Malibu vs. Santa Monica: Which Is the Better Beach Town?


The California coastline is one of the most dreamy and relaxing destinations that come to mind when you think of the United States. The laid-back atmosphere, beautiful Pacific beaches, and ritzy vibe of both Malibu and Santa Monica are virtually indistinguishable. Malibu is an affluent beach town not far from Los Angeles, while Santa Monica is a bit more inclusive; the differences are like night and day, so which is better?

If you want to experience a bit more of a laid-back vibe with more budget options for lodging, Santa Monica is the better choice of California beach town. Malibu will appeal to vacationers seeking a more upscale vibe, as well as a much longer and more varied stretch of coastline. 

Malibu vs. Santa Monica
CategoryMalibuSanta Monica
Cost Per Person (One Week)$364$1,862
Main AttractionsMalibu Beach, Adamson House, Malibu Lagoon Museum, Whale watching during the Spring, Malibu Creek State ParkSanta Monica State Beach, Palisades Park, Santa Monica Pier, The Original Muscle Beach, Santa Monica Place
FoodThe cuisine of the California coast is heavy on seafood selections, as well as crisp and light organic menu optionsThe cuisine of the California coast is heavy on seafood selections, as well as crisp and light organic menu options
WeatherThe weather along the Malibu coast is warm and dry during the spring and summer months, and cool and dry during autumn and winterThe weather along the Santa Monica coast is warm and dry during the spring and summer months, and cool and dry during autumn and winter
SafetyMalibu has a very low crime rate, with only minor instances of petty theft being reported against vacationersSanta Monica has a moderate crime rate, with instances of petty theft and even robberies reported; however, this is rare with vacationers
TransportationPublic buses, shuttles, trains, and bicycling are all popular in Malibu; taxis and ride-sharing apps are also plentiful in the cityPublic buses, shuttles, trains, and bicycling are all popular in Santa Monica; taxis and ride-sharing apps are also plentiful in the city
CustomsTo enter the United States, you will need a valid passport and a visaTo enter the United States, you will need a valid passport and a visa

Although both Malibu and Santa Monica are both popular beach towns in California, there are some differences between the two cities. Malibu tends to scale towards a more affluent vibe, whereas Santa Monica is a bit more inclusive of locals and travelers, with a much higher population. Both cities are popular vacation spots, therefore, this article will explore the differences between the two through a range of categories to find out which is better.

Malibu vs. Santa Monica

Cost of Stay

Both of these destinations represent some of the finest vacation sites in California outside of Losa Angeles, therefore, the cost of a one week’s vacation to either will reflect this. A one-week vacation to Malibu will typically cost about $364, which represents a standard hotel and average daily expenses. Malibu is considered to be inexpensive because most travelers choose to stay directly on the beach in a budget hotel, yet the price can go up in Malibu proper. 

Santa Monica also provides a one-of-a-kind vacation experience in stunning surroundings with many places to visit. A standard one week vacation to this beach town will cost about $1,862. This cost is much higher than what is seen in Malibu. Santa Monica is a bit of a larger town, and much less exclusive, therefore, there are many more options available in terms of accommodation styles and price ranges. 

Affordable Hotel Options

You may be thinking that no such thing as affordable hotel options exist in either of these destinations, yet there are some affordable options hidden away. 

In Malibu, a stay at the Malibu Private Beach Apartments offers a scenic view of the pristine Pacific coastline with all of the comfortable amenities and accommodations that make any trip to the California coast a memorable experience. The rooms are not all glitz and glamour as you would expect in a California beach town, yet they are stylishly low-key and designed as a small apartment, even though you can pay daily or weekly.

Malibu vs. Santa Monica

In Santa Monica, nothing can beat the incredible price that you can find at the Ocean Park Hotel. This modestly-priced hotel is located within a convenient walking distance to stunning views of either Venice or Santa Monica Beach, with easy access to many of the areas prime locations, including a direct bus route to downtown Los Angeles. The rooms are very clean and stylish, with a sunlit beach vibe rounding out the decor and an array of amenities. 

Main Attractions

Both Malibu and Santa Monica are going to fulfill any traveler’s dream of experiencing the unique vibe of a California beach town. But what other attractions are worth taking a visit to?

In Malibu, days and days at the beach are a given, therefore, a trip to the Malibu Lagoon Museum is certainly worth it if you wish to decompress from the sun and sand for a bit. This intriguing museum allows you to take in the history of the Malibu area, as well as survey some important artifacts from the area’s history and view a stunning display of pristine landscape and natural surroundings of Malibu that go far beyond just the beach. 

Malibu vs. Santa Monica

In Santa Monica, you will likely never want to leave the beach, so why not experience a popular stretch of Santa Monica Beach that also includes many forms of entertainment. The Santa Monica Pier is one of the most popular attractions and things to do in Santa Monica. This large, double-jointed pier contains an entertaining amusement park, a large concession stand, and large stretches of the pier that are perfect for fishing and sightseeing. 

Food

The cuisine of the California coast is heavy on seafood selections, as well as crisp and light organic menu options. In Malibu, be sure to check out Duke’s Malibu. This small and beach-loving restaurant offers a wide selection of California favorites and drinks selections. 

In Santa Monica, be sure to visit Rustic Canyon. This upscale casual restaurant is one of the most popular in Santa Monica due to the delicious menu and beachside views. 

Weather

The weather along the Malibu and Santa Monica coast is warm and dry during the spring and summer months, and cool and dry during autumn and winter. The climate is almost like the Mediterranean, with only slightly warmer summer months. 

Safety

Malibu has a very low crime rate, with only minor instances of petty theft being reported against vacationers and Santa Monica has a moderate crime rate, with instances of petty theft and even robberies reported; however, this is rare with vacationers.

Transportation

Public buses, shuttles, trains, and bicycling are all popular in Malibu and Santa Monica. Additionally, taxis and ride-sharing apps are also plentiful in the two cities. 

Customs

To vacation in either Malibu or Santa Monica, you will need a valid passport if you are traveling from outside the United States. Visa requirements are usually minimal depending on how long you wish to stay in the U.S. 

Conclusion

So, which is the better beach town? If you want a longer stretch of beach, Malibu is certainly the better option overall. Malibu also winds points for being incredibly affordable if you wish to stay on the beach, and the lower crime rate is also more appealing. 

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