Visiting the Santa Monica Pier with Kids: What You Need To Know Before You Go
Los Angeles is full of iconic tourist attractions, from the Hollywood Sign to Universal Studios. Locals tend to skip many of these areas unless they have out-of-town guests, but some of the attractions are worth a visit any time of year, even if you live here. The Santa Monica Pier is a perfect example of one of these destinations, providing even life-long Angelenos with a full day of fun by the coast. From exploring the historical carousel and the Looff Hippodrome to riding the Ferris wheel and screaming on the rides on the Santa Monica Pier, the Pier is a great place to spend a day in the sun.
While you're in Santa Monica, visit the Cayton Children's Museum, hit the beach, explore Third Street Promenade, and bring along our checklist of the 30 Best Things To Do in Santa Monica with Kids. For more great ways to play tourist in LA, check out our Los Angeles Visitors Guide for Families.
No trip to Santa Monica is complete without a ride of the Pier's Ferris wheel. Photo courtesy of pacpark.com
Why the Santa Monica Pier Is an Awesome Family Destination
The Pier has a lot of history; it's the first concrete pier on the West Coast, is blessed with eye-catching architecture, and is also home to the West Coast's only theme park located on a pier. There's so much to do and see on the Pier that you can spend your entire day on the boardwalk.
But, if you're looking to expand your trip, the city of Santa Monica boasts tons of activities in the area around the Pier.
Take your favorite horse out for a spin. Photo courtesy of carouselhistory.com
Must-Do Activities at the Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier Carousel
One of the most iconic attractions on the Pier is its Carousel and the Looff Hippodrome. This historic structure is like taking a trip into the past —and what kid doesn't love a Merry-Go-Round?
It's free to enter Pacific Park, so you can soak in the ambiance and people-watch. Photo courtesy of santamonica.com
Of course, every kid's favorite attraction on the Pier is Pacific Park. While the Pier is very historic, Pacific Park is relatively new, having opened in the '90s. There are your typical carnival rides, which are pay-per-ride (or you can buy an Unlimited Ride Wristband, which is well worth the price for anyone who loves rides), as well as games, snacks, and other attractions. It's free to enter the park, so you can soak in the ambiance and people-watch without spending a dime! The Ferris wheel has become a symbol of Santa Monica and on a clear day offers breathtaking views of the coast and bay.
Free Historic Walking Tours
This tour will give you an inside look at the unique history of the Pier. From the apartments above the Merry-Go-Round (where Joan Baez is alleged to have lived decades ago) to the original Muscle Beach, you'll get an insider's view.
Stop by the aquarium and get wet in the touch tanks. Photo courtesy of Heal the Bay Aquarium, Facebook
Heal the Bay Aquarium
A small aquarium is located on the Pier and is home to over 100 animals. It may not be the Aquarium of the Pacific or the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but there's plenty to see, including touch tanks, a rocky reef exhibit, and a kelp forest.
If you love fishing, then the Santa Monica Pier is the perfect place to spend the day! At the very end of the Pier is a fishing platform, and throughout the day you'll see locals and tourists taking some time to cast a line.
Soar above it all. Literally. Photo courtesy of The Trapeze School New York, Facebook
Trapeze School New York (TSNY) Los Angeles
The Trapeze School New York hosts daily classes on the Pier. There are classes for all ages and skill levels, from small kids to grown-ups.
Twilight on the Pier
This event series has had a storied past, beginning in 1985 as the Twilight Dance Series and becoming the Twilight Concert Series. In 2018 it became Twilight on the Pier after it became too popular and crowded. On summer nights, come to the Pier for a night of movies, concerts, and other cool outdoor events.
You've got to visit the original Hot Dog on a Stick! Photo courtesy of Hot Dog On a Stick
Santa Monica Pier Restaurants
If you've ever been to a Southern California mall, you'll certainly recognize the iconic yellow, red, and blue logo for Hot Dog on a Stick. While it's mostly a mall chain now, it all got started next to the original Muscle Beach about a hundred feet from the Pier's entrance. While the classic is the beef Hot Dog on a Stick, if you're vegetarian you can always opt for the cheese on a stick! Don't forget the lemonade—the lemons are pressed on location!
For a quick bite between rides at Pacific Park, Pier Burger is a great option that will leave everyone satisfied. The menu is nice and simple, with burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, fish sandwiches, and fries. If you're looking for a sweet treat, the burger joint has frozen custard and milkshakes.
Mariasol is located at the end of the Pier on the fishing platform. It's a great place to relax and take in the ocean views while adults sip a margarita and kids chow down on a quesadilla. The menu is a bit pricier than other options on the Pier, but the flavors and location make it well worth the cost.
This spot is our LA editor's favorite place to eat on the Pier. Photo courtesy of The Albright
The Albright is a family-friendly seafood restaurant that's a nice change of pace if you're looking for something a little cozier than the tourist-geared Bubba Gump Shrimp Company or Rusty's Surf Ranch. It's been around since 1977 so you know they're doing something right. The restaurant has lots of outdoor seating so you can enjoy that salty ocean air.
It's not exactly the most appealing choice for locals, but Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is a very family-friendly dining option on the Pier. The lunch and dinner menus feature plenty of kid-friendly options and there's a great kids' menu.
Strolling on the Strand, by the Pier. photo courtesy of @claytoncleudogoncalves
What To Know Before You Go To the Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is open daily from 6am - 10pm. The carousel is open on Monday and Thursday-Sunday from 11am to 7pm. Heal the Bay Aquarium is open Thursday-Sunday from noon - 4pm.
Santa Monica Pier Parking
The parking lots on the beach by the Pier and the upper Pier deck lot have hours and prices that vary by season and can get quite crowded, but there are also plenty of affordable parking options around the Downtown Santa Monica area. The Pier's website recommends the lot at 1550 Appian Way, the Downtown Public Parking Structures or Beach Lot 4 South at Bicknell and Ocean Ave. The easiest parking option is Structure 8, which is located at Colorado and 2nd St.—it's just a short walk to the Pier and there are even more dining options along the way or in the Santa Monica Place Mall.
Another option, if you live near a Metro station, is to take the train. The E Line (formerly the Expo Line) terminates just a few blocks from the Pier.
Strollers and Bathrooms
The Santa Monica Pier is very stroller-friendly. There are bathrooms located at Pacific Park and all restrooms have diaper-changing tables.
Take a ride from Santa Monica to the South Bay. Photo courtesy of santamonica.com
Attractions Near the Santa Monica Pier
Downtown Santa Monica is full of shopping, dining, and site-seeing opportunities. The aforementioned Santa Monica Place Mall is great for shopping along with the 3rd Street Promenade, which is a 10-minute walk away. Tongva Park is one of our favorites in all of Los Angeles and a great place to escape the throngs of tourists around the Pier and beach.
Another great Santa Monica activity is riding bikes up and down The Strand, which is a paved bike path that runs from the north end of Santa Monica all the way to Marina Del Rey (and then from there, beyond to the South Bay beach cities). If you don't want to bring your own bikes, rent from Santa Monica Bike Share.
From sunrise to sunset, the Pier is perfectly photogenic. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Main image of the Santa Monica Pier is courtesy of santamonica.com