When people imagine raising kids in Southern California, what they’re picturing is Santa Monica. The beach, the sunshine, the tall swaying palm trees, the parks, the pier, the virtually ubiquitous farmers’ markets, the pedestrian zones, the bike lanes, and the beat cops on Segways – it’s all here in sunny Santa Monica by the sea.
Downtown Santa Monica is what most people from other communities know us for, and not without good cause; we who live here love to spend the weekend pretending we’re on vacation as we wander the Pier, ride the rollercoaster at Pacific Park, have an ice cream at the historic carousel, watch the shark feedings at our fabulous aquarium, window shop along the pedestrian Promenade, lounge at our community beach house, and – in what passes for winter – tan while we skate at our outdoor seasonal ice rink. During the summer months, we enjoy free weekly concerts Thursdays on the Pier and Sundays at City Hall. Locals can walk or bike to all of these attractions, of course, but parking is not too painful either, with the city’s many low-cost public lots (first two hours free). Real-time parking availability in these lots is on the city’s parking website.
A little north of the downtown area is the less touristy, highly Mommy-fied Montana Avenue area. Shopping can be a little pricey on this street, but the cafes, restaurants, and fro-yo spots (Menchie's and DiDio's - yum!) are mighty inviting. Moms-to-be wondering which stroller is the current “it” stroller need only walk a block of Montana to find out; one season it’s a parade of BOBs; the next it’s Bugaboo Central. The passengers of those luxury strollers find plenty to do on Montana as well, including storytime at Giggle or a family flick the art deco Aero Theater – a rep cinema that features loads of classic family-friendly films.
Farther south, Santa Monica gets funkier and a little more urban. It’s not exactly Soho, but the Main Street area definitely has more edge than the rest of town – in that “just cause we have kids doesn’t mean we’re going to give up being hip” kind of way. The shops and cafes are mostly one-offs, and organic, Fair Trade coffee rules. Kids enjoy the trip for the Ben and Jerry’s with the cool fountain, or for the wonderful Paint Lab art studio, where drop-in budding Rembrandts are welcome.
Santa Monica’s parks are plentiful and well designed. Virginia Park is popular in the summer for its splash patio, and parents can sit in a central spot to watch the water feature, little tykes playground, and bigger kids’ playground without moving. Douglas Park has its duck ponds, skateboarding/scootering area (which sometimes turns to a water play area), and large fenced-in playground that make up one of the city’s most popular family meeting points. Clover Park is the site of the annual Santa Monica Festival. Its many picnic tables and grills make it a popular spot for birthday parties, and the playground has a tall tower that kids love to climb for the view. Reed Park is a shady and contained neighborhood playground popular with the little ones.Joslyn Park is also handy for containing little ones, and the adjacent dog park is fun to watch through the bars. Marine Park is quiet, shady, and off the beaten path. Palisades Park is the glorious cliff-top walk for enjoying the perfect sunset. Ocean Park playground is an enclosed playground right on the beach. Need we go on?
Santa Monica’s public libraries are a great resource, from the recently renovated main branch with the courtyard that features a café and a stream, to the three cozy neighborhood branches that offer story hours and other kids’ programs almost daily. The schools are, frankly, what keeps the real estate prices up; the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District combines resources to offer some of the best public schools in Southern California. The arts thrive in the museums and galleries of Bergamot Station, at the Broad Stage complex, the Miles Playhouse, The Edgemar Center for the Arts, and the Annenberg Beach House – to name only a few. Bi-weekly kids’ concerts at McCabe’s Guitar Shop are a Sunday morning staple, and Santa Monica Playhouse almost always has a kids’ show running in repertoire. And for aviation enthusiasts, the Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport is a treat.
Farmers’ markets run on Wednesdays and Saturdays on the Promenade, Saturdays at Virginia Park, and Sundays – complete with pony rides – on Main Street. Another popular family outing is the Tuesday night food truck gathering at the Heritage Museum on Main Street. Families can browse a wide selection of foods in the parking lot and either picnic by the car or sit down to enjoy the meal with drinks and music at the Victorian.
And, of course, there’s the beach. We have wonderful beach camps, beach playgrounds, beach bike rentals, a beach aquarium, beach cafes, and – nearly every day – a beautiful beach sunset.