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
Yogis and gym-bunnies: welcome to your spiritual and physical home. Southern California’s exercise craze kicked off in Santa Monica in the early 20th century. For proof, visit the original Muscle Beach (south of the Santa Monica Pier), which started back in the 1930s. A lean, keen group of acrobats, gymnasts and other talented athletes gathered here regularly to work out by the beachfront, leading to the official moniker, Muscle Beach, in 1933. (Seventeen years later, nearby Venice Beach followed suit with its own version; stroll over to compare the two.
Santa Monica continues to be a trailblazer when it comes to fitness and wellness. Stand-up paddleboarding was invented here, as was roga: a pulse-racing combination of running and yoga, which you can try for yourself on the pier. Join the locals perfecting their downward-dog on the sand, have a yoga session at peaceful Palisades Park (followed by a smoothie at Wildflower Café), or banish jet-lag with a class at BoxUnion: a beats-driven boxing studio that will make your heart race.
For an ‘only-in-LA’ fitness experience, sign up for a trapeze lesson on Santa Monica Pier with Trapeze School New York, go surfing with friendly instructors at Aqua Surf or try aqua-yoga on surf boards. Prefer spectator sports? You’re in the right place. Just relax on the sand or in your favourite beachfront café – matcha or turmeric latte in hand – and watch admiringly while others work up a sweat. You could also detoxify without moving a muscle at Shape House day spa, an urban sweat lodge.
WELLNESS DINING AND FITNESS TRENDS
Health and wellness shape Santa Monica’s menus, too. The craze for beauty-boosting smoothies and juices took root here; try the Cream Party (coconut water and coconut cream) from Juice Served Here, which is a hit with the locals. If you’ve had one too many cocktails at ONYX Rooftop Bar the night before, combat the consequences with the powerful Hangover Cure (featuring pineapple, ginger, cayenne, black pepper and herbal extracts) from the Hive, another favourite at 606 Broadway.
Enjoy doctor-approved dishes at True Food Kitchen in Downtown, which champions farm-to-table fare, or have a very-LA breakfast – including a Beautify syringe with a health shot – at Kreation Juice on Montana Avenue. For the ultimate indulgence, book some spoiling spa treatments at the serene Alchemie Spa and relax back, Santa Monica-style. If your stamina for exercise classes and health kicks hasn’t been exhausted, head into Downtown LA on the Metro Expo Line , for more park life, fitness classes and gyms, and healthy-living cafés, shops and restaurants…
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
You already know about Kenya’s wonderful wildlife and wide open plains – but what about its world-class beaches? More than 500 kilometres of beautiful, white-sand Indian Ocean beaches await here. Mombasa’s stretches of sand are perhaps the best-known, thanks to their ease of access for visitors flying into Moi International Airport from the UK and Europe, or entering Kenya on cruise ships and internal flights from Nairobi. Base yourselves around Nyali Beach, which offers plenty of stylish resort accommodation. Step back in time on Mombasa Island, whose Old Town dates back to the 13th century; visitors can still admire traces of its Arab and Portuguese periods of rule.
Beach-bunnies can expect pristine white sands, crystalline azure waters, balmy breezes and protected coral reefs. If you want to just lie back and feel the sun on your skin, you’re in the right place. If you prefer to be more active, take advantage of your hotel and resort facilities, and try watersports and diving. Oceanic activities on offer here include: deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling, whale-watching, kitesurfing, paddleboarding, dhow boat expeditions and swimming with whale sharks. All that sea air and excitement will make you hungry: indulge in a beachside feast – coconut rice with fish curry and chapatis or bajias (moreish Kenyan chips), perhaps – and soak up the local culture and history, too.
Popular beaches along the south coast include photogenic Diani (easily accessed by a short domestic flight). Diani has been named Africa’s Leading Beach Resort for three years in a row, thanks to its powder-soft sands, honeymoon-worthy looks, vivid greenery and deliciously warm waters. Embark on a camel tour while you’re here, or hire bikes and explore Diani’s inland villages. Secluded Tiwi Beach, roughly 17 kilometres south of Mombasa, is also worth visiting. Protected by reefs, these beaches’ calm, inviting waters are rich in coral, tropical fish, sea turtles and dolphins. The outer and inner reef walls offer world-class diving: expect rainbow-hued coral gardens and dramatic drop offs.
To admire the marine life up close, visit Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve, AKA the ‘Home of the Dolphin’. The park lies in the coral gardens south of Wasini Island and encompasses three small coral rag forest islands. Kisite offers unrivalled snorkelling locations; look out for dolphins and more than 250 fish species. It’s also a great spot for sunbathing, birdwatching and diving.
Just a two-hour drive from Mombasa, the small town of Malindi lies at the heart of a strip of gorgeous tropical beaches on the north coast. Pick from world-class resorts and quiet, romantic hideaways – wherever you bed down, you’re bound to relax and unwind.
Further south, discover the sleepy village of Watamu, which is fronted by wide white beaches. Private guest-houses are clustered in the forest along the deserted shore, alongside several big-name resorts. While you’re here, visit the Marine National Park just outside Watamu. The coral gardens 300 metres from the shore are home to 600-plus species of sea-life. You could also go game-fishing or try watersports here.