Affiliate Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. See full Affiliate Disclosure here.

Manhattan Beach vs Santa Monica – Which One Should You Visit?

Both Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica are popular vacation spots located in Los Angeles, California. 

This post will look at the differences between them to help you decide where to visit on your next trip! It covers hotels, activities, atmosphere, nightlife, beaches and more!

Summary – Manhattan Beach vs Santa Monica

Manhattan BeachSanta Monica
Relaxed &
laid-back vibe
Busy & urban
Hotels away
from the beach
Hotels by the
Limited nightlifeVibrant nightlife
Surfing, volleyball,
Water sports, roller
coasters, cycling
Less activitiesMore activities

Manhattan Beach is a laid-back beach city with an expansive beach lined with volleyball nets. It’s also super popular with surfers. 

Santa Monica is a vibrant coastal city known best for the Santa Monica Pier which features an amusement park, aquarium and panoramic ocean views.

Manhattan Beach has more of a small town feel compared with Santa Monica which feels a bit more urban like a city.  

Santa Monica is a major tourist spot so gets very busy however Manhattan Beach doesn’t get as busy and has more of a relaxed, small town vibe. 

In Santa Monica, you can stay right by the beach itself but in Manhattan Beach most of the hotels are a long walk away from the main action. 

Which Is Bigger? Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica

Santa Monica is much bigger than Manhattan Beach as it covers 21.8km2 whereas Manhattan Beach covers just 10.2km2.

Even though it’s bigger, Santa Monica is much more busy and crowded as it has a much higher population. 

Santa Monica has a population of 91,500 compared to Manhattan Beach which has just 35,500.

Which Has Better Activities? Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica

As Santa Monica is a popular tourist spot, there’s way more activities available there compared to Manhattan Beach.

Activities In Manhattan Beach

Whilst Manhattan Beach doesn’t have as many things to do as Santa Monica, there are still a small range of activities to keep you occupied.

Top Activities In Manhattan Beach: 

  • Surfing
  • Volleyball
  • Manhattan Beach Pier
  • Roundhouse Aquarium 
  • Marvin Braude Bike Trail

Most people spend their time in Manhattan Beach doing some shopping or relaxing on the beach. You can also take a bike ride along the bike trail which runs parallel to the beach. 

Surfing is a super popular activity in Manhattan Beach so put on your wetsuit, grab your surfboard and catch some waves.

Slightly inland, Downtown Manhattan Beach is the bustling city center where you’ll find high-end boutiques, shops, bars and lots of restaurants.

Head out to Manhattan Beach Pier for epic views of the beachside mansions and surfers.

Activities In Santa Monica

Santa Monica is super popular with tourists so it has a wide range of activities available. 

Top Activities In Santa Monica:

  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Pacific Park 
  • Santa Monica Beach
  • Palisades Park
  • Downtown Santa Monica

Without a doubt, Santa Monica’s most popular attraction is the Santa Monica Pier.

The pier is the location of an amusement park, including a ferris wheel, roller coasters, a carousel and an aquarium. The rides here are not too scary so they are perfect for the whole family. 

Take a stroll along this iconic pier at sunset for unforgettable views or grab a snack or trinket from one of the stalls that line the pier. 

You can also join an electric bike tour and explore the beaches and streets of Santa Monica. You could also explore Santa Monica by segway if you prefer.

Activities In Los Angeles

Both Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach are close to central Los Angeles so you can easily enjoy the wide range of activities there including visiting the famous Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills and more. 

Book yourself onto a Los Angeles tour so you can see all of LA’s top sights in one day.

Which Has Better Accommodation? Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica

Both Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica have some great places to stay, however the hotels in Santa Monica are better located, closer to the beach and main town area.

Accommodation In Manhattan Beach

In Manhattan Beach, there are not many hotels close to the main beach area. Most of the hotels are on Sepulveda Boulevard which is a long walk from the shops, restaurants and the beach. 

Be prepared to get an Uber or Lyft every day to and from the beach if you plan on staying here. 

Best Hotels In Manhattan Beach:

The Sea View Inn At The Beach is one of the best places to stay in Manhattan Beach as this is the closest hotel to the beach. It’s also one of the only hotels by the beach in the area.

Accommodation In Santa Monica

Santa Monica has lots of great hotels within walking distance to the beach, shops and restaurants. All of the hotels are clean, modern and comfortable. 

Best Hotels In Santa Monica:

Which Has Better Beaches? Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica

Both Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica have great beaches. Manhattan Beach is much more relaxed and laid-back compared to the beach in Santa Monica. 

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach’s biggest draw is it’s beach. This flawless beach has ultra-smooth sand and is dotted with volleyball nets. It’s also a hotspot for surfing!

Manhattan Beach features a small shopping area with local shops and restaurants right next to the beach itself. 

You can also take a walk along the scenic boardwalk which runs parallel to the beach or along the Manhattan Beach Pier where Manhattan Beach meets the Pacific Ocean. 

You can take a nice relaxing stroll up here to enjoy the breathtaking views of the expensive beachside homes that line the beach. 

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica also has an impressive beach.

In Santa Monica, you’ll find a large expansive beach with bike trails and lots of activities nearby.

Santa Monica State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Los Angeles. This soft, sandy beach is 3.5 miles long and is within walking distance to hotels, shops and restaurants. 

You can get out onto the water – try stand-up paddle boarding or surfing. You can also take a bike ride along The Strand which is a bike trail that runs along the beach. 

This beach is also home to the iconic Santa Monica Pier.

Which Is Better for Nightlife? Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica

Both Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica have a great nightlife scene. There’s much less choice in Manhattan Beach but it still has a good range of bars and clubs. 

Nightlife In Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach has a range of bars to choose from as well as upmarket and exclusive clubs. 

Head over to The Strand House for unforgettable ocean views and speciality cocktails.

Nightlife In Santa Monica

The nightlife in Santa Monica is vibrant and exciting. You’ll find everything here from dive bars to upscale lounges and live music venues.

Santa Monica’s nightlife is super relaxed. You don’t have to worry about pre-booking and getting tickets (as you generally have to with LA). The atmosphere and dress code are also relaxed too – it’s a beach town after all! 

There’s loads of bars that have great happy hour deals so you don’t have to spend a lot to have a good time.

Which Is More Affordable? Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica

Anywhere you stay in Los Angeles will be pricey.

In general, Manhattan Beach will be cheaper than Santa Monica. This is mainly because Santa Monica is more geared towards tourists.

You will spend slightly less in Manhattan Beach but the difference is minimal. 

Both Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica are fantastic vacation destinations. 

I hope this article was helpful in highlighting the main differences of Manhattan Beach vs Santa Monica.

Related Posts: