Santa Monica is just 12 miles from LAX so it is easy to get to whether Los Angeles is your final destination or if you’re just making a quick stop — and the beachside city more than lives up to its famous reputation.
Nestled on its namesake bay, Santa Monica is bordered to the north by Pacific Palisades, to the east by Brentwood and to the south by Venice.
City by the Sea, Pearl of the Pacific, City of Inspiration, Jewel of the Sunset Bay
"Happy people in a happy city"
While California is still young compared to east coast states, its history is always colorful. Santa Monica was first discovered by a Spanish Conquistador
named Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo on May 4, 1542, which happened to be St. Monica’s Day so they decided to call it Santa Monica because the cool springs they discovered reminded them of the tears St. Monica cried for her son, Augustine.
In 1822, the land was passed from Spanish rule to the Mexican Republic, but the area really came into its own during the gold rush era when Colonel Robert S. Baker bought the land with a vision that California was going to grow into a booming, prosperous region.
According to the Santa Monica History Museum, the first land lots were sold for $500 and $75 in July 1875. Now the median house price in Santa Monica is $1,517,200. Wow, times have changed.
Santa Monica flourished in the 1920s, with fun-seekers flocking to the pleasure pier and thrill-seekers watching road races down Ocean Avenue. The first round-the-world flight was made in a World Cruiser constructed at Donald Douglas’ factory and took off from Clover Field. While the spot was named after World War I aviator 2nd lieutenant Greayer "Grubby" Clover, it evolved into Cloverfield Blvd – and the flight put Santa Monica on the global map.
Where to Stay
Casa del Mar
To get a taste of Santa Monica history first hand, there is no better place to stay than Casa del Mar, which first opened as a private beach club in 1926 and was designed by architect Charles F. Plummer to reflect the Italian Renaissance. After being the heart of the city’s social scene during the Roaring ‘20s and onwards, the U.S. Navy took over the building in 1941 and used it for enlisted soldiers during World War II. It endured a number of transitions until 1997 when Edward Thomas Hospitality Corporation (which also owns Shutters on the Beach Hotel next door) acquired the property and reopened it as a luxury hotel.
Casa del Mar now has 113 rooms and 16 suites, most of which boast sweeping views of the coastline up to Malibu and down to Palos Verdes. The luxurious designs celebrate California beach living while celebrating the hotel’s storied history, with a dash of modern opulence such as hydrothermal tubs, LCD flatscreen TVs and Bluetooth speakers. Aside from enjoying all the joys of beach living by renting bikes to peddle down the bike path, guests can watch the sunset over the Pacific while eating sushi in the Catch Restaurant or breakfast at sunrise at the Terrazza Lounge.
On the other side of Ocean Avenue, the Viceroy Hotel makes up for its lack of an ocean view with a bustling pool scene. One of the flagship hotels for the Viceroy group, this location is overflowing with their signature sophistication and hip flair. The pool area is something to brag about, brimming with cabanas, two plunge pools and entertainment space that has hosted many a VIP party.
If you get on the California fitness kick, there’s a full fitness center plus a Wellness Programs that includes weekend fitness classes, running and cycling routes. Once you’ve worked out, refuel on calories by indulging in modern American fare such as washimi waygu culottes or house cured lamb “bacon” wraps at the Cast restaurant or hand-crafted cocktails in the Craft Lounge.
Palihouse Santa Monica
Tucked away on a leafy residential street, the Palihouse oozes unique charm and has been designated as a Santa Monica Historic Landmark. The location dates back to 1927 and is a beautiful example of Moorish-influenced Mediterranean revival architecture with bubbling fountains, manicured gardens and a majestic lobby. Vintage equestrian art, stags’ heads and ceramic dogs make up the quintessentially British décor that could have been taken straight from a “Downton Abbey” set. There are only 38 rooms – made up of guest rooms, suites, studios and two penthouses – so service always feels personal and intimate. Guest can have breakfast or lunch at the café, which offers everything from avocado toast and pancakes to beet boost juices or a green colada smoothie. If you decide you like it so much that you can’t bear to leave, the Palihouse offers one to three month residence stays.
Where to Eat
Santa Monica is overflowing with mouth-watering restaurants and one of our favorites is Herringbone, where the seafood tastes like it leapt straight out of the ocean. From bottomless brunch with luscious lobster rolls and smoked salmon benny, to platters of crab, scallops and octopus, it’s a seafood lovers’ paradise. The bar area offers an oyster happy hour daily and hosts topical events like the “$1 Oyster Fest” to celebrate the L.A. Marathon runners. Along with the cuisine, the indoor and outdoor space at Herringbone epitomizes the Santa Monica vibe with green succulents adorning the walls, marine life skeletons hanging from the ceiling, and weathered fishing nets holding vintage style light fittings. If you like the Santa Monica spot, there are also Herringbone restaurants in Wakiki, Los Cabos, Las Vegas and La Jolla.
Tucked away in Santa Monica Canyon in the northwest corner of the city, Tallula’s took over the old Marix Tex Mex location and took the Mexican cuisine up a notch under the expertise of chef-partner Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon fame. While the menu is inspired by south of the border, many of the ingredients come from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market and other local sources. Distinctive menu items include mushroom and jack empanadas, kampachi ceviche, grilled swordfish tacos and Yucatan style pork stew. The vanilla rum flan leads the dessert line up, and there’s no way you can leave without trying one of the signature mezcal cocktails. If you’re not fit to burst after all that, try walking it off up the famous Santa Monica stairs – all 160 of them – from Entrada to 7th St.
Serving locals and Hollywood stars since 1956, Chez Jay has earned its veritable place in Santa Monica folklore. Looking like it could have been plucked straight out of a New England whaling port, this beloved spot is somewhere between a dive bar and a classy restaurant, combining the best traits of both. Whether you’re an A-list celebrity or a tourist stepping off the beach, you’ll get treated the same way in this quintessential local spot – with a cold beer or a stiff drink and endless peanuts. Even those are famous, as legend has it that one of the Chez Jay peanuts went to the moon with astronaut Alan Shepard and became the first “Astro-nut.” As for celebs, Chez Jay used to host old school Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Lee Marvin, Judy Garland and even Marilyn Monroe, and more recently has offered a comfy stool to Ben Affleck, Warren Beatty, Sean Penn and Russell Crowe. As for the food (other than peanuts!), that ranges from steamed clams and scampi to New York steaks and lobster tails.
While Third Street Promenade has every chain retailer you could ask for and the newly-renovated Santa Monica Place Mall offers higher end stores such as All Saints, Coach and Kate Spade, locals prefer to hit up Main Street or Montana Avenue.
Main Street is anything but Anywhere, USA, where chic boutiques like Hip’tique sit beside board meccas ZJ Boarding House and Dogtown Coffee, which embraces the best of Santa Monica’s surf and skateboard history with a large dose of caffeine and all-day breakfast.
There are a multitude of restaurants and bars scattered down the street from swanky Via Veneto, cool Ashland and Hill or riotous Rick’s and Finn McCools. Meanwhile, the Victorian offers a little for all tastes depending on when you visit.
Head north of Wilshire and you get to swanky Montana Ave, stretching from 7th St. to Brentwood. Aside from proudly serving the best burger in L.A. at Father’s Office at one end and cup cake heaven courtesy of Sweet Lady Jane at the other, it is home to beautiful boutiques and one of a kind specialty shops. Giggle will give any child the best start in life, while Planet Blue outfits adults in California’s signature Bohemian style; Sweaty Betty will deck you out in fashionable, functional workout clothes, and Stephanie Grace Designs offers the ultimate in home décor.
It’s no secret that traffic and parking in L.A. are a definite challenge, however, there are public lots scattered around downtown Santa Monica, most with the first 90 minutes for free. Uber, Lyft and taxis are all available but there are plenty of hipper transport options too. Many hotels have free bike rentals, or Perry’s Café (at the multiple beach locations) rent mountain bikes, cruisers, choppers, tandems or skates, while Breeze bike share lets you pick up or drop off at stations around the city. Segway on Ocean Ave also offers rentals and tours, but the latest and greatest scooter option is Bird, a motorized craze that you reserve through the app and deposit at will.
While L.A. is not known for its efficient public transport system, it is getting better … slowly. The Big Blue Bus covers all of Santa Monica, and from Pacific Palisades down to Marina del Rey. The recently-extended Metro system goes from Colorado Ave all the way to downtown (albeit, slowly) on the Expo Line, and from there you can change for Hollywood and other parts of the city. Of course, if none of these options are appealing, the sun is normally out in Santa Monica so you can always walk!
By Debbie Emery