Southern California is an amazing place for a holiday, whether you’re into beaches, food, or nightlife – and that goes double for the coastal town of Santa Monica, near the city of Los Angeles. We teamed up with Santa Monica Travel & Tourism to bring you all the locals’ favourite spots.
Best Restaurants in Santa Monica
With over 400 restaurants in 21 square kilometres, Santa Monica is an international dining destination, with a flavour for every taste. Visitors (and locals) come to Santa Monica to eat because of a variety of fresh, innovative cuisines – often locally sourced from one of the four weekly farmers markets.
Ivy at the Shore is a quaint yet upscale restaurant, worth mentioning for more reasons than just its celebrity clientele. Ivy at the Shore brings its A-game when it comes to brunch – try their signature homemade fig, apricot and pecan brioche French toast. Come lunch and dinner time, Ivy at the Shore features a curated menu of fresh lobster pizza, fish and chips and wild swordfish.
Melisse, created by Chef Josiah Citrin, is Santa Monica’s famed two-Michelin-star dining experience. This traditional French restaurant will transport you to Marseille, Paris, Burgundy and Bordeaux in one sitting with its exquisite menu. Melisse’s “Ten” is a sophisticated tasting menu with wine pairings curated by Citrin himself. Enjoy seared foie gras with apricot and ginger, truffle risotto with aged Acquarello rice, and Camembert with black pepper honey, just to name a few.
Via Veneto is a beautifully atmospheric restaurant committed to creating authentic Italian cuisine, effectively capturing the essence of the flavours of Italy with each signature dish. The menu compliments the real flavours of Italy, offering both classic dishes and seasonal favourites. The food is predominantly from Rome and Tuscany, but also includes authentic regional dishes from Central Italy, Southern Italy and the islands. The venue itself is charming and intimate, with high ceilings adorned with stunning chandeliers, a beautiful stone floor and artwork that depicts the inside of St. Peter’s Cathedral.
Capo was not only named one of LA’s best new restaurants in LA Style Magazine but was also named Wine Spectator’s Grand Award Winner of 2015, highlighting how dedicated this restaurant is to offering their guests an impressive and expansive selection of wines. This modern Italian-style eatery makes the perfect high-end lunch and dinner spot with offerings like the seafood insalata caldo, Holland white asparagus, Kumamoto oysters, Russian imperial caviar, organic Aspen Ridge prime steak, Italian dandelion salami and tiramisu.
One Pico is situated in the perfect location: perched above the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and inside one of Santa Monica’s most coveted hotels, Shutters on the Beach. The curated menu at One Pico takes on modern American dining with an emphasis on the California farm-to-table movement. Think house-cured gravlax, grilled Georges Bank swordfish, marbled potatoes, Maine diver scallops with winter squash and yuzu tangerine panna cotta paired with a cup of white coconut crème tea.
Other Must-Try Santa Monica Restaurants
Locally sourced organic produce is the cornerstone of cuisine in Santa Monica. New to the café lineup is Little Ruby. This cute café uses local produce balanced with Australian culinary influences to provide some of the best food, espresso, coffee and drinks. The Australian influence can be seen throughout the menu, with the delicious Coogee, Bronte and Bondi burgers and the classic Vegemite toast, all of which are enjoyed in a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere offering a truly unique experience.
Lunetta All Day on Pico Boulevard is a neighbourhood diner serving inventive breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Lunetta offers great food paired with locally roasted coffee options, classic cocktails, a large selection of craft beer and delicious wines that can be enjoyed drinking with family and friends. The diner has a fresh and airy feel to it, with large windows lighting up the place and showcasing Santa Monica’s incredible sunny weather most of the year round.
Just a short walk from the beach, Primo Passo Coffee is a coffee lover’s spot on Montana Avenue (a luxury, treelined shopping district) with top-notch beverages, minimalist modern décor, shaded sidewalk seating outside and a chic glass-heavy space. The café has an extensive and quirky menu, from Encha organic matcha lattes, individually brewed coffees from Indonesia and Costa Rica to kombucha and masala chai. This trendy hangout is the healthiest way to enjoy a bit of caffeine in an ultra-fancy neighbourhood – and is perfect for a bit of celeb spotting.
Flower Child’s motto is “Healthy Food for a Happy World”. They prioritize local food sourcing, and all their proteins are raised naturally, organically and without additives. The menu is accommodating for all dietary requirements, in particular vegans and vegetarians, making it the perfect spot to dine for a “feel good” experience.
Cassia celebrates the fresh, vibrant flavours of Southeast Asia, striking a unique balance of soulful, ancestral cuisine and a California sensibility, with the best quality ingredients from local farmers. In keeping with Santa Monica’s love for locally sourced ingredients, they use locally sourced meats, poultry and produce. The menu also makes the most of the restaurant’s proximity to the ocean, offering a selection of exquisite seafood platters.
Things to Do in Santa Monica
For foodies and culture seekers, the Santa Monica farmers markets are the place to go. Taking place four times weekly with locations on Pico Boulevard, Main Street and Downtown Santa Monica, they are a must-see local spectacle. The markets create thriving, vibrant communities that are inclusive, connected and diverse by promoting the preservation of the agricultural arts, prosperity of California farmers and small food businesses and sustainable food systems. The markets are overflowing with colourful produce, really giving a quintessential slice of genuine Southern California life.
Santa Monica was the original home to Yogaworks, which has more than 40 locations open today. Whether you are new to yoga or deepening your practice, these educational classes focus on fine-tuning alignment and developing a keener awareness of both the body and the breath, focusing on strength, structure, alignment or refinement.
Ocean views, temperate weather and a bike-loving population help make Santa Monica an ideal destination for a two-wheeled adventure. Known to locals as “The Strand”, this iconic multiuse recreational path stretches from Pacific Palisades to Torrance, packing in 35 kilometres of inspiring and breathtaking coastal scenery and passing the Santa Monica Pier and the famed Original Muscle Beach.
Popularized in the 1950s and featured in many films since then, the Original Muscle Beach is a network of outdoor workout equipment, where Jack LaLanne and other famous body builders trained. Fully restored and refurbished, Muscle Beach serves gymnasts, acrobats and youth with an extensive gymnastics training area. Other features include chinning bars at various heights, parallel bars, rings, a small jungle gym for children and a padded gymnastics area.
With everything from dive bars to upscale lounges and live music venues, Santa Monica’s nightlife scene has something for everyone. Unlike other parts of Los Angeles, where table service and being on a club promoter’s list determines where you’re going and when you’re getting in, Santa Monica’s nightlife scene is much more relaxed, both in atmosphere and expectations for dress. There’s ONYX, a swanky rooftop bar; Robata Bar, a traditional Japanese pub; and chilled beachside cocktails at The Bungalow or Ivy at the Shore. When the sun goes down, get out there!
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is a staple of this picturesque seaside community, jutting into the inviting waters of the Pacific Ocean. It’s packed with family-friendly activities, restaurants and shops, with stunning views and over a century’s worth of history. The pier hosts a huge array of activities: fishing off the pier, admiring the marine life at the Aquarium or taking a ride on the wooden horses and sleighs of a historic carousel. You can visit Pacific Park, home to the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, as well as an exhilarating roller coaster that towers 17 metres above the Pacific Ocean.
Another thing you can do on the Pier: Learn to fly and perform on a number of aerial arts apparatuses at Trapeze School New York Los Angeles. With flying trapeze classes and trampoline and silks classes, you’ll be able find the perfect fit, while flying high over the Pacific Ocean with the city in the background.
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica’s 5.5-kilometre stretch of sand is an iconic example of the famed Southern California beaches. There are a number of activities you can do at the beach, like cycling along the coastline, checking out the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, surfing/paddleboarding or simply just lazing about and trying out all of the scrumptious local restaurants. This beautiful beach is the place to be!
Another incredible activity one can do to really experience Santa Monica’s relaxed way of living is beach yoga on the water’s edge, cooling down with a lovely gentle sea breeze in the mild temperatures. This is a great chance to really connect with your inner self in phenomenal surroundings, feel one with nature and discover more about yourself.
Santa Monica Shopping
Santa Monica’s shopping options should never be underestimated, rivalling cosmopolitan destinations like Manhattan Beach and nearby Beverly Hills. It’s a shopaholic’s dream! This is due to its array of offerings, ranging from one-of-a-kind artwork and eco-inspired housewares to iconic skater labels and straight-from-the-runway styles … all within a walkable locale that’s around 21 square kilometres.
Santa Monica shopping covers the spectrum from downtown’s Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place – home to stores such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and more – to upscale boutiques along Montana Avenue and the eclectic retail mix on Main Street. Each of the city’s eight quirky neighbourhoods offers a distinct character of its own, making Santa Monica a guaranteed winner for shopping ‘til you drop.
Santa Monica Weather
The weather in Santa Monica – and in all of Southern California – is about as perfect as it gets. Even in winter, the temperature only drops to about 10°C at night, with plenty of sunshine during the day. In fact, with over 300 sunny days a year, this is the perfect place to unwind and marvel at some of the best sunsets on the West Coast.
Each evening the Santa Monica sky explodes in layers of orange, pink and purple, all rippling against the ocean tides. These spectacular sunsets are most definitely a highlight of this vibrant beach city. Here’s where you can find the best views: the 40-metre-high Pacific Wheel on the Pier; The Bungalow at the Fairmont, a cozy oceanside hideaway; ONYX, a swanky rooftop bar at The Shangri-La Hotel; Palisades Park, a Santa Monica landmark; and lastly at The Lobster, a great dining spot overlooking the Pier from the top of a bluff.
How to Get from LAX to Santa Monica
Santa Monica is conveniently located just 13 kilometres north of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), nearby Beverly Hills and Venice Beach. Getting from the airport to your Santa Monica hotel has never been easier, with a wealth of options including the Big Blue Bus, an Uber (estimated fare of around $20) or riding with a franchised taxi company, offering a flat rate fare ranging from $35–$40.
There you have it. Now you know everything there is to know about this incredible town on the Southern California coast. So if you’re into sunshine, beach life, and delicious food – and who isn’t? – it’s time to book your trip and see Santa Monica for yourself.
Header Image credit: Santa Monica Travel & Tourism