Best Drives in Santa Monica
With endless sunshine and scenic corridors, a visit to Southern California begs for meandering drives.
Adventuring is always in vogue — and there is no way more suitable to experience California than by car. Staying at our Santa Monica hotel offers more than just beach escapes, but numerous road trips — and views — as breathtaking as they are inspiring.
With endless sunshine and scenic corridors, a visit to Southern California begs for meandering drives that make it obvious why the state attracts artists and remains an irresistible destination. And after a day spent exploring windswept coasts and tapestries of city lights, Oceana awaits to welcome you home.
The Pacific Coast Highway, from Santa Monica to Malibu
An iconic drive stretching from California to Washington, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) oversees hundreds of miles of sweeping ocean views and a survey of the best of the West Coast. Traveling from Santa Monica to Malibu (~17 miles) previews the longer journey and makes for an unforgettable afternoon.
Malibu has no shortage of its own scenic drives. While up the coast, extend your journey to take advantage of the proximity to more cinematic vistas. Off of the PCH, near the iconic arches of El Matador Beach, climb through the looping roads of Charmlee Wilderness Park, with options to park and hike. You’ll want to make sure you drive as far as the canyon’s top, curling around Point Dume for can’t-miss views.
A drive intriguing enough to inspire a movie deserves more than just screen time. The road winds through the Los Angeles Hills, capturing the full majesty of the surrounding natural spaces — and the sheer variety within driving distance of the metropolitan bustle. Along Mulholland Drive’s 21 miles, you’ll catch glimpses of classic Art Deco architecture, the Hollywood sign, and the tawny waves of the San Fernando Valley contrasted with the glimmer of Los Angeles.
You can take the drive west to east, or east to west. If beginning from the west, head from our Santa Monica hotel to where Mulholland meets Cahuenga, near the Hollywood Bowl. If starting from the east, drive up to San Vicente Mountain Park to begin the journey.
Palos Verdes Drive, from Palos Verdes Estate to San Pedro
Another route with a blockbuster claim to fame, this unique and ecologically enthralling drive — which begins about 20 miles south of Santa Monica — was featured in scenes from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series. The 14-mile drive is a testament to California’s expansive beauty and how rugged coastline lingers so close to the city. With a slower speed limit, the trip results in a leisurely opportunity to appreciate all of the natural splendor, culminating at San Pedro, where you can see the Korean Bell of Friendship, or op to roam down the cliffs to find the remains of the SS Dominator, which sunk off the coast in 1961.
Have some more free hours? Winter months in SoCal offer more than just an excuse for Instagrammable drives.
Arroyo Seco Parkway, from downtown LA to Pasadena
Where it all began. The 9.5-mile Arroyo Seco Historic Parkway, connecting downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, is the first freeway in the Western United States and a tribute to days past. Though it doesn’t have the coastal views of some of the other drives, the parkway offers a journey through California’s history, with the historic Arts and Crafts style that emphasizes foliage and more meandering roads. Before returning to Santa Monica, enjoy take-out coffee and cake from Urth Caffé’s Pasadena outpost.
To get to the Arroyo Seco Parkway from Oceana, drive east through the city. The parkway begins at the Four Level Interchange.
Wilshire Boulevard, from Santa Monica to Downtown LA
There are few drives that offer a more quintessential peek into Los Angeles throughout the decades than Wilshire Boulevard. This urban voyage ushers in its own memorable scenery and a rich historical and cultural survey of the city. Though you may encounter traffic — to minimize it, avoid peak times, often between 7-9 am and 4-7 pm — take advantage of the slower pace to appreciate the vastly varied cityscape. Begin the 16-mile stretch at our hotel in Santa Monica and travel east to downtown, passing through iconic neighborhoods including Koreatown and Beverly Hills, and crossing “Miracle Mile,” where museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA), hold court.
Prefer to explore the area by foot? Santa Monica offers exceptional hikes along bluffs and through canyons for invigorating explorations and stunning scenery.