Okay, West Coast… I see your appeal. I recently spent two days in Santa Monica after a weeklong work trip to LAX. Despite only having one day of sunny LA weather all week, I already want to return!
Being able to spend so much time outdoors and biking everywhere in Santa Monica made me feel so healthy and free… (if you’ve heard me talk about my biking experience in Paris, you know this is a big deal for me!!)
Before I go all California hippie on you, it’s important to note that I didn’t previously realize “LA” is actually a bunch of separate cities within Los Angeles County. Downtown LA or Hollywood may as well be a different country than Santa Monica. If you’re from Northern Virginia, it’s kind of like how Lorton and Arlington are both technically “Fairfax”…
Not only does it satisfy my love of being outside, LA has excellent Asian food – something DC is severely lacking in. Here’s the rundown on how I spent my spare time eating and playing in Southern California, when I wasn’t talking to strangers in the airport for work:
For the most part I didn’t love Downtown LA – it took forever to get anywhere and was pretty sketchy/smelly… but my coworkers and I had a great time at a rooftop bar called Perch. (An hour there, twenty minutes back… classic!)
- Perch: a heated rooftop with an awesome view, blankets, great food, and live music on Thursdays and Sundays. What more could you ask for?
Low-light photos courtesy of my new iPhone 11 Pro:
We missed our reservation but snagged open seating right in front of the super talented musicians playing that night. Surprisingly, they weren’t even a band. Most of them had just met, but they were visibly having a blast jamming together, making up silly lyrics about Perch’s amazing cheesecake and truffle fries! I’m not usually super into live music, but this was the perfect way to wrap up our week of hard work.
Another evening, I met up with a friend to have udon in Little Tokyo downtown.
- Marugame Udon is a tiny no-reservations hand-pulled noodle place that’s usually crowded. Late on a Tuesday night, we were seated right away with a view into the kitchen. Unfortunately, it looked like they were done making noodles for the evening when we got there.
- Somi Somi: After dinner we walked around Little Tokyo for a bit and got dessert at this ultra-grammable taiyaki place:
- Din Tai Fung: I Ubered from my hotel to the Westfield mall just to have soup dumplings at the Taiwanese chain. Unfortunately since I was alone I didn’t get to order a ton of dishes and share them as is the norm, but I ate the whole order of dumplings myself!
- Bake Cheese Tart: While I was wandering around the mall looking for some extra layers due to the unexpectedly chilly low-60s temperatures that week, I stumbled upon a Japanese dessert stand that had rave reviews on Yelp. It’s a little overpriced for what it is, but I thought I might as well try it.
- Plan Check: Speck Travel, a subsidiary of Samsonite and maker of the popular Speck phone cases, reached out awhile ago after learning that I would be traveling to LA for work. They were so kind to send me a gift card to Plan Check as well as some Uber credit (which I used to ride around on the Uber Jump bikes)! I treated myself to a multi-course dinner…alone. Business travel makes you get over that fear of dining alone real fast 🙂
- Meat on Ocean: I met up with an old coworker for drinks at this classy joint overlooking the beach (right on Ocean Blvd, hence the name). Steakhouses aren’t usually my speed, but Elephante was closed for a private event and this location and bar space was perfect for the two of us to catch up. While we didn’t have dinner here, I was a fan of the cauliflower appetizer!
- Kazu Nori: This tiny hand roll bar was recommended to me as a more solo-friendly alternative to the famed sushi restaurant, Sugarfish. I was seated quickly as I was alone, but otherwise prepare for a wait as there are probably only ~16 seats around the counter. You order by checking off what rolls you’d like on a sheet of paper, and they place them in front of you as they are made. It’s a tad expensive, but worth the experience.
- Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe: Get their housemade almond milk latte. I recommend stopping in on a weekday, because it was a madhouse on Saturday morning! Otherwise, it’s not a place I’d try to do work.
- Urth Caffe: I’d heard so much about this coffee shop, I had it at the airport and at the Santa Monica location. The one on Main St has plenty of outdoor seating and offers an extensive brunch menu, while the airport location serves mostly sandwiches. Everything looked delicious, but prepare for a wait!
- The Secret Swing in Elysian Park: I stumbled upon this Airbnb experience while looking for a place in Santa Monica to lay my head for one night. Lots of photo tours and “highlights”-type experiences came up, but this unique location caught my eye. If you haven’t heard of Airbnb experiences before, it’s a great way to get a local to show you around if you’re traveling alone.
My host, Viviana, picked me up near where I was having breakfast by the beach, and dropped me off at my Airbnb. Ubers downtown to Elysian Park would’ve cost more than this experience alone. I probably wouldn’t have been able to find the swing without her, either!
On the way to the park, we saw some people on all fours trying to climb up one side of the steep hill. I’m so glad I went with someone who knew about the easier trail on the other side (near the parking lot)/ Viviana also pointed out where I could see the Hollywood sign and the Dodgers stadium downtown from our vantage point, and suggested different angles/views for photos.
There were just a few people in front of us for photos on the swing when we got there around 11am on a Saturday. Shortly after, when we were taking photos at the tree and other viewpoints, the line got pretty long.
Thank you, Viviana for showing me the secret swing! This was definitely one of my favorite things I did in LA.
- Trapeze School New York Santa Monica: I first got a taste of flying trapeze at Club Med Turks & Caicos, and subsequently flew in a couple TSNY DC classes in Navy Yard. A girl in one of my classes mentioned that she had been to the location in LA, where the view from the board is the ocean!
TSNY DC’s new Navy Yard tent is sheltered from the public, but here there are tons of tourists gawking at every jump. It definitely isn’t for the faint of heart! That view of the beach and the mountains reminded me of flying in Turks and I want to go back…
- Santa Monica Pier: The Trapeze school is inside Pacific Park on the pier, so I had a chance to wander around and watch some talented performers busking at the pier.
Pacific Park on the pier is a mini amusement park with sketchy rides and a ferries wheel. It gets super touristy, but feels like a quintessential beach town experience.
A crowd gathered around the lone sea lion following a man around who was feeding it frozen fish. Only a few people took him up on his offer to feed the sea lion for $1, but I noticed the sea lion was tagged. I couldn’t help but wonder how feeding impacts the sea lions’ natural behavior and instincts, just like shark feeding 🙁
- bike to Venice Beach Boardwalk: I biked more in two days in Santa Monica than I have in the last ten years. It all started on my first day off, when I decided to finally download JUMP by Uber (one of many bike share apps) to bike to Venice Beach. To my surprise, the seat actually lowered far enough for my short legs (a real problem! @CapitalBikeshare).
My friends had told me biking is a great way to get around the area, so even though I’m not a biker whatsoever – I hate spin classes – feeling that fresh air in my face instead of sitting in traffic was amazing.
Venice Beach itself is definitely grungy. I saw a fight break out involving two homeless people and one of their dogs. Alongside parts of the bike path was tent after tent. I didn’t want to stray too far on the bike since I wasn’t confident in my street navigation abilities that first day, but next time I’m hoping to check out Abbott Kinney Blvd and the Venice Canals.
- Muscle Beach: This adult playground area not far from the pier is so much fun to people watch! I’ve seen it on Instagram before and couldn’t wait to go play on the rings, slack lines, pull-up bars, climbing ropes, parallel bars, lyra, etc. There’s even a turf area where people were partner stunting/practicing aerial yoga. If I lived here, this would be my free outdoor gym!
- Third Street Promenade: This “downtown” Santa Monica staple is basically a bunch of outdoor shops and restaurants. It reminds me of Reston Town Center where I grew up.
I stayed in an Airbnb in Ocean Park, Santa Monica. It was about a 10-minute bike ride from the beach and shops in a super safe neighborhood accessible via those really nice wide bike paths, or a short Uber ride. Public transportation isn’t really a thing in LA, so I highly recommend choosing where you stay based on where you want to hang out (or where you have to work).
(When I was working at LAX, we stayed at the Westin LAX and I highly do not recommend that hotel.)
- hiking: I spent a lot of time trying to pick a hike to the Hollywood sign, but ultimately just didn’t have enough time. Some top contenders: Runyon Canyon, Point Dume Cove, Mugu peaks, Wisdom Tree, Bronson Canyon
- Venice Beach: see the Canals, shop on Abbott Kinney Blvd, have ice cream at Salt & Straw
- Malibu: Malibu Farm Restaurant, malibu pier
- Santa Monica: Elephante, the bungalow
- Downtown: Grand Central Market
So much to do, so little time! Hopefully the next time I am out here, I can spend a week road tripping up or down the Pacific Coast Highway to other beaches, wine country, Monterrey, etc. With LAX being such a major international hub to Asia and the Pacific, hopefully I can plan a looooong layover for myself next time 🙂