Los Angeles Tour: Santa Monica
Explore this picturesque, beachside, and pedestrian-friendly model “city within a city.”
Santa Monica promises the picture-postcard Los Angeles experience with its wide, palm-tree-lined beaches and stunning sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. What started as a seaside retreat in the early 20th century has today settled into a model city (clean, walkable, and eco-conscious) with a laidback urbanity that attracts artistic types, young professionals, affluent families, and celebrities as much as surfers and beach bunnies. A good deal of the action happens downtown on the pedestrian-friendly Third Street Promenade–lined with shops, restaurants, and street performers–and the tourist-flooded Santa Monica Pier, while Montana Avenue and Main Street are more low-key shopping satellites that cater to locals.
1 Santa Monica Pier
Near the western terminus of historic Route 66, this old-timey seaside amusement park has an enduring, if kitschy, popularity. Untold thousands of parents have been dragged by their children toward the Ferris wheel that sparkles at night above the nearly century-old pier. Here, sunset-gazers and cotton-candy-hawkers rub shoulders with elderly men fishing for Pacific mackerel along the 1,800-foot-long boardwalk; thereâ€™s a modest aquarium and a group of carnival rides, including a roller coaster and the 44-horse vintage carousel featured in The Sting. Nearby is the Third Street Promenade, a favorite pedestrian-oriented shopping/entertainment district.
2 Fairmont Miramar Luxury Hotel & Bungalows, Santa Monica
Since the 1920s, privacy-seeking Hollywood starletsâ€”among them Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroeâ€”have found refuge at this bluff-perched resort overlooking Santa Monica beach. The propertyâ€™s 32 stand-alone bungalows, with patios surrounded by thick tropical greenery, are still coveted by A-listers todayâ€”but plenty of nonfamous luxury-seekers appreciate the 302 Edwardian-meets-California-cottage rooms set in the 1924 Palisades Building or the newer 10-story Ocean Tower. Snob appeal is blissfully absent here: service is warm rather than white-gloved; the scene around the pool and at the Exhale spa is laid-back; and the cuisine at the inventive, farm-to-table FIG restaurant is unfussy. Itâ€™s a perfect mix of Beverly Hills luxe and barefoot Santa Monica.
3 Annenberg Community Beach House
Formerly a private beachfront estate that William Randolph Hearst built for actress Marion Davies, the Annenberg Community Beach House is now open to the public as a place to enjoy the Santa Monica sand in style. No membership is requiredâ€”access to the courtyards, view deck, splash pad, sand sports courts, childrenâ€™s play area, gallery, and Marion Davies Guest House is free. The historic pool is open in the summertime for a small fee.
4 Santa Monica Place
A recent revamp turned this once-indoor mall at the edge of the popular Third Street Promenade into a hip, open-air shopping and dining experience. Though Nordstrom and Bloomingdaleâ€™s are the anchors, specialty shops like Fluxus, Tory Burch, and 7 For All Mankind are a cut above standard mall fare. Gone is the outdated food court, replaced by the rooftop â€œDining Deckâ€
5 Josie / Next Door by Josie
The French- and Mediterranean-kissed American fare at neighborhood fine-dining gem Josie is some of the most highly regarded on the Westside. Organic, responsibly sourced ingredients and simple yet sophisticated preparations come together in dishes like the whole â€œcampfireâ€