After starting our California trip in Los Angeles, which you can read more about here, we knew we had to visit one of the state’s most famous shorelines – Santa Monica. Under an hour’s drive from Hollywood (the distance isn’t far, but LA traffic is insane), Santa Monica is famed for its picture perfect pier, unreal beach and, frankly, the beautiful people.
We stayed in an Airbnb studio apartment in Downtown Santa Monica, around a 15 minute walk from the ocean. There was a Vons supermarket nearby, meaning we could stock up on food and save some pennies on eating out. The Airbnb doesn’t seem to be listing anymore but the link above will give you an idea of the area it was in, which worked really well for us.
We only had 1.5 days in Santa Monica, so we had to make every moment count. On the first day, we took it easy and wandered around the nearby shopping strip, mall and then along the beach. It is phenomenal and just as beautiful as the photos in real life. The famous Muscle Beach is located with the pier as its backdrop. We sat on a wall for a good while and watched people doing acrobatics and generally showing off their strength, but it was fun to see.
On our way back, we walked to the end of Santa Monica Pier at sunset. It was heaving despite it being early February, but as an obvious tourist trap and one of the most photographed piers in the world, I would say that’s a given year-round.
The main thing we wanted to do in Santa Monica was cycle along the beach to Venice. There is a weaving pathway perfect for cycling all along the beachfront and we needed a slice of the action. We walked to a bike pickup point near the pier and used the Santa Monica Bike Share service to rent one each. The bikes are unattended on a rack (much like the Santander bikes in London) and you access them by downloading an app, entering your payment info and then getting a code to release the bike lock.
The cycle along the beach is brilliant. The route is flat and everyone is chilled and taking it easy, a far cry from manic Los Angeles. We got to Venice Beach, parked up our bikes and walked along to the original Muscle Beach gym where Arnold Schwarzenegger used to workout. It’s really just an old grubby gym these days and not the famed tourist hotspot I’d imagined.
[What the guidebooks don’t tell you about Venice Beach is the unreal level of homelessness. The beachfront is dominated by tents, overflowing bins and homeless people relaxing. It’s a shock when you don’t expect it, and it’s something that isn’t mentioned much online until you dig deep into the internet. The whole of California, or at least the parts we visited, has a serious problem with homelessness. Venice and San Francisco were the worst for it. In a country that prides itself for American values, allowing thousands of people to live on the streets unable to access the basic levels of care and comfort doesn’t seem very American to me.]
From the beach, we headed inland to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a mile-long street playing host to independent stores, restaurants and galleries. This road embodied the chilled out Californian vibe that the state prides itself in, and I loved it! My favourites stores were Scandi-esque interiors shop Huset, and Burro had amazing homeware, stationery and gifts. The full directory of all the outlets on Abbot Kinney here gives you an idea of the scale of it all.
We stopped at Lemonade for a, ahem, lemonade and sweet treat before heading back to the beach and cycling back to Santa Monica. The cycle takes around half an hour at a leisurely pace, and frankly why would you want to speed down the beach and miss gawping at the view?
That evening, there was about two minutes of light rain and everyone freaked out. As a Brit accustomed to gale force winds in the morning and burning sunshine in the afternoon, the reaction made it all the more funny. Store owners ran to gather their outdoor signs and shoppers huddled in doorways. Californians are spoilt with their dreamy weather!
I wish I could say we went to a hip and cool health-focused restaurant for dinner that night, but we saw a Cheesecake Factory branch in Santa Monica Place and headed in like the greedy tourists we are. We opted for ‘light’ portions of pasta (I still couldn’t finish it) and shoehorned a slice of fruity cheesecake in for afters because, despite being so full the jeans button and zip had been released, you can’t go to the Cheesecake Family and not get cheesecake, amiright?
Here endeth our sweet and short stay in Santa Monica. The next morning we headed to LAX and caught a 40-minute flight to San Francisco, details of which are coming soon! I would highly recommend Santa Monica for a taste of that beach bum Cali lifestyle. As queen of nostalgia, I often think about the day we cycled from Santa Monica to Venice and how blissfully happy and carefree I felt. It was a brilliant day. Have you been to Santa Monica? What did I miss?!