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Santa Monica’s Top 5 Family Friendly Highlights

By Melissa Klurman

If your perfect family vacation includes miles of golden beaches, abundant sunshine, sparkling ocean waters, lush palm trees, and lots of activities for the entire family, then look no further than picturesque Santa Monica, California. Here the family fun trifecta of sand, surf, and sun seem as though they were created to order by nearby Hollywood and the sun shines nearly 95% of the time.

Perched on the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica is located at the crossroads of the famed Pacific Coast Highway and California Interstate Highway 10. Bordered by Malibu to its north and Venice Beach to its direct south, it’s the perfect amalgam of easygoing beach atmosphere with just enough active pursuits mixed into its balmy breezes to be fun for the whole family.

Here’s our top ten Santa Monica family vacation activities sure to please you and your entire family:

1. Bike Riding - Head to the beach in this car-centric city and you’ll be in for a great surprise: miles of flat, well-maintained bike trails that follow the beach all the way from northern Santa Monica’s Will Rogers State Park to the funky beaches of Venice. The ride from iconic Santa Monica Pier to the skateboard park in Venice is approximately 3 miles long, completely level, and is the perfect biking bath for beginners. With ample stops for playground, bathroom, and snack breaks one way should take about 45 minutes.

Tip: Perry’s (www.perryscafe.com) is tops in town when it comes to bike rentals (from $10 per hour). They have tandems (kids bikes that hitch to an adult bike) and tag-a-longs (trailers for tots) in addition to bikes big and small. Perry’s multiple locations along the bike trail allow you stop for service anywhere along your ride. Best of all, Perry’s cafes (at all but their Santa Monica Pier Blazing Saddles location) serve up smoothies and healthy bites right on the sand.

2. Beach Fun - With nearly 4 miles of manicured sand and lifeguard patrolled gentle waves, the free beaches in Santa Monica seem custom-made for family fun. If your kids get tired of playing in the water and frolicking in the sun (it could happen) be sure to check out the beachside playgrounds including the toddler-friendly one at Hollister Avenue and the Ocean Park Playground at Barnard Way.

Tip: Although the beach is lovely any time of year, things really heat up, so to speak, in summer when the activities at the newly renovated Annenberg Beach House (beachhouse.smgov.net) kick into full swing. This public beach center has a pool (family pass $24 per day), a visitors center, beach volley ball and tennis courts, a café, and kids activities.

3. Soaking up Celebrity Style - The Fairmont Miramar (www.fairmont.com/santamonica) has free-standing family bungalows around a roomy pool and one of the best kid’s menus in town. In addition, the hotel has a Perry’s partner location right below the property where you can sign drinks, food, and bike rentals right to your room. The Fairmont Miramar has been a favorite with celebrities for decades, with everyone from Greta Garbo to Britney Spears having stayed in the secluded bungalows (not to mention families in-the-know).

Tip: Be sure to show the kids the massive fig tree in the front courtyard, it’s the second largest is California and more than 130 year old, and the turtles in the ponds around the pools. New turtle babies join the ranks on a regular basis.

4. Third Street Promenade – All your favorite mall stores with fresh air access; this is a must-stop for teens and 'tweens looking for the coolest Puma sneakers, hippest Urban Outfitters gear, and coolest frozen yogurt at Pink Berry. Fun for the whole family is the Wednesday and Saturday farmer’s market, when the best of California produce is on display.

Tip: To try some super fresh farm-to-table fair, stop by Figs at the neighboring Fairmont Hotel, or pick up fresh Mexican bites at the Border Grill taco truck.

5. Santa Monica Pier – Clocking in at nearly nine acres, this pier is the oldest on the West Coast and its iconic (and solar-powered) Ferris Wheel and vintage carousel have been constant draws for families for more than a century. Be sure to put on your walking shoes and bring your camera for the amazing views at the end of the pier jutting out over the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find amusement park rides at Pacific Park (www.pacpark.com), located in the middle of the pier.

Tip: Just underneath the beginning of the Pier is the Heal the Bay Aquarium, a small-child pleaser with kid-size tanks and more than 30 species in touch tanks for hands-on exploration.


Melissa Klurman is an award-winning travel journalist who has worked at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s Travel Guides, and written for magazines including Parents and Disney’s Family Fun, covering everything from Southern Florida to Southern Africa, where to take a family vacation to how to pack. She lives in NJ with her husband and six-year-old son Aidan, who luckily loves airplane food and miniature hotel soaps.

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