Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How to experience Santa Monica like a local

One Day Itinerary for Santa Monica

Are you a traveler who'd like to experience Santa Monica like a local? As a resident here for over a decade, I'm often asked by visiting friends for local knowledge about Santa Monica bars, restaurants, entertainment ideas and more. So here's a one-day sample of how to experience Santa Monica like a local:

Where to do morning exercise in Santa Monica? Santa Monica Stairs
At the northern edge of town, a few sets of staircases connect the coastal community of Pacific Palisades with Santa Monica. These sets of stairs have become a workout mecca for anyone wishing for fresh air and bonus views of the coast. No matter what time of day you visit, you'll see people, like ants, climbing up and down the nearly 200 stairs. In addition to bumping into locals and personal trainers, you're also likely to see celebrities and athletes cloaked in hats and sunglasses. (During the NBA off-season, I consistently ran into Paul Pierce.)

Local tip: As with anywhere in Santa Monica, read parking signs VERY carefully.

Other morning exercise suggestions: Pacific Palisades Park, Marvin Braude bike path

Now that your blood is pumping, time to find somewhere to hydrate and eat a bite of breakfast.

Where to get coffee in Santa Monica? 18th Street Coffee House
The worst kept secret in town is that the place is owned by legendary musician (and Nobel Prize Winner) Bob Dylan. The staff is always friendly and jovial. The place is fairly low-key, which means you're likely to spot a celebrity if you hang out for a bit. As it's a coffee shop in L.A., you're also bound to see folks hammering away on screenplays and hear name dropping. Grab a seat on the spacious and serene patio to soak up the sun. If you need a jolt of energy, buy a cup of the Bitches Brew coffee, along with a piece of coffee cake or a scone.

Local tip: There's no wifi and no talking on your phone. This might seem overbearing, but it helps preserve the atmosphere.

Also try: Unurban Cafe, Dogtown Coffee, Cafe 212

Where to eat lunch in Santa Monica? Urth Caffe


Also try: Tender Greens, Flower Child, Shaka Shack Burgers, California Chicken Cafe

Where to grocery shop in Santa Monica? Santa Monica Farmer's Markets
Stock up on some local produce at one of the many weekly Santa Monica Farmer's Markets.


Local tip: Be sure to try some Gaviota strawberries from a vendor like Harry's Berries; they're some of the sweetest, juiciest fruits you'll ever taste.

Where to buy more groceries?
After you've loaded up on produce from the farmer's market, you can round out the rest of your grocery shopping at Co-Op. The store's organic/vegan/other health buzzword offerings are akin to Whole Foods, but Co-Op is community focused.

Local tip: The parking lot is small and cramped, but after 6pm parking at any nearby open street meter is free.

Also try: Bay Cities Italian Deli & Grocer (don't leave without grabbing a sandwich!)

Santa Monica's abundant sun and laid back atmosphere makes it a glorious place to day drink. There's a plethora of great spots to soak up the sun and some suds, but my favorite is Big Dean's Cafe.

Where to day drink? Big Dean's Cafe

Operating in the shadow of the neighboring Santa Monica Pier is Big Dean's Cafe, a mellow, mostly open air bar/cafe. If you can, grab a table on the front patio to watch the tourists and local characters stream past on the boardwalk. Or chill on the back patio and watch some local sports broadcasts. Drink up some local brews and try a corndog. And once you're ready to wind down, you'll be a short stumble from the sand.

Local tip: After you're sufficiently soused, you'll be a short stumble from the sandy shores of Santa Monica State Beach, where you can spend some time recuperating.

Once you've recovered from the day's escapades, head over to Cha Cha Chicken for some delicious Caribbean fare. And don't be put off if the ordering counter's line snakes out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk--it tends to move fast and the wait is worth it. The restaurant is self-seating, so if you're with others, delegate one person to order food and one person to venture out onto the patio to lock down a table. You can't go wrong with any of the menu items here, but my personal favorites are the jerk chicken enchiladas and a fruity beverage.

Local tip: It's B.Y.O.B., so stop by one of the many local liquor stores to come prepared.

Other options: Solidarity

Where to watch the Santa Monica sunset?
Given it's coastal coordinates, Santa Monica enjoys majestic sunsets that dip down into the Pacific Ocean. There's plenty of spots to snap photos to fill up your Instagram account, but here are some personal favorites:

Bluffs at Palisades Park
The park is a long, narrow green space which runs the western side of Ocean Ave from Colorado Ave all the way north beyond California Ave. The railing which runs the length of the bluff is a great place to lean over to catch the glow of sunset illuminate coastal Santa Monica.

Another option: rooftop bar at Shangri-la Hotel

Where to find nighttime entertainment in Santa Monica? There's no shortage of entertainment options in Santa Monica.

Tucked away in an alley between the Santa Monica Promenade and a parking garage is a performing arts gem. Show tickets are affordable, often less than $10, especially when you consider there's no two-drink minimum normally imposed by competing comedy clubs. Inside you'll find a full-service bar with reasonably priced drinks and talent ranging from world beaters like Dave Chappelle to the open mic set.

Other options: Magicopolis, Burlesque Show at Trip Bar, live music at Harvelle’s, catch a classic flick at the Aero Theatre, Bowlmor

Where to get late night drinks in Santa Monica? Speak Easy Cocktail

A rare Santa Monica dive bar. Laid back, local clientele, devoid of tourists. Cheap, faux-wood paneled walls. Pool tables. Karaoke. Cheap drinks. Friendly service. Surprisingly clean bathrooms (not usually a hallmark of a dive bar, but hey—no one's complaining).

Other options: Ye Olde Kings Head, Bodega

Where to get late night munchies in Santa Monica?
DK Donuts (open 24 hrs), Holy Guacamole (tacos, burritos), NY&C Pizza