The Famous Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel
It’s been quite a while since we’ve brought you all a proper city guide here on LaurenConrad.com… A few years ago, we shared our first official Los Angeles City Guide, and soon after we posted this Los Angeles Coffee Shop Guide. Recently, in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, we rounded up our favorite Date Night Spots, which got us thinking about how different each little neighborhood is in L.A. So with that in mind, today we’re kicking off the first installation of a new series of city guides focusing on L.A. neighborhoods!
Being a Santa Monica resident myself, I’m admittedly pretty smitten with my charming corner of this big city. From beautiful beaches to scenic hikes to gourmet restaurants, this coastal neighborhood of L.A. has so much to offer to anyone who chooses to visit. So whether you’re coming from as close as the east side of town (which, truly can be quite a trek) or flying in from a far away place, here’s my guide to the hot spots you must not miss the next time you make a trip to Santa Monica, California…
What to Do (The Sights):
A lifeguard tower at Will Rogers State Beach
Santa Monica Pier
No doubt one of the most iconic destinations in downtown Santa Monica, the pier has been a Los Angeles treasure since 1909. If you’ve never been (or even if you have), spend a day riding the roller coaster, soaking in the 360-degree views on the Ferris wheel, stopping by the aquarium, and maybe even ending up at Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe for a refreshment and a burger afterwards.
Will Rogers State Beach
Visiting Santa Monica for some of that good old beach weather? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for a peaceful afternoon by the ocean, I recommend avoiding the busy beach area right by the pier and trekking a mile or two north to Will Rogers State Beach. Bring a bathing suit, umbrella and picnic basket—it’s the perfect spot for lunching on the sand. You’ll find parking where PCH intersects with Temescal Canyon road.
Annenberg Community Beach House
More of a pool person than a beach person? Well, you can actually enjoy both at the Annenberg Community Beach House. The pool, playground, splash pad and beach courts are open to the public on a first-come first-serve basis for just $10 per adult. Think of it as your own little pool oasis right on the beach.
The Aero Theatre
Catch an old fashion flick at the Aero Theatre on Montana Avenue for a true Los Angeles movie moment. This theater plays beloved classics like It’s A Wonderful Life at Christmastime, The Birds around Halloween, and Some Like It Hot during the summertime (catching on to the theme here?). The schedule is always changing, so click here to find out if they’re playing one of your all-time favorites.
Santa Monica Farmer’s Market
The fresh flowers and produce at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, located in the heart of the Santa Monica Promenade, are some of the very best in L.A. It’s open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and I recommend swinging by after catching a Soul Cycle class, which is just walking distance away.
Where to Shop:
Third Street Promenade
The promenade isn’t just home to the aforementioned farmer’s market… It’s also one of the best shopping destinations in town. This giant shopping center has dozens of stores, restaurants and even a few movie theaters, too. From Nordstrom to Bloomingdales to J.Crew to Lululemon, this outdoor walking mall truly has it all.
This quaint street is probably my Westside favorite spot for strolling and shopping. Some highlights include Planet Blue, Splendid, Benefit, Clare V, and Jill Roberts, but there are many more to explore. Did I mention that there are excellent restaurants and coffee shops for refueling?
Located at the south tip of Santa Monica and bordering Venice, Main Street has all the funky, vintage vibes a treasure-hunting style shopper could want. An afternoon spent on Main Street will have you perusing everything from custom surfboards to vintage Levis in just a few block’s walk.
Where to Caffeinate:
The mint mojito iced coffee from Philz Coffee, via @shebysmd
If you’ve never heard of Philz Coffee, you’re in for a treat. Philz has locations in L.A., San Francisco and D.C., but that doesn’t make it any less special to local Santa Monica residents. If you’re visiting from out of town, I’m telling you that the mint mojito iced coffee is out of this world.
Need a place to work while enjoying a honey lavender latte? Bardonna on 16th Street and Montana Avenue has your name all over it. There’s free wi-fi and plenty of big picnic tables to spread out your traveling office space, and the breakfast and lunch menu is delicious, too.
This small but cute coffee shop is a buzzy neighborhood spot and aesthetically pleasing space to cozy up in on a chilly morning. And, they make a mocha that is so foamy and delicious.
Where to Dine:
Ivy at the Shore
You’ve probably heard of the famous Los Angeles restaurant The Ivy by now (and if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably seen dozens of paparazzi photos of celebrities outside of the Robertson Boulevard location). But, in case you didn’t know, the original Ivy has a sister location in Santa Monica, right on Ocean Boulevard. And in my opinion, it gives the original a run for its money. The Caribbean-inspired décor involves pink walls, a bamboo tiki bar, and bursting bouquets of colorful roses on each table… And did I mention the complimentary champagne served on Sundays at brunch? Must-order: The crab cake benedict or the grilled vegetable salad.
Milo & Olive
Pizza for breakfast? Yes, please. Milo & Olive has a stellar menu for all three meals of the day, but their weekend brunch truly takes the cake. They serve trendy new-Italian fare, and pride themselves on their pizzas and pasta. Come hungry because you will leave here feeling full and satisfied. Must-order: The garlic knot, the marinara meatballs, and the burrata and prosciutto pizza.
You might think you’re mistakenly walking into a surfer dude’s beach bungalow when walking into this Australian-run food-to-table brunch spot, with its whitewashed paneled walls and surfboard décor. But rest assured that the food is fresh, the ingredients are locally sourced, and everything on the menu tastes best after a morning surf. Must-order: the GF Rainbow Bowl and the Avocado Toast.
This Santa Monica spot is just as charming as it sounds… Owned by the same restaurant group as the aforementioned Milo & Olive, Huckleberry is a go-to lunch spot that does not disappoint. It’s a casual place—you order at the counter (where you’ll notice dozens of pastries, cookies and goodies baked fresh that day), and take your number to a table to dine. But although it’s casual, they have some of the best salads and sandwiches around. Must-order: The green eggs & ham.
Blue Plate Taco
The Blue Plate Restaurant Group owns three restaurants in Santa Monica, and this one might be my very favorite (I blame the guacamole!). The ambiance is surfer-cool, with rattan lamps hanging from the inside space, and iron star chandeliers providing light to the outdoor patio. Feel a little chilly from the beach breeze? Grab one of the woven Mexican blankets to bundle up while you sip your margarita. Must-order: The lobster tacos with truffle sauce and the Passion Smash Margarita.
If you haven’t heard about Sugarfish yet, this restaurant alone is worth booking a trip out to L.A. It’s famous for its melt-in-your-mouth nigiri style sushi and sashimi and its perfectly crunchy hand rolls. The secret sauce? The rice comes out warm, and only 2-4 pieces of sushi are served at a time, so you really enjoy every bite. Head to the Santa Monica location right off the Promenade—just be sure to allow yourself time to wait as there are no reservations and it gets pretty popular at meal time. Must-order: The Trust-Me and the blue crab hand roll.
R + D Kitchen
R + D is the type of place where you can order anything on the menu and know it will be a hit. The hardwood tables and luxe leather booths will make you feel cozy and comfortable at lunchtime. And their wine and cocktail list is worth checking out too. Must-order: Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the Newporter Salad.
This popular neighborhood restaurant located in the Brentwood Country Mart celebrates the farmers and artisan producers in their market-meets restaurant space. If you’re dining in on the weekend, arrive early and enjoy a table in their rustic-chic dining space. Or, if you’re in the mood to peruse and shop, you can feast your eyes upon their market section, where they display artisan cheeses, cured meats, salads, and prepared foods that are unparalleled. Must-order: The soft herb rolled omelet.
For Date Night:
Seafood lovers: This one’s for you. Fairly new to the scene, Herringbone is a great date night spot if you love seafood, fun cocktails, and a cool ambiance. Their raw bar is pretty impressive, too. Must-order: Jumbo lump crab cake and scallops.
Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar
Named in honor of the “star ingredient” of their menu, formaggio, or cheese, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory what this Montana Avenue restaurant specializes in. Come for happy hour to get a great deal on the cheese and charcuterie boards. Don’t feel like having cheese? Their menu also offers a delicious burger, a fabulous Jidori chicken, and great short ribs. Must-order: Chitarra Cacio e Pepe.
Tar & Roses
Tar & Roses has all the moodiness you want for the perfect date night, but with the perfect dose upscale fun. Order from their menu of small and large plates, and don’t forget about their extensive beer and wine list. Must-order:
Where to Sip:
One step into this bar transports you away from the bustling streets of Santa Monica and into a dimly-lit room of chandeliers, candlelight, cozy seating areas, and a fabulous art deco bar. If you’re needing a cocktail spot to kill time before your date night dinner reservation, this is the place.
The Bungalow Santa Monica
It’s not a trip to Santa Monica without visiting the Bungalow. This uber-popular outdoor bar is on the property of the Fairmont Hotel, and it draws a crowd of cocktailers every evening and weekend. Surf-culture style décor gives off mellow beach vibes and classic rock (think Zeppelin and Beach Boys) is always the playlist of choice. You can play a game of pool or ping-pong while sipping your refreshment. Come nice and early on a Saturday (they open at noon but it gets crowded around 2 p.m.) and order yourself their house spicy margarita. You can thank me later.
ONYX at Hotel Shangri La
When the owner of the Shangri La designed the hotel’s rooftop bar, she had Studio 54, outer space, and mid-century modern influences in mind. Sounds pretty cool right? It is. Take the elevator ride up to the top floor of the Shangri La and step into this disco-era style bar that has an outdoor deck with panoramic views of Santa Monica’s beach.
Where to Sweat:
Soul Cycle Santa Monica
The Santa Monica Soul Cycle is just minutes from the beach and right around the corner from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, making it an ideal way to start your Saturday morning. Favorite instructors? Heather P, Todd, and Ben B. Don’t forget: your spin shoes if you have them (rentals are available for $3).
By far one of the most challenging treadmill-weights-combo workout around, Burn60 is an efficient, fun and challenging sweat that will keep you coming back for more. Don’t forget: Your running shoes.
Another little neighborhood secret spot, Yogahop is hands-down my favorite yoga studio in town. Prepare to flow and sweat to fun remixes. Don’t forget: A towel. Water and mat rentals are available though.
A hidden gem on Montana Avenue, and a spot for occasional celeb sighting, Mighty Pilates is a brightly and airy happy place for reformer lovers. Pick your class based on your level and prepare to lean and lengthen. Don’t forget: your grip toe socks.
Temescal Canyon Hike
This 3-mile hiking trail boasts some of the best 360 views of Los Angeles, and will get your behind burning on the steep incline up. It can get busy on the weekends, so the earlier you can come the better. Also, if you’re lucky enough to come after it has rained, you might even see the waterfall flowing.
Where to Relax:
Olive & June Nail Salon, via @jillianattaway
Olive & June
Nestled on quaint shopping street Montana Avenue is the nail salon of Instagram dreams: Olive & June. You have probably seen photos of the flower-adorned décor all over social media but now, and it’s truly just as dreamy in person. Fan of nail art? From flamingos to palm leafs to American flags, Olive & June’s nail technicians know how to paint just about anything as far as nail art goes.
Queen Bee Spa
Looking for a relaxing facial at an affordable price? Queen Bee Spa, which is right across from the Brentwood Country Mart, is technically a half a mile east of Santa Monica, but it’s truly a Westside favorite. Stop in for a facial, waxing, nail appointment or airbrush tanning.
The NOW Santa Monica
The cool and artsy décor at The NOW is worth a trip all on its own (think potted cactus plants and wicker chandeliers). But, you will be pleased to know that they give one of the best massages on the west side.
Where to Stay:
This boutique hotel located right on Ocean Avenue feels like a home away from home. Each room is different, with floral-upholstered couches and chairs, big white fluffy beds, white marble bathrooms, and a serene environment. The pool area is quiet and relaxing, and pool attendants are happy to serve poolside margaritas. Step outside the front doors of the lobby and you’ll be welcomed with panoramic ocean views.
Viceroy Santa Monica
It might not look like much from the outside, but upon walking inside the Viceroy Santa Monica, it’s obvious that great thought and detail was put into the art-deco style décor of this Ocean Avenue hotel. A walk out to the pool area reveals elegant black and white poolside cabanas, and the mirrored bar in the lobby is pretty spectacular. Not to mention that each room is light and airy and perfect for a Santa Monica visit.
The Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
When it comes to finding a centrally located hotel, you can’t get better than the Fairmont. Just a minute walk from the Promenade and minutes from the beach, it’s no surprise why this hotel is a go-to. Plus, it houses the popular bar The Bungalow right on its property, so you don’t even have to leave the grounds to have fun! For relaxation, check out their spa Exhale, and for a delicious meal, don’t miss their gourmet restaurant, Fig.
Airbnbs are always a good call when traveling to a new city, and Santa Monica has options galore. Click the link above to browse the listings and find a cute bungalow or beach cottage that’s perfect for you.
I hope you enjoyed this city guide! Stay tuned for more neighborhood guides to come in the next few weeks.
Do you have any hot spots to add to this list?
And what cities would you like to see us feature here on the site?