Visiting Santa Monica March 1-3
February 17, 2017 4:23 AM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to visit Santa Monica. I imagine good music and kids skateboarding into a palm-tree-specked sunset. I imagine drinking beers and listening to live music on open patios near the ocean. That's how it is right? What should I do to experience Santa Monica for a day without shattering my romantic notions of it?
posted by jander03 to Travel & Transportation around Santa Monica, CA (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Try Hermosa Beach. That's where I usually hear live music spilling into the sidewalk, etc. Santa Monica is fun but not really what you are picturing.
posted by annathea at 4:43 AM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would start at the pier and then head south on the bike/pedestrian path towards Venice. You can rent bikes at the Santa Monica Bike Club on 2nd & Colorado, a block before the pier, or from any of the Perry's bike rentals along the bike path.

Downtown Santa Monica is super touristy, Main Street is local and has shops and restaurants (Amelia's Cafe, Samosa House, and Holy Guacamole are two good picks) but is a block removed from the beach. A good place on the beach near the pier for people watching is Big Dean's. When you hit Venice there will be lots of beachside options; you could also head down Abbot Kinney for the Venice hipster scene (still lots of skateboarders!) It's just over a mile or so from the pier to the north end of Venice so it's definitely walkable to hit all of Venice, too.

I would stay away from DTSM with a car if possible. There are lots of bus/light rail options that would be much easier than dealing with traffic and parking. I think Venice will scratch your itch.

I'm sure I'll think of more to add but I live in Santa Monica so feel free to memail me!
posted by Room 641-A at 5:48 AM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing that may not be obvious when looking at a map: Santa Monica north of the pier is on the bluffs, overlooking the beach. IOW Palisades Park is a great park that runs along the beach on Ocean Ave. but it's not at sea level, Pacific Coast Hwy is. (There are steps and bridges to get down to the beach, however.) South of the pier is sea level. I hope that makes sense.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:56 AM on February 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been to Santa Monica many times. It's one of my favorite places in the Los Angeles area.

For me, your romantic notion is pretty spot-on, except it may be way more crowded than you think, depending on when you visit. Other times, it may seem nearly abandoned. (Also, I'm not sure how much patio music there is, but I'm sure there is some!)

I've always gone by car, and never had a problem, but I don't mind driving in traffic. There is plenty of (paid) parking. Be prepared for a lot of walking. I usually park near the pier and walk the beach and the Oceanfront Walk (be cautious of bikers/skater/runners and don't zigzag on the path!) There are various pedestrian bridges that take you up to "street level." Downtown Santa Monica has lots of places to shop, browse, and eat. (I love Jinky's!) There is also plenty of (also paid) parking downtown, some on the street, but most of it in garages.

In short, it's a great place to visit and explore without a set agenda. Use common sense as you would any other unfamiliar place, and you'll have a safe enjoyable time.
posted by The Deej at 8:16 AM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely walk down to the Venice Beach skate park! It's an awesome place to be at sunset, and really incredible to see what some skaters can do.
posted by imalaowai at 8:30 AM on February 17, 2017

Long-time LA resident here, used to work in Santa Monica in an office above the Promenade.

You're not really describing Santa Monica (well, okay, the sunsets are pretty great). Santa Monica is home of the tech yuppie these days, and there's no beachfront anything -- Santa Monica's "beachfront" is either the super-touristy/commercial Santa Monica Pier, or fancy restaurants (and if there's "live" music, it's likely to be a DJ performing -- you're not likely to find bands or musicians who hold actual musical instruments in their hands unless they're busking on the Promenade
) on cliffs sorta overlooking the beach, with no actual beach access.

You want Venice.

Or anything listed here:

note that the descriptions of Santa Monica places include things like "Because you need a classy beachfront bar to impress your parents, and you need alcohol to spend any amount of time with your parents" and "views sometimes include a flailing rollerblader with a gut" and "you may feel as though you’ve been sucked into a tourist vortex" and "Don your favorite pair of faded madras shorts, and reminisce about your crushing victory at the Figawi regatta at this Nantucket country club-styled beach bar. Oh, that wasn’t you?"
posted by erst at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

This sounds more like Venice these days than Santa Monica proper. If you're not on a tight budget, Santa Monica has better hotels (especially beachside), and it's an easy walk over, so you could easily see both over a weekend.
posted by Mchelly at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yet another Angeleno who works in Santa Monica weighing in: you want Venice, not Santa Monica. Santa Monica is really touristy and crowded, especially now with the Expo line open here. If you want to shop in the Promenade and take a stroll around the pier, come on down, but for the romantic notion you describe, Venice is a better bet.

But yes, Santa Monica does have the nicer hotels. There are a bunch right across the street from the beach, basically, but a) the actual beach at Santa Monica is not the best and b) they're not going to give you the chill vibe I feel like you want. Again, try Venice. If you're willing/able to go a little further afield, I personally think the quintessential chill California beach experience is best found in the smaller towns further up the coast along PCH, like Pismo Beach. That's a matter of personal taste though, I just like the smallish beach town vibe better.
posted by yasaman at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2017

Another Santa Monica resident here. Nthing that what you describe is more like Venice, though the Ocean Park neighborhood on the south shades nicely into Venice in vibe. Santa Monica is mostly about silicon beach techies and shopping at the moment. (There's a conflict in local politics about city identity between those who see the city as a Sleepy Beach Town and those who prefer the Dynamic Little-Manhattan-by-the-Sea. Santa Monica could be more convincingly said to be the former in the 80's than now.)

What Santa Monica is doing really well at now is bicycle-friendliness. There's a dense network of bicycle lanes on the city streets, a new bike path along the new light rail line and the classic path below the bluffs on the beach itself on which one can travel in blithe sublimity down to Venice and back. (If Santa Monica as-beach-town has an essence, it's on that path.) You can rent a bike at the city bike center or through their bike share program.

If I were you and wanted to 'do' Santa Monica in a couple of days, I'd rent a bike and do a lot of exploring, as The Deej recommends. Bike around the relaxed residential neighborhoods away from downtown, like north of Montana, the Pico neighborhood or Ocean Park and on the beach between S.M. and Venice.

Also: check out the drum circle in Venice. And, there are places where one can have a drink on the boardwalk. Definitely take a long stroll on Palisades Park at sundown. At nighttime, there are lots of pubs and clubs downtown you might like, several in fancy hotels. Near me the open air Bungalow, for instance, is very happening.
posted by bertran at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm going to push back against the pier naysayers. Yes, it's touristy, but the OP is a tourist coming to Santa Monica, and the pier is iconic. I live right near the pier and take public transportation nearly every day, and nearly every day I see and meet tourists who are so excited when they see the Pier! No better place around to see the sunset than from the pier ferris wheel. The rest of DTSM you can skip.

You could even cut up a block from the pier and check out the shops and restaurants on Main St (the Ocean Park neighborhood mentioned above) until you get to Rose (northern Venice border) and cut back to enjoy Venice Beach.

Depending on when you arrive and end up on Wednesday, that's the world-renowned Wednesday Farmers Market, also in DTSM, a few blocks from the pier. 8:30-2:00 but a lot of farmers will be packing up by 1:00. Definitely worth it if that's your thing.

If you want lush, hidden exploring you should wander around Rustic Canyon. Follow Ocean Ave north and head down Entrada. You'll end up at the beach and can follow the bike/ped path back towards the pier, or just climb back up the hill.

Check IRL for L.A. There's a west side meetup in the works that might fall on your visit.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:41 PM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've worked in a couple different startups on the Promenade. Can confirm Santa Monica is a bit more of a well-off yuppie enclave now, and Venice is the grittier, skateparks-and-beach-bars spot. That said, SM isn't all bad and considering the Expo terminus is literally right there it's very easy to get in and out of (if you don't mind standing on a crowded train), especially if you feel like ever going downtown.

The Pier is nice to walk on, and Pier Burger is a pretty good little In-n-Out-esque burger shack. A couple blocks away, Bay Cities does a great great sandwich. Everyone gets the Godmother, which is good, but the Sausage and Hot Peppers is also amazing. A ginger beer and a fat Italian sub while you sit on a bench overlooking the ocean is a thing of beauty, no matter how many other tourists are around you.

Venice is definitely more in the live music and beer by the beach place, but spending time on/near the pier during the day can be really nice too. If you budget 20-30 minutes to get back and forth between Venice and Santa Monica I'd say, why not do both?
posted by joechip at 1:23 PM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

You are describing Venice.

You might enjoy the Annenberg Beach House, or maybe Back on the Beach.
posted by vignettist at 3:31 PM on February 17, 2017

In my experience there isn't any live music during the day in Hermosa, only at night. There is the drum circle, but it's the third Sunday of the month so it doesn't look like the dates line up with your visit anyway. There is plenty of volleyball though, and Beach Tennis if that intrigues you.

If drum circles are your thing, looks like there's a more active one in Venice.
posted by vignettist at 3:39 PM on February 17, 2017

As they're saying, Venice. It's right next to Santa Monica, where I lived a couple years. During my tennure I practiced for and eventually ran the LA Marathon, by joining a club which trains every Saturday, running one mile further each week. Eventually the loop extended all the way through Venice down to around Marina del Rey and that's where we'd pass people enjoying breakfast "on open patios near the ocean."
posted by Rash at 8:44 PM on February 17, 2017

OP, how was your stay?

For future seekers, I hadn't been in years, but I can confirm that the marina is bustling.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2017

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