Santa Monica Travel Guide
Earlier this year, back in July, R was scheduled to spend four weeks in Santa Monica for work. To sum up what he was there for without going too deep into specifics, I would liken it to leading a giant summer camp of 60 students to the beach to form a close community, lend themselves to the city and do some outreach.
I found out that my company had an office not even fifteen minutes away from the hotel he would be staying during his trip, and promptly asked if I could work remotely for the month of July in order to not be apart from my new husband for so long, and my job graciously agreed! It is such a privilege to have the flexibility to do something like that.
I was hopeful that I would get a chance after my 9 to 5 was over to connect with the students and help out in a volunteer capacity with R's job. It turned out (as it somehow always does) that I ended up feeling like I received more than I gave. I had valuable time to rest, and did a lot of self-reflection, and learned from and was cared for by the people around me. Life just moved at a different pace down there. I read books, exercised, had extra time - that's a big deal for me. It's true that the Bay Area has such a go-go-go mentality, I think I forgot until I got away from it all for a bit. Perhaps the best part of the summer was getting to spend a ton of time with one of my very best friends from high school who lives in Long Beach! It is so good to experience friendship on such a deep level from someone who knows you way too well.
I wanted to put together a little guide to Santa Monica/some of the surrounding area! I found a lot of guides to LA, but had to rely on Instagram and local friends to find Santa Monica and Brentwood specific spots. **yes I realize some of these spots are still in LA.** With only a few weekends (and R didn't really even get those off) to explore, I made a list of the top spots I wanted to hit. To be honest it's mostly food, but that's what you do here, right? That, and go to the beach. Thankfully people are so health conscious, most of the restaurants on my list were both nutritious and delicious.
I'll start with my absolute faves.
CORNERSTONE WEST LA
Yes, church was my favorite. I'll admit, I was truly looking forward to a lot about the month, mostly exploring if we're being honest. I got my priorities flipped after the first night, where I felt like the message spoke right to me. I was reminded how important community and deep friendship is. And while I did get to do a lot of exploring, most of it with a very good friend, I woke up each day choosing something a bit different than what I might have going into the summer. 10 out of 10 would recommend streaming these sermons if you want a kick in the butt.
Okay, I actively miss this place most days. It's the most beautiful yet casual wine bar with a.ma.z.ing gluten free pizza (we'll just say pear & prociutto and leave it at that) and a vibe that perfectly mixes relaxation with fun. I would probably need two hands to count the number of times I came here during our four weeks. Oops. But hey, we had nowhere to cook in our motel, so that's how I justified it...we had to eat dinner somewhere :) Pizza and wine for every meal is fine by me.
The other most important beverage, coffee. Alfred is hands down the best coffee I've ever had, ever. I'm not a coffee snob, I don't know a ton, but I know what I like and what I don't. And I love. Alfred. Wow. I went here way too much for how expensive their almond milk lattes are, but I have no idea when the next time is that I'll be able to get my hands on one so I went ahead and fueled up. We also made the trek to the Tea Room, because it's pink and darling and I love matcha.
With that, we'll just get right into all the food. Keep in mind, I'm approaching this from a gluten free perspective and I do not claim to be a foodie, also I live off of coffee and ice cream so...there are your disclaimers.
I headed to Urth the minute I got into town for lunch with one of my best friends. I had seen it on Instagram prior to the trip and it looked amazing. It did not disappoint! I had an insane matcha latte and a super yummy gluten free sandwich. My only regret is that I wasn't able to come back.
JUICE SERVED HERE
It's cruel irony that a juice shop is next door to some of the best donuts in town. I stopped in here as an attempt to reset myself from all the pizza and dessert I'd been eating prior. I had my eye on the Green Party and Charcoal Lemonade and ended up getting both to try! Although, I have to admit that even though the lemonade was delicious, I didn't end up drinking the whole bottle because I googled the clay that is listed as one of the ingredients and could find almost ZERO research on what it does to the body. That's a little scary in my opinion! That said, the taste of their juices is amazing so I would still definitely go back, I would just do more research beforehand. I don't want to put anything in my body that isn't tried and true - even if it has a supposed "healthy" stamp on it.
Okay - let's TALK about these gf donuts. Not to mention, the delicious coffee at Sidecar too! I enjoyed every bit of my decadent german chocolate breakfast with R before we headed for a morning date at the beach one Saturday. They make one variety of gf donut a week, so I was sure to come back - the next time I snagged an equally incredible butter & salt donut. Please don't ask me which one was my favorite, I just can't bear to choose. Technically I could also throw this into the See & Do category (coming up) because it was such a sweet and simple morning to grab coffee and donuts to go and head to the beach with a blanket and some books!
For one of our few evenings together, R and I headed into LA to get up to the observatory (more on that down below). Somehow we found ourselves on the walk of fame on the way there. R is super interested in stuff like that but I get super agitated in big crowds, especially with pushy people. I immediately got fussy so R suggested we find somewhere to eat. But it was already too late and I turned down every suggestion (sorry babe). Even though I was hangry I said we had to get out of there immediately. So, we went up and did the observatory on empty and by the time we were coming back down the hill we were so tired and now we were both hangry. Thankfully R searched for spots near us and we landed on La Carmencita! It was absolutely delicious. The margaritas were killer, probably would actually put them on my top ten list. I'm realizing now that this is cheating because it's not in SaMo buuuut it was really good.
TACOS POR FAVOR
I asked some coworkers for their best taco recommendation and they pointed me in exactly the right direction. Tacos Por Favor turned out to be right next to our motel! I walked here a lot of nights after work for cheap, delicious tacos and agua fresca.
THE BUTCHER'S DAUGHTER
Okay, you have to do Venice if you're in SaMo. The two are neighbors and it was hard for me to tell which city I was in sometimes. The main street was where I found this gem of a vegan restaurant. The Butcher's Daughter had been on my list for a while after seeing their many darling locations on Instagram. I stopped in and asked a couple if they had been here and if it was good. The girl immediately lit up and said "oh yes!" and her husband just kind of looked sad and said "but you have to know everything is vegan"... so I laughed and decided R would probably hate it and I would have to bring a girlfriend instead. We tried the most amazing artichoke appitizer, I ordered spaghetti squash carbonara (to die for) and we finished with vegan affogato. The cocktails and vibe were worth the ridiculous price tag for a splurge evening of fun!
SALT & STRAW
Turns out there is a Salt & Straw in San Francisco?! Really unsure how I missed this in my life but this is maybe the best ice cream ever. Summer in Socal is when you really want to eat ice cream anyways (not in the fog and gloom). Headed here on night one and got the honey lavender flavor. If I close my eyes I can still taste it. This is also in Venice near the Butcher's Daughter.
MORE ICE CREAM. I should note that since this trip I've developed an extreme reaction to dairy which is devastating. Writing this post makes me want to cry, but at least I got one last summer hoorah with all the ice cream I wanted. This was supposedly the best ice cream around but I liked Salt & Straw better? Still good.
Coffeeeeee. For being such a cute place with hip food, this was literally the only coffee shop I was feelin the whole trip. But oh man, was it good. I accidentally ordered a latte and forgot to ask for almond milk so it was extra delicious and then I was suuuuper bloated for like 2 days.
Ok this is great for when I go back someday and weep over the fact that I can't have ice cream. Kippy's is amazing coconut based ice creams!! Super unique and delicious. It takes the sting away.
More not-ice cream! This was so amazing AND healthy. It's basically frozen juice, just like frozen yogurt would be made. I needed something to beat the heat and I'd already had too much ice cream, see previous.
Did not know what to expect here since we were invited by friends who had been before. I'll end the food section on a high note, because this meal was delicious and a half. You can't go wrong with Asian fusion. The "deadly combo" option is the way to go because I've never had better sweet potato fries, ever.
Last but not least, a few activities I would recommend! Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we only had a few weekends and R was busy for most of them so we didn't do a ton. I hung out with one of my besties in Long Beach where she lives so the beach is an obvious give-in. I'm really bummed I missed out on all the museums. I've still never been to any and I can't believe I didn't make the time...but that's why I'll be back someday!
100% worth the crowds, lines, silly hike up the hill, and difficult parking. I love space and being up high and looking out over a city and Griffith fulfills all of those things. Don't expect clear views because smog and all that, but do expect a cool experience! I'd love to see it during the day too.
I loved strolling the cute main street in Venice, grabbing ice cream, poking our heads in the shops - you know. Just being tourists.
I actually never made it ONTO the pier. I meant to ride the ferris wheel and we just never got around to it. But, walking on the beach next to the pier was lovely! Everyone who rode the wheel had a blast so do that if you can :) I also was jealous of the people who rented bikes. There's just a ton of activity around the pier which SaMo is famous for anyways!
And that brings us to the end - hope you enjoyed my little list! Let me know if you end up trying out any of these fun spots.