A Travel Price Comparison for California Santa Monica vs. South Lake Tahoe for Nightlife, Families, Couples, and Food

Should you visit Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

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

Should I visit Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe? This is a common question asked by many travelers. By figuring out which city has activities that align with your interests along with knowing which is more affordable, you'll understand where you can get more bang for your buck. So, let's dive into the details and the data, which all comes from actual travelers.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a active, lively, and funfilled town. And you can't forget about the museums, nightlife, and food.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is a breathtaking, idyllic, and scenic town. You'll find world class beauty here as well. And you can't forget about the food, hiking, and shopping.

Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Popular beach
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Home to the Santa Monica Pier
Pros
  • Popular for skiing
  • Active nightlife
  • Nice resorts
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Good public transit
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights


Is there more to do in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Visitors will usually find more to do in Santa Monica than South Lake Tahoe, as it offers more sights, attractions, and activities. Santa Monica is better known for its museums, food, beaches, and shopping, while South Lake Tahoe is more popular for its skiing, nightlife, resorts, hiking, and impressive beauty. Santa Monica is more touristy than South Lake Tahoe and is known for its active lifestyle and fun-filled activities. Also, Santa Monica is famous for the Santa Monica Pier. South Lake Tahoe is well known for its casino resorts, ski resorts, and beautiful setting.

How is Santa Monica different from South Lake Tahoe?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

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

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Skiing?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is notable for snow skiing. However, Santa Monica is not a skiing destination.

People head to South Lake Tahoe specifically to take advantage of the area's skiing and winter sports. There are three ski resorts in the area. Heavenly Mountain Resort is the largest, but if you're looking for something smaller, head to Kirkwood, which is tucked away and less well known. There's also Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, which is popular with groups and families because it caters to a range of skill levels.

Santa Monica is not a skiing destination.


Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Santa Monica is a nice place to visit for its sights and museums. However, South Lake Tahoe is not a good town for its museums and history.

Santa Monica offers a variety of museums and landmarks to choose from. 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.

While most people don't head to South Lake Tahoe specifically for the museums and attractions, it does offer a few options. Most people spend their time exploring the area's nature, but you can also stop by Tallac Historic Site or the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum.

Is the Food Better in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Santa Monica is a well-known place for its local cuisine and restaurants. Also, South Lake Tahoe is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its restaurants.

Eating is part of the travel experience when you visit Santa Monica. 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.

South Lake Tahoe is becoming an appealing option for foodies. While most resorts have their own restaurants, there are a number of options around town that specialize in "alpine comfort cuisine", which is worth sampling. You'll also find plenty of cafes that serve up a hearty breakfast - the perfect way to start an active day.

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Nightlife?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is an amazing town to visit for nightlife and partying. Also, Santa Monica is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its evening party scene.

South Lake Tahoe has a colorful and one-of-a-kind nightlife scene. The resort town has plenty of nightclubs, bars, and music venues. There are outdoor options when the weather is warm as well as indoor settings for cooler weather. You'll also find casinos and live shows.

Santa Monica has a lively atmosphere and nightlife is popular here. 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.


Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Resorts?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is notable for its resorts. However, Santa Monica is not a resort destination.

South Lake Tahoe is known as a popular and fun resort destination. It's a resort town, so there are plenty of options to choose from, many with pools, spas, or casinos.

Santa Monica is not a resort destination.

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Beaches?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Santa Monica is an amazing town to visit for the beache. However, South Lake Tahoe is not a beach destination.

The beaches in Santa Monica are among the best in the world. 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.

South Lake Tahoe is not a beach destination.

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Hiking?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is an amazing town to visit for the nearby hiking options. However, Santa Monica is not a hiking destination.

People visit South Lake Tahoe specifically for its hiking, as the natural beauty is well-known. There are miles of beautiful hikes in the area that follow the lake's shore or explore the diverse terrain. Skyline Trail Hike is a favorite. It is accessible by lift and offers spectacular views. For a relaxing stroll check out Fallen Leaf Lake Hike.

Santa Monica is not a hiking destination.


Is the Shopping Better in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Santa Monica is a well-known place for its shopping opportunities. Also, South Lake Tahoe is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its shopping areas.

Santa Monica is a popular shopping destination with plenty of stores. 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.

South Lake Tahoe has a variety of shopping areas worth visiting. Most of the shopping involves retailers selling ski gear or outdoor equipment. There are also clothing shops, gift stores, and some art galleries.

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Families?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Kids will enjoy a visit to either Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe.

As it has a large number of activities for kids, Santa Monica is a very family-friendly destination. 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.

South Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular family destinations. Kids will love the outdoor adventures that the area is filled with. There are gondolas, lakefront beaches, adventure parks, and tubing. There are also miles of hiking trails and a beautiful setting that even the young ones will appreciate.

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Couples?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is an amazing town to visit for its romantic activities. Also, Santa Monica is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for couples.

South Lake Tahoe makes for a terrific place to visit as a couple. It's beautiful setting and wide variety of adventurous activities make this the perfect destination for a romantic getaway. The lake has hidden coves and nearby hiking trails. There are also hot springs, gondolas, and carriage rides. You can go hiking when the weather is warm or skiing when the weather is cold.

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 Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Both Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe are notable destinations for backpackers.

Plenty of budget travelers 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.

South Lake Tahoe is popular with backpackers and budget travelers. There are a couple of hostels in the area and the skiing and hiking attracts the backpacker crowd.

Is Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is a moderate town for its public transit. However, Santa Monica does not have public transit.

Public transit is generally limited in South Lake Tahoe. While there are some shuttles and buses, if you really want to explore the area, you'll need your own car.

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 Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe a more walkable city?

Santa Monica
South Lake Tahoe

Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe both are very good when exploring on foot.

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

South Lake Tahoe is a very walkable destination. Once you get to town, the area is very walkable.


For even more information, also check out Is Santa Monica Worth Visiting? and Is South Lake Tahoe Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in South Lake Tahoe or Santa Monica?

How long in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

In either Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe, you'll find plenty of activities to fill your time. Most visitors tend to spend more time in South Lake Tahoe than Santa Monica because of the overall number of sights and activities. Usually, 1-3 days is a good amount of time for Santa Monica, and 3-5 days is enough time in South Lake Tahoe.

Families should spend more time in Santa Monica than South Lake Tahoe. 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.

Couples should spend more time in South Lake Tahoe than Santa Monica. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in South Lake Tahoe that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.


  • How many days in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe? Ideal Length of Stay
    Santa Monica 1-3 
    South Lake Tahoe 3-5

One day in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

You'll find food and shopping around the active destination of Santa Monica. People usually spend lots of time at the beach. Because of this, one day is usually enough time for a trip here. This town offers a variety of activities to choose from.

In South Lake Tahoe, many people enjoy the nightlife and food that this scenic town offers. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision. With so much to do, one day is probably not enough time to see everything.

A weekend in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

You'll find shopping and museums around the energetic town of Santa Monica. If you have a weekend, this town makes for a great vacation. It's also a great beach destination, too. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision. Most people head to the area for the beaches. This would be the perfect place to spend a weekend, as it has just the right amount of activities.

South Lake Tahoe is a fun place to experience. People often spend their time relaxing at one of the resorts. It will give you the chance to have new experiences. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than a weekend exploring.

Five days in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Santa Monica is a popular choice for travelers. It's a great spot for a beach vacation. It will give you the chance to have new experiences. Five days may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing.

In South Lake Tahoe, many people enjoy the shopping and skiing that this breathtaking destination offers. Hikers are also drawn to this area. Take your pick from the many activities offered here. Plenty of people spend five days in the area when traveling. So, five days is just the right amount of time to spend here.


A week in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Santa Monica is a great place to explore. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. Take your pick from the many activities offered here. Most people head to the area for the beaches. Most people find that one week is more than enough time to see everything.

South Lake Tahoe 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.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best 2-Week Tours from New York City, The Best 2-Week Tours from Anchorage, The Best 2-Week Tours from San Francisco, and The Best 2-Week Tours from Los Angeles.


Which place is cheaper, South Lake Tahoe or Santa Monica?

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

The average daily cost (per person) in Santa Monica is $210, while the average daily cost in South Lake Tahoe is $118. 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 Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Santa Monica $123
    South Lake Tahoe $54
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Santa Monica $246
    South Lake Tahoe $108
Compare Hotels in Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe

Looking for a hotel in Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe? 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 Santa Monica


Hotels in South Lake Tahoe


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 and South Lake Tahoe Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Santa Monica $50
    South Lake Tahoe $24

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Santa Monica

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Santa Monica:

  • Santa Monica to Los Angeles Airport (LAX) - Departure Private Transfer: $67
  • Santa Monica to Los Angeles Airport Departure Private Transfer: $74

Is it cheaper to fly into Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Prices for flights to both South Lake Tahoe and Santa Monica 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
    Santa Monica $52
    South Lake Tahoe $38

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Santa Monica

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

  • Flavors of Venice Beach Food Tour: $96
  • Marina del Rey Christmas Eve Buffet Dinner Cruise: $175
  • Marina del Rey Christmas Day Buffet Dinner Cruise: $175
  • Los Angeles Premier Dinner Cruise from Marina del Rey: $178
  • Marina del Rey Father's Day Plated Dinner Cruise: $222

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Santa Monica $38
    South Lake Tahoe $56

Tours and Activities in Santa Monica

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

  • Explore Malibu's Coast: PCH & Beyond - Self Guided Audio Tour: $15
  • LA & Self-Guided Aerospace Legacy Audio Tour: $15
  • Santa Monica Scavenger Hunt Walking Tour and Game: $22
  • Santa Monica Ghosts Haunted Ghost Tour on the Pier: $30
  • Santa Monica Puzzling Adventure: $35
  • Santa Monica Downtown Walking Tour: $40
  • Santa Monica Scavenger Hunt Walking Tour: $44
  • Virtual Reality Escape Room Experience: $45
  • Los Angeles: Latin Dance Club Crawl Experience: $65
  • Sights and Sips Cruise Tour in Marina del Rey: $69
  • LA: Santa Monica & Venice Beach Guided Bike or eBike Tour: $72
  • 3-Hour Santa Monica and Venice Beach Bike Guided Tour : $72

Tours and Activities in South Lake Tahoe

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for South Lake Tahoe are as follows:

  • Driving Lake Tahoe: A Self-Guided Audio Tour From Tahoe City to Incline Village: $9.99
  • Self-Guided Driving Tour from Lake Tahoe to Virginia City: $12
  • Driving Lake Tahoe: A Self-Guided Tour From Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe: $12
  • Driving Lake Tahoe: A Self-Guided Tour from South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City: $12
  • Lake Tahoe: Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour: $15
  • Tallac Historic Site Pope House Tour: $16
  • Ultimate Lake Tahoe Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour: $17
  • Tallac Historic Site Grand Estates Tour: $20
  • Lake Tahoe: Self-Guided Driving Tour: $25
  • Full Day Self-Guided Bike Tour of Lake Tahoe: $69
  • Guided Tour of Historic Virginia City and Carson City from South Lake Tahoe: $70
  • Introductory Snowshoe Shared Experience: $75

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Santa Monica $21
    South Lake Tahoe $34

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:

  • Private Vintage VW Hippie Tour to Malibu with wine tasting: $195

Sample the Local Flavors in South Lake Tahoe

Also in South Lake Tahoe, these are the prices for nightlife and alcohol related activities from various tour providers:

  • Lake Tahoe: Emerald Bay Sunset Wine Tasting Yacht Cruise: $150


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe, we can see that Santa Monica is more expensive. And not only is South Lake Tahoe much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to South Lake Tahoe would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in South Lake Tahoe 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 South Lake Tahoe.

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


Which is Bigger, Santa Monica or South Lake Tahoe?

Santa Monica has a larger population, and is about 4 times larger than the population of South Lake Tahoe. When comparing the sizes of Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.