To help celebrate the launch of Hampton by Hilton's brand new location in the heart of Santa Monica, they asked me to put together the Ultimate Seekender Guide for those visiting the area. I've lived in LA for almost 5 years now, and I'm still amazed at how many things there are to do in this city. Each neighborhood is so diverse, offering a unique sense of style, personality and charm.
Here's a few of my favorite West LA must-see places for the foodie, the shop-aholic, the "I just want to brunch", the photographer, and the first-timers visiting this little slice of paradise in Southern California.
BEST PLACES to Eat in Santa Monica and Venice Beach
There are so many amazing food joints in LA, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few, but let’s start with everyone’s favorite… brunch:
The Butchers Daughter – This cozy indoor outdoor café and juicery on Abbot Kinney is a chic, bohemian vegan spot with amazing coffee, food and décor. Not to mention, it’s an Instagrammers dream spot. After your meal, enjoy shopping on this famous Venice street.
Café Gratitude – A local favorite, Café Gratitude is a locally-sourced organic vegan restaurant with tasty smoothies, fresh juices and delicious food. You can dine-in or take out.
Rose Café – Recently renovated, The Rose café is a sprawling boho-chic eatery with hanging plants, a bakery, a bar lounge area, and serves up farm to table california favorites. This is where a lot of locals hang.
The Penthouse – Perched on the top floor of the Huntley hotel, this upscale American eatery offers panoramic views of Santa Monica and the surrounding area.
Sunny Spot – If you’re looking for a boozy brunch spot, this is our go-to. Bottomless mimosas, bloody marys, AND rum punch. Enough said.
Playa Provisions – This cozy brunch spot is right on the beach in Playa Del Rey. They have live jazz music on Saturday and there is a bakery and ice cream shop in the waiting area. It’s never too early for ice cream.
A few others: The Tasting Kitchen (creative cuisine and cocktails), Gjelina (make a reservation!), 26 Beach Restaurant (french toast lover’s dream), Lilly’s in Malibu (best breakfast burritos, hands down).
Where to Eat in Santa Monica and Venice Beach
Now let’s see what’s cooking for dinner. It’s no secret that I love California share-plate style meals. You not only get to try more types of food, but you also get to take your time and enjoy great conversation during your meal. Here’s a few of my favorite spots to grab dinner in West LA:
Chez Tex - This intimate restaurant serves up fresh, seasonal Cali-French cuisine and is a great place to grab a glass of wine! They also do an amazing brunch on the weekends.
Gjelina – You will need a reservation, but this is probably the best restaurant in Venice. A celebrity hotspot, Gjelina offers delectable new American cuisine in a rustic dining room.
Hatchet Hall – The menu is always changing based on what’s in season, but this dimly lit eatery will leave you in awe long after your meal is over. Great date night spot.
The Misfit Restaurant + Bar – It can get quite crowded, but this hip gastropub is worth the wait. Serving creative comfort food and handcrafted cocktails, you can’t go wrong. You can't go wrong. Plus, they give you free cookies at the end of your meal.
Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa – They don’t take reservations, but if you’re craving sushi, just go here. Get the “trust me.” Trust me.
Tar and Roses – Seasonal small plates and fresh seafood are a staple of this local favorite.
R+D Kitchen – I’ve never had a bad meal at R+D Kitchen, everything is incredibly fresh and the gastropub atmosphere is welcoming and familiar.
James Beach – If you’ve seen the movie, I Love You, Man, and remember the fish tacos scene, that is this place. The tacos live up to the hype. James Beach also turns into a happening late-night spot. It gets super busy late-night, so if there’s a long wait, just head to Canal Club across the street.
Honorable Mention: Mercado (Delicious up-scale Mexican)
What to do
// CAN'T MISS SPOTS
Venice Beach Canals – The founder of Venice Beach loved Venice, Italy. So, he brought a taste of Italy to Venice Beach in the form of canals. Begin the walk near the corner of Washington and Strongs Drive, there’s a little sign that says “Venice Canals Walkway.”
Drive up the coast to Point Dume - The coastline in California is stunningly beautiful. If you rent a car, drive up the coast through Malibu and visit the secret beach in Point Dume. When you arrive, park all the way toward the end of the parking lot (Don’t be fooled by the people parking alongside the beach, you will find a spot in the lot at the end) and then go to the rocks at the water’s edge. It’s a bit of a climb, but worth it to get to the beach on the other side.
Feeling extra adventurous? Drive up the coast just a bit longer and visit El Matador State Beach. The light here at night and in the morning is magical.
Venice Beach Boardwalk – Feel like getting weird? Take a walk along the Venice Boardwalk to see some funky vendors and street art. There is also a skatepark on the beach where you will find 5-year old Tony Hawks. They’re good.
Rent a Bike or Blades and Cruise the bike path – There is a 26-mile bike path along the beach. I wouldn’t recommend going the whole distance, unless you’re like a young Lance Armstrong. There are lots of bike rental places and you can even rent rollerblades if that’s more your style. You can stop off at the Santa Monica pier or grab a rooftop cocktail at Hotel Erwin.
Bonfire and Sunset on Dockweiler Beach – If you’re looking for a lowkey night, you can start a bonfire on the beach at Dockweiler beach. The fire pits on the beach are first-come, first-serve, but there are plenty to go around and you’ll most likely wind up making new friends.
Honorable Mentions: Walk down Main St. in Santa Monica for some window shopping and good eats just a few blocks off the beach.
Where to grab a drink
// BEST BARS IN SANTA MONICA + VENICE
No trip would be complete without a curiously crafted California cocktail or three. Here are a few of my favorite drink spots:
Bar Chloe – This hidden dimly lit lounge is a cozy little nook to grab a delicious cocktail. I personally love their Moscow Mule.
Basement Tavern – As the name implies, this trendy cocktail lounge is in the basaement of the old Victorian house. They have great cocktails, beers and live music on the weekends. It gets quite packed later on in the night so you might have to wait.
Town House – This historical cocktail bar has been here since 1915. There’s a fun cocktail lounge upstairs, and a funky DJ/live music dance party going on downstairs. You never know how your night will go at TownHouse, but it usually ends up being good. Interesting, but good!
Shore Bar – On the outskirts of Santa Monica on Channel Drive, the Shore Bar is a cozy maritime bar with inventive cocktails and drinks. It’s not too busy on weeknights, but the crowd is usually good on the weekends.
Best Boutique Shops in west LA
// Rose Ave
Lily Ashwell – You're go to for the "California cool" look.
// Abbott Kinney
Burro – These guys have everything from cards, to books, clothes and more. It's my favorite place to find the perfect gift.
The Piece Collective – Another Abbott Kinney favorite where everything inside is just as cute as the outside.
// Lincoln Blvd.
Shop LCD – A new, trendy boutique offering clothing, accessories & decor by emerging designers from around the world.
The General Store – No Venice shopping guide is complete without The General Store. This eclectic boutique sells some of my favorite gifts, jewelry & books plus vintage clothing in a beautifully designed space.
Flynn & Skye – One of my favorite local designers for your go-to flowy California beach attire and all of her clothes are made in DTLA!
Christy Dawn – Another great local designer inspired by the California landscape, rolling hills and fields of flowers with a beautiful minimalist showroom.
Well there you have it, a quick and dirty rundown of my favorite spots in West LA. Be sure to explore on your own and remember to take some time to take it slow, walk the beach, and enjoy the California state of mind.
Looking for a place to stay during your visit? The Hampton by Hilton just opened a brand-new, modern designed hotel in the heart of Santa Monica. It’s close to the Metro if you want to head downtown and just a short Uber or Lyft from everything I mentioned above. Plus check out how beautiful their lobby is in the photos below! Book your stay now by clicking here.
This post was done in partnership with the Hampton by Hilton.