Santa Monica vs Venice Beach? Which Los Angeles hot spot is best for you?

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When it comes to Santa Monica vs Venice Beach, what’s the difference? Make the right decision about where to go and what to do with our inside guide.

The main street to the sea in Venice Beach
The main street to the sea in Venice Beach

Venice Beach and Santa Monica are two beautiful beaches on the Pacific Ocean with soft yellow sand and a great vibe. Since they are not far from each other, tourists often visit both if they have enough time.

But many quickly figure out that they would much prefer to spend time either in one place or the other. Why? Well, each place has different types of attractions – and different types of tourists.

If you want to get it right from the beginning and book your hotel in the right spot for you, then this guide will help you figure it out.


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The view over Santa Monica from the Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach?

It’s time to consider several criteria, including the tourist attractions, accommodation, food and shopping options, as well as the average cost of living. After all, you may enjoy them so much that your trip extends to a brand new life move!

Don’t forget to schedule time in your itinerary to see more of Los Angeles, from the famous Hollywood Boulevard to the Chinese Theatre and the Griffith Observatory. And sports fans can purchase tickets online for the LA Dodgers here.

Route 66 sign on Santa Monica Pier
Route 66 sign on Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: Overview

Although both beaches are popular tourist destinations, Santa Monica is generally classier, whilst Venice Beach is mostly regarded as a bohemian place, gathering people with more artsy views.

Santa Monica and the End of Route 66

Santa Monica Beach is located along Pacific Coast Highway and is part of the city of Santa Monica. The beach stretches over 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles) and has sparkling clean sand. Dogs are allowed only on the boardwalk, and smoking on the beach is forbidden, which contributes to maintaining everything in pristine shape.

Santa Monica is crossed by a long bike path and offers wooden pathways for visitors with disabilities. It is considered one the best places for swimming in the area, with well-staffed lifeguard stations and swimming instructors who can teach beginners.

Venice Beach Is a Buzzing Hub for Surfers

Venice Beach is governed by the city of LA and is the more budget-friendly version of Santa Monica Beach. It is located between Santa Monica and Marina del Ray Beach and includes a bike trail. Other popular attractions are the Venice Breakwater, Venice Beach Recreation Centre, and the fishing pier.

Venice Beach goes by the same rules as Santa Monica, prohibiting smoking and dogs, which keeps the sand just as clean. The place is renowned as a hot spot for surfers, skateboarders, and bodybuilders who still use the outdoor gym equipment at Muscle Beach. It also has an oceanfront walk with many terraces and upscale restaurants.

Street art on the walk between Santa Monica and Venice Beach
Street art on the walk between Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: Getting There & Parking

Both beaches have parking lots and connect to nearby cities through the Big Blue Bus service.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a walkable town, so you can get to the beach on foot or by bike. However, if you are arriving from another city, there are a few transportation options.

One of them is the bus, which will get you close to the beach for a good price and without having to worry about finding a parking lot.

But for those who will be driving, Santa Monica has lots of parking spaces near the pier along the Pacific Coast Highway, although none are free.

During high season, though, you may need to wait for a while before a spot clears, as the beach tends to become overcrowded.

To get to Santa Monica from the airport, it’s best to take a taxi.

Venice Beach

The same Big Blue Bus service connects downtown Los Angeles to Venice Beach, transporting tourists and locals who either don’t have a car or don’t want to stress or mess about with parking.

For drivers, the Department of Beaches and Harbours offer three parking lots along the Ocean Front Walk. The parking fees go from $9 to $15 in the summer, so cheaper than in Santa Monica, where they can reach $18, and visibly drop in the winter as the number of tourists decreases.

If you don’t want to pay for parking, you can try to find a free spot on the streets of Venice. Since everything here is within walking distance, you will have no problem reaching the beach afterwards. However, during the summer, it can be a real struggle to find paid parking, so free spots are even rarer.

Stylish and luxurious postcards of Santa Monica
Santa Monica is the more swish and stylish of the two places

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: Hotels & Restaurants

Santa Monica and Venice are emblematic of the Southern California lifestyle, offering palm tree-lined streets, the view of the ocean, and of course, many options for sleeping and eating.

Santa Monica Offers Luxurious Accommodations and Restaurants

Santa Monica is a luxurious beach town with not too many options for budget travellers. There are plenty of 5-star hotels close to the beach, offering comfortable rooms and a spectacular view.

You can stay at Palihouse Santa Monica, a very popular Moorish-style manor with a lush garden and front-facing rooms or the Viceroy Santa Monica, where you can get a beach butler and all the equipment you need for surfing.

When in town, Gwyneth Paltrow usually picks the Santa Monica Proper Hotel for its excellent Spa facilities and oriental rooms with hand-woven Tibetan rugs, but Hotel Casa del Mar is also a magnet for celebrities drawn in by the peaceful interior courtyard and private patios.

In terms of food, the possibilities are endless in Santa Monica. From the renowned Pasjoli on Main Street, serving French delicacies like onion soup or foie de poulet à la Strasbourgeoise, to the Italian Bay Cities with its colossal sandwiches and the Asian Cassia, famous for its robust Vietnamese coffee pudding.

Artists selling their wares on Venice Beach
Artists selling their wares on Venice Beach

Venice Beach Has a Bit of Everything for Everyone

By staying at Venice Beach, you pick the hip side of the west coast with its streets full of artists and creatives, street performers, fortune-tellers, surfers and skateboarders. Still a pretty upscale destination, Venice has more accommodation options.

Venice on the Beach is extremely popular among occasional surfers who can grab their boards and suits at the hotel and head to the ocean without needing to rent them on the beach. Families with kids can opt for Su Casa at Venice Beach for family rooms and easy access to the picturesque Venice Beach Canals.

For the nostalgic, Venice V Hotel’s rooms once accommodated Charlie Chaplin and Clara Bow, and there are still some original elements preserved from the early times of cinematography. Finally, the Inn at Venice Beach is the perfect choice for budget travellers who will find a friendly vibe and a very short path to Venice Boardwalk.

The restaurants in Venice Beach range from cheap eateries to upper-class, ultra-luxurious places where every bite is a sublime culinary experiment. Since it’s Venice (well, LA Venice, but who cares?), Italian food is very popular, and many tourists stop by Felix Trattoria for a plate of fresh pasta. Gjelina is also a favourite, even in the winter, when the locals stop for a hot pizza or a smoked-fish plate at this iconic location.

Vegetable stall at Santa Monica Farmer market
Indulge in fresh veg and vitamins at the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: Shops

Shopping is a main attraction in the area, with upmarket shops, boutiques, thrift stores, large malls, and farmers’ markets open all day long for tourists and locals looking for luxury products or a bargain to take home.

Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade Is a Shopping Paradise

Shopaholics must hit the 3rd Street Promenade for a luxurious shopping experience that never seems to end. This place sits just a few blocks from the shore, bustling with big-name stores and plenty of cafes and restaurants, perfect for a break between shopping sessions.

Looking for more? Move to Santa Monica Place, an eclectic open-air mall, home to renowned brands like Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Hugo Boss.

If you are craving some fresh seasonal fruits, the many farmers’ markets in Santa Monica have an excellent selection of produce. The most popular is the Downtown Market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean Boulevard, where you will find over 75 local farmers selling their staff. Lots of food options as well, with fresh food cooked in the open air.

Generally, Santa Monica is more expensive than Venice Beach, so expect to spend more.

Stack of books about Venice in the Small World Books store in Venice Beach
Small world books is one of the most enjoyable stores in Venice Beach

Venice Beach – From Opulent Boutiques to Thrift Stores

One of the best ways to discover Venice Beach is to hit Abbot Kinney Boulevard. It is a lively district stretching from Venice Boulevard to Pacific Avenue and a popular starting point for Boho chic shoppers. Home to both local and international brands, Abbot Kinney becomes a dazzling attraction every first Friday night of each month when the boulevard turns into a street festival with food trucks and music.

In Venice Beach, you can buy everything, from antiques to clothes, cosmetics, jewellery, toys, and so on. Whilst many of the stores were conceived for those who can afford to splurge, some have regular prices and very good products, which makes the experience a true delight for mid-range tourists.

The original Muscle Beach sign in Santa Monica

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: Things to Do

Yes, they are both beach destinations, but is there more to do than just sit around sunbathing all day long? Yes, there is.

Santa Monica Tourist Attractions

  • Marvin Braude Bike Trail – this bike path runs from north of Santa Monica Beach to Redondo Beach for about 40 kilometres (25 miles). It is a popular spot with bikers and roller skaters. Even if you are on vacation, you can rent a bike from Santa Monica Beach Bike Rentals and stay fit while pedalling on the shore of the Pacific.
  • Santa Monica Pier and Amusement Park – some of the best things to try at Santa Monica Beach are the carnival rides or the roller coaster at the Santa Monica Amusement Pier. The Ferris wheel makes it even more magical and a very Instagram-able place. Santa Monica Pacific Park is also a great place for families travelling with kids.
  • The Original Muscle Beach – the idea of a muscle beach first sprung in Santa Monica. Whilst today, its version in Venice Beach is the gathering place for muscle builders, you can still find some equipment at the initial location and challenge your body out on the sand.
  • The Annenberg Community Beach House – this is a great place for pool splashes and a nice spa experience.
  • Santa Monica International Chess Park – take your picture on the human-size chess board or sit at one of the many chess tables to show your chess talents.
  • Surfing & Swimming – with lots of surfboard rentals and many lifeguard stations, Santa Monica is a great place to learn how to swim or surf.

The Venice canals are surprisingly tranquil
The Venice canals are surprisingly tranquil

Venice Beach Tourist Attractions

  • The Venice Canals – a totally different place than the beach, the canals at Venice Beach will charm you with their gorgeous arching pedestrian bridges and lovely beach houses. You’ll often spot ducklings and paddleboarders, drifting along side by side. You can’t rent a boat here but you can bring your own as long as it isn’t motorised.
  • Venice Skate Park – one of the most iconic skating places in Venice, it is also super photogenic, with its many palm trees and the shore just a step away.
  • Mosaic Tile House – expect a dazzling collage of stone and clay in an eclectic place decorated by artists Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran. This used to be their house.
  • Small World Books – if you fancy a book whilst on vacation, this small shop is a great find. From local authors to world-renowned names and even harder-to-find independent imprints, the shop stocks a huge range in a very atmospheric setting.
  • Muscle Beach – inspired by the original Santa Monica Muscle Beach, this outdoor gym became even more famous after some big names like Arnold Schwarzenegger visited it.

Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: Cost of Living

At the beginning of 2023, renting a 1-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica costs around $2,990 per month, with an increase of 13% compared to the previous year. For comparison, a similar apartment in Venice, California, is rented for $3,150 per month. However, even if Venice is more expensive when it comes to the accommodation price, it tends to be a more affordable city from other points of view, like food and service prices.

Cool art installations at Tongva Park in Santa Monica
Cool art installations at Tongva Park in Santa Monica

Conclusion for Venice Beach vs Santa Monica

When it comes to finding the perfect place for a beach vacation in California, both Venice Beach and Santa Monica Beach delight.

However, Santa Monica will cost you more and is a bit classier, whilst Venice Beach is bohemian and romantic (and a bit cheaper overall.)

Finally, Santa Monica works better for families with kids as it has an amusement park right there, whilst Venice, with its beautiful canals and boardwalk, is perfect for couples.

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