With miles of beautiful coastline and plenty of seaside charm, Santa Monica makes a great base when visiting Los Angeles. Morning beach walks; afternoons shopping in nearby Venice, and incredible sunsets make for ideal days enjoying the Southern California sunshine. Walkable and bike-friendly you don’t even have to get on the dreaded 101 or 405.
Spring and fall are when LA is at its best- perfect warm, sunny beach days. The beginning of summer brings what locals call “June Gloom”, where you may not see much of the sun due to fog during the morning, and sometimes even all day.
Heading to the beach and want to pack a snack—stop at GTA, Gjelina’s take away next to the restaurant—perfect for carry out.
Sign up for a two hour class at NY’s Trapeze School with a location on the pier.
Where to Sleep: We’re big fans of Shutters, and its sister property Casa del Mar, sitting side-by-side, right on the beach. If you can, splurge on an oceanfront room on a higher floor—blue as far as the eye can see. You can’t go wrong with either property, its just personal taste—Shutters is airy, beachy, channeling Cape Cod while Casa del Mar is more formal with an elegant lobby/bar with oceanfront views that really shine at sunset. Last time we stayed at Oceana on a friend’s recommendation. Across the street from the beach, it’s a dressed up version of a hotel-motel with softer prices and an ideal location north of the pier. (The Signature Oceanfront Suite, the best room, is less than a standard room at Shutters) A friend recently raved about her stay at PaliHouse, a few minutes walk to the beach on Third St., with a design savvy, neighborhood feel.
Morning Workout: Skip the gym! Whether its sunny or you need a sweater due to the morning marine layer, get out there and go for a run or walk on the beachside promenade. Rent a bike on the beach from Perry’s Café. (with four locations in Santa Monica) The bike trail goes for 22 miles passing iconic landmarks like muscle beach. Alternatively, head to Will Rogers State Park for a hike, there’s a 45-minute loop with add-ons depending on your energy level.
All Day Dining: We’re jealous--very jealous--locals get to go to Gjusta in Venice whenever they want. It’s a bakery plus café- deli–juice bar-coffeeshop--smoke house—in a very cool industrial space from the folks behind Gjelina. Packed since day one, it's even more of a local hangout now that the back patio is open and you don’t have to sit on a milk crate in the parking lot eating your baklava croissant. At lunchtime smoked fish plates, porchetta melts and chicken parm are all delicious, but go early before the crowds descend to get a seat and enjoy the space. Order the breakfast bialy with eggs, harissa, merguez and gruyere—and yes, add the avocado. You’re now ruined--breakfast sandwiches will never be the same. Another hip all day affair is Superba Food and Bread over on Lincoln.
Best Street: Abbot Kinney has certainly gentrified in the last few years --- sadly attracting some chain stores (Vince, Warby Parker, Rag and Bone) and crowds of tourists. Though it has lost its grunge factor this is still the heart of Venice and one of our favorite LA streets to spend time on--a mile long strip of fashion, art and great food. There are so many great boutiques and design shops--some of our favorite shops include Heist, Bassike, Tortoise General Store, Huset, Guild and Salt LLC.
More Shopping: On Main Street in Santa Monica don’t miss NY transplant Love Adorned and Lost and Found, one of LA’s great concept stores with a curated selection of women’s, men’s and children’s clothes plus accessories and home décor. Over on Lincoln there’s LCD, The General Store, and The Mart Collective.
Skip This: Tourists throng the pedestrian only Third Street Promenade, lined with mall stores—there’s no need to join them. The Santa Monica Pier is another tourist spot, but fun if you’re a first time visitor or traveling with kids who will love the arcade and bumper cars. If you can’t remember the last time you rode a Ferris wheel, it’s a great view from the top. Or take a spin on the carousel; it might look familiar if you’re a fan of The Sting.
Lunchtime: It's the battle of the burgers between Father's Office, Plan Check or Belcampo. For a healthy fix, this is LA after all; dine on upscale vegan fare at Plant Food and Wine from celebrity chef Matthew Kenney—with a great patio on Abbot Kinney. Also on Abbot Kinney, NY’s Butcher's Daughter opened their first LA location in a beautifully designed room with an indoor/outdoor feel. People may mock the menu titles at vegan happy Café Gratitude, but we get a kick out of salad and bowls with names such as Humble-Transformed-Committed or Grateful, to name a few. The bright airy space is always packed with people oozing health and fitness, and the food is very good. It’s located on Rose Ave, across from Moon Juice where you can stock up on fresh juices for your mini bar.
Beach Time: Grab your book and some sunscreen and rent beach chairs and umbrellas at Back on the Beach, part of the Annenburg Community Beach House. The Beach House is open to the public with courtyards, view decks, sports courts and a historic pool open in the summertime months. Their restaurant, Back on the Beach, is another good spot for a meal, we like anyplace that advertises: “eat breakfast, lunch or dinner with your toes in the sand and the ocean before you.”
Sweet tooth: Portland’s Salt and Straw is a small-batch handmade ice cream shop with a cult like following. Now, there are five locations in LA with one on Abbot Kinney. Be patient—there’s always a line, but it’s worth it, moves quickly, and once inside you will not be rushed, but encouraged to taste up to 4 flavors. Sample some of the more unusual, seasonal combinations. If you don’t want to wait head over to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams on Rose.
To Market: Santa Monica has some of the best farmers markets in the country, there’s four weekly markets for you to choose from, the most popular taking place on Wednesdays and Sundays. For more information click here.
Dinner: Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb are the force behind some of Santa Monica’s favorite dining haunts: Huckleberry Café for breakfast, excellent pizza at Milo & Olive at lunch and brunch and seasonal cuisine at Rustic Canyon, an excellent choice for dinner. Now teaming up with chef Bryant Ng, consider yourself lucky if you can snag a reservation at Cassia, with French Vietnamese riffs in a grand brasserie setting. Rose Café has been a Venice staple since 1979, completely revamped in 2015 with Chef Jason Neroni (formerly of Superba) helming the kitchen. Another all day affair—it’s a massive space with a bar area, open kitchens and multiple seating areas and patios. The night we were there it was bustling, packed with an eclectic mix of families, singles, couples—you name it. Standouts include the smoked bucatini carbonara, crispy brussels sprouts and the hearth roasted chicken. And then there’s Gjelina-- we fell hard for Gjelina from chef Travis Lett some nine years or so ago when we first dined on the back patio. It’s consistently remained one of our favorite restaurants anywhere. Everything on the menu is great, but Lett especially has a way with vegetables, salads and pizzas. Be sure to reserve way in advance. If you can’t get in Tasting Kitchen and Salt Air, are two excellent back ups on Abbot Kinney.