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Santa Monica, California, or "SaMo," is an affluent beachfront city located 15 miles west of Los Angeles. One of Southern California's premier vacation destinations, it draws nearly 8 million visitors a year. It is known for its pristine beaches, outdoor tourist attractions, and many celebrity residents.
Must See in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Pier, which includes Pacific Park amusement park, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and scenic views galore, deserves top billing on any SaMo to-do list.
The perfect place to give your credit card a workout or just people-watch, the Third Street Promenade is a shopaholic's paradise and also features numerous dining and entertainment venues.
Tired of lounging lazily on the beach? Lace up your sneakers and climb to the top of the storied Santa Monica Stairs.
Where to Stay in Santa Monica
Each of SaMo's roughly 40 lodging options is situated within 4 miles of the beaches and the pier. If money is no concern, book a suite at the swanky Shutters on the Beach hotel. Other luxurious options near the water include Viceroy Santa Monica and Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. A more modestly priced, kid-friendly option (the chocolate chip cookies at check-in are a nice touch) is the DoubleTree Suites.
Best and Worst Times to Go to Santa Monica
Elbow room on the beach can be hard to come by during spring break (March, April), throughout the summer, and around the Christmas holidays. SaMo is far less hopping in September, when the kids are back in school and many vacationers have gone home.
Where to Get Lost in Santa Monica
Most people snub the city bustle for the sun-drenched beach, but the walker-friendly downtown area, dotted with shops, galleries, historic architecture, museums, and eateries, is the perfect place to get lost.
The Best Deals in Santa Monica
Each evening, the Third Street Promenade features free live entertainment including street performers, musicians, mimes, magicians, acrobats, performance artists, and dancers.
The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is free for children 12 and under.
Transportation in Santa Monica
The city's main attractions are all within a stone's throw of most hotels, so it's easy for tourists to go car-less in Santa Monica. Avoid trying to drive to Los Angeles, as the freeways are frequently gridlocked. Instead, if venturing into L.A., hop aboard the Big Blue Bus #10, which links directly to downtown.
Getting in from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
The easiest way to make the 14-mile northbound trek from LAX to SaMo is via taxi (estimated cost: $30-$35). A more budget-friendly option is to take the airport's free shuttle to parking lot C, then hop aboard the Big Blue Bus (Route 3) to downtown SaMo.
Local Tip for Visitors to Santa Monica
At Pacific Park, you can buy all-day wristbands, good for unlimited rides, for around 30 bucks a piece. At many Costco stores in the area (or on Costco's website), you can purchase a pack of 4 wristbands for only about $60 total.
Author's Bio: Marcus Whelchel lives and writes in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife and daughter. He travels to far sunnier places when he finds enough quarters in his couch cushions. You can read his latest writings at the bottom of the trash can in his office.