Checklist: Santa Monica

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Checklist: Santa Monica

With miles of sandy beaches, surfers chasing the perfect wave and frequent celebrity sightings, Santa Monica is heavy on the coastal eye-candy. A vacation here is catnip if you’re in need of an infusion of Southern California’s sun-kissed lifestyle.

For visitors who embrace a car-free travel ethic, compact Santa Monica defies the stereotypical image of Los Angeles as a sprawling, car-crazed metropolis. Blossoming public transportation options include the newly opened Expo line Light Rail station, connecting this beachside community with greater Los Angeles. A robust cycling community and pedestrian-only shopping streets make it a breeze to explore without a personal vehicle. Read on for the best fun in the sun activities, car-optional.

Allison is a travel and food writer based in NYC. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Time Out, am New York, off Metro, Dave’s Travel Corner and Family Travel Forum.

1. Kick Back at the Annenberg Community Beach House


The seaside Annenberg Community Beach House is a relaxed haven offering a multitude of recreational possibilities. In summer, enjoy a refreshing dip in the flawless pool. Yoga classes, a children's playground and a full menu of cultural offerings are on the year-round schedule. If you're keen on cinema history, the Annenberg is built on the site of the love nest that William Randolph Hearst built for the actress Marion Davies back in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Photo by Greg Peterson

2. Pedal the Strand


With miles of designated bike paths and near-perfect weather, Santa Monica hits the sweet spot for a two-wheeled getaway. Cycle the South Bay Bicycle Trail, locally known as The Strand, and soak in 22 palm-fringed miles of coastal scenery. It's the longest oceanfront beach path in the world and an enchanting way to view the Pacific. Bike the entire trail from Pacific Palisades to Torrance or stay local and enjoy whirling by icons like the Santa Monica Pier and Muscle Beach.
Photo by Joakim Lloyd Raboff

3. Delve into the Art Scene at Bergamot Station


Bergamot Station is Southern California's largest gallery space. Formerly a trolley station, Bergamot Station's look is industrial and the atmosphere chic. Several dozen artists rent space here so it's a great place for art appreciators to browse the galleries and explore the creative process. With frequent exhibits, a cafe and numerous artist talks, Bergamot Station has emerged as a cultural hub for the community. Metro Rail's Expo line stops here, seamlessly linking it to greater Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica CVB

4. Play at Santa Monica Pier


Built in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier is a bona fide SoCal landmark. Iconic rides include a colorful vintage carousel and the world's first and only solar-powered Ferris wheel, the imposing nine-story Pacific Wheel. This over-water wheel's 160,000 energy efficient LED lights will dazzle nighttime beach-goers with a sparkly computer generated light show. Scenic vistas from the wheel's top are icing on the cake. Nostalgic carnival games abound, so take a stroll down memory lane.
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica CVB

5. Feast on Seafood at Herringbone


Herringbone epitomizes the local food scene's emphasis on just-caught freshness. The ocean-to-table menu eschews dubious fishing practices in favor of serving species whose population is not threatened. The choices are heavy on the locally sourced and are dynamically paired with seasonal produce. The whole roasted Branzino is lovingly laced with mint and basil; the Hamachi Crudo a tangle of garlic, lime and crispy sunchoke chips; and the seafood tower as delicious as it is architectural. Bargain hunters flock here for one-dollar fresh-shucked oysters during Oyster Hour, Monday-Friday from 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Photo by Marie Buck

6. Sweet Treats at Sidecar


In this cult of the body beautiful, an irresistible new doughnut shop is keeping personal trainers working overtime. At Sidecar, each caloric confection is freshly fried to a cloudlike consistency and served temptingly warm. Admire the edible display of colors as bold as a painter's palate before devouring a traditional Butter & Salt or savoring a sassy Huckleberry glazed. Coffee, a doughnut's favorite companion, is from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, blended to optimally pair with the doughy delights.
Photo by Tawny Alipoon Photography

7. Peruse the Farmers Market


Santa Monica's four weekly markets are an ode to the seasonal rhythms of this agriculturally rich area and a foundation for the fresh dining scene. The Wednesday morning Downtown Santa Monica Farmers Market is recognized as one of the most diverse and largest grower-only markets in the nation. Gaze at the abundant displays as you rub shoulders with world-class chefs and culinary glitterati. The 75 stalls offer farm-picked produce from the fertile fields that surround the L.A.-basin as well as a grassroots understanding of the city's genuine emphasis on farm-to-table cuisine. Homemade baked goods, farmhouse cheeses and California-grown nuts are enticing provisions for an al fresco beachside snack
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica CVB

8. Nightcap at The Bungalow


The Bungalow is an understated nightlife hot spot where movie moguls mingle with the wallet-heavy executives of Silicon startups. Yes, it's hipster heaven, but it's also good fun thanks to a pool table, ping pong and a breezy indoor-outdoor space that constantly reminds you you're just steps from the sand. Noteworthy craft cocktails include Bitchin' Sangria and Topanga Canyon, robust with Bacardi, raspberries and fresh mint. Hearty nibbles such as flaky fish tacos and a juicy burger will scratch your bar food itch.
Photo courtesy of The property