W&D Travel Guide: How to Spend 24 Hours in Santa Monica

There’s a bit of a Goldilocks Syndrome to the beach towns of southern California. Venice is an eclectic mix of the ultra hip and the ultra hippie. Malibu, a scenic winding drive north on Route 1, is celebrity central, where you try not to swerve into the ocean while wondering which palace houses Beyoncé and those babies. Santa Monica, tucked between the two, is just right.

You’ll find yourself thinking I could live here, drinking more green juices than your insulin levels can handle and deciding which yoga studio you’d down-dog in. So next time you head to La La Land, skip the traffic of inland and head straight to sunny Santa Monica. You’ll be glad you did.

8:00 a.m.
Wake up at Palihouse Santa Monica.
Palihouse + the design-minded = a match made in boutique hotel heaven. What’s not to love about Palihouse? There’s the finely manicured courtyard entry, the jewel-toned foyer, the propped-just-right vintage-style bicycles for borrowing, the ultra-helpful employees who don’t laugh at you after your plane was stuck on the runway for four hours and you’re desperate to sneak in a shower before your vacation-mate, on a different flight from a different city, joins you. But never mind that. Perhaps the rooms, which mix ‘n’ match masculine features with feminine ones, will sway you. (Picture an armchair covered in an oversized print of oranges sitting pretty beneath a pair of antlers.) I’m partial to the ocean-view penthouse, where you can swing open the balcony doors and soak in that fresh ocean breeze – a far cry from the smog L.A. is notorious for – but who isn’t?

If you can bare to peel yourself out of bed in the morning, meander downstairs for breakfast. Take a seat on the outdoor patio and plot out the rest of your Santa Monica stay between bites of the bacon and tomato toast. Oh-so L.A., but with a hearty twist.

10:00 a.m.
Walk the beach. (Duh.)
When in California, right? Palisades Park, located along Ocean Avenue, will give you all the ocean vibes and picture-perfect moments you’ll need. If you’re in town during the Santa Monica Farmers Market, take a slight detour to check out what’s fresh that week. Perhaps pop a couple tangerines into your purse for later.

12:00 p.m.
Stuff yourself with seafood at Blue Plate Oysterette.
It’s as if someone stole an East Coast oyster bar, dropped it on Ocean Avenue and renamed it Blue Plate Oysterette. Think upscale food that’s not pretentious. Think a laid-back vibe with sleek décor. Think an open kitchen and oceanside patio. Check the blackboard for the day’s oyster options, an array from Puget Sound, New England, and British Columbia, then order a few of each for good measure.

2:00 p.m.
Stock up on gifts (some for others, mostly for yourself) at 
The Golden State Store.
Okay, okay. Technically The Golden State store is in Venice, just a 15-minute drive south of Santa Monica, but it’s worth the field trip. You’ll get a sense of SoCal beach life amongst the goods of local artists, like cheeky tote bags, luxurious leather journals, 70’s-esque pennants and Cali-inspired candles. Bonus: it’s just a few blocks down the street from everyone’s favorite General Store, pictured below, so you can knock out all your shopping in one fell, stylish swoop.

5:00 p.m.
Wander around Montana Avenue.
Geek out on architecture with a walk around Montana Avenue; you’ll get a glimpse at countless beach bungalows and charming early Craftsman designs. Remember those tangerines in your purse? Now’s a good time to peel one of those open.

7:00 p.m.
Sharpen your pool shark skills at The Bungalow.
It’s a bar, it’s a living room. It’s indoor, it’s outdoor. It’s pool tables, it’s ping pong. The Bungalow, an actual, well, bungalow on the grounds of Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar, feels more like the home of a cool friend-of-a-friend than a cocktail bar. Cozy up at one of the fire pits or challenge the loverboy across the bar to a game of ping pong. Just be sure to get there in time to see the sun set over the ocean and blanket the Bungalow in a hazy, pink glow.

10:00 p.m.
Throw back one last stiff one back at 
Chez Jay.
It’s said that “Nothing much changes at Chez Jay.” Perhaps that’s why it’s so damn charming, in the peculiar way that sticky bar floors are. You lose your sense of time at Chez Jay. (What time is it? What decade is it? How many Negronis have I had?) It’s thissmall and thisdark, with no bullshit bartenders and stiff drinks. Grab a spot at the bar and take a lingering look at the crooked newspaper clippings framed on the walls – it’s a collage of stories from Chez Jay’s nearly six-decade history. Chances are you’ll probably sit between a longtime regular, one with stories to tell, and a celebrity, who may not want to talk at all.

Image sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9


Megan McCarty is a writer, editor, etc.-er who has written about life, love and – shh, don’t tell her mother – s-e-x for Garance Doré, Apartment 34, Rue and more. While based in Minneapolis, she’s always ready, willing and oh-so eager to pack a bag, board a plane and wander new streets.