Published: December, 2017
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Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California

So much to do and so little time... a weekend was not enough for our family in Santa Monica but we enjoyed every minute.
— Courtney Leary
  • More about your oliver guide:
  • Trip type: Family, Beach, City
  • Activity level: moderate
  • Ideal length of trip: 5 NIGHTS... WE WERE ONLY THERE 2.

to & from

  • Fly into LAX, Burbank (our favorite because it is SMALL and easy but further from Santa Monica than LAX) or drive.
  • A car is only necessary if you plan to leave Santa Monica. There is plenty to do in the area and Ubers are easy but we wanted to go to Universal and an LA Galaxy game which made a car necessary.

Where to Stay

  • Loews Santa Monica was our home away from home for two nights. It is a mega hotel ON THE BEACH and perfect for families. We opted for a suite instead of two rooms as it was less expensive. Service was great and amenities endless- spa, pool, workout room, multiple restaurant options... We loved that they had towels for the beach by the door and the pool was open until midnight so we could retire to the hot tub after dinner.
  • We did not have a chance to check it out but a friend recommended Oceana Beach Club Hotel-- she raved about the service and the bikes that were available to guests and ready to go at one's request!
  • The Proper Santa Monica is a great stay-- super chic design, great rooftop restaurant and fun bar scene-- but several blocks from the beach. I have heard a great spa and gym as well though I did not have the time to experience when I stayed there.
  • Other options right on the beach, but may not be as kid-friendly are Shutters and Casa del Mar.

Where to Eat and Drink

  • Blue Plate Taco-- great place for dinner, across the street from the beaches very casual and kid-friendly fun- bustling scene of tourists and non. Great margs.
  • M Street Kitchen-- cool restaurant with good LA vibe, everything and anything on the menu done right, gluten free options, friendly staff. Make a reservation if you want to avoid waiting... and cafe options are great if you want to squeeze onto little table and skip restaurant experience.This spot is inland a couple of blocks, no views but fun none the less.
  • Perrys-- multiple spots on the beach but the one a couple of blocks towards Venice was where we stopped for lunch. Order from the counter and sit and wait at a table watching the volleyball players across the way with your feet in the sand. Everything from pizza to healthy bowls to salads. The closest thing to a beach club without membership.
  • Urth-- was dying to try this hip healthy spot but never got the chance...
  • Drinks at the Viceroy-- didn't do it this time but if you can sneak out without the kids this is a fun spot to check out the hipsters...
  • Hot Dog on a Stick- old school joint at the end of the Santa Monica pier known for their lemonade as much as their hotdogs. We opted to skip the dog and go for the drink and it was delicious.

What to Do

  • Bike to Venice Beach: Venice is just a couple miles down the bike path and is full of entertainment.... artists, musicians and performers line the main path along with a lot of vendors selling souvenirs. There is a skate boarding ramp packed with amazing skaters that will impress anyone and everyone and the famous muscle beach where very big men lift very big weights. There are bike rentals all over, one located on the beach just below Loews (where you can charge rentals to your room) and on the side streets leading down to the beach there are vans parked with bikes for rent as well, usually a little less expensive for nicer bikes. We wished we would have packed a bike lock so that we could have locked our bikes up while we perused.
  • Play on the Santa Monica Pier: This is a mini amusement park with rides, games and fair food. Go early -- it fills up-- but in the morning you can ride the roller coaster over and over with no line.
  • Beach it (and boogie board): The beach is huge and the water is relatively warm in the summer. Boogie boards can be rented at many places along the beach... including the bike shop just below Loews.
  • LA Galaxy Game: The LA Galaxy play at the StubHub center which is about 45min to an hour from Santa Monica depending on traffic.... but for our first pro-soccer event the drive was well worth it. The fans are true and there are plenty of food and beer options for everyone.
  • Universal Studios...and Harry Potter: About 45 minutes to an hour from Santa Monica, this was what brought us to LA in the first place... fulfilling the summer dreams of our children. We spent NINE hours at the park and it was all a grand success including our trip into Hogwarts. Tips for success:
    • Buy tickets online and buy the "front of line" pass. This is well worth it, especially if you go in August as we did.
    • Valet park and enter the main gates at 7:45. Line up to be allowed into the park at 8am. (You must buy tickets online in order to enter at 8am.)
    • When the park opens, start to RUN towards Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride. If you are lucky, like we were, you will be able to go on the ride a few times before a line starts to form. At the end of the day, the line will be over two hours long.
    • Buy your wand and finish everything Harry Potter and then move on through the rest of the park. Watch the screen for showtimes....we loved the animal show.
  • Shop: Third Street Promenade is full of shops both you and the kids will love... we hit up the Vans store for back-to-school kicks.

inside scoop

  • Pack a bike lock
  • Buy Universal tickets online

What to Pack


Saved for Next Time

  • A trip to Hollywood
  • A taping of a TV show
  • Malibu
  • Surf lessons
  • Adult dinner at The Bungalow
  • More time at the beach and the pool

Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California - Suggestions from the Oliver Community

  • Caroline Kesmodel Says

    Brunch faves-
    Loved Mario Batali’s Rose in Venice Beach, great bike ride there from SMonica and keep eyes peeled for celebrity sightings.
    Cora’s Coffee Shoppe on Ocean Ave, is a short walk from most hotels and the cutest breakfast spot under an ivy covered garden patio.
    Bondi Harvest-is worth the uber North for a healthy, hipster brunch.

  • Courtney Leary Says

    The gorgeous Proper is a new Kelly Wearstler designed hotel worth a look. It is 7 blocks (.5 miles) from the beach but the interior is drool inducing and the rooftop restaurant, Calabra, and service top notch. Especially important, very comfortable beds and cruiser bikes available to get you everywhere including back to your youth. Shop “Permanent Vacation” in nearby Brentwood.

  • Kati Seymore Says

    Just returned from a trip to Santa Monica with my daughters and loved our stay at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows. It’s beautifully updated, but with an old Hollywood feel. The pool and bungalow area in the center of the hotel provide a lush and private oasis and the Oceana Boulevard location is centrally located near the 3rd street promenade and Montana Avenue. Finally, the service from valet to front desk to cleaning crew was best-in-class friendly and helpful! For dining options, we borrowed the hotels cruiser bikes and hit Cora’s Coffee Shop for breakfast — always a favorite — and breakfast at the Fairmont’s Fig restaurant was also delicious. We also drove up to Malibu and had a great dinner at Malibu Farm Restaurant on the pier. Skip it: Tallula’s mexican restaurant in Santa Monica came highly recommended, and clearly has a local following, but we found it to be overpriced and just kinda meh.

  • Courtney Leary Says

    Just back from dropping my son at college and spent some time in Venice Beach– about 20 minutes from Santa Monica– dining at some great restaurants: The Rose Venice– very happening spot with delicious plates meant to share, Wabi on Rose (sushi), Great White –pretty healthy spot with a great lunch scene.

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