing in the shallows. If you’re riding the South Bay Bicycle Trail, you can stop here for a dip and enjoy all the action before continuing on your way.
4. Third Street Promenade - the main shopping hub in Santa Monica
Just a couple of blocks from the beachfront is Third Street Promenade, which serves as the main shopping hub in Santa Monica. It’s blissfully vehicle-free (so ideal for young kids) and is always alive with buskers and street performers that make it an entertaining place to wander. There’s a great choice of eateries in the indoor-outdoor Gallery Food Hall, as well as some incredible street art to discover.
5. Farmers’ Market - LA's fresh produce
Santa Monica definitely knows how to do a great farmers’ market, with four taking place each week at locations throughout this beachside community. They bring together the region’s best chefs and artisan producers of meats, cheeses, flowers and fresh veggies, shining a light on Southern California’s farm-to-table scene. The Sunday morning Main Street Farmers Market is particularly popular with local families, featuring kid-friendly bands and face painting.
6. Outdoor fun and stunning urban landscapes in Tongva Park
Created by the team behind New York’s elevated park High Line, Tongva Park lies in the heart of Santa Monica. It’s named after the Indigenous people who once inhabited the region, with gorgeous plantings, contemplative walking paths and tranquil water features inspired by the ancient arroyo landscape. But for kids, it’s the climbing fort, slippery dips and splash pad that are the biggest hit, while the sweeping views across the Pacific Ocean from the park’s viewing platforms are a ‘must’.