To really appreciate what Santa Monica has to offer, you’ll want to settle in and stay awhile. But even if you only have a few hours, the city is well worth a visit. We’ve put together five micro itineraries to help you plan ahead and make the most of your time, whether you want to live like a laid-back local for an afternoon, check out the arts and culture scene, or fit in some family fun.
Take a Self-Care Break
Ready for some R&R? Santa Monica is the perfect place to prioritize self-care, so use your time here to treat yourself right. Head to the beach for a mental refresh—the calming sea breezes are always free, and if your budget allows, it’s also a great place to indulge. Perry’s Beach Butler Service will set you up with lounge chairs, a table, a beach umbrella, towels, a cooler, and more. Or, make reservations with Santa Monica Picnic Co for a private picnic right on the beach. They’ll set up blankets, a low picnic table, and decorative touches like string lights and a customizable chalkboard. Included is a charcuterie board made up of items from Santa Monica businesses, and add-ons range from baked goods to a private surf lesson. For even more beachfront relaxation, check Beach Yoga SoCal’s calendar to see if a flow yoga class or sound bath fits into your schedule.
If you’re in need of head-to-toe pampering, head straight to Willow Spa in the Mid-City neighborhood. Their “Complete Renewal Package” includes a 90-minute mango body polish and massage, followed by a 60-minute facial and eye treatment. Then, stop by Rejuice on Pico for a cold-pressed juice or wellness shot. You’ll leave Santa Monica feeling fully refreshed.
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Get a Workout In
Did you know the Original Muscle Beach is located in Santa Monica? This outdoor fitness area on Ocean Front Walk includes climbing ropes, rings, and parallel bars—all free for public use. For a workout you’ll never forget, sign up for a 60- or 90-minute flying trapeze class at TSNY Los Angeles on the nearby Santa Monica Pier. Classes are offered every day of the week, weather permitting. If learning to surf is on your bucket list, you can do that in Santa Monica, too. Aqua Surf gives private surf lessons all year round, and they’ll hook you up with everything you need, including surfboard and wetsuit rentals.
To see the sights while you’re breaking a sweat, rent a bike from the Santa Monica Bike Center. Ride along the beach path or book a guided tour to Venice Beach and back. Not in the mood to pedal? Book an electric bike tour through Pedal… or Not. On their e-bikes, you decide when to use the motor, so you can take it as easy as you want. After your ride, visit Flower Child for a healthy, nourishing menu featuring SoCal favorites like avocado toast, an organic kale salad, or a Mother Earth bowl with grains, vegetables, and your choice of protein.
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Sample the Arts and Culture Scene
For those who only have an hour or so to spare, a new app makes it easy to explore the 111-year history of the Santa Monica Pier. Buy the Secret Story Tour from the App Store or Google Play Store, and solve location-based puzzles to unlock secrets and stories about the pier. For a look at some of Santa Monica’s historic architecture, including an Art Deco hotel that doubled as a speakeasy during Prohibition, download the Santa Monica Conservancy’s free Downtown Walking Tour brochure and take a self-guided tour. Have a half day or more? Head to The Getty Villa to feel like you’ve stepped into a first-century Roman villa. Check out the J. Paul Getty Museum’s antiquities collection, and wander leisurely through the villa’s four gardens.
Of course, you don’t have to visit a museum or gallery to see art in Santa Monica—you’ll find murals and street art everywhere. Check out Santa Monica Travel & Tourism’s street art and mural guide, which highlights pieces in each of Santa Monica’s eight neighborhoods. For a one-of-a-kind souvenir of your visit, it helps if you’re in town for the Santa Monica Airport Outdoor Antique & Collectible Market, held the first or fourth Sunday of the month. Browse vintage jewelry, clothing, art, décor, and more.
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Have Fun as a Family
The Cayton Children’s Museum is open to members from July 7 to 31 every Wednesday and Saturday; reservations are encouraged. Ever wish you could step right into a piece of art? Bring your family (and your smartphone) to the 3DAR Trick Art Museum, and use an app to bring the interactive art to life for creative videos and selfies. While you’re at the 3rd Street Promenade, be sure to show your kids the topiary dinosaurs.
If your little ones like to climb, check out the play structures at the North Beach Playground. The playground overlooks the beach, and it’s universally accessible with separate play areas for kids ages 2-5 and 5-8. Pacific Park, Santa Monica’s amusement park on the Pier is open daily: rides, attractions, restaurants, and shops have all reopened for your enjoyment.
Savor the SoCal Cuisine
In town on a Wednesday, Saturday, or Sunday morning? Seize your opportunity to stroll through one of the Santa Monica Farmers Markets. These free outdoor markets offer access to some of the best local produce and prepared foods in Southern California. Then, swing by Andrew’s Cheese Shop on Montana Avenue for a grab-and-go sandwich, and shop the curated selection of gourmet cheese, wine, beer, and specialty goods. Friday through Sunday, the beer garden at Santa Monica Brew Works is open for business. Order from a local food truck parked on site, and spend a relaxing evening sampling the “beach brewed” beer from Santa Monica’s first and only brewery.
If you’re an oenophile with a half day available, consider taking a wine-tasting tour with Malibu Discovery Tours, which also includes complimentary shuttle pick up and drop off from any Santa Monica hotel. The Brunch & Wine option in the Santa Monica Mountains promises to be “the perfect start to a perfect day.” To pick up some cooking skills from a local chef, sign up for a class from The Gourmandise School, and learn how to make anything from Chinese dumplings to French macarons.