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A Travel + Lifestyle Blog by Ashley Sundquist

  • Ashley Sundquist

Top 33 Things to Do in Santa Monica, California

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

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

33. Lunch at Perry's Cafe

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


32. Massage Happy Hour

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)


31. Sound Bath with Santosh Das

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


30. Beautiful Breakfast at Urth

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

29. Vegan Eats at Golden Mean

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


28. Bhakti Yoga with Angel Cantu

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

27. Rent a Breeze Bike

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


26. Homemade Ice Cream

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


25. Let's go to the movies

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


24. BollyPop with Aakansha

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


23. Get some work done at a donation-based coffee shop

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.

Donation Based


22. Grab a Gelato

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


21. Blonde? Visit Sara Brunet.

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


20. Get a Thai Massage with Lotus

The Massage Place | 625 Montana Avenue

Lotus is one of those massage therapists who has a spidey sense of exactly where your body needs relief. I'll get pains from time to time after weightlifting, but always leave refreshed after a hour-long massage with Lotus. It's a no-frills place, so you're not paying for plush amenities like lavender towels and cucumber water. Try to unplug for 15 minutes or so before your session to help ease yourself into total bliss.

$40 per hour plus gratuity

19. Catch a comedy show

M.i.'s Westside Comedy Theatre | 1323-A 3rd St Promenade (A stands for Alley)

This is the comedy club for people who hate comedy clubs. In fact, it's not a club at all, but a former auto-repair shop in an alley that a group of local comedians converted into a small theater to showcase improv, sketch, and stand up in shows 7 nights a week. Some of my favorite of their improv shows are Bear Supply, Mission Improvable and Ruby Rocket. Standup shows have recently featured surprise drop-ins like Ali Wong, Howie Mandel, Adam Sandler and Conan O'Brien (and two out of those four performed surprise sets when I was in the audience!). One of the best parts about Westside Comedy is that unlike most comedy venues, there isn't a drink minimum. And the tickets are usually $10 or less! Make sure you get a seat up front so you can catch the crazy antics in full-force.

$5 to $14 for tickets


18. Get a facial from Olga Dror

Number One Beauty | 1426 Montana Avenue

You'll find sweet Olga in the most unlikely of places, a tiny rental space in the back of Number One Beauty, my favorite local beauty supply store (Skip Sephora!). Originally from Canada, she has 40+ years experience and a natural ability to connect. Before the facial begins, we spend about 15 minutes discussing any recent stress, water intake, potential vitamin deficiencies, sun protection and family history so she knows how to proceed. All of the skincare products I've used the last 3 years are actually from a family-owned brand she recommended called Gunilla of Sweden. Book with Olga via text at (310) 339-1886.

$45 for first-time clients; $90 for returning clients

17. Lift heavy stuff

Double Ops Functional Training | 1317 7th Street

You don't come to Double Ops to just check the box on your daily workout - you come to actually learn, improve and get stronger. All of the trainers here are elite athletes themselves and I'm truly grateful for the ongoing fitness education and motivating group training. The instructors are some of the most engaging people you'll meet and for the first time in my life, I feel like I'm actually seeing physical results and new muscular definition. Their personalized approach to each client always makes me feel encouraged. The gym itself is clean, high-tech and the owner, Chris Mogaddam has worked hard to create a thriving fitness community. Try a class with one of their amazing trainers like Dusty Fisher, Katy Farmer and Mike Alexandrov.

$30 for one class; $190/month for unlimited classes


16. Cool down with an icy treat

Frozen Fruit Co. | 729 Montana Avenue

Everything here is 100% vegan and made from...yes, you guessed it—real frozen fruit! After a workout or on a hot day, their pineapple and passion fruit flavor is just what I'm craving. There's plenty of seating outside by a little fountain so you can lounge for a while and people-watch on Montana. For a brief taste of Hawaii, I recommend coming in for a treat that won't leave you with a sugar hangover.

$5 to $7 for a single scoop with toppings


15. Learn about surfing, the Tongva and Shirley Temple

Santa Monica History Museum | 1350 7th Street

I spent about two hours at Santa Monica History Museum and left with a much better understanding of our city. It was especially interesting to learn about the Tongva tribe who lived in Santa Monica Bay as far back as 9,000 B.C. and creatively used tar from the nearby La Brea Tar Pit to waterproof their canoes. I also learned that movie star, Shirley Temple was born and raised in Santa Monica! The exhibits are freshly curated for a modern audience and I highly recommend taking a quick tour with one of the museum manager, David. You can even ask their historians to conduct a free hour of research about a specific question if you leave wanting to know something more! They have a cute gift shop that sells items from local artists and authors like greeting cards, postcards and books.

$10 entrance fee


14. Feast on crunchy papadam and sweet chutneys

Chandni | 1909 Wilshire Boulevard

Indian food pretty much always hits the spot and I like Chandni, because it has a kooky, low-key 1990s vibe. Their 100% vegetarian menu has 40+ authentic Punjabi dishes, but almost every item can be made vegan. They have ample booth seating so you can get cozy during your meal and the servers will never rush you out. They're only open for dinner, so ready your appetite and come by after 5:00 PM. Chandni means "moonlight" after all!

$45 for dinner for two


13. Grab an Iced Coffee and Take a Saturday Stroll

Primo Passo Coffee Co. | 702 Montana Avenue

You can't go wrong with an iced cold brew from family-owned coffee shop, Primo Passo. I love coming here on Saturday mornings, because it's buzzing with happy neighborly energy. This is where you'll find Santa Monica locals enjoying a newspaper in the sunshine and meeting up with friends. After you finish up your coffee, be sure to visit some of my favorite local boutiques like Step!Shoes, Brentwood General Store and Limonaia.

$4 for an iced cold brew coffee


12. Magic Monday

Santa Monica Playhouse & Group Theatre | 1211 4th Street

Some people have season tickets for their favorite football team....we have season tickets to Magic Monday. The show is organized and emceed by big-hearted magician Albie Selznick who will do just about anything to make the audience smile. Each show starts in the beautiful courtyard with an opening close-up act that typically includes a card magician or the resident fire-breather, Michael. The show itself features 3 headliners who are the best magicians, jugglers and entertainers in town. See the chickens below? They appeared *magically* out of a straitjacket that one of my favorite performers, Andrew Goldenhersh, was wearing. If you love experiencing the strange and fantastical world of magicians, illusionists and jugglers then this is the show for you. This show will challenge and expand your thinking on what kinds of magic (and careers!) are possible.

Tickets are $40 and $25 with discount code MAGIC


11. Admire the sculptures in Palisades Park

There's a great story behind the 18-foot-tall sculpture of Saint Monica in Palisades Park. Our namesake, Monica, was born in 300 A.D. and shed many tears in her lifetime due to the evil deeds of her son, St. Augustine of Hippo. For these reasons, St. Monica came to represent the virtues of unconditional love, strength and patience. Anyway, in the 18th century a missionary named Father Juan Crespí was searching for water and discovered a natural spring. He was reminded of the tears Monica shed for her son. (The spring is still around, on the site of present day Uni High.) An art deco sculpture of Saint Monica, completed by Eugene Morahan in 1934, now stands watch over the bluffs at Palisades Park, along with a variety of other sculptures and art installations.

Free


10. Stroll on Main Street

There are so many cute boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants along Main Street just off Pico Boulevard. It's an awesome place to stroll any day of the week, but if you go on Saturday morning, you'll find one of the best farmer's markets in town. We've gone to the fabulous Fourth of July parade on Main Street ever since moving to Santa Monica and I highly recommend making it a tradition of your own.


Free

9. Read in Palisades Park (or climb a palm tree)

Palisades Park | Ocean Avenue

Palisades Park, at the top of the sandstone bluff, offers breathtaking vistas from the South Bay to Malibu. It's spread across 26 acres so there's plenty of room to find a grassy spot for reading or napping. You'll see a ton of locals out here on the weekend in lawn chairs and on picnic blankets. Pro tip: Go at sunset. You'll thank me later.

Free

8. Check-out the Original Muscle Beach

Santa Monica Beach | Ocean Front Walk

Depending on who you ask, bodybuilding as a sport was born in Santa Monica. Visit Muscle Beach (look for the rings and bars) where you can get inspired by the incredible acrobats, gymnasts, yogis and athletes who display there incredible talents (and impressive physiques) here at all hours of the day. Check out this crazy video of my friend and old co-worker, Zach Carter doin' his thing!!

Free


7. Catch the sunset from a swanky rooftop

ONYX Rooftop Bar at Hotel Shangri-La | 1301 Ocean Avenue

Fact: sunsets are even more beautiful with a side of truffle fries. ONYX has an insane, unspoiled view of the Pacific Ocean, further complimented by their creative cocktails and small bites (with big prices) like a $23 Tower of Fries. I like to bring friends and family here (see my Momma below!) to watch the sunset and enjoy the happy hour specials including Josh's favorite cocktail, The Waterloo Sunset. It's also one of the only places in town that allows cigars, so my brother-in-law Luke feels right at home. And trust me on the fry tower.

$$ This is gonna be expensive. $$


Momma and Me at ONYX Rooftop Bar

6. Ride the Pacific Wheel on Santa Monica Pier

Pacific Park | 380 Santa Monica Pier

Josh and I rode the Pacific Wheel at sunset when we first moved here and it's still one of the sweetest date nights we've had! It's best known as the world's only solar-powered wheel and features more than 174,000 LED lights that are constantly changing. Grab an ice cream at Scoops and let the coastal views take your breath away. I recommend coming down to the Pier around 6am for a quiet, solo experience and to see the sun hit the beach for the first time.

$10 per person


5. Pick-up sunflowers

Santa Monica Farmers Market

Big or small, you can't go wrong with a bouquet from the Santa Monica Farmers Market! The prices start at $5 and go up from there. I love buying sunflowers from this one little stand that wraps up your purchase in day-old Korean newspapers.


4. Go to the beach

Santa Monica State Beach

Well, of course! This is what you came for, right? Don't forget sunscreen. Pro tip: bring cash so you can buy fresh fruit or ice cream from the vendors who walk up and down the surf. Also: The further north you go from the pier, the less crowded it gets.


3. Watch the Sunset Through Floor-to-Ceiling Bay Windows

The Penthouse at The Huntley Hotel | 1111 2nd Street

The Huntley is a luxury hotel in the heart of Santa Monica, which also has a fantastic Happy Hour upstairs at The Penthouse from 4:00PM to 7:00PM. Come in for the panoramic views, because there's nothing quite like witnessing a cotton candy sunset over the Pacific Ocean! If you want an Instagram-worthy view, this is your place and they even have a free photo booth. If you can, grab a seat by the window in one of the curtained cabanas!

$30 for cocktails for two

2. Celebrate, serve and worship

Vintage Church | 1015 California Avenue

Being part of such a vibrant and loving church fills my heart. In addition to the awesome sermons from our pastor, Ger Jones, Vintage provides so many opportunities to make new friends, connect with God and serve our neighbors in Los Angeles. There's Alpha, VKids, VYouth, Moms and Little Ones, Bottles and Socks, and so many more service-focused activities. I especially love Kingdom Come nights because they clear the pews from the sanctuary and you can take off your shoes, dance around and just enjoy the live worship music. Reach out to contact@vintagechurchla.com get connected with this fun and loving group of people.

1. Come laugh with me at We Should Hang Out Sometime

Santa Monica Playhouse & Group Theatre | 1211 4th Street

If you had fun reading this post, let's hang out in-person at We Should Hang Out Sometime, the show that Josh and I produce together at the historic Santa Monica Playhouse! It's an upbeat evening of comedic storytelling and hilarious audience interaction where you'll even get to be part of the show. You'll also hear how the two of us met back in Washington, DC where this whole adventure began. The show starts at 8:00PM, but we invite you to arrive around 7:30PM to enjoy free snacks in the intimate courtyard outside the theatre. Come solo, bring friends and hang out at one of our favorite places in town!

SHOWTIMES AND TICKETS!

$20 for one ticket

Bring your whole family (here's some of mine!!) to WSHOS at Santa Monica Playhouse


Writing this post was a true labor of love and a lesson in gratitude. A heartfelt thank you to the people, and places who have made Santa Monica my home.


Love, love, nothing but love!

Ashley

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Adventure Unabashedly, Santa Monica, California, USA

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