Santa Monica vs Venice Beach: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on June 2, 2023 by Wandering our World

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and looking for a great time at the beach, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are two of the best places to go. Situated side-by-side, these two coastal havens are fun for all the family.

Since they’re so close together, it’s really easy to visit both of these sandy spots on the same day. However, you might like to spend more time in one over the other, depending on your tastes and preferences.

So, what’s the difference between Venice Beach and Santa Monica? Well, from a distance, you might not be able to see much to separate one location from the other. They’re both beautiful, lively locations that draw in big touristic crowds, with multiple shops, hotels, and restaurants.

However, take a closer look, and the differences begin to emerge.

Santa Monica, for example, has much more of a glamorous, upscale vibe, with fancy boutiques and gourmet eateries, while Venice Beach is a popular hangout spot for skaters and surfers, with more of a chilled-out vibe and pretty eclectic crowds.

There are various other differences between Venice Beach and Santa Monica too.

That’s why in this comparison guide we’ll highlight everything that makes each of these locations unique and special, from their activities and attractions to general vibes, affordability and more!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Best For Activities?
  3. Which Is Better For Beaches? 
  4. Which Is Better For Nightlife?
  5. Which Is Best For Shopping? 
  6. Which Has The Best Food? 
  7. Which Has The Best Hotels? 
  8. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  9. Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
  10. Which Is Better For Couples?  
  11. Which Is Cheaper? 
  12. Which Is The Better Choice? 

A Quick Overview: Venice Beach vs Santa Monica

Venice Beach: A Quick Overview

Venice Beach is situated in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice. It’s over in the Westside of LA, and it was named after Venice, Italy – in fact, this place was originally called “Venice of America”, when it was founded back in 1905.

The history of Venice Beach is quite fascinating. It was designed and developed by a man named Abbot Kinney.

Kinney bought the land and dug miles of marshes to drain it. He then set about constructing a pier, a dance hall, a new auditorium, and Venetian-style buildings. He hoped to create his own seaside resort town.

These days, Venice Beach might not be exactly as Kinney envisioned, and it’s very different to its Italian namesake, but it’s still one of the top tourist spots in LA.

People come from far and wide to visit Venice Beach, enjoying its soft sands, riding the waves with their surfboards, or admiring the bodybuilders over at Muscle Beach.

Famed for its eccentric, eclectic nature, Venice Beach is an unusual but charming place to be.

It has a massive skate park, family attractions, sports courts, fortune-tellers, street performers, and more, almost feeling like a huge, open-air circus, making it the perfect spot for people-watching and various other activities.

Aerial view of the shoreline in Venice Beach, CA
iStock.com/Melpomenem

Santa Monica: A Quick Overview

Unlike Venice, which is technically a neighborhood of LA, Santa Monica is an entirely separate city.

It runs along Santa Monica Bay and is one of the most popular resort cities in all of California, beloved by many for its restaurants, lively nightlife scene, and the wonderful Santa Monica Beach, which runs for around 3.5 miles in total.

While Venice had Abbot Kinney as its architect, Santa Monica’s design was devised by a pair of wealthy mining entrepreneurs, Colonel Robert S. Baker and Senator John P. Jones.

The pair bought some coastal land and got to work, hoping to build an industrial port. In the end, they changed direction, constructing a tourist resort instead.

Despite being situated right next door to Venice, Santa Monica has a totally different vibe.

It’s widely-considered to be much more upmarket, boasting a range of glamorous hotels, designer boutiques, and even an array of Michelin-starred restaurants, offering gourmet experiences at high prices.

The deluxe, refined atmosphere of Santa Monica stands in stark contrast to the more casual, funfair vibes of Venice.

The beach itself is a terrific swimming and sunbathing spot, and there are plenty of places to shop, dine, and relax in the surrounding streets.

Sunset in Santa Monica, view on beach, pacific ocean and highway, soft focus and low contrast due to rimlight, monochrome vintage
iStock.com/nata_rass

Which Is Best For Activities?

One of the reasons why so many people flock to Venice Beach and Santa Monica is due to their long lists of attractions.

From typical seaside activities like sunbathing, swimming, and strolling along the sand to more unusual things to do, there’s plenty to keep you entertained in both of these beautiful locations.

However, the experiences are notably different, depending on which location you choose.

Venice, for instance, is renowned for being much more surprising and quirky, and one of the best things to do there is simply roam around and take in all the sights and sounds and colors that surround you, enjoying the street performers and admiring the locals.

Meanwhile, Santa Monica offers more traditional experiences, like shopping or splashing around in the water with family and friends. It’s also famous for its awesome pier, home of thrilling Pacific Park attractions, like a Ferris wheel and a super steel rollercoaster.

Let’s take a closer look at the main things to do in each location!

Venice Beach: The Activities

Visiting Venice Beach is an experience of its own. This place is so unique and different to anywhere else in Los Angeles, and one of the best ways to take it all in is to walk along the two-mile-long Venice Beach Boardwalk. This’ll take you past the most-visited spots, like Muscle Beach and the amazing skate park.

Along the way, you’re sure to encounter all sorts of interesting people, from buskers and street performers to bodybuilders, skaters, hippies, and more.

People watching is a huge part of the fun, but don’t forget to check out the Art Walls, a haven for street artists and graffiti gurus from across the globe.

For a totally different kind of walking tour, stroll alongside the Venice Canals. Here, you’ll see a very different side of the neighborhood, with charming residential homes and tranquil streets.

You can even get out onto the water with your own paddleboard, canoe, or kayak – various rental companies make it easy to find your vessel of choice.

Other landmarks and attractions include the weekly Venice Farmers Market, perfect for picking up some fresh produce, and the main shopping and dining street of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, home to quirky souvenir stores and intriguing art galleries.

Or, for something more active, put your surfing, skating, or sports skills to the test.

Sunset at Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
iStock.com/Johannes Seitz

Santa Monica: The Activities

Venice may have a boardwalk, but Santa Monica has a truly incredible pier, and one of the best things to do in Santa Monica is stroll along the pier, enjoying all the attractions along the way.

There are some great spots to simply watch the waves or admire the scenery, along with an exciting theme park – Pacific Park – at the end.

Palisades Park is another terrific spot to walk and take in the beauty and ambiance of Santa Monica.

You can enjoy breathtaking views of the ocean from here, or snap some photos with the Santa Monica Mountains in the background. It’s a lovely place for long, romantic walks with someone special by your side.

Shopping is another popular activity in Santa Monica. There’s a great farmers’ market each week along Arizona Avenue, along with plenty of high-end boutiques dotted across the city, not far from the beach.

The Santa Monica Place mall is also worth checking out for a few hours, filled with big brand stores selling clothes, accessories, and more.

Santa Monica also houses a couple of museums, like the Museum of Flying, dedicated entirely to the art of aviation, and the California Heritage Museum, which lets you take a step back in time to the origins of the city itself.

Galleries are also numerous here, like Bergamot Station, and there are plenty of interesting annual events like the Santa Monica Film Festival

Overall, the activities in both areas are quite different. You’ll find more typical cultural experiences and a wider range of ways to spend time in the larger Santa Monica area, but Venice Beach has a distinctly quirky appeal that really should not be missed.

Santa Monica Pier on the background of an orange sunset, calm ocean waves, Los Angeles, California
iStock.com/Kseniia Ivanova

Which Is Better For Beaches? 

Of course, one of the main draws of both Venice Beach and Santa Monica is the beach itself.

The weather in this part of California is warm and sunny for large parts of the years, and the sands here are perfect for lots of fun activities. But which are has the better beach experiences overall?

Well, Venice Beach is about two miles long. It’s not as vast as Santa Monica State Beach, but there’s still a lot to see and love about this place.

As mentioned above, the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk runs along the length of the beach, so there are always people to see, performers to admire, and things going on, giving the beach a very lively, vibrant feel.

There are also several things to do on this beach, like playing beach volleyball or basketball at the local courts, working out with the equipment of Muscle Beach, or heading out onto the water. Venice Beach has some of the best surfing conditions in the entire area too.

In Santa Monica, Santa Monica State Beach is the place to be. It’s bigger than Venice Beach, with more space for people to spread out.

This means that it’s a little easier to find a quiet section of sand, if you want to get away from the crowds and noise. The waters are excellent for swimming and surfing – lifeguards are always on duty here – and there are various concessions and play areas for little ones.

Santa Monica State Beach is also more accessible than Venice Beach.

It has wooden walkways for guests with disabilities, and there are various volleyball courts, public chess tables, and the pier with all of its attractions to enjoy. Santa Monica also has its own Muscle Beach, known as the “Original Muscle Beach” for workout fanatics.

Overall, both beaches are a lot of fun and rank among California’s must-see sandy expanses.

Venice is exciting and unusual compared to most other beaches along the West Coast, while Santa Monica is a little more traditional and arguably more appealing, due to its larger size.

Sunset on Santa Monica beach with rescue cabin and amusement park on the background
iStock.com/nata_rass

Which Is Better For Shopping? 

Shopping is a great way to spend some time during your visit to either Santa Monica or Venice Beach. Both areas have multiple stores, boutiques, and even markets. But which one is best?

Well, that will ultimately depend on what kinds of stores you like to browse and what products you’re looking for.

The shopping scene in Venice Beach is almost as quirky as the local population, with a myriad of interesting stores to be found along Abbot Kinney Boulevard and the adjoining streets.

You’ll find big, recognizable fashion brands here, as well as awesome bookstores like Small World Books and plenty of souvenir emporiums with funny T-shirts and gifts to take back home. 

Given the more elegant and sophisticated nature of Santa Monica, it’s no surprise that this area is dominated by designer boutiques and luxury stores, especially along Third Street Promenade.

The likes of Louis Vuitton and Tiffany are easy to find here, but there’s also space for awesome indie stores like McCabe’s Guitar Shop, which also hosts live gigs, and fun farmers’ markets.

Overall, shopaholics will probably find more to love in Santa Monica’s store-lined streets and malls.

It’s a great place to find high-end fashion, along with lots of other items, while Venice Beach is mainly suited to souvenir shopping and not a lot else.

Beautiful aerial view of the westside of Los Angeles, the City of Santa Monica. Santa Monica is located in Southern California
iStock.com/TraceRouda

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

Despite being a really lively and dynamic place during the daytime, Venice Beach actually feels pretty quiet and calm in the evenings.

You’ll still find some people strolling along the boardwalk or hanging out in some of the local bars, but there isn’t a big club or nightlife scene in this part of LA, in general.

It’s a pretty different story over in Santa Monica. There, visitors can take their pick from a range of rooftop bars, nightclubs, and other evening hangout spots.

Even the Pacific Park amusement park stays open pretty late, and the area continues to feel busy and lively, well after the sun has set. 

So, if you love staying out late and prefer to party or visit bars and clubs instead of heading back to your hotel for an early night, Santa Monica is definitely the better place to be.

DJ spinning decks at a bar
iStock.com/DisobeyArt

Which Is Better For Food? 

When it comes to food, you’ll find no shortage of great places to grab a bite in Santa Monica.

There are lots of luxury, Michelin-starred restaurants for the wealthy, jet-set crowd, but you can also find simpler eateries for the average family on vacation, with a great mix of American diners, Italian pizzerias, and great Asian restaurants, too.

Venice Beach also has a diverse food scene, ranging from cheap street food all the way up to fancy, high-end establishments with small portions and high prices.

Given the area’s Italian-inspired origins, Italian food is pretty popular here, and you can easily grab a piping hot slice of pizza or sit down for some scrumptious pasta dishes while looking out over the beach.

Overall, both areas have impressive food, with a myriad of menus to choose from.

There’s no clear winner, although it’s easier to find cheap eats in Venice Beach but Santa Monica wins in terms of high quality cooking.

Italian food with seafood
iStock.com/Rawpixel

Which Has The Best Hotels? 

If you’re planning to spend a few nights in and around the Venice Beach or Santa Monica areas, you’ll also need to consider what kinds of hotels and accommodation options are available.

This is another area in which Venice Beach and Santa Monica have some notable differences.

Unsurprisingly, Santa Monica is home to the more luxurious accommodation. Here, it’s easy to find glamorous 5-star spots with waterfront views and large, cozy rooms.

Some of the local hotels even go above and beyond with their amenities, including beach butlers and world-class spa treatments, and many of them will rent out beach equipment or surfing gear, too.

Over in Venice, accommodation tends to be simpler and cheaper.

There are lots of hippy surf-shack style hostels, only a short walk from the sand, along with some fun family-friendly places to stay, but you shouldn’t expect the same high standards of service or long lists of features and amenities here.

Overall, the hotels of Santa Monica are undoubtedly nicer and much more indulgent, but budget-conscious travelers will probably prefer the cheaper rates of Venice Beach.

Women relaxing and drinking tea in robes during wellness weekend
iStock.com/nd3000

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Santa Monica

Budget: HI Los Angeles – Santa Monica Hostel is a fantastic budget accommodation choice right beside the beach and close to many of the main attractions. See photos and rates!

Luxury: The five-star Casa Del Mar is an oceanfront hotel with gorgeous views, a wonderful outdoor pool, exceptional service and even a hydrotherapy spa tub in the rooms! See photos and rates!

Venice Beach

Budget: The Kinney is a great budget stay at an accommodation that matches the quirky vibes of its surroundings! But the best part is the outdoor area with fire pit, ping pong tables and heated pool! See photos and rates!

Luxury: Venice Beach House is a gorgeous property set beside the beach. The garden, rooms and decor are beautiful, and a stay here really does feel like your own slice of paradise. See photos and rates!

Image of couple drinking cocktails when relaxing on chaise-lounges by swimming pool
iStock.com/DragonImages

Which Is Best For Families? 

If you’re heading to the coast with the kids, you’ll want to choose an area that’s safe, fun, and engaging for the entire family. Both Santa Monica and Venice Beach fit the bill, but one area might be a little more family-friendly than the other.

Even though Santa Monica has glitzy spa hotels and feels more mature than Venice Beach, it’s still a very kid-friendly destination.

Kids can have the time of their lives riding the attractions and playing the games of the pier and Pacific Park, and families can easily find space to have fun on the sands of Santa Monica State Beach.

Children of all ages can also marvel at the circus-like playground of Venice Beach, with its vibrant locals and unpredictability.

There are fun activities here, like watching the skaters at the skate park or admiring the talents of buskers and street artists.

However, the crowded and hectic nature of Venice Beach may be a bit too much for families with little ones.

Overall, most families will prefer the experience of Santa Monica, and you can always hop over to Venice Beach for a couple of hours to take it all in, since the two areas are right next door to one another.

Beach bag, beach toys and a little girl on the beach.
iStock.com/teiladay

Which Is Best For Couples? 

For couples, the choice between Venice Beach and Santa Monica can be a tricky one to make.

It all depends on the tastes and desires of you and your partner; some couples might love the eclectic excitement of Venice, but others will favor the laid-back luxury of Santa Monica.

If you choose to visit Venice Beach as a couple, you can spend several hours slowly roaming along the boardwalk, taking in all the unique sights that surround you.

There are plenty of pleasant spots to simply sit, talk, and watch the world go by, and the beach is great for couples to sunbathe or surf together.

However, in terms of romance and comfort, Santa Monica takes the win. It has nicer hotels, many of which offer fine dining and spa treatments if you and your partner are looking for a little indulgence.

It also has a bigger beach for walking and watching the sunset, along with a generally more romantic feel in the air.

Full length shot of an affectionate young couple sharing an intimate moment at the beach
iStock.com/PeopleImages

Which Is Cheaper? 

Cost is one of the big factors to take into consideration whenever you’re choosing between two travel destinations, especially if you’re working with a limited budget and want to get the best value for money.

Even though they’re situated right beside one another, Venice Beach and Santa Monica have pretty different average costs.

And it’s Venice Beach which is usually a lot cheaper for things like accommodation and food.

Typically, you’ll spend more money per day visiting Santa Monica. However, if you book your hotel in advance and plan your itinerary with care, it’s perfectly possible to have a budget-friendly stay in either of these locations.

A view of Venice Beach and Los Angeles nearing sunset with children playing the waves and silhouetted palm trees
iStock.com/Markue

Venice Beach vs Santa Monica: Which Is The Better Choice?

It’s amazing to see how two locations right next to each other can be so different!

Sure, Venice Beach and Santa Monica have a few things in common, like great food, golden sands, and fun attractions, but they’re totally different in terms of their general vibes and the kinds of experiences you can expect to have.

But which one is best? Well, both places have their plus points, but we have to recommend Santa Monica to the majority of travelers.

Santa Monica is bigger, with more to see and do, and more chilled-out vibes. It also has better accommodation, slightly superior food, and a much livelier nightlife scene, as well as more family attractions. 

All-in-all, Venice Beach can’t quite match Santa Monica as a vacation destination, but it’s still worth checking out, especially for those who love the quirkier things in life.

There’s a lot to see there, and no two days are ever quite the same along the Venice Beach Boardwalk. So, even if you’re staying in Santa Monica, try to make time to see Venice too.

Author

  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.