Santa Monica with Kids Vacation Guide (with sample itinerary!)

by | Aug 31, 2021 | places | 1 comment

Los Angeles is one of my favorite cities in the country. I lived there before I moved to Sacramento and even before I moved there it felt like home. It has such a unique vibe that I was instantly magnetized toward.  The thing I love about it the most is the how diverse it is; it’s hugeee and made up of so many different regions, each of them with their own culture. Some most know of are Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the Beach Cities (Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo), West Hollywood, and Downtown LA.

My favorite is Santa Monica; the quintessential SoCal beach town. It has beautiful beaches, delicious dining, tons of events, shopping, and just an overall fun, vibrant atmosphere that is perfect for families. I also love that unlike many of the bigger areas like Hollywood or downtown LA, Santa Monica still has a very friendly feel to it. People are just nicer (maybe because they’re right next to the beach), I feel very safe, and it’s cleaner than most other places in LA. So whenever I was in a beachy mood, or wanted to get some shopping done, I always headed to Santa Monica.

I had a great time there with my friends in my single days, but I was excited to take my kids there to see it from another perspective. Once I started researching it, I was amazed at how kid friendly it really was. It has something for everyone. I flew down there with my little guy (13 months) and my mom met us there from Dallas. My mom had never been to LA, so I was even more excited to introduce her to the city. We stayed for four days and had a total blast; each day was filled with activities that were entertaining for each of us. So, if you’re looking at going to the LA area, consider staying in Santa Monica!

How to get to Santa Monica

The Greater Los Angeles area has two different airports:

LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) is in El Segundo and is roughly 12 miles and 25 minutes away from Santa Monica. LAX is huge, has many terminals, and is always busy (it’s actually the second busiest airport in the country.) You’ll most likely be able to find more times and cheaper prices flying into LAX, but you’ll have to deal with the craziness of the airport.

BUR (John Burbank Airport) is in Burbank and is roughly 26 miles and 45 minutes away from Santa Monica. Burbank is a smaller airport with less terminals and flights and is much calmer than LAX. You might not be able to find a direct flight to this airport, and if you do it might be a little bit more expensive than LAX. But it’s much less stressful, so it’s worth a little bit more.

Read over my tips on how to fly with kids here. 

santa monica with kids

How to get around Santa Monica with kids

If you stay around the beach/promenade area and plan on staying in Santa Monica for your whole trip, you can easily get by with walking and biking. There are bike tours that take you around Santa Monica and Venice too, check one out here.

If you don’t want to deal with a car but want to see the big attractions around LA, a double decker bus tour around the city is awesome. Check it out here.

If you want to really explore neighboring cities, then a car is a must (and something with good gas mileage wouldn’t hurt.) Check for rental cars here.

Where to stay in Santa Monica with kids

There are hotels scattered all around Santa Monica, most being within walking distance of the beach and Third Street Promenade.

TIP: One thing you should check for—if the hotel offers self-parking, how much it costs, and if there are city parking lots near it. A couple of hotels only offer valet parking, and it comes with a hefty cost. 

Luxury options:

Fairmont Hotel and Bungalows: Option for 1 or 3-bedroom suites or bungalows with a separate living room and furnished balcony. All have big bathtubs perfect for bath time. (On Ocean Ave. across the street from the beach.)

Hotel Casa Del Mar: Right on the beach with a heated pool, free beach toys, and a family friendly restaurant on the premises. Big bathtubs with detachable shower heads. (On the beach.) 

Loews: Many options for one-bedroom suites with separate living rooms and furnished balconies. Their Lowes Love Families program makes sure that kids are taken care of at the hotel offering bath kits, kids dining menu, night lights and even child proofing kits. (On the beach.)

Moderate options:

JW Marriot Le Merigot: One-bedroom suites with separate living room and balcony available. A heated pool and on-site dining are added bonuses too. (On Ocean Ave., across the street from the beach.) 

Hilton Santa Monica: One-bedroom suites with separate living room available. Bathtubs in the bathroom for easier bath time. (About a 15-minute walk to the beach.)

Le Meridien Delfina: One-bedroom suites with separate living room and balcony available. Heated pool and complimentary bikes too. The hotel also has bathtubs which will make bath time easier. (About a 15 minute walk to the beach.)

Budget option:

Sea Blue: 1 or 2-bedroom suites with separate living room available. (On Ocean Ave. across the street from the beach.)

Big group:

The Cottage: A four-bedroom, four-bathroom villa with a full kitchen. (On Ocean Ave. across the street from the beach.)

House / apartment rental:

Or you can always rent a house or apartment. Check out some great options here.

What to do in Santa Monica with kids

Beaches

Always my first recommendation of things to do! But Santa Monica beach really is something special. First off, it’s HUGE. It’s three miles long so it’s easy to find a spot near the water. It’s also very wide, so there is a ton of sand to play in and lots of room to set up your spot. Most people hit the beach area near the pier, but if you wander down a bit it’ll get less congested.

It’s such a family friendly beach. There are lifeguards, big bathrooms, trash cans, food spots, and bike and beach board rentals. Just remember that the Pacific Ocean is not so warm… so for some people the water might be too cold to jump into and swim. But it’s still refreshing to get your feet in the cool water.

santa monica with kids

Santa Monica Pier

Ah, the pier. If you’ve watched any type of televised event that was held in LA, you’ve seen an aerial shot of the pier. No matter how many times I see it, I still shout out “the Santa Monica pier!”  This place could fill up your whole day easily, but it’s great to come in the evening before sunset. There are shops, an arcade, dining options, street performers, street vendors, Heal the Bay Aquarium, and an awesome amusement park, Pacific Park.

Pac Park has 12 rides, including a gigantic Ferris wheel and rollercoaster, games, and all of that delicious fried and sugary amusement park food. We were there around sunset and so the park was starting to light up and I don’t think I heard one peep from my kid the whole time we were there! He was amazed by it all. (He’s also in the “lights” stage where he loves looking at light, turning lights on and off, etc.) Nonetheless, we all had a blast here.

santa monica with kids

Third Street Promenade

The promenade is an alfresco shopping and dining street. It’s full of big name and local name stores, restaurants, ice cream shops, a movie theater, IG worthy backdrops, and silly touches like dinosaur topiaries. It’s closed to cars and it’s flat and wide so perfect for walking with strollers, and the reckless toddlers that just learned how to walk.

If you keep walking down 3rd street, you’ll hit Santa Monica Place, which is a large outdoor shopping mall with a rooftop dining deck and an indoor/outdoor food court.  

Ride bikes on the Santa Monica/Venice beach bike path

Santa Monica and Venice Beaches are connected by a walk/bike path so it’s easy to get from one to another. The bike path is wide and flat, very easy to maneuver (I was riding and taking pictures at the same time if that can give you an idea) with great views of the beach. All of the bike rental shops have baby carrier or wagon attachments too. You can get a single bike for $16/day or a bike with a baby attachment for $40/day.

It’s definitely a full afternoon activity because you’ll want to leisurely bike and take lots of stop along the way. There are a number of playgrounds sprinkled throughout for some extra fun. The coolest one by far is the pirate ship park! 

Once you hit Venice Beach, you’ll see the famous Muscle Beach. You can watch people work out, play pick-up basketball or handball in the courts (it’s actually really fun!) The Skate Park is also on this path and is super interesting; the things those kids can do on their skateboards is amazing. One day we passed by it and it was closed due to a movie being filmed! We saw a production crew, actors, makeup, cameras, the whole setup. It gave us a real taste of Hollywood.

You’ll also get the chance to walk the Venice Boardwalk if you choose. It has a boho feel with shops, street performers, tattoos parlors, a freak show. It’s also crowded, dirty, and smells like pot. It’s on every ‘what to do in LA’ article but I could write a whole blog post about how much I dislike the Venice Boardwalk. I wouldn’t take my kids there but if you’re at the beach, you can take a look at it from afar and make the decision on whether you want to check it out. 

santa monica with kids

Tongva Park

Gorgeous greenery, architecture, plus a splash pad! Tongva Park is a newer addition to Santa Monica and it has something for all ages. It’s right across the street from the Pacific but has a completely different vibe. It’s lush with all types of different flowers, bushes, and trees. It has a playground for younger children with a splash pad, and another one with more climbing structures for the bigger kids. Plenty of picnic tables and shaded areas. Plus as you walk in, there are two cool looking lookout points that are great for pictures.

santa monica with kids

Cayton Museum

Cayton Museum is 21,000 square feet of discovery-based exhibits and learning for ages 0-10 (although 4 and up will probably be able to appreciate more of the hands-on learning). A ball pit with a rescue raft, a soft play area, water play, and a projector room are great for the little ones. For the older kids, there is also an art gallery, climbing structure, craft room, and imagination play with a helicopter, fire truck, food market, diner, and vet clinic. Everything is so bright and colorful, and there are of course plenty of IG worthy backdrop for pictures.

Farmers Market

Santa Monica’s Farmers Markets are so amazing they’ve won awards. One is on Wednesday and Saturday on Arizona right in the Third Street Promenade. There’s another on Sunday on Main Street. Go in the morning before you set off and get some fresh fruits and veggies to snack on and bring some local honeys and jams back home with you.

Main Street

Santa Monica’s Main Street has a slower, local feel to it. It’s full of shops, dining, galleries, and plenty of family friendly events. On “Open Main Street” weekends, the area is blocked off from cars and features free fitness classes, backyard games, and a Kids Korner with activities like musical story time and soccer practice. It’s also a couple of blocks away from the beach so it’s an option for after beach activities as well.

Venice Canals / Abbot Kinney Blvd.

The Venice Canals bring a bit of charm to the area and is a great place for a leisurely stroll. It’s an easy walk over to Abbot Kinney Blvd. as well. Abbot Kinney is a hip area with shops, restaurants, and cool wall murals. It also has the BEST ice cream shop I’ve ever been to (that always has a line obvi), Salt and Straw.  

The Grove

If you have a car and want to venture out one evening, The Grove in West Hollywood is a great place to visit. It’s a trendy outdoor shopping center with high end shopping, restaurants, a food court, a Farmers Market, a movie theater, dessert options (like Sprinkles Cupcakes, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Haagan-Dazs ice cream) a concierge, and an awesome fountain with hourly water shows. An American Girl Doll location is here too! It’s clean and beautifully decorated but still has a charming, cozy feel to it. And as a bonus, you might even spot a celebrity here.

santa monica with kids

Griffith Park

Ok, this one is a biggie. If you have a car and have a full day this is a must. It’s a bit of a trek from Santa Monica, but Griffith Park is so worth it. First off, it’s humongous that’s why I mention spending a full day here—it’s over 4,000 acres. The LA Zoo is here, plenty of playgrounds (our favorite is Shane’s Inspiration, it has different play areas for multiple age groups plus a kids zipline!), the observatory for amazing views of the city (think of the movie La La Land), big open grassy areas, a merry-go-round, pony rides, and plenty of hiking trails. I underestimated this by a ton and we were only there for a couple of hours and I was so disappointed that we had to cut it short. It’s lush and open and just… peaceful.

Go early in the morning, bring a lot of snacks and a picnic lunch and just chill. Go to the zoo, visit the playgrounds, go up to the observatory, and find a nice big area to have lunch and have the kids run around. I just love this place and I can’t wait to go back and really dedicate the time to it that it deserves!

santa monica with kids

Where to eat in Santa Monica with kids

 

Breakfast:

Side Car Donuts: This is THE place to get donuts in Santa Monica. Everything is made fresh in-house and they have deliciously creative options. Think strawberry buttermilk, huckleberry, and lemon poppyseed. Is your mouth watering yet? And I’m not even a donut person! If you need more convincing, read their Yelp reviews. 

Demistasse: This is a real deal coffee shop, like they have a fancy looking coffee drip machine that lets down one drop of water a second. They have fancy types of coffee and milks but I just stuck with my usual, Iced Mocha. It was great and so were the chocolate croissant and banana bread we ordered. There’s a little patio outside too. 

Lunch:

Joe’s Pizza: Just because it’s LA, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the pizza. This place is a hole in the wall type of joint, but their pizza was really good. Thin and crispy, and the sauce had the perfect tang to it. My kid had a whole slice and a half! The garden salad was good too, even if it was served in a box. There’s also a bar for outdoor seating. 

Perry’s Beach Café: This is right on the beach. And while pretty expensive, it’s delicious. I’ve had the chicken sandwich, salads, and smoothies and they’ve all been flavorful and good portions. Plus you cannot beat this location.

Urth Cafe: A LA staple. It’s the healthy, sustainable type of place, but the food is still yummy. It’s a European cafe with breakfast and lunch options ranging from coffee and pastries to pizzas and salads. The salads are where it’s at though! Plus you don’t feel guilty when you order a pastry after you inhale it (I’m not speaking from experience…) 

Dinner:

The Independence: The menu here is just right. It’s short enough so that you know that everything is good, but still long enough that you have some choice. The seafood cioppino was warm, spicy, with fresh seafood. Bonus is that they have a kids menu and my kid gobbled his chicken strips and fries (and the portions were huge so we took some home too.) 

Bruno’s Italian Restaurant: My dad owns a restaurant with the same name so we HAD to try it. It’s very inconspicuous from the outside, but once you get inside it’s warm and cozy, like an old-school Italian restaurant. All the classics are on the menu, like chicken parm and pizza. 

Snacks:

The fruit carts! You can get plain fruit, or with pepper topped on it. They are so fresh and delicious.

Sample Itinerary for 4 days in Santa Monica with kids

Day 1: Get to Santa Monica. Drop off your luggage and start exploring the area.

Stroll the Third Street Promenade, grab a meal and do some shopping.

Walk over to the Pier. Visit the amusement park and if you have time, check out the aquarium.

Day 2: Your first full day! Hit the beach!

Grab breakfast then walk over to Tongva Park.

Head across the street to the beach for some fun in the sun.

For dinner and dessert, walk over to Main Street.

Day 3: Visit neighboring cities.

Get a bite to eat, then rent bikes and make your way to the beach bike path.

Bike from Santa Monica to Venice and make stops along the way at the playgrounds and beach.

(If you have a car) Get a feel for the rest of LA and head over to the Grove for dinner and treats.

Day 4: Your last day! Finish the trip off with a bang.

After breakfast visit the Cayton Museum.

Wander around Santa Monica Place and get lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants.

Have you been to Santa Monica? What’s your favorite part? Let me know in the comments! 

need help booking your trip? use my favorite resources!

FLIGHTS
I always start with Kayak when I book flights. It searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly. you can also set price alerts for a specific flight.

LODGING
My favorite booking site is booking.com. It's easy to use and gives options for all types of lodging. When I know I want a big rental house, I use VRBO.  

RENTAL CARS
My first stop for rental cars is rentalcars.com. It scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.

ACTIVITIES
I love searching Get your Guide and Viator for activities. You can search for a specific activity, or just see everything that is available at your destination. 

Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page

1 Comment

  1. DB

    Sounds like an AMAZING Vacation! definitely will be trying out this Itinerary!!

    Reply

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MEET BESA

Mama & Traveler

Hi! I’m Besa. I’ve always been a travel-loving beach bum… and then I had kids. Two boys, born 19 months apart. But I didn’t let that stop me. I still travel, even with a couple baby boys in tow – and I want to help other parents do the same.

I’ll be sharing all my travel tips, tricks for scoring deals, and guides for some of my favorite family vacation spots.