Santa Monica is one of America’s most famous beach towns and as you can imagine, summer brings an influx of traveling families from far and wide.
As a local and a mom, I spend (almost) every single day here in the summer, figuring out a fun, nearby activity for my daughter. Bonus points if we can find an outdoor activity with water to cool her off a bit!
After lots of trial and error, we’ve found our top summer spots for daytime play with toddlers in Santa Monica.
*All these activities are generally for walkers, but we still did many of them when Aurora was crawling only and still had a great time!
The Annenberg Beach House is only open in the summer but they make the most of it with a ton of family friendly activities, many of which are free! Access to the pool itself is $10 and comes with showers and changing room facilities and access to a snack bar and game room.
The pool is a clean, refreshing place to cool off. There are abundant lounge chairs with umbrellas but they are often occupied. This place is popular especially during hot summer days, so planning to go during off times (before noon or after 4pm) if you want to avoid a crowded pool or full lounge chairs. Busy or not, it is still one of the best pool experiences in Santa Monica!
Another great thing to note: the Annenberg Beach House has programming throughout the summer with many free kid friendly events! The Santa Monica Public Library does an especially cute “library day at the beach” (see above) which comes with books, crafts and live storytime. Check the Annenberg events schedule here.
Annenberg Splash Pad
There are two splash pads worth checking out: the Annenberg Splash Pad and Tongva Park. The former is located down on the beach, with tables, chairs and umbrellas as well as a little lawn area which makes it easy for parents to sit and watch their littles running (and screaming) through the water. The water is very warm and the area is usually not too crowded, but I’ve never seen it empty either. Later in the day, there’s often some shade which is very nice for delicate little skin. Bring a bucket or ball for even more fun and don’t forget a towel.
Tongva Park Splash Pad
Tongva Park’s Splash Pad is located inside their playground area. Surrounded by rocks, this splash pad is very aesthetically pleasing but note that you (aka the parent) have to push a button to turn the water on and it turns off when you stop pushing. This makes it more environmentally friendly but a little more work. The water here is pretty chilly so make sure it is a warm day! There is usually no shade here.
Santa Monica Pier
The Pier is the icon of Santa Monica, and I think the Pacific Park rides are the ultimate summer experience for kids of all ages. I was curious if my 14 month old would have as much fun here as older kids, but I needn’t have worried–she had a blast!
There are 3 rides in the Pacific Park area for little ones with an adult. We weren’t comfortable letting her go alone yet, so we stuck to those three that we could join: Inkie’s Wave Jumper, Inkie’s Air Lift and Sea Planes. Each ride is $5 for both adults and for kids — which can add up quickly — so we picked the two that looked the best to us: Sea Planes and Inkie’s Air Lift.
The Sea Planes ride was the most relaxed, with cute 4 seater planes slowing lifting up and down as they twirl. Inkie’s Air Lift is the same but are you in hot air balloons, facing your little one and can control the spin as you want. We skipped the Wave Jumper though it looked pretty cute, just because the bounces were a little more aggressive than we wanted for our little one but I’m sure it’s great for older kids. You can see a listing of all the rides here.
Santa Monica Pier Carousel
This historical landmark is 105 years old–built in 1922! The beautifully restored horses really take you back in time and it was a joy to take our daughter on her first carousel experience here. It is only $1 for adults and children under 3 are free, so cost is not an issue. To me, Aurora’s smiles, waving and astonishment at the moving horse was really a worthwhile experience.
North Beach Playground
This new playground is clean, modern and covered with the soft, spongy flooring that makes it feel very safe for little ones. There are no sand or water features here, but that is okay as you do have a beach access path just across from it. I like the far side for little kids, which has a slide, a teeter-totter, infant swings and some fun swirly rides. This park can get busy, especially on the bigger kid side but overall it feels very safe and clean. The only downside is there is very limited shade.
South Beach Playground
How can you not love a playground that is shaped like a ship! This very large playground is set along the beach path, across from the sand and adjacent to some parks. The whole space huge with swings, sand, grass, trees and a variety of play areas. There are some tables on either end and there’s even a little shade. The only downside is you have to follow your child closely because there’s a lot of obstructions so you can lose them pretty easily. Also, I don’t love that majority of the structures are made out of concrete but still, it’s pretty great regardless. If you want to align the playground with a specific theme or school branding, thermoplastic markings from thermoplasticplaygroundmarkings.co.uk can be customized to match your design and branding requirements.
Cayton Children’s Museum
If you need a break from the sunshine, the brand new Cayton Children’s Museum is a super interesting interactive space for all ages and interestes. From a little market and diner area, to a “vet office” to a ball pit and giant water table—there’s so much to do here. There’s even a real helicopter and firetruck inside for kids to explore.
I love the mix of areas that promote imagination and pretend, as well as the tactile areas like the sand and water tables. There’s a playspace that changes as well– sometimes there’s large foam shapes for building, another there’s costumes for dress up and I’ve even seen a sing-a-long music group.
For those under 2 years old, there’s a padded, protected space that is a nice, calm retreat for younger kids.
The only downside to the museum is it can get very busy, so just be sure to keep close to your little one as some older kids and summer camps are usually running around full speed.
These are just some of our summer favorites in the area. Hope they help your little one have even more fun in this family friendly beach town!