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 to Santa Monica 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, sound, snacks and some savasana.
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, but not when I'm wearing a bikini. Perry's Cafe sells fresh eats like avocado toast, organic quinoa salads, vanilla protein shakes and mango smoothies that won't make you too full to have fun on 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
Mmmm, yea. Now this is the kind of happy hour I can get behind. 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. It's a no-frills experience (each massage bed is separated by a curtain), but you're not paying a premium for luxury spa amenities. If you're noise sensitive, bring headphones or earplugs. Highly recommend Leo for deep tissue and requesting the private back room. Lin or Andrew can help book your appointment.
$30 for one 60 minute massage plus tip (between 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM)
Bhakti Yoga Shala | 207 Arizona Avenue
This is the most immersive musical experience I've ever had. Head to the shala with your sleepover gear for an hour of radical relaxation led by Santosh Das. Santosh plays a variety of specially tuned instruments like crystal bowls, gongs and wind chimes to create a really relaxing and restorative environment. To get extra cozy, pack a yoga mat, a pillow and a comfy blanket. Arrive 20-30 minutes early so you can unplug before this awesome adventure in sound.
$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
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 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 with the colorful styles made popular by Indian films. Aakansha's joyful spirit is infectious and even as a complete beginner, I feel welcomed and encouraged in her class. Before Aakansha teaches the choreography for a new dance, she translates the song lyrics from Tamul to English so the class can better 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 Bollywood.
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