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
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
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
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 Poland, 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
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
Frozen Fruit Co. | 729 Montana Avenue
Everything here is 100% vegan and made from...yes, you guessed it—real 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
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
Chandni | 1909 Wilshire Boulevard
Indian food pretty much always hits the spot. I like Chandni, because it has a 100% vegetarian menu but still makes carnivores happy. They have ample booth seating so you can get cozy during your meal and the servers never rush you out. Definitely order the papadam with chutneys as an appetizer, as well as the roti pictured above. They're only open for dinner, so ready your appetite and come by after 5:00 PM.
$45 for dinner for two
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.
$20 per ticket
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.
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.
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.
8. Check-out the Original Muscle Beach
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!!
ONYX Rooftop Bar at Hotel Shangri-La | 1301 Ocean Avenue
Fact: sunsets are even more beautiful when your hands are filled with truffle-dusted 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.
$$ This is gonna be expensive. $$
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
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.
Santa Monica State Beach
Well, of course! This was the reason you came here, 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.
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 4PM to 7PM. 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
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 others in LA. There's Alpha, VKids, VYouth, Little Ones and Moms, Bottles and Socks, Harvest Home and so many more activities and groups. I 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 firstname.lastname@example.org get connected with this fun and welcoming group of people.
If you had fun reading this pst, let's hang out in-person at We Should Hang Out Sometime, the show that Josh and I produce together at 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 DC. Arrive early for free snacks in the intimate courtyard space where you can chill out, laugh and take fun family photos like this one.
$20 for one ticket
Bring your whole family (here's mine!!) to WSHOS at Santa Monica Playhouse