It may be one city but Santa Monica has multiple personalities: eight to be exact ̶ in an area spanning just 8.3 square miles. They are connected by famed boulevards and wide tree-shaded streets frequented by joggers, bikes, sports cars and convertibles. Each embraces its own character and attractions.
Together, they offer everything from high-end department stores, exclusive designer boutiques, upscale home décor and art galleries. There are resale shops, locally-made artisan goods, entertainment venues, farmer’s markets, and a range of restaurants. There are the historic landmarks, airport, pier, and, of course, and three and a half miles of sun-drenched beach with bike paths, volleyball courts, restaurants, surfing and fishing spots.
Downtown & Third Street Promenade
The promenade in Santa Monica has emerged as a premier open-air pedestrian shopping and foodie paradise. Covering three car-free blocks, it’s anchored by upscale Santa Monica Place. This is home to Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Nike, Kate Spade New York, ArcLight Cinemas, and more. The end of the new Expo line connects Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles.
The Wednesday Farmer’s Market at Arizona Avenue and 2nd Street features fresh produce and goods from over 75 farmers. It’s one of the largest grower-only Certified Farmers Markets in California.
Downtown is also home to the historic Georgian Hotel and legendary Fairmont Miramar Hotel. It has been frequented over the decades by President Bill Clinton and other notables. Adjacent to the Miramar, The Bungalow, with its cozy lodge-style rooms and spectacular ocean views, is a popular gathering spots for the young crowd.
You immediately notice a slower pace where early morning surfers like to breakfast leisurely while others like a jog or bike ride before work. The eateries are also a bit laid back. Local favorites include Aussie Pie Kitchen where Food Network Chopped TV show champ chef Joe Youkhan has reinvented the Australian meat pie, and Enterprise Fish Company which has served daily-caught mesquite-grilled fish for 37 years. For dessert fans, Three Twins Ice Creams presents the widest selection of organic ice cream in the country with a portion of all proceeds donated to saving rain forests and other habitats.
Among the many independently-owned shops along Main Street are Mindfulnest which offers jewelry, accessories and art by local designers and artists. Lost & Found has one store carrying clothing and accessories from independent designers and home goods crafted by local and global artisans. If you’re into buying or selling collectibles, Angel City Books & Records has a great selection of classic literature, vintage music and a gallery of work by local artists.
Mid-City, home to several large entertainment companies, is the arts and entertainment hub. Bergamot Station, a former railroad depot, contains art galleries including one of the largest contemporary art collections in Los Angeles. The Broad Stage at Santa Monica City College has become one the city’s most popular theatrical venues. Mid-City is also where you’ll find premium sports equipment at Bay Street Boards staffed by lifelong surfers. Rip City Skates, where skateboarders have hung out since 1978, is also there. The Buffalo Club on Olympic features small plates and main dishes served in the supper club-style Iroquois Room or Garden Courtyard. Bay Cities Italian Bakery and Deli offers imported wines, cheeses, gourmet goodies and great sandwiches.
Although just a short walk from downtown, Montana Avenue seems far removed from all the activity around the pier and promenade. Home to some 150 merchants and restaurants, there’s Artisan chocolatiers John and Kelly’s award-winning boutique, John Kelly Chocolates; Limonaia’s handcrafted home goods, jewelry and goods from around the globe; and Shopaholic Sample Sales which carries trendy designer clothing for gals at discounts of 50 to 80 percent. Popular eateries include Father’s Office, a gastropub founded by chef Sang Yoon of TV’s Top Chef Masters fame that serves tapas, salads and burgers. And then there’s Sweet Lady Jane, the café and bakery that twice made the list of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.”
For those seeking to further their personal well-being, Mighty Pilates offers more than 75 classes weekly while Yogaworks, which is home to some of the country’s most influential yoga teachers, offers classes for all ages and experience levels.
Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Pier Area
The official end of Route 66 is what Ocean Avenue is best known for. It is also a 108-year-old Santa Monica Pier with its solar-powered Ferris wheel and Pacific Park’s amusement rides and games. You’ll also find lots of diverse, oceanfront restaurants along with tanned bodies, surfers, and bodybuilders to observe while dining or meandering along the beachfront.
The pier has also seen its share of ups and downs and has barely escaped demolition several times. In 1996 an amusement park was added along with an aquarium. The deck is a popular venue for outdoor concerts, movies and other entertainment. KTLA also televised the first live variety show from here in 1948 starring western musician Spade Cooley and his band.
One of the most renowned streets in Southern California is Wilshire Boulevard. It starts at Ocean Avenue and adheres to a pretty straight path to its end in downtown L.A… It also passes Douglas Park with its lawn bowling green, reflecting pools, picnic tables, playground, and tennis courts. The boulevard is lined with a variety of fine dining spots. You can also build your own Hawaiian poke bowl at Spinfish Poke House or order one of their signature bowls. Into chocolate, banana split or churro waffles? Bru’s Wiffle reinvents breakfast classics.
Ocean Park Boulevard and Santa Monica Airport Area
Southeast of the pier is Ocean Park Boulevard with its coffee shops, boutiques and art galleries. And just to the east is Santa Monica Airport, an active airport for private jets. It’s also home to the Museum of Flying housing some 24 aircraft, a flight simulator, and an interactive area. Filled with World War II and Douglas Aircraft memorabilia, the Spitfire Grill is a must-visit. The Ruskin Theatre at the airport is considered one of the best off-the-beaten-path playhouses in L.A.
Nearby is 17.9-acre Clover Park with picnic tables, BBQ grills, playgrounds, softball and soccer fields and tennis courts. Ocean Park Boulevard, funky and diverse, has its own local vibe. There are also eclectic restaurants, and trendy boutiques ̶ especially the shopping scene at 18th Street.
One of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods, Pico Boulevard is another major street connecting the city to downtown L.A. On the south side of Santa Monica, Pico is alive with activities at Santa Monica College’s performing arts venues and planetarium, award-winning dining, clothing boutiques, record stores, art galleries and a smaller Saturday farmers’ market.
Here you’ll find Piero Selvaggio’s Valentino, one of the nation’s most acclaimed Italian restaurants, and The Upper West with innovative cuisine by talented 31-year-old chef Nick Shipp. Situated in Shutters on the Beach is Coast, an ocean-view restaurant with patio dining serving regional and Mexican items. For casual dining, The Brixton gastropub offers comfort food and brews.
For vintage-inspired dresses, leather jackets and novelty gifts, check out Brat. Chris + Mary, another laid-back shop, stocks high-quality home goods, accessories, and clothing made by local artisans. In addition, a small Farmer’s Market at Virginia Park features live music on weekends.
Explore and enjoy!
Subscribe to our print magazine! Click here: