Sun, sea, sand and city thrills: whoever said ‘you can’t have it all’ hadn’t been to Santa Monica. Begin your LA adventure in this cosmopolitan coastal city – and stay at the beach. Getting here is a breeze: Santa Monica is just eight miles from LAX Airport (a 20-minute drive or a speedy shuttle). The Metro’s Expo line connects Downtown LA and Downtown Santa Monica (whose station is just a few blocks from the beach), so it’s blissfully easy to tick off LA’s iconic attractions while you’re here. Noteworthy stops include Culver City, Exposition Park, USC, STAPLES Center and Downtown Los Angeles. Pick up a TAP card from a Metro station, top it up – and you’re good to go.
Explore Santa Monica’s 8.3 walkable square miles on foot, by bike or like the locals by rollerblading. You can even get around for free by texting Santa Monica Free Ride, an electric shuttle service that will pick you up and drive you to your attraction of choice within the city. Santa Monica enjoys close proximity to LA’s big-name lures – you could catch a bus to Hollywood or Beverly Hills, or stroll along the beachfront to get to Venice Beach – but it’s also a destination in itself. Spend a few days soaking up its beachy vibes and sunny outlook, starting with Santa Monica Beach.
Relax and unwind on the sand, admire the local fitness-bunnies, or explore Instagram-icon Santa Monica Pier, which has an amusement park with retro rides. See how the city’s colours and mood shifts after dark: sip cocktails at ocean-spying ONYX Rooftop Bar, at Hotel Shangri-La, or head to Santa Monica Place for Sonoma Wine Garden. If you’re feeling lively, go dancing with the locals at Circle Bar, or soak up the atmosphere at one of the city’s dive bars: Chez Jay, perhaps.
THE EIGHT NEIGHBOURHOODS
Planning a trip to LA? Ditch the stuffy city-centre hotels and traffic-clogged roads: instead, come to Santa Monica and stay at the beach. It really is an incredible place, but don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what some fellow Santa Monica fans had to say, from well-travelled journalists and bloggers to love-struck locals…
‘‘A far cry from the sprawling metropolis that is LA, the independent city of Santa Monica is home to laid-back beaches, burgeoning start-ups and a wellness culture all of its own.’’
Kate Wills, Suitcase Magazine
‘‘Santa Monica is the perfect place for a relaxing getaway. My favourite thing to do there is to run on the bike path in the morning. I was fortunate to make it out on some early runs to be able to see the sunrise, and the scenery is unmatched. Santa Monica truly is a world-class city, and I hope to make it back there again someday!’’
Sam Schilling, Santa Monica fan
‘As well as an amazing beach, Santa Monica has the most amazing farmers’ market too. Not what you’d expect from LA at all. The produce is fantastic.’’
James Martin, celebrity chef
‘‘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 LA has so much to offer to anyone who chooses to visit.’’
Allison Norton, blogger
‘‘Whether it’s a low-key choice, like the world-famous Joe’s Pizza, or a more high-end choice such as Giorgio Baldi (Rihanna’s favourite restaurant!), Santa Monica has all bases covered when it comes to eating out. My personal favourite restaurant is Fig: if you don’t order the bread balloon, you’ll regret it.’’
Jessica Barret, Daily Mail Online
‘I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the ocean coming over the hill of Ocean Park Boulevard. That’s when I decided I was moving from Burbank to Santa Monica. I started looking for apartments that day.’’
Rachel Lazor, local
‘‘Santa Monica, a neighbourhood filled with organic cuisine, expensive shopping and overtly trendy Westsiders, might just be one of my favourite spots in Los Angeles. It isn’t just the raging bar scene or the endless sunshine that keeps me coming back. It’s the local shops, cliffside beach views, irresistible sunsets and the ultimate ‘California vibe’ that leaves me wishing I lived in this affluent and eclectic city.’’
Gwen Lane, The LA Girl
‘‘My first great memory of Santa Monica is when I was five years old; I went to the Santa Monica Pier and rode one of the horses on the carousel. Whirling round and round and seeing the wonderful beach, the ocean and the entire spectrum of Santa Monica – it was delightful.’’
David Partie, local