I travel for a living, sometimes it gets old, sometimes it gets daunting, sometimes I sound like a travel snob, sometimes the jet lag is embarrassingly in complete control of my eyelids and sometimes I’m exactly where I want to be. My trip to Santa Monica was the latter.
Exactly. Where. I. Wanted. To. Be.
The vibe and feel of Santa Monica is all parts intriguing, sophisticated, bustling and caters to pretty much your every desire, whether there’s sand between your toes or high heels covering them. The 8.3 square mile walkable city is full of character and charm in each and every nook, no matter which direction you look: Montana Avenue, the famed Santa Monica Pier, the boardwalk or the Third Street Promenade.
Instead of carrying on and on like a crazy glossy sales brochure about why I love Santa Monica and everything in it, let me share my itinerary so you can see why:
A Stay at Hotel Shangrila
1301 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hotel Shangrila has been a landmark in Santa Monica since 1939. The hotel is a showcase of magnificent and unparalleled Art Deco elegance, and has been lovingly restored throughout every inch of the property. The hotel excels in friendly and accommodating service, brilliant views of the ocean, culturally decorated rooms and common areas – most of which comes with a celebrated history.
Each of the hotel’s 70 luxurious spacious rooms and suites offer panoramic views of the ocean and boardwalk, allowing you to truly indulge and feel like a Queen for a day. If you’ve ever visited Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica you know that the architecture of Hotel Shangrila stands out as a true architectural icon in town.
The hotel has hosted presidents, celebrities and famed world travelers throughout their storied existence. Past, present and future guests get to experience what General Manager Henri Birmele boasts is a “breathtaking front yard.” And it’s true. Almost all of the rooms enjoy unobstructed Pacific Ocean views, to the south, facing beaches and Catalina Island and to the north, Malibu and west, blue ocean as far as the eye can see.
The hotel is also home to Suite 700, a highly touted and iconic open-air rooftop bar and lounge on the 7th floor. Suite 700 is the ideal venue to take in Hollywood glamour just steps from the ocean, and the best part, it’s just a few floors up from your luxe room where your incredibly comfy bed awaits you, no need to worry about having to drive or calling a taxi after a fun night out.
Shopping on Montana Avenue is a must.
Whether you brought spending money or not, this 10-block avenue is full of character and really gives you a feel for the local scene with over 150 shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars, spas/salons, along with high odds of spotting one of your favorite celebrities partaking in the same amenities.
Spa Time in Santa Monica
Facial at Jurlique (also on Montana Avenue).
Time to revitalize your traveled and sunburnt skin. Try Jurlique’s 50-minute Signature Revitalizing Facial where a trained esthetician will “drench your skin with moisture” using 15 potent plant extracts and antioxidants (all the good stuff) to restore balance to your tired and overworked skin. Consider it an update to your regularly scheduled skincare routine. Jurlique was founded in Australia in 1985, and develops each product using potent natural ingredients harvested on its own biodynamic farm.
Tip: be sure to check out and purchase Jurlique’s brand new Herbal Recovery Advanced Serum, an innovative formula created to improve skin texture, reduce fine lines, and boost skin radiance for a gorgeously healthy glow, making it the perfect day and night moisturizer to take home (since you obviously can’t take home your esthetician). You will leave this unique spa feeling revitalized and ready to take on all the joy that Montana Avenue has to offer. (I realize this part sounds like a sales brochure, but this is the first time I’ve left a facial still happy with my purchase!)
Mani/Pedis at Bellacures.
Just across the street and a few blocks up from Jurlique, sits one of the best mani/pedi spots I’ve ever experienced. Considering I get a mani/pedi every two weeks and have done so for almost a decade, I think you can take my word.
While I’ll admit the ambiance is pretty comparable to your average salon (if you don’t count the beautiful chandelier at the front desk), the staff is refreshingly attentive and the choices of treatments plentiful. All the other ladies in the salon were super friendly and chatty, which was a perfect start to my Saturday morning. There is ample street parking and more color choices than a PMS color wheel, so you’re guaranteed to leave happy and bright.
Biking in Santa Monica
Legends Bike Tour (Blazing Saddles)
320 The Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
Hailed by the New York Times as, “A Must Do” Los Angeles experience, Legends Beach Bike Tour is the perfect way to spend a few hours catching glimpses of where surfing, skateboarding and beach volleyball were born, along with a few other snippets of fun information like where your favorite movie or TV show filmed a few segments. (Hint: tons of 90210 new and old scenes you’ll recognize.)
A guide communicates with you via headsets, starting the tour at an easily found landmark, the nearly 100 year-old Santa Monica Pier. You’ll pedal past homes of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Marion Davies newly restored beach house, and cruise through eclectic Venice while stopping (or gawking) at Muscle Beach, the Venice canals and other points of interest, of course, for various photo ops.
Delicious Eats in Santa Monica
Multiple Locations in Santa Monica
After your fun beach bike tour along the lengthy boardwalk, grab lunch at Perry’s Café and take in all the sights and scenes going on right in front of you. There are eight locations to choose from, so it should fit in nicely to your day.
502 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica
If you’ve ever gone to a restaurant and wondered how everything from décor to wine lists, to locally- sourced ingredients, to incredibly tender meats, to attentive wait staff could be executed beyond perfection, you’ll usually find the answer by meeting or learning about the Chef. JiRaffe Restaurant was no different. After meeting Chef/Owner Raphael Lunetta, it all made sense, it was obvious after a brief introduction that Chef was involved in every aspect of the restaurant.
Chef Raphael wanted to combine his love of surfing with his passion of fine dining, and voila: the concept of JiRaffe was born. Through high quality ingredients, innovative recipes, and superb service, JiRaffe offers consistently new and exciting flavors in an atmosphere known for comfort and style. JiRaffe boasts a diverse menu selection with tastes from California/French regions, along with seasonally inspired classic cocktails, in a casually chic environment. I highly recommend asking your server or Chef about the nightly specials, as they are definitely that, special, but for dessert, here’s an insider’s tip: Lisa’s Fresh Baked Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches, with Tahitian vanilla, Dark chocolate and Fresh strawberry ice cream inside ($10).
The service is as relaxed and elegant as the coastal community you’ll come to love in Santa Monica. The restaurant opens at 5pm nightly and reservations are recommended making it the perfect dinner spot for a romantic dinner or a group of your favorite girlfriends.
1445 4th Street, Santa Monica
If you’re looking for modern and upscale Mexican food in the middle of vibrant Santa Monica, be sure to check out Border Grill. This hip, urban cantina showcases the talents of Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, who have also been featured on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” and Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales”.
Border Grill has established a new standard for gourmet Mexican fare, and does it with exuberance and flair. The menu features complex yet authentic dishes based on the home cooking of Oaxaca and the Yucatan area of Mexico. Border Grill takes Mexican food to a whole new level especially if you order one of their signature margaritas. Next level, here we come!
If you can’t make it for dinner, be sure to head over Saturday or Sunday for the all-new Border Brunch, which features a stellar and unique menu, along with bottomless mimosas. You should also check out happy hour Monday – Friday 4-7pm and Friday and Saturday after 9pm. After you fall in love with your visit, no matter what meal you choose, you can take the recipes home with you. Literally.
So next time you’re figuring out your next SoCal girls’ getaway destination, be sure Santa Monica is on that list. Preferably at the top. You’ll thank me later.
Jayme Lamm is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Houston focusing on travel writing and is in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Be sure to follow Jayme’s travel and sports adventures on Twitter @jaymelamm.