Where to eat, drink, and play in one of our favorite Southern California beach towns.
When to Visit Santa Monica
Each year from May through July, Southern California’s coastline buzzes with throngs of sunseekers, from surfers and sunbathers to fitness pros, cyclists, and nature enthusiasts. But as the days slowly begin to shorten, locals look forward to a quieter stretch: September through November, or, as it’s popularly known, SoCal’s “secret summer.” The crowds thin as kids and college students return to schools, and thanks to the region’s subtropical Mediterranean climate tempered by the Pacific Ocean, warm days continue well into fall. Perfect for sightseeing, shopping and dining out.
Santa Monica, a beachside city with a plethora of daily sunshine and generous access to one of the state’s largest beaches, makes an ideal base for enjoying Angelenos favorite time of year. Anthony Valadez, a DJ for the local KCRW radio station, describes the city and its sounds this way: “Santa Monica is synonymous with happiness, sunshine, and inclusivity.” The radio celeb created a soundtrack that encapsulates the essence of this favorite California destination. Stream it and slip into Santa Monica’s extended summer vibe as you browse where to go and what to do on your next escape in the city.
Where to Eat
Make your way to Huckleberry Bakery & Café, where co-owners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan serve New Californian cuisine sourced from ethical and organic suppliers. Highly recommended: the breakfast burrito (organic scrambled eggs, aged cheddar, avocado mash, and salsa roja are just the beginning) or, for a group, the family-size order of pancakes with organic butter and pure maple syrup, plus add-on local blueberries and chopped Tcho chocolate.
For faster fare, head down the street to locally owned Sidecar Doughnuts, whose flavors have catapulted owners Chi-Lin and Sumter Pendergrast into the national spotlight. Their reimagining of eggs Benedict into doughnut form, which includes house-made basil hollandaise sauce and local ham, will delight umami fans. Each doughnut comes with a recommended coffee drink pairing, tasting notes, a batter type, texture descriptors, and a full ingredient list.
For lunch, the iconic Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery is only a few blocks away. Do as the locals do: Order your sandwich online to avoid the queue, then bring it to the beach. If you’re in the mood to be spoiled, your Vision travel advisor can collaborate with local caterers to set up a luxe picnic on the beach, complete with tableware, lanterns, floral arrangements, music, and gourmet charcuterie and cheese boards of your choosing.
Drink: Happy hour means sunsets and rooftop cocktails.
The Santa Monica bar scene brings heated – or rather, ice-chilled – competition to outdoor spaces across the city. Lively rooftop bar Élephante from Australian restaurateur Nicholas Mathers attracts a chic see-and-be-seen crowd with its breezy ocean views, design inspired by southern Italy and northern Africa, and concoctions such as the Perfect Alibi (vodka, Cocchi Rosa, lime, and sparkling water) or Bold Sea Slushie (Herradura tequila, watermelon, coconut, and lime).
For a more speakeasy-inspired experience, meander over to long-standing art deco haven The Misfit on the Third Street Promenade, where the cocktail menu changes constantly with seasonal offerings. Small-batch liquors, local microbrews, and an eclectic wine list pair well with the kitchen’s vegetable-forward plates, sandwiches, and starters, such as a spicy red pepper and walnut dip, Misfit’s take on Aleppo’s muhammara.
Health-obsessed Californians have embraced the benefits of ancient fermentation. JuneShine, a casual terrace and airy tasting room on Main Street, is the go-to for organic hard kombucha, with flavors ranging from citrus to tropical.
Play: Slot in some wellness, from family museum tours to coastal hikes.
Santa Monica’s recently reopened Cayton Children’s Museum teaches kids about their community in a tangible way, with costumes and instruments to play pretend veterinarian, a firetruck to clamber up and explore inside, even rescue floats donated by a recycled Coast Guard ship that helps youngsters imagine what it’s like to conduct search-and-rescue missions on the city’s coastline.
Ride the Ferris wheel in Pacific Park for a bird’s-eye view of Santa Monica.To treat your inner child. Another great option is to hike the gentle Topanga Lookout trail, two miles round-trip: From its 2,375-foot summit, the lookout provides unmatched 360-degree views of the Santa Monica Mountains – especially popular at sunset.
While fitness is – let’s face it – an entirely optional vacation pastime, Santa Monica’s active lifestyle might inspire you. Surf lessons and board rentals are available at the beach, along with bikes to pedal along the South Bay Bike Trail. On the Third Street Promenade through September 25, Self-Care Saturdays offer free weekly workouts ranging from yoga (mat not included) to cardio hip-hop. Be sure to book your spot in advance on Eventbrite.
Where to Stay
As always we recommend staying at one of our Virtuoso hotels. These hotels offer the best location and excellent service levels to ensure your vacation is everything you hope it to be . Also as proud Virtuoso members we offer extra amenities at these properties such as complementary breakfast for two, early check in, late check out, upgrades, resort credits and more.
Oceana Santa Monica. A modern take on luxury, coastal chic meets residential style in the newly reimagined Oceana. Ideally located on Ocean Avenue with unparalleled Pacific Ocean views.
Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows. Situated atop scenic bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is Santa Monica’s premier address for locals and world travelers alike.
Hotel Casa del Mar. Inspired by the grand villas of the Mediterranean and the effortless glamour of Santa Monica Beach, Hotel Casa del Mar lets you unwind in style amid the captivating scenery of Southern California.
Shutters on the Beach. When sand and sea beckon, head for Shutters on the Beach, a boutique-style getaway that feels more like your own lavish seaside cottage than a traditional hotel.
Speak to your Vision Travel Advisor today to plan your Santa Monica getaway.