If you’re looking for “The Beach” in Santa Monica, well, it’s hard to miss. The waterside edge of town is encompassed by Santa Monica State Beach (Pacific Coast Hwy., www.santamonica.com/visitors ). For 3.5 miles, the fine sand gets raked daily beneath the sun that shines over the beach more than 300 days each year. Flop down in the sand to enjoy the warm sunshine, take a dip in the endless waves of the Pacific, stroll along the boardwalk, or stand at the edge of the of the water and peer out to see if you can catch sight of a pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf.
If you don’t mind crowds, hang out on the sand right near the pier. The best people-watching runs south of the pier area and on towards Venice Beach. For a bit more elbow room, head north of the pier to the less populated end of the beach.
Due to its location right “in” town and adjacent to and beneath the Santa Monica Pier , you’ll find a near-endless array of services at the beach. On the pier and just across from the beach, you can get snacks and meals, rent surf and boogie boards, hit the arcade, and go shopping. Parking varies, depending on which part of the beach you head for. The north end has spotty parking, the pier area can get really crowded but has more options, and the south probably has the best bet for a good spot.