Looking for to plan the perfect Santa Monica, California weekend? Here are some ideas of what to do in Santa Monica including a suggestion for a beachfront luxury vacation rental
It had been a good 3 years since we last visited Santa Monica – and that was for a day at the beach. But whereas 10 years ago we actually used to stay in Santa Monica as our base in LA, in the last visits, we have chosen to go elsewhere.
Where to stay in Santa Monica, California
And a bit of background here – on this trip, where we visited Palm Springs for almost a week, I was with Mr. O, Miss O and my BFF Trudi who had joined us from New Zealand. As we had a gorgeous villa in the desert, we had booked another fabulous villa in Beverly Hills… which was cancelled 3 days before our arrival.
What? You read it right – we had booked a villa and the owner decided to allow the current guests to extend their stay… and couldn’t care less about honouring our reservation. The downside of private rentals. And a great way for me to waste a day by the pool in Palm Springs and desperately try to find somewhere nice to stay and, more importantly – with availability on our dates, which were totally not flexible as we had 3 nights planned for LA and a flight to Charleston to spend the rest of the week in Kiawah Island with my friend Luxury Travel Mom.
But somethings happen for a reason – and this gorgeous townhouse on Santa Monica beach was to be our home away from home. That meant some other last minute changes – because if we were going to stay in Santa Monica, we did not want to spend our time stuck in traffic between the various LA cities. So for half of the trip, we were literally winging it. Mrs. O living dangerously, I know!
Our ‘luxury vacation rental’ in Santa Monica, California
We needed a 3 bedroom and 3 bathroom house and this house actually offered us a bit more than that – I would love to share the booking link with you, but it seems that it has been de-listed on Homeaway.
It was advertised as being just redecorated and we kind of felt it was, but some things were missing – but not that it ruined our stay or anything!
Design-wise, we felt that the living and dining area, as well as the kitchen and the master were excellent – really cannot fault it. However, we felt that the other bedrooms and bathrooms were far from what we expected. There was room for improvement – and not difficult to improve and that is my negative comment about the house.
Before arriving to Santa Monica, we stayed at the most gorgeous villa in Palm Springs, where nothing – and I repeat, NOTHING – was missing and everything in the house was thought about.
Needless to say, we spent a fair bit of time in the living and dining area. The kitchen was very well stocked and I have to say, everything was spotless. Super clean and we really had everything we needed and more.
We only used the kitchen to prepare drinks – sunset drinks mostly. We really were not in the mood to cook and wanted to explore Santa Monica’s dining scene.
Getting in and out of the house was ‘interesting’. Coming from Malibu was relatively simple, as you literally pulled to the right and got in. But coming from Santa Monica (where we did 98% of times), you had to stop at a U-turn area… and pray that the oncoming traffic stopped. At night it wasn’t bad, but during the day, it could take 5-10 minutes (and I am not exaggerating). Also, to leave the house… you had to be brave and just join the dual carriageway. We could have walked to and from the centre, but chose not to as we weren’t sure what the walk would be at night. This is the price you pay for the location.
Enjoying our ‘backward’: Santa Monica State Beach, California
We couldn’t get any closer. The beach was there and we did enjoy walking around it. It still beats me why on earth California does not allow for sun loungers like they do in Florida or in Europe. That would make for such a civilised and nice beach experience. This is obviously my personal opinion.
With the scene set, here’s what we did in and around Santa Monica during our stay.
What do do in Santa Monica – Day 1
We got to the house at around 1pm, as we had an early check-in. We really only wanted to drop our bags and go to lunch!
As we had not planned to actually go to Santa Monica.. we did not really have meals planned or booked. So we started driving around Ocean Avenue and came across this place. It was packed and had a little queue, which obviously meant it would be good. We waited 10 mins for a table and I have to say – BP Oysterette was really nice and we really enjoyed our meal there. Lobster rolls, oysters, lobster mac & cheese. It was lovely. (Lunch was $50 per person)
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the shopping options which, in this part of the world, are ‘a plenty’. We went to 3rd Street Promenade, where you can find a selection of the main US high street retailers, then made a stop at Santa Monica Place, which has Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and some more upmarket shops and ended our shopping afternoon on 4th Street, where you can find West Elm, Pottery Barn, CB2 and other ‘home shops’ which we love.
What I couldn’t find was Williams Sonoma (which is the parent company of West Elm and PB) and I asked the lady there and she told me it was on ‘Montana’. I had no idea where Montana was, but funnily enough it where the Dry Bar (where we had pre-dinner hair appointments was located). Little did I know that ‘Montana’ was indeed the gem of our stay in Santa Monica, and where we were to return to every single day.
After a fab blow dry, we went back to the townhouse to change for dinner, and of course have a little sunset drink.
We managed to get a last minute reservation at Ivy at the Shore, a restaurant we have been to a few times but not in recent years, and it really was fantastic. (Dinner was $150 per person).
What to do in Santa Monica – Day 2
As we woke up, we thought that having breakfast within walking distance to the townhouse would be feasible and a fab idea. Sadly there is only 1 eating option in the area – which we tried on the first day for breakfast. Think about the dirtiest and stickiest beach cafe – and that is sadly what Santa Monica offers you. This company, called Perry’s Cafe has the ‘exclusive’ of Santa Monica beach eating and drinking and it is stuck in time. Imagine what they could be offering – from juice bars (so California), to fresh fish, lovely breakfasts. Nope. I obviously don’t know anything about the contract, but something tells me a little competition wouldn’t hurt.
You can rent beach chairs (from the 80s) and if you saw how dirty everything was first thing in the morning, I can only imagine what it would be like mid-morning. We never went back and had to be creative when it came to breakfast, which was a real shame. Perfect location – and so little choice.
After a little walk on the beach, we were really to be collected by our private guide and driver from Glitterati Tours, a company we had used the previous year and absolutely loved their services. Basically, you select from a set of half day or full day tours, and a big mamma Escalade comes and picks you up, complete with a very good looking male guide and off you go. I like how their service is priced – very simple, it is per car, by the hour and not by the number of people. The cars are great, complete with snacks and drinks and it really is a great way to see the local sights.
Last year we explored Hollywood and Beverly Hills (and made lots of mental notes of places to visit), and this year, as we were based in Santa Monica, we managed to change the tour we had to a Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu discovery.
I couldn’t help but smile when we got to ‘Montana’ – but I was curious about going back to Venice, which I really had not bothered in at least 8 years.
In all honesty, Venice Beach really had not changed much. If you have never been, by all means schedule half an hour to see it (and the ‘world famous’ Muscle Beach), but the beachfront is tacky and well, not really worth it.
But what was fantastic? He took us down Abbot Kinney Boulevard which had been gentrified to an inch of its life and OMG, really was cool. Almost too cool for us – but we made a mental note to spend some more time there. Bear with me.
From Venice, we made our way to Malibu and our first stop was a winery which really was nice. The wines were fine – but the venue really was so cute. We felt we were miles away from the city and loved it.
We went on a little drive around – to the centre of Malibu town and then we stopped by the beach. I never understood how the ‘beach’ in Malibu worked, but turns out that there are some public passageways between the houses and if you can find a parking space, well, you can just go.
We just went for a little walk around and I have to say, it felt weird being so close to these very nice houses. It wasn’t difficult to put yourself in the other shoes – you pay $10 million+ for a house here and anyone can just come and seat by your ‘front yard’, very very close to you.
Our driver dropped us back to our townhouse and it was time for lunch. We knew what we wanted to do – go to the beach in Malibu. Sadly we could not get a table at Nobu or Malibu Beach Inn (which is great for seafood), so we just went back to the oyster place in Santa Monica and made our way to the same Malibu beach spot and spent a few hours there (we needed to go back to get our swimsuits). It was perfect – we were at least 20 metres away from any house and I swam in the US West Coast for the very first time. I must have visited 20 times but I never had the chance. I still think some beach loungers would have been amazing. Just a thought (these are available, I now know at Malibu Cove and Malibu Beach Inn if you are a guest).
After a shower, and changing for dinner, we made our way to Beverly Hills, where we had organised to meet our friends Molly and David (the best looking couple in the world) and the restaurant was so cool the first time around, we really couldn’t care less about driving and just wanted to go back to AOC. (Dinner was around $100 per person).
Exploring Santa Monica and a bit further away – Day 3
We spent our third morning.. at ‘Montana’. We found this great place for breakfast called GroundWorks (see photos above), and some really really good shops (including my obligatory trip to Williams Sonoma). From there, and with a little help from Jim (the owner of Glitterati Tours), we managed to find out way to the Hollywood sign (we had first visited this particular spot the previous year with the guide).
For lunch, we went back to Tortilla Republic (I know, I am a creature of habit) in West Hollywood which was just around the corner – and the girls loved the jalapeno margaritas. I love Mexican food in California and this place really is excellent. We love how varied the menu is, and the shopping around the restaurant really isn’t bad either. (Lunch was around $50 per person)
In the afternoon… we just went back to our townhouse and just spent some time outside. We also had a Flytographer session (which explains the very decent photos of us) and gorgeous sunset Gin & Tonics with our good friend Kiera who is also LA-based and we see everytime we visit.
For dinner, Kiera had picked Red O, almost next door to The Ivy and it really was a great choice. It was very lively, the food was great and not far at all. What else could we ask for? (Dinner was around $90 per person).
Leaving Santa Monica – Day 4
Day 4 was our last day in town, as we had a midnight flight to Charleston via Charlotte. But we had a full day to enjoy! The first thing we did was make sure half of our bags were picked up by Luggage Forward and shipped directly to the UK (because shopping and internal US flights). This worked like clockwork and it really was a godsend, as we then only had 4 suitcases to take East, of which 2 were still empty.
We wanted to take a break from shopping – well, I didn’t really – but Miss O really wanted to visit the Getty Museum, which we had not been to in 10 years. So that is there we spent out morning (which was lovely), before we had a very special meal. Yes, we went to In-n-Out for a burger, because it would be rude not to!
Well, we did not want any extra stress, so in the afternoon, we went to get mani-pedis, massages and get our hair done – guess where? At ‘Montana’. Because ‘Montana’ was the best discovery of this trip to Santa Monica.
But not before we made a final stop. Where? Miss O had organised bookings at Gjelina in Venice weeks before, and that is where we spent out last hours (dinner around $75 per person). You know when Caudalie is doing graffiti, the place is possibly way too cool. But we loved it.
We were sad that our California trip was coming to an end – but the thing about California is that I know that I will always go back again and again. The mix up with our accommodation really was a fortunate accident and we were delighted to have explored Santa Monica a bit more.
Until the next time!
Pin for later
How to book:
- We paid $1000/night for the beach house including a last-minute discount. Normal price is around $2000 which is great value for 5 bedrooms! I cannot find a link to the house, but I will contact the owner as really I would have no problems recommending it.
- A 30-minute session with Flytographer costs $250 and we loved this shoot (as per normal!)
- I used Luggage Forward for the first time and they have offered 1 bag to be sent from LA to London free of charge. We paid for the other 3 bags (around $125 each).
- A private tour with Glitterati for 4 guests costs $200/hour, with a minimum of 2 hours.
- We flew British Airways from London to LAX – and we managed to use our Avios this time. You can read my review of its Business Class service on the A380 here.