LOOKING FOR THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN SANTA MONICA WITH KIDS?
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, if you’re looking at going to the LA area and want to stay near the beach, keep reading!
Best Things To Do in Santa Monica with Kids
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 and it’s also very wide, so there is a ton of sand to play in and lots of room to set up your spot.
It’s such a family friendly beach. There are lifeguards, big bathrooms, trash cans, food spots, and bike and beach board rentals.
Most people hit the beach area near the pier, but if you wander down a bit it’ll get less congested.
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.
Since it’s so big, there are different areas of the beach. Here are the beach spots I recommend when you’re in Santa Monica with kids:
Santa Monica Beach
The popular, active area next to the Pier. In addition to everything on the pier, there’s also a playground there too! On the beach you’ll see muscle beach and a set aerial rings (which are always a good show). There are plenty of restaurants and rental shops around this area.
Ocean Park Beach
Further south of the pier is Ocean Park. It’s still a pretty active area with volleyball nets, beach tennis, surfing, and beach loungers. Perry’s is a great spot for lunch RIGHT on the beach and steps away is a playground.
South Beach (this is my fave spot!)
Located at the southern end of Santa Monica Beach, it’s less crowded and more of a local beach spot. If you want a quieter experience, head here.
Main Street is within walking distance for many great lunch options and South Beach Play Playground is right off the beach too.
2. 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!”
There’s plenty to do on the pier, but there’s also a lot of dining and shops right off of it too. This spot could fill up your whole day easily, but it’s great to come in the evening before sunset.
3. 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.
4. 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. Read about it here.
5. Annenberg Beach House
Right on the beach, this community beach house is a popular spot for locals and tourists. There are activities both at the house and on the beach offered.
It is awesome, and we had a blast when we visited!
At the beach house, there’s a heated pool with lifeguards, a playground, a splash pad, a lounge area with umbrellas. For convenience, there’s also a locker room with showers and a full service restaurant.
There’s also beach access, rentals for paddleboards, beach volleyball courts and soccer nets, and reservable beach canopies.
This is a great place to spend the day, but come early! Read more about it here.
6. 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.
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.
7. 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 ocean, 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.
8. Cayton Museum
On the top floor of Santa Monica Place (the outdoor mall), the 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).
The biggest hits are the helicopter, fire truck, and the climbing net that goes around the whole museum.
There’s also a ball pit with a rescue raft, a soft play area, vet clinic, a bubble machine, and a kitchen and restaurant.
Everything is so bright and colorful, and there are of course plenty of IG worthy backdrop for pictures. Read more about it here.
9. Santa Monica Place
At the end of the Third Street Promenade is Santa Monica Place, an outdoor shopping mall.
It has an amazing vibe, and can be a nice change from the busy Promenade.
It’s three levels of both high end and boutique shops, the Cayton Children’s Museum, and a food court with both fast food and sit-down restaurants.
There’s also a bar and one of the restaurants has an outdoor seating area with amazing views too. It’s a great place to hang out, especially after an afternoon at the museum!
10. 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.
11. Go on the Ferris Wheel
If there’s one thing you HAVE to do in Santa Monica, it’s get on the Ferris Wheel at the Pier. It gives you amazing views of the whole town from 130 feet in the air! Plus it goes around 5 or 6 times.
There’s a ticket stand right next to it for easy access, tickets are $12 per person.
12. Clover Park
Just south of the Santa Monica Pier is Clover Park, a park loved by locals.
There’s a great playground, sand box, a tower to climb up for viewing stations, bike/walking path, tennis courts, basketball courts, beach volleyball courts, and even exercise stations.
There are many different types of sports played here, so you could catch a local game if you come at the right time!
We saw a soccer game and a birthday party when we were there.
Bonus, there’s a Starbucks and a variety of restaurants within walking distance.
13. Douglas Park
If you need to burn off some energy, this is the place to go. Douglas Park can easily occupy an afternoon.
The park has a big playground, grassy areas, two tennis courts, three reflecting pools with ducks and turtles, a skate area, and a lawn bowling green. There’s even fly fishing!
It’s also across the street from different dining spots!
14. Museum of Flying
For the flying enthusiasts! Or for the kids who love looking at planes.
Spanning over two floors, the museum has a collection of 50 different aircraft (from the early days of aviation to now), artifacts, exhibits, and educational programs and events.
You can get inside a few of the airplanes and kids over 48in can even take a flight simulator ride! Read more about it here.
15. Drescher Planetarium
For the space lovers! If you have any interest in astronomy or seeing stars, this is your spot. It’s a small, low-key planetarium show at Santa Monica College.
In addition to the planetarium exhibit, there’s a library and all kinds of educational resources about space. There are even special events like star parties and laser light shows. Read more about it here.
16. 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.
17. Venice Canals / Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Not in Santa Monica, but right next door are the Venice Canals.
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 my FAVE ice cream shop (that always has a line obvi), Salt and Straw.
Best things to do Outside of Santa Monica with Kids
These next destinations aren’t in Santa Monica (not really even that close), but if you’re in LA, they are places I HAVE to recommend. You can easily stay in Santa Monica with kids your whole trip and have a blast, but if you want to venture out a little bit, check out the Grove and Griffith Park
18. 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!
You can also take a trolley ride from one side to the other. It’s great for kids!
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.
19. 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!
And if you’re heading to Disneyland from LA, read my guide for first timers to the park!
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.
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.)
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.)
The Pierside Santa Monica: Recently updated, there are standard rooms and suites right across the street from the Pier- there’s also a heated pool. (Across the street from the beach.)
Sea Blue: 1 or 2-bedroom suites with separate living room available. (On Ocean Ave. across the street from the beach.)
Getting to Santa Monica with Kids
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.
How to get around Santa Monica with kids
Walking / Biking: 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.
Tour bus: 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.
Car: 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.
Sample Itinerary for 4 days in Santa Monica with Kids
Day 1 Santa Monica with Kids
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 Santa Monica with Kids
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 Santa Monica with Kids
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!
FAQs: Santa Monica with Kids
Is Santa Monica good for families?
Yes, Santa Monica is a great place for families! It has a huge, fun beach, vibrant downtown areas, and plenty of kid-friendly activities.
You’ll be able to lounge on the beach, visit the famous Santa Monica Pier, bike along the beach, stroll 3rd Street Promenade, and play at many children’s museums and parks.
Is it worth it to go to Santa Monica with kids?
Overall, I think Santa Monica is a great place to visit if you are looking for a fun and relaxing vacation. However, if you are on a tight budget or are planning on exploring other areas of Los Angeles, you may want to consider other destinations.
When planning your trip, consider the time of year you want to visit. Since summer is high season, it will be more cost effective to visit during the off season (like fall.) Also consider where you want to stay. To lessen the lodging costs, explore options further away from the beach.
Is Santa Monica Pier stroller friendly?
Yes, the Santa Monica Pier is stroller friendly. The pier is relatively flat and wide, making it easy to navigate with a stroller. There are also a few benches and shaded areas where you can stop and rest.
To make it easier to stroll on the pier, consider visiting early in the day to avoid the crowds. Also be aware of the uneven spots on the pier where the wood might be raised or have gaps.
Wrapping Up: Santa Monica with Kids
With its fun beach, vibrant and family-friendly downtown area, and abundance of kid-friendly activities, a vacation to Santa Monica with kids is a great idea.
The city has beautiful and diverse lodging options, enough family-friendly activities to pack a whole itinerary, delicious food, and a laid back, beachy vibe.
So start planning your vacation there!
need help booking your trip?
use my favorite resources!
Kayak searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly.
rentalcars.com scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.
Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.