A Travel Price Comparison for California Big Sur vs. Santa Monica for Beaches, Families, Couples, and Food

Should you visit Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Which city is more affordable and which is best for your travel style? If you're trying to figure out where to go next, comparing the travel costs between Big Sur and Santa Monica can help you decide which place is right for you.

Big Sur

Big Sur is a scenic, remote, and breathtaking natural area. You'll find world class beauty here as well. And you can't forget about the beaches, hiking, and food.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a energetic, active, and lively town. It's also popular because of the shopping, museums, and nightlife.

Big Sur and Santa Monica: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Less family-friendly
  • Less walkable
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Popular beach
  • Fun shopping
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Very walkable
  • Home to the Santa Monica Pier


Is there more to do in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Tourists will generally find more to do in Santa Monica. Although Big Sur and Santa Monica are both popular with visitors, Santa Monica has more sights, activities, and attractions for travelers. Santa Monica is more popular for its museums, food, nightlife, beaches, and shopping, while Big Sur is known for its hiking and impressive beauty. Santa Monica is more touristy than Big Sur and is popular for its active lifestyle and fun-filled activities. It is also home to the Santa Monica Pier. Big Sur is popular for its beautiful state parks, dramatic coastal cliffs, and world class views.

How is Big Sur different from Santa Monica?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Santa Monica and Big Sur. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is very good for its historical sights. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its sights and museums.

If you're looking for an educational opportunity, there are a decent number of museums and historical sights around Santa Monica. There's a thriving arts scene and a number of museums around town. Check out the Museum of Flying, the California Heritage Museum, or the Santa Monica History Museum.

Big Sur offers a few options for museum-goers. Nature is what brings visitors to the area, so most people don't prioritize museums or manmade landmarks.


Is the Food Better in Big Sur or Santa Monica? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is great for its local flavors and cuisine. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its local cuisine and restaurants.

Santa Monica has a number of nationally recognized food spots and restaurants. You'll find a diversity of restaurants in the area, many of which make use of the town's many farmer's markets. The restaurant scene has a beachy vibe with a lot of outdoor dining opportunities. There are also a range of cuisines to choose from such as Mexican, Italian, casual, and upscale.

Big Sur offers number of good local restaurants to choose from. Most of the restaurants offer a breathtaking view. Many use locally-sourced ingredients and they range in style from fine dining to casual eateries.

Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Nightlife?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is great for its evening party scene. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for nightlife.

Many people head to Santa Monica for the nightlife scene. There's a relaxed and laid back vibe to the nightlife scene. Many venues offer outdoor seating and live music in a casual setting. You can hang out on a patio and enjoy the California climate while you sip cold drinks and the beach town atmosphere.

People don't go to Big Sur for the nightlife. There's a taphouse and lounge, but the area is mostly undeveloped with no real nightlife.

Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Beaches?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is an unbeatable place for the beach. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its beaches.

With world-famous beaches, Santa Monica is a very popular vacation destination. Santa Monica Beach is large and lined with bike trails. It's also filled with activity and you'll find many water sports, beach volleyball, and surfing in the area. There's also the famous Santa Monica Pier, which has an amusement park aquarium, Ferris wheal, dining, and shopping.

You'll have a great beach vacation in Big Sur. The coastline and beaches are dramatic and beautiful, particularly Pfeiffer Beach, which has a dramatic waterfall. The water is filled with rip tides and strong currents, so swimming isn't advisable in most places.


Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Hiking?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Big Sur is notable for the nearby hiking options. However, Santa Monica is not a hiking destination.

Big Sur is a popular spot for hiking. The dramatic hikes take you along the coastline, to beautiful beaches and through Redwood forests. There are a number of state parks along the route and some of the best hikes include Salmon Creek Trail, Pacific Valley Bluff Trail, and Ragged Point Cliffside Trail.

Santa Monica is not a hiking destination.

Is the Shopping Better in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is great for its shopping areas. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for shopping.

Many visitors explore the shopping areas in Santa Monica. It's easy to pass the time shopping in Santa Monica. There are independent vendors, fashion boutiques, and art galleries. Head to Montana Avenue or Main Street for some of the best shopping.

Big Sur has some shopping areas for those that seek them out. There are some galleries and gift shops, but most visitors aren't in the area to go shopping.

Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Families?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is an unbeatable place for its kid-friendly activities. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its family-friendly activities.

Santa Monica is one of the most popular family destinations. Many families spend their days hanging out on the beaches, soaking up the sun, and even trying to surf. There's a boardwalk as well as bike paths that are perfect for people watching. You should also check out the Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, which is a thrilling amusement park.

Big Sur is a family-friendly place to visit. Kids will enjoy the hiking and beaches, particularly the Carmel Lagoon at Carmel River State Beach. There are a number of state parks where kids can run around and stretch their legs.


Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Couples?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Big Sur is an amazing natural area to visit for its romantic activities. Also, Santa Monica is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for couples.

Big Sur makes for a terrific place to visit as a couple. Stunning viewpoints and breathtaking coastline make this a wonderful destination for couples. There are romantic inns and impressive hikes along the water's edge or through the dramatic Redwoods.

Santa Monica makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. Fun days on the beach, peaceful walks at sunset, and a wild nightlife scene make this the perfect couples destination for couples who enjoy activity and excitement.

Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

For backpackers, both Big Sur and Santa Monica are good places to visit.

Big Sur is popular with backpackers and budget travelers. There are a couple of hostels in the area, but budget travelers often prefer vacation rentals, which are more common.

It's common for backpackers to visit Santa Monica. There's no shortage of activities in the area, whether you're into surfing, partying, or sunbathing. There's also at least one hostel that's great for budget travelers and backpackers.

Is Big Sur or Santa Monica Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Big Sur is not a good place to visit for its public transit. However, Santa Monica does not have public transit.

Public transit is limited or non-existant in Big Sur. There is no real public transportation in the area.

Santa Monica does not have public transit. The Metro E Line connects the city to downtown Los Angeles. There's also the Big Blue Bus as well the Santa Monica Circuit, which are small electric carts that offer free rides between Wilshire Boulevard and Marine Street, and from the ocean to Fifth Street.


Is Big Sur or Santa Monica a more walkable city?

Big Sur
Santa Monica

Santa Monica is great for its ease of walking around. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its walkability.

Santa Monica is a very walkable destination. The city is very walkable, particularly in the more touristy areas.

Big Sur is not a walkable natural area. While there are hiking trails, Big Sur is a stretch of road that runs along the coast and requires a car to fully access.

For even more information, also check out Is Big Sur Worth Visiting? and Is Santa Monica Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Santa Monica or Big Sur?

How long in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Visitors can find plenty of fun things to do in both Big Sur and Santa Monica. In our opinion, Santa Monica has more to see and do, so we recommend spending more time in Santa Monica than Big Sur. However, 1-3 days is a good amount of time to spend in either destination.

Families should spend more time in Santa Monica than Big Sur. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Santa Monica, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Santa Monica than Big Sur if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Santa Monica.


  • How many days in Big Sur or Santa Monica? Ideal Length of Stay
    Big Sur 1-3 
    Santa Monica 1-3

One day in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

In Big Sur, many people enjoy the food that this breathtaking natural area offers. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision. In one day, you should have a good grasp of this natural area.

In Santa Monica, you'll find nightlife and food. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. One reason most visitors come is for the beaches. This town offers something for everyone. This would be the perfect place to spend one day, as it has just the right amount of activities.

A weekend in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Big Sur is a fun place to experience. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. If you have a weekend, this is a great place to go. It will give you the chance to have new experiences. So, a weekend is just the right amount of time to spend here.

In Santa Monica, you'll find food and shopping. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel. A weekend here is typical. Most people come for the beaches. One reason most visitors come is for the beaches. A weekend is a great amount of time to relax and see the many things that Santa Monica has to offer.


Five days in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

You'll find food around the breathtaking destination of Big Sur. Hikers are also drawn to this area. Take your pick from the many activities offered here. Five days is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days.

Santa Monica is a great place to explore. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. Five days is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days. Anyone can find something fun to do here.

A week in Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Big Sur is a popular place to visit. Many visitors also spend a good bit of time hiking. One week may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing. The entire region has so many activities, and you'll want time to do everything.

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Santa Monica. Many people enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting Santa Monica. One reason most visitors come is for the beaches. People usually spend lots of time at the beach. One week may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Tours Under $1000 in United States of America, The Best Luxury Tours to United States of America, The Best Tours for Seniors to United States of America, and The Best Contiki Tours to United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, Santa Monica or Big Sur?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Big Sur is $0.00, while the average daily cost in Santa Monica is $210. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Big Sur and Santa Monica in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Big Sur $165
    Santa Monica $123
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Big Sur $330
    Santa Monica $246
Compare Hotels in Big Sur and Santa Monica

Looking for a hotel in Big Sur or Santa Monica? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Big Sur


Hotels in Santa Monica


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Santa Monica Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Big Sur -
    Santa Monica $50

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Santa Monica

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Santa Monica:

  • Santa Monica to Long Beach Airport (LGB) - Deparure Private Transfer: $81

Is it cheaper to fly into Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Prices for flights to both Santa Monica and Big Sur change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Big Sur -
    Santa Monica $52

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Santa Monica

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Santa Monica.

  • Los Angeles Premier Dinner Cruise from Marina del Rey: $124
  • Cooking Class: Lobster, Tacos, Tequila at Santa Monica Beach: $295

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Big Sur -
    Santa Monica $38

Tours and Activities in Big Sur

Also, here are some specific examples of entertainment, tickets, and activities for Big Sur.

  • Big Sur California: Pacific Coast Highway Tour: $15
  • Big Sur Highway 1: Explore Coastal Beauty Driving Tour: $17

Tours and Activities in Santa Monica

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Santa Monica are as follows:

  • 15 Passengers Open Ocean/Harbor Cruise Party Boat Marina Del Rey: $129
  • 2 Hour Sailing Adventure From Marina Del Rey: $160
  • 3-Hour Santa Monica and Venice Beach Bike Guided Tour : $72
  • 4.5 Hour Venice Beach Open Air Van Tour: $46
  • 5.5-Hour Exclusive Malibu Stars Homes & Beautiful Beach Tour: $89
  • Boat Cruise ( Drinks included) LA's best attraction: $149
  • Book a Romantic Boat Cruise with a Pro Photographer Captain: $450
  • City Tour of Los Angeles from Torrance and El Segundo: $122
  • Dolphin Sighting Sunset Tour: $90
  • Exotic Tijuana Massage Tour in LA: $250
  • Explore Malibu's Coast: PCH & Beyond - Self Guided Audio Tour: $30
  • Fun Adventure Party Boat Cruise-Wine-Charcuterie & Sealions: $149

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Big Sur -
    Santa Monica $21

Sample the Local Flavors in Santa Monica

Also in Santa Monica, these are the prices for nightlife and alcohol related activities from various tour providers:

  • Vintage VW Hippie Shared Tour to Malibu with Wine Tasting: $199
  • Charcuterie Board and Wine Tasting in Marina Bay: $300


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Big Sur and Santa Monica, we can see that Santa Monica is more expensive. And not only is Big Sur much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Big Sur would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Big Sur and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Santa Monica would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Santa Monica than you might in Big Sur.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Big Sur Expensive? and Is Santa Monica Expensive?.



When is the best time to visit Big Sur or Santa Monica?

Both places have a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. As both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Monica in the Summer?

Both Santa Monica and Big Sur during the summer are popular places to visit. Most visitors come to Big Sur for the beaches, the hiking, and the family-friendly experiences during these months. Also, the summer months attract visitors to Santa Monica because of the beaches and the family-friendly experiences.

In July, Big Sur is generally cooler than Santa Monica. Daily temperatures in Big Sur average around 63°F (17°C), and Santa Monica fluctuates around 70°F (21°C).

Big Sur usually gets more rain in July than Santa Monica. Big Sur gets 0 inches (1 mm) of rain, while Santa Monica receives 0 inches (0 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Summer Average Temperatures July
    Big Sur 63°F (17°C) 
    Santa Monica 70°F (21°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Monica in the Autumn?

The autumn attracts plenty of travelers to both Big Sur and Santa Monica. The autumn months attract visitors to Big Sur because of the hiking trails and the natural beauty of the area. Also, the shopping scene are the main draw to Santa Monica this time of year.

Big Sur is cooler than Santa Monica in the autumn. The daily temperature in Big Sur averages around 62°F (17°C) in October, and Santa Monica fluctuates around 67°F (20°C).

In October, Big Sur usually receives more rain than Santa Monica. Big Sur gets 0.6 inches (14 mm) of rain, while Santa Monica receives 0.2 inches (6 mm) of rain each month for the autumn.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures October
    Big Sur 62°F (17°C) 
    Santa Monica 67°F (20°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Monica in the Winter?

The winter brings many poeple to Big Sur as well as Santa Monica. The cuisine are the main draw to Big Sur this time of year. Also, many travelers come to Santa Monica for the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine.

In the winter, Big Sur is cooler than Santa Monica. Typically, the winter temperatures in Big Sur in January average around 51°F (11°C), and Santa Monica averages at about 57°F (14°C).

Big Sur usually gets more rain in January than Santa Monica. Big Sur gets 2.3 inches (58 mm) of rain, while Santa Monica receives 0.7 inches (17 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Winter Average Temperatures January
    Big Sur 51°F (11°C) 
    Santa Monica 57°F (14°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or Santa Monica in the Spring?

Both Santa Monica and Big Sur are popular destinations to visit in the spring with plenty of activities. Many travelers come to Big Sur for the beaches and the natural beauty. Also, many visitors come to Santa Monica in the spring for the beaches.

In April, Big Sur is generally cooler than Santa Monica. Daily temperatures in Big Sur average around 56°F (13°C), and Santa Monica fluctuates around 61°F (16°C).

In April, Big Sur usually receives more rain than Santa Monica. Big Sur gets 1.1 inches (29 mm) of rain, while Santa Monica receives 0.2 inches (4 mm) of rain each month for the spring.


  • Spring Average Temperatures April
    Big Sur 56°F (13°C) 
    Santa Monica 61°F (16°C)

Typical Weather for Santa Monica and Big Sur

Big Sur Santa Monica
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 51°F (11°C) 2.3 inches (58 mm) 57°F (14°C) 0.7 inches (17 mm)
Feb 53°F (12°C) 1.8 inches (47 mm) 58°F (15°C) 0.9 inches (24 mm)
Mar 54°F (12°C) 2.1 inches (55 mm) 58°F (15°C) 0.4 inches (10 mm)
Apr 56°F (13°C) 1.1 inches (29 mm) 61°F (16°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm)
May 59°F (15°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm) 63°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm)
Jun 62°F (16°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 66°F (19°C) 0 inches (0 mm)
Jul 63°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm) 70°F (21°C) 0 inches (0 mm)
Aug 64°F (18°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 71°F (22°C) 0 inches (0 mm)
Sep 64°F (18°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm) 70°F (21°C) 0 inches (1 mm)
Oct 62°F (17°C) 0.6 inches (14 mm) 67°F (20°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm)
Nov 56°F (13°C) 1.8 inches (45 mm) 62°F (17°C) 0.2 inches (5 mm)
Dec 51°F (10°C) 2 inches (51 mm) 58°F (14°C) 0.6 inches (15 mm)