Living in Santa Monica - Here's What it's Like [Insider's Guide]
Santa Monica’s quality of life ranks high, making it one of Southern California’s most coveted places to live. People move to Santa Monica to be close to the beach, to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle, and to take advantage of all its first-rate amenities.
Did you know it is regarded as one of the ten most sustainable cities in the country? City buses run on natural gas, government vehicles run on alternative fuels, and all buildings must comply with green building codes. Bike paths are plentiful and they crisscross every part of the city.
Santa Monica, nearby Venice, and Alsace have collectively earned the nickname "Silicon Beach." In recent years, many tech firms moved to Santa Monica - from startups to large internet companies - all looking to locate their regional offices here. The increased demand for workers has been a driver of housing growth in recent years both in terms of the pace of construction and the increase in home prices.
The City of Santa Monica provides law enforcement services separate from the City of Los Angeles. There are two hospitals and top-notch public transportation services (The Blue Bus and Metro Trains). The Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) is convenient for aviation enthusiasts and aircraft owners.
History of Santa Monica
Purportedly named after Saint Monica by Spanish explorers in the late 1700s, Santa Monica has been fondly called “City of Inspiration” or “City by the Sea” over the years. Founded in 1875 by mining tycoon Senator Jones, Santa Monica was then incorporated in 1886. It experienced a boom in the 1920s and another in the 1960s when the Santa Monica Freeway opened. Today, the city is home to more than 90,000 people.
Santa Monica is a beach town at heart. It was built and promoted as a resort destination in the early 1900s when amusement piers were popular, attracting vacationers and well-heeled Easterners looking to resettle in The West.
Tourism was Santa Monica's core economy in its early years which an unpredictable source of revenue and subject to broader economic conditions. Not surprisingly, SaMo was hit especially hard by the Great Depression. But it didn’t remain down for long. The town transformed into a modern, first-class city over the remainder of the 20th century.
A few key events pulled Santa Monica forward to become what it is today. First, Douglas Aircraft Company (later McDonnell Douglas) built planes at Clover Field as a part of the war effort (WWII), employing up to 44,000 people. The Postwar boom in civil aviation kept manufacturers across Southern California busy cranking out aircraft.
WWII Factory Worker at Douglas Aircraft Company
Next, in 1966, the completion of the Santa Monica Freeway connected Downtown Santa Monica to the rest of Los Angeles County’s massive freeway system, increasing access to and from the area at an ever-faster clip. And people loved it.
Lastly, in the 1980s, the city’s revitalization efforts to the improve the downtown area continued to foster growth and bring prosperity. Today, Downtown Santa Monica is a business district, vibrant shopping center, and entertainment hub.
Santa Monica Amenities
Santa Monicans frequent casual neighborhood restaurants and farmer's markets and enjoy a variety of outdoor activities. Maintaining an active lifestyle here is easy. The beach is an obvious recreational choice for many. But dig in a little deeper, and you will find several jogging/cycling paths and pocket parks, too.
Santa Monica boasts four weekly farmer's markets including Downtown Santa Monica’s Wednesday and Saturday markets, Pico Farmers Market and Ocean Park Sunday Market. These markets have received high praise for their fresh produce and flowers. In fact, they’ve been rated the best in the country by Travel+Leisure Magazine.
The main branch of the Santa Monica Public Library is located in the center of Downtown, and four other branches reside in the Pico, Montana, Ocean Park and Fairview neighborhoods. You’ll never be far from a quiet place to study, take a class, join a book discussion, or check out a book.
Santa Monica State Beach stretches 3.5 miles north and south of the Santa Monica Pier. It has a paved path for biking and running and a beautiful beach for surfing, volleyball and picnics at the beach. Annenberg Community Beach House, along with several private clubs, are also located here.
Santa Monica State Beach was home the original Muscle Beach that sat just below the pier before moving to nearby Venice Beach. However, a fitness area still remains with several workout areas and outdoor fitness stations.
South of the pier, Venice’s Muscle Beach has been fixture since the 1930s with its extensive outdoor gym and boardwalk lined with eclectic stores. North of Santa Monica, Will Rogers Beach provides the locals with a less crowded option. If you’re not biking there, expect to pay a nominal parking fee for the day.
Santa Monica State Beach
Palisades Park is a 26.4-acre park situated atop the bluffs along Ocean Avenue. Visitors love the view and locals a come here for a daily run, bike ride, yoga session, or to enjoy sunset view.
Situated at Ocean Park and 25th Street, Clover Park has a plethora of activities for kids and adults alike. With a baseball field, basketball court, tennis courts and two playgrounds, you can stay all day. And it's a relaxing spot for a picnic or BBQ.
Douglas Park has lawn bowling, tennis, and a grassy knoll nestled above a duck pond. Located at Wilshire and 25th Street, this park even has a clubhouse available to rent for private events.
Tongva Park is located on Ocean Avenue only minutes from the beach and Santa Monica Pier. It has multiple climbing structures and a splash pad for kids, with stunning overlooks of the beach to enjoy at sunset.
The Santa Monica Stairs draw folks looking for a cardio workout that is guaranteed to make them “feel the burn.” Two sets of stairs are available, a metal set at 4th Street and Adelaide Drive and a wooden set 500 feet up Adelaide between 4th and 7th.
Just north of Santa Monica in Pacific Palisades, the 186-acre Will Rogers Park is a prime spot for hiking, with a 2-mile loop to Inspiration Point or longer hikes along the Backbone Trail. You can also ride horses here, which is how the park’s namesake Will Rogers preferred to experience it. And if you bring your dog, make sure it is on a leash or risk getting a fine.
Shopping & Dining
Since the late 1800s, Third Street Promenade has been the main shopping district in the city. Through this bustling open-air shopping center, you will find national clothing, sporting goods, and homeware brands. Charming cafes, restaurants, gourmet coffee shops, and bakeries also line the walkway. There are three movie theaters and an arthouse theater on 2nd Street.
Third Street Promenade
Adjacent to Abbot Kinney, Santa Monica's Main Street district offers an array of boutique stores and restaurants. There are also some luxury hotels nearby, including Casa Del Mar and Shutters on the Beach, both of which offer gorgeous terraces and beachside dining experiences.
Montana Avenue houses upscale boutiques and mainstay restaurants, including several Italian classics and the neighborhood favorite, Father’s Office. Yoga and Pilates studios also line this street.
With ample free parking just off the 1-10 and 26th Street, Bergamot Station offers the SaMo community more than 40 art galleries to peruse. Weekly events include receptions, screenings, talks and pop-up events.
Adjacent to Santa Monica, Venice’s famous Abbot Kinney district caters to both the Silicon Beach and artist communities. The street is full of funky cafes and pop-up shops mixed with fine dining and high-end boutiques. It also hosts First Fridays each month, with food trucks, happy hour specials and other special events.
The Santa Monica Pier (1909) is a huge tourist attraction but also a favorite venue for locals, especially for its wildly popular summertime Twilight Concert Series.The pier also hosts open-air movie screenings, drawing the whole Westside community to the downtown area. The Pier houses Pacific Park, a colorfully-lit, solar-powered Ferris wheel that juts high into the air. It is the most visible part of the pier and can be seen from many miles away at night. An early pier attraction, the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome (carousel), is a National Historic Landmark.
Harvelle’s Santa Monica is the oldest music venue on the Westside (est. 1931), famous not only for its blues and jazz shows but also for its weekly burlesque performances.
The Santa Monica Playhouse has been a part of the Downtown scene for over 50 years. It is a true gem, perfect for an intimate live theater experience. Its calendar of events ranges from musicals and plays to holiday specials and kid-friendly shows.
Santa Monica Neighborhoods
Ever wonder where to live in Santa Monica? There are eight principal neighborhoods, each with distinct character based its history, architecture, density, and proximity to the beach. Santa Monica is one of the best suburbs of Los Angeles, an affluent and highly desirable city. Thus, living in Santa Monica is not cheap; home prices are well above the Los Angeles County average.
Downtown Santa Monica
Downtown Santa Monica is compact and has excellent public transportation options, including a Metro Expo Line stop. Metro will get you from Santa Monica to Culver City, Downtown Los Angeles, and Pasadena. Downtown is the city's commercial core, a shopping district with a high concentration of retail stores and restaurants. Most of the homes for sale in Downtown Santa Monica are luxury condominiums.
Mid-City West incorporates part of Downtown Santa Monica and runs between Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, including some areas that stretch to Olympic. The 18th Street Arts Center is one of its gems, and there are dozens of eateries. Townhomes, duplexes, and luxury condominiums make up the bulk of Mid City's real estate listings.
North of Montana
North of Montana comprises Ranch and Mediterranean homes and beautiful English cottages and townhomes. Residents enjoy their go-to spots for food, coffee, and camaraderie on Montana Avenue and regularly visit the bi-weekly farmers market nearby. North of Montanta real estate is among the city's most expensive.
Northeast Santa Monica
Northeast Santa Monica sits between Wilshire Boulevard and Montana Avenue, north of 21st Street and adjacent to Brentwood. This is an excellent spot to find Contemporary and Mediterranean homes. Lot sizes are big, and houses are set back from the street. Most Northeast Santa Monica homes for sale have front lawns, and many have backyard pools.
Ocean Park is just north of Venice in the southwest corner of Santa Monica. The district boasts a small-town feel and abuts a popular stretch of the shoreline and is known for its beaches. Ocean Park is a good area of town to find bungalows and condominiums. It is a favorite neighborhood with artists and working professionals, including those working in SoCal's tech hub, known to some as "Silicon Beach."
Pico District is one of the most diverse communities in Santa Monica. It sits between Pico and Olympic Boulevards. Virginia Avenue Park and Bergamot Station (where you will find several art galleries) sit within its perimeter. Homes in Pico consist of a broad mix of styles and is an excellent place to hunt for Craftsman, Shotgun, and California Bungalow homes.
Sunset Park is a peaceful residential neighborhood between Lincoln and South Centinela Boulevard just east of Ocean Park. The community is known for its diversity. Most houses for sale in Sunset Park were built in the 1930s-1940s, but you will find Contemporary architecture, too.
Wilshire Montana (aka "North of Wilshire") is an upscale, palm-lined neighborhood comprised of Craftsman homes and luxury condominiums. Residents love the proximity to the beach and Downtown Santa Monica while living in a quieter area of town (less traffic, etc.)
Santa Monica Schools
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) operates the public schools in the city and to communities north of town, up to and including Malibu. Not only does it cover a lot of ground, but it also serves over 11,000 students.
The district is recognized for its educational excellence and is ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Three schools have earned National Blue Ribbon Schools honors. SMMUSD has a handy map finder tool to look up schools by street address.
Santa Monica residents also have a choice to send their kids to any one of eleven local private schools.
There is one public junior college in town, Santa Monica College. It serves over 30,000 students and offers classes in 90 academic fields. It operates the main campus on Pico Boulevard and five satellite campuses. It is also home to the ever-popular KRCW radio station.
Santa Monica Statistics
Santa Monica has a mild weather, revitalizing ocean breezes and sunshine on most days. Beware the marine layer; summer temperatures are usually chilly compared to inland communities, say 72 degrees. That’s the small price one pays to live near the water.
- Estimated Population: 92,478
- Land Area: 8.57 square miles
- Population Density: 10,790 people per square mile (Average)
- Zip Code(s): 90401, 90402, 90403, 90404, 90405
- Elevation: 105 feet
- Rapp Saloon (1875) is Santa Monica’s oldest structure. This masonry building first opened its doors as a beer hall and later became the city’s first City Hall.
- In the 1930s, Santa Monica had a brief stint as the city’s prime location for filming. But directors looking for a perfect daytime shot found that waiting for the fog to burn off was a time waster, so they moved east to Hollywood.
- Initially designed to protect the sewage pipe dumping treated sewage into the Pacific, Santa Monica Pier’s Pacific Park is one of the city’s most popular attractions, with its 160,000 LED solar-powered Ferris wheel towering above.