Santa Monica | July 24, 2023
Independent’s Guide: Spending a Day in Los Angeles
Santa Monica has grown into a slick coastal destination in its own right, with a distinct personality that makes it worth a side-tour from La La Land. It attracts sea-salty surfers, road-trippers and well-heeled urbanites alike.
Alongside Santa Monica’s beach scene, famous pier, historic dive bars and old-school motels, there are exciting new designer and independent shops, upscale restaurants, plus cool cocktail bars to discover.
Things to do
Beach-hop by bike
Hop on a bike and skim along its 22-mile paved beachfront track, which meanders from Pacific Palisades in the north to Torrance in the south. Stop off along the ride for a picnic, a cooling dip in the Pacific or a lively game of volleyball.
Take in some art
Built on former railroad land north of downtown Santa Monica, this is the setting for 30 globally renowned private art galleries, including the influential Danziger photography gallery and Skidmore Contemporary Art, a big supporter of emerging artists.
Visit a retro picturehouse
Santa Monica has several cinemas but none more beautiful and nostalgic than the single-screen Aero Theatre, which opened in 1940 and still has its original ticket booth at the front.
Where to eat
Don’t miss dinner on the cool rooftop of the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, at its glam Calabra restaurant. Its curvy, earth-toned, plant-filled design, along with the panoramic views of Downtown Santa Monica to the beach and a Cali-Mediterranean fusion made with ingredients from the Santa Monica farmers’ market, attract a well-heeled crowd each weekend.
A former chapel with a neat front lawn is the setting for Tartine, a light and airy bakery and cafe. All the baked goods and dishes are so easy on the eye that it’s hard to choose what to have, but also impossible to go wrong.
Tar and Roses
The service and food are impeccable at Tar and Roses, a stylish yet low-key neighbourhood favourite that hasn’t given in to the lure of expansion, despite its local success. The oxtail dumplings alone are worth walking in this direction.
Where to drink
Chez Jay and The Backyard
Jay Fiondella passed away in 2008 but his tiny roadside bar-come-steakhouse, Chez Jay – complete with neon sign – looks as it did when it opened in 1959. Grab one of the seven tables or a stool at the bar and join in with the banter. Alternatively, follow the sound of live music to the buzzy back terrace.
Santa Monica Brew Works
The Santa Monica Brew Works does dozens of specialty beers as well as five core brews, which a craft ale-loving crowd gather to enjoy in their tasting room and beer garden.
If you like a cafe that cares less about the latest hipster decor and more about quality coffee, Demitasse, is your place. It’s inviting and laidback, with friendly staff and baristas who blend the best coffee in town.
Where to shop
A browse around Burro will fuel your secret desire for a cool South Californian aesthetic at home. Shelves are lined with lust-worthy coffee table books celebrating surfing and the art of the American West. Rails are filled with flannel checked shirts, 1970s-style kaftans, denim shorts and stylish beach accessories like Mexican beach blankets.
Santa Monica Antique Market
If you plan your Santa Monica trip around either the first or fourth Sunday of every month, you’ll experience when Santa Monica airport becomes the setting for the Santa Monica Antique Market, featuring hundreds of stalls selling everything from vintage Native American jewellery to couture fashion.