- You’re going for the beach, healthy lifestyle and farmers markets. Here’s some of West LA for now, stay posted for more.
Uber/Lyft from LAX They’ll pick you up from the departures level.
Renting a car This is a great idea, and an even better one is to rent it away from the airport to avoid long lines.
Walking No one really walks in LA. You can walk along the beach, on main street or Abbot Kinney, but you need to drive there first.
Getting downtown The Expo Line is a ~45-minute ride to downtown LA from Santa Monica. It’s an ideal situation if you’re trying to get to downtown LA from the westside after 1 p.m. The traffic can take up to one to two hours (no joke). Take the train there and then an Uber/Lyft back, which should take about 20 minutes.
good to know
Best time to visit While it’s almost always sunny and perfect, the winter can get cold (rarely beach weather), and June gloom can be hit or miss. Spring, most of summer and fall are going to be hot and beautiful.
Pick a neighborhood LA is not great for hopping around, mostly because of traffic.
Santa Monica is divided into two parts: North Santa Monica, near Montana Avenue, is the more residential and affluent area of this expensive little town. (Check out some of the houses north of Montana, and you'll understand.) Shops are expensive and high end, but it has a quiet calm to it. Main Street has a more youthful vibe and tends to be more people in their 20s to 30s than families.
eats & drinks
Cassia The French Vietnamese restaurant that’s across the hall from Ester’s Wine Shop, is part of the Rustic Canyon, Milo & Olive, etc., family. It’s always loud, busy and for good reason. Meats and fish dishes are delicious and try to sit outside under the lights, if you can. If there’s a wait, sit at the bar or head to Ester’s. $$$
Ester’s Wine Shop & Bar One of those beautiful Santa Monica spaces that combines a wine shop with an elevated wine bar. Expect dishes to name the farm they come from and knowledgeable staff behind the bar. It’s ideal for a catch-up drink, date or small plates, but less so for a full-on dinner. $$$
Milo and Olive The pizzas! The bread! A self-proclaimed bakery-driven restaurant, this is the place to load up on carbs. It’s not going to be New York-style pizza, so don’t walk in expecting that. Instead, expect a line and a wait, but it’s worth it for this carb fest. Beautiful pizzas, farmers-market focused dishes and an open, airy space makes for an easy weeknight dinner or brunch. $$-$$$
Bay Cities An Italian deli with specialty products and serves classic sandwiches. The must try is the godmother, which combines all of the beautiful Italian meats (think mortadella, prosciutto, Genoa salami) with provolone. Ask for it with the works and go hungry. $
Rustic Canyon A quiet and upscale restaurant that combines fresh California produce with interesting spices and flavors. A great place to take parents, a date or for a quiet night at the bar. $$$
Huckleberry A quaint gourmet coffee shop that is almost always packed. They make their own almond milk, which means their lattes are delicious. The pastries and food are more solid than mind-blowing, but the overall place is so cute, it’s great to go for egg dishes, turkey meatballs, hearty salad lunches or soups. $$
Kreation With outdoor seating, freshly made smoothies and walls full of greenjuices and detox shots, Kreation is the place to go when you want to live that Cali lifestyle. The chicken kebabs and spicy avocado soup are the best dishes on the menu, if you sit to eat. There are several locations throughout LA. $$
Cha Cha Chicken A funky, Caribbean restaurant located near Main street that serves great jerk chicken at pretty good prices. Oh, and it’s BYOB. Such a rarity to find places like this. Not food that will transport you to the tropical islands, but it’s casual, fun and a good stopover on the way back from the beach. $
Fig Inside the Fairmont hotel, Fig offers one of the best happy hours seven days a week from 5 to 6 pm. A solid portion of the menu is half off and the food is actually delicious. Solid wine selection, pretty setting and friendly staff makes this somewhere you should start your night or meet a friend for a drink. $$-$$$
Sugarfish Where the hype started, the line for this well-priced sushi restaurant will typically be in the hour, and it’s worth it if you want to do the trust me or trust me lite combo. It’s not a relaxing dinner per se as you often feel like they are trying to turn over tables, but if you want high quality sushi at a fantastic price, then this is the place to go. $$
KazuNori From the Sugarfish gang, comes this hand-roll only restaurant that is bare boned but serves high quality fish. Ideal for lunch or a quick bite. $$
Kippy’s Perhaps the best non-dairy ice cream you’re going to find and, dare we say it, almost better than dairy ice cream. Made from coconuts that they crack themselves to make fresh coconut cream, you’ll find flavors like date, coconut and honey, plus seasonal varieties. Health-focused toppings like mulberries, goji berries and cacao nibs are also available. $$
Beaming A high end health food store on Montana, it serves juices, delicious vegan desserts , lunch and offers a bulk food section for a mix n’match bag of mulberries, goji berries and incan berries. $$
Cafe Luxxe One of the better coffee shops in Santa Monica, it’s located on Montana with benches outside for gathering with neighbors or people watching, plus indoor seats. No Wi-Fi. $$
Demitasse A coffee shop near the Third Street Promenade that offers Wi-Fi and third wave coffee and tea. $$
Bardonna The attraction of this coffee shop is more the outdoor seating area and complimentary Wi-Fi than the food itself. It tends to be overpriced and fine with a healthy twist. It’s a good place for a work meeting as there is a ton of space inside and out or if you need to catch up on some work. $$
Santa Monica Seafood With a small (overpriced) restaurant and the best seafood on the westside, the specialty store is where to shop if you’re cooking at home. Plus, there’s parking in the back. $$$
Andrew’s Cheese Shop Located below Lincoln on Montana, Andrew’s is the cute cheese shop you wished you lived next to. Offering a variety of cheeses, domestic and imported, as well as wines and crackers, it’s where to go when bringing snacks to a friends, setting up a picnic or just treating yourself to some delicious cheese. They also offer classes occasionally. $$
Belcampo Next to the grass-fed only butcher that serves high quality meat is a sleek and subdued restaurant tucked behind it. Housed in a former nightclub, the restaurant has no windows except ones overhead. Grab seats at the bar where craft cocktails are served and nibble on some of the meat-heavy menu. Snacks are typically better than a fully dinner and drinks are always a must.
The Chestnut Club One of Santa Monica’s only cocktail lounges that serves New York-quality drinks and becomes a crowded scene over the weekend. Go for weekday drinks or early to get in for the weekend as there tends to be a line later in the evening. $$$
Bodega A wine bar that serves coffee during the day, it has been an SM staple for years now. Good for a catch-up, date night or for groups as there are high-top tables in addition to more intimate lounge areas. $$
Areal Go for happy hour and then leave. The food is fine but the deals for drinks are great and there’s an indoor/outdoor setting that’s low-key and relaxing. $
see & do
Santa Monica Farmers Market Once you visit the market, almost any time of year, you will most likely feel that it puts your local market to shame, especially if you live in a cold weather climate. Open Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the earlier you go the better. Don’t miss Wieser farms for melons, Harry’s Berries for the mara des bois (wild strawberries), figs and mulberries when they are in season and almost anything else you can think of.
The Steps Located where the Palisades meets Santa Monica, it is an exercise hub and feels like an outdoor stair master. There are two sets of steps, about a three-minute walk apart with the one farther south being steeper and more difficult than the northern wooden ones. Head north on 7th street and take the first left past San Vicente to find them.
Spend Time at Beach Path Walk, jog, bike or rollerblade from Santa Monica to Venice. The Perry’s restaurants also offer beach rentals and cafes. The food is not terrible but also not amazing. It works for where you are, and you will get charged accordingly.
PaddleBoarding/Surfing If you want to brave it out on the water, then go to Poseidon where you can rent boards, sign up for a lesson and get driven out to Malibu to paddle. The store is located near the pier with friendly and cool staff members.
Head to Venice Take the beach path to Venice from Santa Monica, finish at the Whaler and either dig into a whole coconut at the Whaler’s to-go stand or sit on the roof for drinks by the ocean.
Hike Los Liones At the beginning of the Palisades is a beautiful hike that offers views of the ocean to downtown LA. The catch is that the whole thing will probably take about three to four hours, depending on your pace. There is a look-out point that’s about one hour up that is still really pretty. Plus, you see some pretty awesome houses on the way. There is no cell service once you hit the trails and make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.
While it’s no longer the laid-back beach city it once was (tiny one-bedroom bungalows are over $1M), there’s still a lot of funk and charm to it. The canals, while man-made and sometimes low on water, are worth seeing, if not just for the house peeping. Walk along Abbot Kinney to check out stores that perfectly epitomize shabby chic living and make you feel like your life should also be a personal lifestyle blog.
eats & drinks
Gjusta The bakery and breakfast cafe that seems to encapsulate all that is Venice in one place. Delicious but very expensive food (you’ll be spending over $20 for breakfast before you know it) that somehow feels worth it. Everyone in there looks super relaxed and fresh off the beach, making you wonder if they work and/or how they afford the prices, though Google’s nearby office is throwing that off a bit. Breads, sandwiches and salads are all good and are best enjoyed sitting in the outdoor space. $$-$$$
The Tasting Kitchen Fresh, interesting flavors characterize the dishes served in a relaxed setting with wooden beams and comfortable chairs. There’s a tasting menu, but a la carte can be fun to mix and match. Pastas like the taglierini with shrimp should not be skipped. Service is hit or miss and can sometimes really, really miss, but the food quality is high, which is why we go back. Also great for brunch with a solid burger. Make a booking ahead for dinner. $$$
Gjelina Lunch at this popular Venice restaurant is actually better than dinner as it’s less noisy and crowded, especially if you get seated in the outdoor courtyard. The food is creative, delicious and what you want to Instagram. They have a to-go restaurant down the street for lunch. $$$
Felix The homemade pasta here is something that everyone should get to enjoy. The pasta’s are separated into the different regions of Italy, so you’ll find a pesto pasta for the south and a cacio e pepe for central Italy. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable—it’s great for parents, dates or friends. The focaccia is delicious and well-seasoned with salt and herbs, but it feels like the kitchen already dipped it in olive oil for you—don’t be surprised to find your fingers glistening after ripping into it. $$$
Cafe Gratitude LA makes it very easy to eat well and enjoy it. While gratitude’s menu names might feel gimmicky, “I am Whole” is the name of their macrobiotic bowl, the food is good and makes you feel like you’re eating at home while eating out. They offer Wi-Fi and can make for a good working location during the day.
La Playita Mexican food on the westside is not going to be mind-blowing, but this cash-only stand on Lincoln is pretty good. There’s nowhere to sit really, but the food will certainly hit the spot. $
Wurstküche Modeled after a German beer hall, it serves delicious sausages, fries and a huge selection of beers. Great for groups or casual drinks. $$
Moon Juice If you’re a health food nut, then you are probably already planning on hitting this Rose Ave location on your trip. From a variety of pressed juices to addictive (and very expensive) snacks, it’s easy to drop a lot of money on yourself here. And, it’s probably worth it. $$$
Scopa Where to go if you want to feel like you’re eating in an NYC Italian restaurant. High ceilings, sleek modern decor and a blend of Italian classics with fresh California produce. It’s not as busy as it was when it opened, which is better because it’s easier to get a reservation. Good cocktails, food and scene, a pretty good deal. $$$
Venice Whaler Located by the beach, the Whaler offers rooftop seating where you can enjoy margaritas in colorful mugs, beer and basic bar food while overlooking the beach. It’s more of a dive bar, but a very solid one. $$
The Otheroom With a minimalist design, this wine bar often opens up the front of the space to allow an indoor-outdoor setting, making it a comfortable place for drinks. Great for a first date, catch-up drink or pre-dinner wine or beer. $$
Tom’s Their flagship store has a cute coffee shop and outdoor work area on Abbot Kinney. $$
Erewhon Imagine a more expensive Whole Foods that is somehow even more addictive and easy to spend money in. We know, this sounds like somewhere you want to hate, but the prepared foods are great, the Erewhon brand of foods is solid, and it feels like a health food store that still cares and hasn’t gone fully commercial (yet).
A mix of old surfers and lots of money is the best way to characterize this beautiful stretch of land along the Pacific Ocean. Traffic can be bad, but the beaches are worth it.
eats & drinks
Malibu Farms Picturesque and conveniently located on the pier, Malibu Farms serves exactly what you think of when you picture California cuisine: Fresh, local and organic ingredients with a focus on health. Sit along the water or under the covered roof on comfortable benches and enjoy a juice, salad or ice cream—even a cocktail, while you’re at it. Will the food blow your mind? Probably not, but it will be pretty enough to take some pictures of and the setting is fantastic. $$$
Nobu If you can score one of the VIP seats along the patio, directly above the water, well then you’re clearly doing some things great in life. For most other people, it’s difficult to get those seats and so you will probably spend far too much money and then walk out to the patio to take a photo. We suggest going for a drink to enjoy and see the view, but still be prepared to pay a lot. $$$$
Malibu Kitchen An old-school market that offers deli sandwiches, pre-made dishes, drip coffee and snacks, it’s more reminiscent of small town markets than the flashy LA health food scene. There are colorful painted picnic tables outside for sitting, somewhere you’ll often find Malibu locals (and celebs) gathering for a morning chat. A good place to pick up sandwiches, waters and snacks for the beach. $
Malibu Seafood A seafood store that also serves fresh grilled seafood, steamed clams and sandwiches to enjoy on the patio. It’s BYOB and the setting is simple, but you’re across from the beach and can go in your bathing suit and towel. The sourdough rolls, which come out hot with steamed clams, are surprisingly delicious. $$$
The Old Place Deep in Malibu (into the hills and away from the water) is this old-school restaurant that serves a great steak. The setting is Western themed with a long wooden bar and wooden booths that make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time (in a good way). This is the not the place to go and grumble about service, wait time or not getting the dish you wanted as they sell out when they sell out. Instead, relax and sip on some wine at the tasting room next door and let yourself slow down. This will be an experience. $$$
Neptune’s Net A popular restaurant with fresh seafood (fried and grilled also available) that’s located by the PCH. It’s casual with outdoor seating, but note that it can get packed on the weekends. They have a solid beer selection, which never hurts on a hot day. $$$
Malibu Wines Deeper in Malibu, the vineyard and tasting room is gorgeous and worth visiting, but you need to plan ahead to do so. Reservations are pretty much required and they have strict rules about parking and where to pick-up their shuttle to the tasting room. Find out more on their site. It’s an ideal place to spend the afternoon with friends. $$$
Rosenthal Wines Technically on the cusp of Malibu, this tasting room is a fantastic place to spend the day when it’s a little too cold for the beach (or to visit after). A spacious back area offers live music and food trucks on Saturdays (check their schedule first) with plenty of tables to enjoy your wine. You can always bring in your own food to pair with their wines as their offerings are limited to a cheese and cracker plate. $$
see & do
The Beaches Past Zuma, which is more in the style of Santa Monica and Venice beaches with long stretches of sand and some food options, there are a string of beaches that are more isolated (with practically no cell service). These are more pristine and rugged, which is what makes them so gorgeous. It’s the perfect city day escape.
El Matador The first of three beautiful beaches, you’ll often find Instagram-bikini models or newly engaged couples splashing in the water or posing on the rock formations here. It’s hard to get annoyed (and it’s pretty entertaining to watch) since the scenery is so stunning and makes you feel like you’ve left LA. There’s parking at the top (or you can park on the highway) and take easy trails and steps down. There are three small connected beaches.
La Piedra The second of the beautiful beach series is La Piedra. Also rocky with small tide pools, you can even walk to El Matador when the tide is low.
El Pescador The third small, rocky beach is also lovely to visit.
Surfrider Beach One of the most popular spots in Malibu for surfing, the beach offers parking near the pier (where Malibu Farms is located) as well as on the highway. Lay on the beach, rent a surf board or paddleboards at Malibu Surf Shack across the street and enjoy the beauty and vibe of the place.
The Farm at Malibu Across from Point Dume plaza, this active organic farm sells seasonal produce at its farm stand. Find organic fruits, vegetables and honey at this farm that also provides produce for notable neighbors, Soho House and Nobu, as well as a host of others.
Malibu Country Mart A shopping and eating center with stores like James Perse, Faherty and others, it’s a good place to park and walk around. There’s a park in the center for kids with take-out restaurants and fancy throwbacks like Mr. Chow.
Almost all of these are on Hotels Tonight and in the same general vicinity near the ocean with easy access to the beach.
Shutters A Cape Cod dream house transplanted to the west coast is how to best describe Shutters. Located right on the boardwalk with a beautiful patio deck for sunset cocktails, this luxury boutique hotel is in the thick of the beach scene as pictured above, which is something you pay the price for. The location is convenient with easy access to Main Street, Venice and the northern part of Santa Monica. $$$$
The Huntley A luxury boutique property with a popular rooftop bar and restaurant, it has a modern design style with a laid-back feel: Think vibey Miami meets sleepy Santa Monica. Rooms comes stocked with complimentary Nespresso machines and some have killer views. On that note, try to request even numbered rooms or corner ones (both is ideal) for the best views. The hotel offers a 24-hour fitness center, valet parking, complimentary Wi-Fi and bikes to cruise around. $$$-$$$$ Santa Monica
Palihouse Santa Monica You enter into a grassy, intimate courtyard that leads to a leather-couch clad lobby and cafe that sets the tone for this quiet, residential hotel. Most rooms come with kitchenettes, making them perfect for people who want the convenience of a hotel and perks of an AirBnB. Think thoughtful design touches, walk-in closets and adorable decorative pillows. Breakfast is included on weekends with the cafe open until three. Room service is outsourced to a local restaurant, so it’s best to head out. If you’re looking for a quiet, residential feel, then this is the place for you. Read: No bar/alcohol sold on property or fitness center. You can bring your own wine/drinks inside, and the hotel will provide glasses. $$-$$$ Santa Monica
Oceana Beach Club Santa Monica Bright, airy suites with welcome gift bags on arrival are available at this ocean-front property. Located in a former apartment complex, it has an intimate residential feeling. The pool and restaurant, from consulting chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse, is for guests only, which can be a nice perk. The rooms, though they have a somewhat outdated decor for the couches, are quiet, spacious and stocked with complimentary Nespresso machines. Try to request the corner residential suite for the best view or splurge for one of the ocean-facing ones. Bike cruisers are also available, which is great as you have easy access to the beach. $$-$$$ Santa Monica
Viceroy If you’re looking for a party scene as rooms on lower levels being quite loud, this is the place to be and is steps from Santa Monica’s Main street. The hotel offers a lively bar and pool area with contemporary and spacious rooms, some of which offer ocean views. It’s a quick and easy walk to the beach or to restaurants and bars. $$-$$$ Santa Monica, closer to Venice
The Surfrider Inspired by the famous beach across the street, this bohemian chic hotel offers California beach style with a great location. You’ll find white, pristine rooms, some with hammocks on the balconies, and a fantastic rooftop bar to watch the sunset. There’s not a ton of nightlife in Malibu itself, but if you’re looking to surf everyday and visit the beach, then this is a great place to stay. $$$ Malibu
Bike rentals You can rent bicycles at Perry’s, which are the red awning/bannered restaurants scattered along the beach path (check online for times and offerings at each specific location) or use the Hulu sponsored bikes that are also conveniently located throughout the city.
Traffic You’ve heard rumors, and they are true. The traffic is not great. Avoid traffic-prone areas like anywhere near the Santa Monica pier, especially at rush hour times. Sleepy Santa Monica got hit with a ton of transplants and tourists, and it can’t handle it. Biking is a great alternative.
Third Street Promenade It feels a bit like a tourist wasteland with large brand-name stores and tourist-prone restaurants. The outdoor mall at the southern stretch has a nice food court at the top with more upscale/craft offerings and higher end shops.
Avoid the Pier Some call it an eyesore, some a landmark, but regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, know that it is a giant tourist trap. The people milling the streets near it and on it are not from the area. If you want to spend time by the beach then head north or south of the pier, but not by it. In the summer, there are outdoor concerts on Thursdays. Make sure to get there early to snag a spot.