About three years ago, my husband Josh and I made a big, crazy, practically insane leap of faith and moved 2,658 miles across the country from Washington, DC to California. People always ask if I "get sick of the sunshine" and the answer is a hard no.
Moving our lives here has been fun, weird, wild and amazing. To celebrate my 3 year anniversary in Santa Monica, I'm sharing my favorite 33 things to do around town. So saddle up, friends for sunshine, sand, sound, savasana and some snacks!
Like a lot of locals, I love to play, read and nap in Palisades Park on Ocean Avenue
Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals | 1200 Pacific Coast Highway
Most beachy snack shops sell exclusively fried fare, which yes, I want, buuuut not when I'm in a bikini. Perry's sells fresh eats like avocado toast, quinoa salads, protein shakes and mango smoothies that won't leave you too full to run around the beach. And don't worry, they still sell boardwalk favs like hot dogs, homemade potato chips and two kinds of fries. Look for the sign that says FUN and you'll know you've arrived.
$5-$15 for lunch
Santa Monica Massage & Reflexology Center | 312 Santa Monica Boulevard
Mmmm, yea. Now THIS is the kind of happy hour I can get pumped about. Santa Monica Massage offers a"happy hour" special from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM that includes one 60 minute massage for just $30. You can't get a better value in town. What they offer is a high-quality service in a no-frills environment as each massage table is separated by a curtain. It's located on the busy Santa Monica Promenade so if you're noise sensitive, pack some headphones or earplugs. Josh and have been going to massage therapist, Leo for a few years and always request the private back room which doesn't cost extra.Their managers, Lin and Andrew, can even help book your appointment via text at (310) 260-7770.
$30 plus tip for one 60 minute massage (between 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM), $65 plus tip for one 60 minute (between 1:00PM to 10:00PM)
Bhakti Yoga Shala | 207 Arizona Avenue
Taking a little sound bath is one of the most immersive musical experiences you can have. Head to the Bhakti Yoga Shala for an hour of radical relaxation led by Santosh Das who plays specially tuned instruments like crystal bowls, gongs and wind chimes. If you want to be extra cozy during the sound bath, bring a yoga mat, pillow and a blanket to really soak into this restorative environment. Try to arrive 20 minutes early so you can unplug before this awesome adventure in sound. This is truly what people imagine when they're wondering what Southern Californians do on a Sunday night.
$20 per session; private sessions upon request
Urth Caffe | 2327 Main Street
Urth is my favorite spot for an unhurried breakfast. They're best known for picture-perfect lattes, avocado toast and homemade pastries, but also serve lunchy things like colorful soups and salads. You know you're in California because they offer FIVE types of milk including dairy, almond, soy, oat and coconut. I recently spent a rainy morning on their patio porch with one of my favorite novels, a matcha tea latte and avocado toast...total bliss.
$15 for lunch for one
Golden Mean Cafe |1028 Wilshire Boulevard
Save a cow and grab a bite at this petite vegan outpost on Wilshire. I've tried a lot of their menu items, but my favorite is The Works Burger, a 26 ingredient patty topped with smoky tempeh. If I'm craving sweets, I'll order the Macaccino, a hand-roasted mix of maca root that tastes like fresh cinnamon, chocolate and coffee. For a big finale, you absolutely must splurge on their homemade pistachio saffron or strawberry cake. Then take a nap.
$15 for lunch for one
Bhakti Yoga Shala | 207 Arizona Avenue
Yoga with Angel is just the sweetest way to start my day. Visit the Bhakti Yoga Shala bright and early for her hour-long bhakti yoga class, which is a sweet hybrid of vinyasa and yin that will get your blood flowing. Angel often refers to this branch of yoga as "devotion in motion" and because of her personalized approach, no two classes are exactly alike. Last spring, she taught a private session for my mom's birthday and it was one of the most moving mother-daughter experiences we've ever had.
$108/month for unlimited classes or $20 donation per class; private yoga and reiki sessions upon request
Entry via California Incline on Ocean Avenue
Grab a bike and just go, go, go. Every visitor should create a Breeze Bike account even if they're only in town for a few days. I've rented these bikes 100+ times for casual jaunts around town and sometimes, with our puppy, Mushu riding along in the front basket. It's affordable and easy to create an account. I love taking a breezy ride down the California Incline and seeing where the Pacific Ocean meets the Santa Monica Mountains.
$7 per hour or $0.12 per minute
Rori's Artisanal Creamery | 910 Montana Avenue
A field trip to Rori's is a Saturday tradition. Everything is made in-house, right down to the candy in their Chocolate Candy Peanut Butter Swirl. You have to try Josh's favorite order: two scoops of Chocolate Candy Peanut Butter Swirl, extra peanut butter candy toppings and warm Nutella sauce. Just want an itty bitty taste? They actually have a size called Itty Bitty for $2.50!BRB GOING TO RORI'S.
$7 for two scoops with toppings
Laemmle's Monica Film Center | 1332 2nd Street
Of all the neighborhood movie theatres, Laemmle is my favorite. It features a great combination of classic, offbeat and international films. There's always a rotating art exhibit featuring local artists. If you're a popcorn freak like me, you'll be happy to know they serve popcorn with real butter and sea salt...not the yellow powdered stuff you'll find at big chains. I've seen lots of great indie-ish movies here including one of my favs of all time, Loving Vincent. The last two years in a row we've gone to Laemmle to watch a screening of all the Oscar nominees in the Best Short Animated Film category. You'll leave feeling just a tiny bit more cultured than you did before.
$10 to $15 for tickets
Varieties International | 2523 17th Street
This class is pure joy. If you've ever fantasized about being a back-up dancer for your favorite pop artist (like me) then BollyPop is the cardio dance class for you! Created by Aakansha Maheshwari in 2015, BollyPop is a heart-pounding hybrid of traditional Indian folk dances and the colorful dance moves seen in Bollywood films. Aakansha's joyful spirit is infectious and even as a complete beginner, I feel welcomed and encouraged in her class. Before she teaches choreography for a new dance, I love that she always translates the song lyrics from Hindi to English so students can understand the meaning behind the movement. After a big finish one day she turned to our class with a huge smile and said,"When I do something like this, it does something to my heart." Come solo or bring a few friends to experience the magic of BollyPop.
Donation Based; suggested $15-$20 per class
Metro Cafe | 603 Arizona Avenue
This might just be my favorite place to get some work done in Santa Monica. There's a constant hum of conversation, laptops, entrepreneurs and friends. It has laid back California vibes and I like that. There's a large backyard with seating, so it's a nice place to enjoy coffee and work in the sunshine. They serve a variety of coffees and teas, along with a small selection of baked goods. The best part? It's donation-based, so you can pay what you're able to.
Gelato-go Santa Monica | 1305 Montana Avenue
From the massive espresso machine to those adorable miniature spoons, Gelato-go Santa Monica really does make me feel like I'm back in Rome. There's minimal seating, but I recommend doing as the Italians and taking your gelato with you for a leisurely stroll. I especially love the Cookies and Cream, Coconut (vegan) and Hazelnut (vegan).
$5 for a single scoop
Salon Republic | 1333 2nd Street and 8383 Wilshire Boulevard
How perfect is her last name?! Meet Sara Brunet, Fairy Godmother to platinum blondes in Los Angeles. A lot of people ask me how I maintain my hair color, so here it goes: my appointments last for 3 hours every 5 weeks and is a complex process that involves bleaching, processing, shampooing, toning, conditioning, heating, drying and styling. Keeping up with platinum blonde hair like mine is chemically challenging and requires a skilled professional like Sara to make it happen. I love that she's always pushing herself to try new techniques and styles with clients. Besides, she's a wonderful human and her adorable yorkie, Genevieve will nap in my lap during the appointment.
$120 plus gratuity for platinum blonde color processing and blow dry