Plan a family-focused stay in Santa Monica

West of downtown Los Angeles, the Pacific Coast city of Santa Monica is one of our favourite places in California to take the kids – here you will find a magical blend of broad beaches popular with surfers and volleyball players, a pier, an amusement park, farmers’ markets, boutiques, galleries and the listed oceanfront Palisades Park with its historic monuments including a Camera Obscura. We’ve shared our favourite things for families to do in this seaside playground.

Plan a family-focused stay in Santa Monica

Engage in some culture at Bergamot Station - 26th Street Art Center

With older kids, this former water-heater factory and warehouse complex is a great place for a spot of art immersion. It’s home to one of Southern California’s leading collection of galleries – in fact, it’s the largest art gallery complex and cultural centre on the west coast. It’s all about ground-breaking contemporary art here, which goes down a storm with teens, but do check the website of the venues for which advance appointments are required.

Have classic seaside fun on Santa Monica Pier

Dividing Santa Monica State Beach from Venice Beach to its south, this is a dream of an old-school seaside pier – home to the Pacific Park amusement park with the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel alongside rollercoasters, bumper cars and a classic games arcade, and don’t forget the Looff Hippodrome Carousel, built in 1922 and beautifully preserved.

Constructed in 1909 and the west coast’s only pier with an amusement park, this is where the iconic Route 66 ends (having begun in downtown Chicago, 3,940km away), and its neon gateway sign is a southern Californian landmark. Guided walking tours of the pier include amusing anecdotes from its history, such as the local origins of cartoon sailor Popeye. Don’t miss a look at Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym established in the 1930s, beside the pier.

Hire bikes from the pier to explore some of the Southern California Coast 

The pier is one of the best places to pick up the 35km paved Marvin Braude Bike Trail, which was named for a councilman who strived to protect the Santa Monica Mountains. Though it technically begins at the Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades a few miles to the north, there’s a handy bike hire (and tours) firm, Blazing Saddles, at the pier itself.

From there it’s only around 15 minutes to Venice Beach, with its famous boardwalk and its own Muscle Beach, and to the Venice canals. From there you can continue to Redondo Beach Pier before returning north to Santa Monica.

Take young kids to the Cayton Childrens Museum

Designed with under-8s in mind, this venue is perfect for some time out of the sun, with vast amounts of space packed with discovery-based exhibits and immersive play including a real-life helicopter. It also hosts a busy program of arts and cultural activities including festivals and workshops.

Across the street from the museum, don’t miss the traffic-free, open-air Third Street Promenade with its upmarket boutiques, street performers and fantastical topiary dinosaurs.

To book your family holiday including a stay in Santa Monica, with full financial protection, call your Travel Counsellor today.

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