There are a lot of reasons to go to Santa Monica. Even in the summer, when its Hellishly hot in places like Phoenix and Vegas, Santa Monica, cooled by the ocean breezes, is lovely. Cool enough in the mornings that you might need a sweater, maybe seventies or low eighties during the day. The beach is wide, but not particular pretty, and the water can be cold and murky; this is not the Caribbean. Also, the beach is not particularly easy to walk to from most hotels, unless you stay at one right on the beach. A lot of people go to the beach, but Santa Monica is more about the beach lifestyle than the beach itself.
The area has more than it’s share of both tourists and the homeless, but mainly it seems that everyone is either going to or coming back from yoga class. On the charm scale, the neighborhoods nearest the beach are maybe a 7 on a scale of 10, with lots of restaurants and bars, and shops, as to be expected. I never thought I would find myself saying this, but the real standout feature of Santa Monica, other than then the weather, is a shopping mall. Santa Monica place, about 4 blocks from the beach, has got to be one of the nicest shopping malls in the world. It’s fairly new, designed with great taste, and what other mall has a food court on the roof with a view of the ocean? Plus, it has cool stores and great restaurants across a variety of price points. It’s next to the 3rd street promenade, a tourist mobbed pedestrian only street with the usual assortment of Starbucks, chain stores, and chain restaurants. You can find a much more low key shopping environment, as well as far fewer tourists, just a few blocks away on Montana Avenue, where the locals shop. Or head the opposition direction, towards Venice, and stroll Main Street for a more California hippy vibe – lots of vegan food. But in this community, for my money, you’re not going to do any better than the truly fab mall.
Hotels in Santa Monica are generally not going to give you great values if you come in the summer and compete with the sweltering hordes escaping the Phoenix heat, as well as the usual mix of Europeans on their endless vacations and other international travelers. The Georgian has a great location and a very pleasant front porch for drinks but the small rooms are overpriced, and many have no view at all. The few hotels really on the beach, like Shutters, tend to be very expensive and a bit removed from downtown. Santa Monica Pier is well known and attracts the sweating tourist masses, where they find overpriced food, and not a whole lot more, but the walk that leads to the Pier, along Ocean Highway, is pleasant and provides a nice view of the sea from a higher elevation. If you’re escaping the inland California heat, or the far worse heat from the Nevada or Arizona deserts, Santa Monica is just fine for a week or two. Those touring LA should also spend a couple days here, although LA is so sprawling that it really makes more sense to move hotels every couple days if you’re trying to see the whole city than to have a single base. If you’re a serious walker, you can also walk from Santa Monica to Venice (take Main Street).