16 Free Things to Do in Santa Monica, CA

In California’s South Coast, Santa Monica is an unparalleled beachside stunner that spans over eight miles in the western section of Los Angeles County.

This endearing city offers a blend of residential and commercial districts in its walkable avenues.

Its art scene is thriving with the presence of indoor and outdoor recreation sites.

Though its auto history and aviation days have passed, the city continues to celebrate its roots with historic buildings and museums left and right.

Dubbed Silicon Beach, the sea is also the core of most of its recreational attractions.

Since 1886, the city’s incorporation, Santa Monica has drawn visitors with its pleasant year-round climate.

On top of all these, Santa Monica offers cheap and budget-friendly options for travelers.

Here are free things to do in Santa Monica, California:

Walk along the Wharf at the Santa Monica Pier

View Apart / Shutterstock.com

One of the world’s most photographed attractions, the Santa Monica Pier is the heart of the city and its heritage.

Also the first concrete pier on the west coast in 1909, this historic site was a hit among the fishing community within Santa Monica.

In 1919, it suffered deterioration, but years after, it came back good as new, serving the locals and tourists with its massive entertainment displays.

Its family-friendly features include carnival rides, local souvenir booths, and American classic snacks.

But though its carnival section comes with a fee, admission to the pier is free.

Ferris wheel and rollercoaster at the Santa Monica PierPaper Cat / Shutterstock.com

The Santa Monica Pier’s wooden platform is an ideal hangout spot for families and lovers because of its breathtaking beach views and warm breeze.

Bring the whole family for a fun day at the pier, which is accessible from Colorado Avenue.

Aerial view of the Santa Monica Pieroneinchpunch / Shutterstock.com

Party at the Beach at Pier 360 Beach Sports & Summer Festival

Pier 360 Beach Sports & Summer Festival is a free annual event that welcomes locals and tourists of all ages.

This summer kick-off event embraces the traditional beach culture while adding a touch of athletics and music.

Started in the 1930s, this event happens every June on the Santa Monica Pier.

From surfing to beach volleyball, there are many ocean-focused competitions you can register for.

For your little ones, there are art zones and sandcastle-building activities they can do—all for free!

After a day’s worth of exploring the beach and hanging out, listen to live music while munching on a free treat at Pier 360 Beach Sports & Summer Festival.

Go for a Swim at Santa Monica State Beach

People swimming at Santa Monica State BeachTupungato / Shutterstock.com

A Santa Monica trip isn’t complete without a visit to Santa Monica State Beach.

A popular beach not only within the city but also throughout the state, this attraction is an extension of the amusement that the Santa Monica Pier offers.

It is also connected to various hiking and biking trails from the north and south.

Lifeguard station at Santa Monica State BeachSergey Novikov / Shutterstock.com

With over three miles of pristine sand and strong waves, many come to this beach to surf and swim.

But if you are not interested in any of those activities, you can always soak up the sun and get a nice tan.

Bring out your blankets and sun lotions because at Santa Monica State Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway, the ocean party never ends!

Aerial view of Santa Monica State BeachTierneyMJ / Shutterstock.com

Relax at Ocean View Park

Looking for a park with multi-faceted amenities?

Ocean View Park is the place for you.

This park has six tennis courts and a basketball field and offers expansive views of the beach below.

Within the property, there’s a hill featuring a walkway that connects to Ashland Walk and grassy fields for your ultimate respite and recreation.

You can find this park on Barnard Way.

Enjoy a Picnic while Sightseeing at Palisades Park

Trail at Palisades ParkJon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

Along Ocean Avenue, Palisades Park provides serenity and privacy to its visitors.

This 26-acre park is a historical landmark that offers expansive views of Santa Monica Bay.

It went by the name Linda Vista Park until 1915.

With its rose garden and grassy expanse, it’s an ideal place for a picnic while looking out into the bay below.

View of the beach from Palisades ParkLux Blue / Shutterstock.com

One of Palisades Park’s most popular attractions is the Camera Obscura Art Lab and various monuments.

Gaze up and admire the historical Saint Monica sculpture, as well as the Craftsman-era stone gates.

Benches along Palisades ParkLux Blue / Shutterstock.com

Learn More about Wildlife at the Snowy Plover Beach Walk

When it comes to yearly festival traditions, Santa Monica has the most awaited events in all of South California, and one of them is the Snowy Plover Beach Walk.

This free event, hosted by Annenberg Community Beach House, is a unique take on the usual wildlife exploration.

Instead of the common fowl and mammal study, this event centers on scouting snowy plovers.

Get the chance to learn more about these endangered species’ and their habitat.

While there, expand your knowledge of the Santa Monica shoreline and its residents.

Don’t miss the Snowy Plover Beach Walk at the Beach House on East Pacific Coast Highway.

Admire the Sculptures and Gardens at Tongva Park

Sculpture arch at Tongva ParkSteve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

Right between Main Street and Ocean Avenue, the six-acre Tongva Park brings a slice of history to its modern urban landscape.

It got its name from the indigenous community that once considered Los Angeles County their home.

With four distinct sections, this park stands out among the rest for its unique art installations and structures.

Observation deck at Tongva ParkLucialulululu / Shutterstock.com

Its sustainable fig trees are also most notable for their large shade.

Take advantage of the park’s fountains and walking paths by strolling around the park property.

Most of all, what truly makes Tongva Park a popular attraction is its proximity to the Santa Monica Pier.

Sunny day at Tongva ParkSteve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

Climb up the Steps at the Santa Monica Stairs

Looking down the steps of Santa Monica StairsDocFreeman24, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stay fit while enjoying your time outdoors at the legendary Santa Monica Stairs.

These athletic stairs, standing over 100 feet, has almost 200 steps.

This is equivalent to one city block!

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts come by this site frequently, giving you the motivation to start on your exercise regimen, too.

With only trees and the sights of nature around you, the Santa Monica Stairs offer no distraction.

Head to Adelaide Drive to get to the bottom of the stairs.

View the Public Art Collections All over Santa Monica

Got an eye for art and design?

Santa Monica’s walkable downtown district won’t disappoint.

The city’s collection of public art is as mesmerizing as its dazzling beaches and outdoor parks.

Marvel at the colorful and diverse k-rail murals all over Main Street.

Within Historic Belmar Park, study the architecture and model of the “A Resurrection in Four Stanzas” art installation.

Within Barnard Way at Sea Colony is another mural with vibrant symbols made of acrylic paint.

Inside the borders of Santa Monica Pier, admire the Día de Los Muertos Public Art Installation sculpture celebrating culture and tradition.

There are lots of hidden art gems all over the city, so keep your eyes peeled!

Get Fit with the Equipment at Original Muscle Beach Santa Monica

People at the Original Muscle Beach Santa MonicaTero Vesalainen / Shutterstock.com

Itching to work on your cardio right after your Santa Monica vacation?

You don’t have to wait that long!

Original Muscle Beach Santa Monica ensures you get your fair share of exercise while enjoying the city’s beauty.

Established in the 1930s, this athletic park found fame as a venue for acrobatic practices.

Signage of the Original Muscle Beach Santa MonicaPhotos BrianScantlebury / Shutterstock.com

Back then, during the peak of the Great Depression, several films featured incredible performances and stunts here.

Hence, to master their craft, athletes found a way to keep their bodies in shape within an outdoor setting.

Use the ropes, swings, and parallel bars at the site for some exercise routines.

Original Muscle Beach Santa Monica is on Ocean Front Walk.

Equipments at the Original Muscle Beach Santa MonicaUnwind / Shutterstock.com

Listen to Street Performers along Third Street Promenade

Aerial view of Third Street PromenadeVadik Swenson / Shutterstock.com

Looking for a more laid-back way to spend your vacation within the city?

Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade may be the best place to spend your day—and night!

This street endorses a car-free block and open-air entertainment.

With its reputation as a shopping paradise and a street performance hub, it’s no wonder tourists consider this street an attraction.

Water fountain at Third Street PromenadeIdealphotographer / Shutterstock.com

Go window-shopping along the promenade’s small- and large-scale boutiques and shops.

And when night comes, listen as live music from street performers and artists fills the streets.

Third Street Promenade always has something new to offer to tourists, so be sure to experience it at least once.

Street musician at Third Street PromenadeApostolis Giontzis / Shutterstock.com

Other Things to Do Nearby

Trek along the Trails at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Aerial view of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation AreaJoe Y Jiang / Shutterstock.com

Though South California’s assets are its beaches, this region does not shy away from other attractions.

At Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Calabasas, you’re in for a wildlife and historic adventure.

Once home to the Tongva and Chumash, this 15,000-acre spot boasts diverse landscapes and coastal ecosystems.

It’s also a famous hiking and wildflower-sighting site.

A hiker at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation AreaDanita Delimont / Shutterstock.com

Its stunning rock points have attracted rock climbers, too.

Enjoy solitude and nature’s beauty as you explore.

Entering this recreation area is free, but if you want to extend your visit and camp there, there are small fees to pay.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on Mulholland Highway is only a half-hour drive from Santa Monica.

Mountain views at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation AreaDanita Delimont / Shutterstock.com

Spot Whales at Malibu Bluffs Park

Observation deck at Malibu Bluffs Parkdivanov / Shutterstock.com

Only a 22-minute drive from Santa Monica, Malibu Bluffs Park is a Malibu public delight.

Extending to six acres, this park is a community event favorite because of its location.

The park has family-friendly amenities and offers scenic views of the Pacific Ocean along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Its trails and walking paths are famous among hikers, runners, and athletes.

The grounds of Malibu Bluffs Parkdivanov / Shutterstock.com

There is a playground, a demonstration garden, and a soccer field, too!

But alongside its park facilities, Bluffs Park is most famous for its whale-watching stations.

Spend your break looking out for these large water mammals!

Wander along the Boardwalk at the Venice Canals

Los Angeles has a wide range of world-class tourist landmarks you shouldn’t miss out on, and among them is the Venice Canals.

This 1983 waterway attraction takes inspiration from its Italian counterpart of the same name.

Situated right off Fifth Street, this site circles around neighborhood houses and sidewalks.

Go on a peaceful walk along the bridges and pathways by yourself or with a loved one.

The Venice Canals only require 14 minutes of travel if you start from Santa Monica’s downtown area.

Go on an Art Museum Date at Hammer Museum

Exterior of Hammer MuseumLMWH / Shutterstock.com

You can never have enough fine arts exhibitions on the South Coast.

At Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, marvel at the various exhibits on display.

Opened in 1990, this museum is part of the UCLA School of Architecture and Arts Department art institution project.

Throughout the years, it has showcased various artists, both local and international.

Sculpture on the grounds of Hammer MuseumLMWH / Shutterstock.com

The museum also provides an avenue for emerging authors to share their craft with the public.

Hammer Museum on Wilshire Boulevard is only nine minutes away from Santa Monica.

Interior of Hammer MuseumLMWH / Shutterstock.com

Browse through the Greek and Roman Antiquities at The Getty Villa

Exterior of The Getty VillaJoseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

The Getty Villa is a notable art museum resembling an Italian villa in the 1st century.

Right along East Pacific Coast Highway in the community of Pacific Palisades, this site features ancient Greek and Roman antiques.

Browse through glass displays of both permanent and changing exhibitions to see these and other artworks from museums all around the globe.

When you step outside, the view is just as extraordinary.

Interior of The Getty VillaSantiparp Wattanaporn / Shutterstock.com

There’s a reflecting pool surrounded by colonnaded walkways.

The peristyle also has a large garden with a clear view of the Pacific Ocean.

From Santa Monica, drive southeast for about 12 minutes to reach The Getty Villa.

Garden at The Getty VillaKit Leong / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Santa Monica’s oceanside allure is only part of what makes this city a remarkable travel destination.

With its vast array of free tourist attractions, it’s easily a good choice for those planning to stick within a certain budget while traveling.

Take note of these free things to do in Santa Monica, California, for a budget-friendly but fun vacation!


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