Things to do in Santa Monica – with kids!

Santa Monica is an exciting, family-friendly city offering spectacular beaches, fun entertainment options, fabulous food and shopping – making it a wonderful all-round Californian holiday destination!

Pacific Park fun fair on Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica is a stunning coastal city in Southern California, USA.

Conveniently located just 25 minute’s drive from LAX and 45 minute’s from the Disneyland Resort theme parks, Santa Monica makes a great California family holiday base.

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Although many Californian attractions are a short drive – or Uber ride -away, there’s so much to explore in Santa Monica itself.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

From surfing lessons year-round, to wandering through the elegant city boutiques and cycling along miles of beautiful beachfront bike paths, Santa Monica offers a plethora of family friendly activities.

Hire a bike and ride along the beach paths

Here are just some of our favourites things to do in Santa Monica – with kids!

Santa Monica Pier

A short walk from the city centre you’ll find the world-famous Santa Monica Pier.

This is where you’ll find family holiday entertainment galore, including an amusement park, souvenir shops and some really great restaurants.

Try on the shoes outside Bubba Gump, Santa Monica Pier

Try on the shoes outside Bubba Gump, Santa Monica Pier

From the neon-lit entry archway to the big wheel, the Santa Monica Pier is a highlight of any stay.

Pacific Park amusement park

Pacific Park fun park, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier is home to the historic Pacific Park amusement park, where you’ll find plenty of old-school carnival games and rides. You can keep the kids entertained for hours at this fun fair!

Open both during the day and at night, there’s a range of rides suitable for all ages – from toddlers right up to adults.

Santa Monica fun fair

Rides include a swinging Pirate Ship, Dodgem Cars and a roller coaster. But the ride Pacific Park is most famous for is its iconic Ferris Wheel, The Pacific Wheel.

The Santa Monica Ferris Wheel

The Santa Monica Ferris wheel

The Pacific Wheel is the world’s only solar-powered Ferris Wheel.

Located at Pacific Fair fun park on Santa Monica Pier, this big wheel commands impressive California coastal views.

Santa Monica beach

A fun ride in its own right, from the very top you are rewarded with unsurpassed vistas of both the sea and sandy beach coastline for miles in either direction.

A ride on the Pacific Wheel is an iconic must-do whilst in Santa Monica!

The end of Route 66

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier also happens to be the official end of the historic Route 66 highway which runs right across the USA.

The Route 66 sign on Santa Monica Pier

The Route 66 sign on Santa Monica Pier

A photo taken at the Santa Monica Pier “66 End of the Trail” sign has become a popular Instagram photo location, and is sure to impress anywhere!

Heal The Bay Aquarium

Heal The Bay Aquarium under Santa Monica Pier

Another fun family Santa Monica Pier attraction is a visit to Heal The Bay Aquarium.

This wonderful little aquarium is located beneath the Pier, and offers valuable learning opportunities for children of all ages.

Even little ones can get involved at Heal The Bay, with their large touch-pools filled with tactile sea creatures.

Touch tanks at Heal The Bay Aquarium

Touch tanks at Heal The Bay Aquarium

There’s even the opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour and feed baby sharks. This was something everyone loves to have a turn at, and the kids can forever-more tell their friends they have fed sharks!

Watch the sunset from the end of the Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier sunset

One of our most memorable moments in Santa Monica was simply watching the sun set into the ocean.

Head up to the very end of the Santa Monica Pier for the best sunset viewing spot.

Santa Monica Pier sunset

We weren’t the only tourists to be drawn to the end of the Pier to watch the sunset, either – this very special experience draws quite an audience.

It’s a beautiful golden light show to round off the perfect day that doesn’t cost a cent – or a USA penny either, for that matter!

Santa Monica bike rentals

Santa Monica bike rentals

We did two really fun family bike rides in Santa Monica – and yet both were quite different!

Bike Hire at the Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach bike path

Our first experience was a self-guided Santa Monica beach bike ride.

Bike hire is conveniently available directly from the Pier at Blazing Saddle Rentals.

Once we were all fitted-out to suitably-sized bikes and helmets, off we rode to Venice Beach with its eclectic hippie-style shops, murals and cafes.

Venice Beach has beautiful murals

Our turn-around point was the Venice Beach skateboard park where local skateboarders provided a fantastic free show of skateboarding bowl trick and skills.

Venice Beach skate park

Venice Beach skate park

The Bike Center Santa Monica

Our second bike ride the next day was a guided tour of the city of Santa Monica run out of The Bike Center Santa Monica.

Santa Monica bike hire city tour

This fun bike tour took us along the city streets, ocean-front park paths and through some of the richest residential areas of Santa Monica, where we got to ogle at massive mansions!

Santa Monica bike tour

Historic buildings, geographical oddities and sweeping views were all highlights along the way, and the tour included a scrumptious visit to Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee Shop.

Sidecar donuts, Santa Monica

Here we sampled enough delicious doughnuts  to help replace all of those calories we managed to burn off during our ride!

Hiring a bicycle is a really unique and fun way to see Santa Monica and many of its wonderful sights.

Santa Monica shopping

Santa Monica shopping mall

A visit to Santa Monica is worth it for the shopping alone. The shopping precinct offers the perfect mix of large commercial shopping malls and street shopping.

Perhaps the most well-known is the charming 3rd Street pedestrian mall.

3rd Street Pedestrian Mall

3rd Street Pedestrian Shopping Mall

This pedestrian shopping precinct is an elegant shopping experience, with plenty of high-end boutique shops and stores to browse through.

As you make your way along 3rd Street, scattered sculptures and fun installations line the way.

Sculptures on 3rd Street pedestrian mall

Wooden rocking chairs are a great way to rest those sore shopping feet, and the kids will love the climbable-sculptures and toys – there are even huge spinning top seats you can sit in!

In the evening, red hanging lanterns atmospherically light the way, making for a beautiful stroll to a great range of quality restaurants and bars to choose from for dinner.

The VOID Virtual Reality

The VOID virtual reality, Santa Monica

Also on 3rd street you’ll find the VOID.

This virtual reality experience takes VR fun to the max as you suit and mask-up to head off into the exciting VR world of your choice!

We experienced both the Star Wars and Jumanji experiences, and they were amazing fun for both adults and kids.

VOID virtual reality, Santa Monica

The VOID is a great Santa Monica activity to do, particularly for families with older kids and teenagers.

Family restaurants in Santa Monica

Seaside on the Pier restaurant pasta dish

There are numerous excellent restaurants and cafes spread throughout the city of Santa Monica – so many you could be forgiven for spending your time simply café and restaurant hopping!

Here are a couple of our family restaurant favourites…

Gallery Food Hall, 3rd Street

The Gallery Food Hall, Santa Monica

The Gallery Food Hall, Santa Monica

We loved eating at the Gallery Food Hall.

With different eateries laid out over two levels, there’s a dish at the Gallery Food Hall to suit every food craving.

Gallery Food Hall lolly shop

Downstairs you’ll find a fabulous lolly shop for desert – decked out with pink chandeliers!

Seaside On The Pier restaurant, Santa Monica Pier

Seaside On The Pier Restaurant

Seaside On The Pier Restaurant

We enjoyed a delicious lunch upstairs at the Seaside On The Pier.

This restaurant is very easy to find, as it sports a full-sized model of Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator 2 movie (filmed in Santa Monica) standing at its entrance!

Arnold Schwarzenegger at the restaurant entrance

The food is delectable, and you can’t beat the location either – it’s well worth having a meal at this excellent local restaurant.

Where to stay in Santa Monica

Shore Hotel, Santa Monica

Shore Hotel, Santa Monica

Whilst in Santa Monica we stayed at the stunning Shore Hotel – an elegant, environmentally conscious luxury hotel located right at the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier.

Take a look at our family suite and find out more about our stay at the Shore Hotel here.

Santa Monica beach front

Santa Monica really is the Californian city for all seasons. Make sure you include it in your USA family holiday itinerary for a true slice of California beach life and a whole lot of family fun!

Find out more about booking your next family holiday to Santa Monica, California at Visit California

Read all about the three exciting California destinations we visited in 2020 here!

If you enjoyed reading this article, please give it a Facebook “Like” or comment below!

This article is meant to inspire travel to California once it is safe to do to. The attractions and experiences featured in this article may be temporarily unavailable due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Please consult official travel resources and individual businesses to confirm future plans.

The Let’s Go Mum family partnered with Visit California and their supporting partners for this trip.  As always, all opinions are our own.

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Things to do in Santa Monica with kids

Things to do in Santa Monica with kids - the Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier


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About LetsGoMum

Hi, I'm Barbara, mum of the Let's Go Mum blog. We'd love to hear from you! You can contact me anytime with ideas on where you think we should go or what you think we should try...just drop me a line at!