Think of this famous LA enclave as a quintessential SoCal coastal town on steroids. It’s home to a blissfully big beach, amusement-filled pier, increasingly excellent restaurant scene, live music venues, one of the best farmers markets in all the land, and Larry David. It’s also a nightmare for drivers, but if you take the Expo Line here you can easily go car-free all weekend long.
Where to stay: Fronting Ocean Avenue, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows has surprisingly sprawling and lush grounds, anchored by the famous fig tree at the stately entrance along with luxe rooms, an intimate pool, and airy onsite restaurant Fig with a dedicated “cheese guy." The modern Shore Hotel feels more urban than beachy, but boasts ocean views from many of its sleek blue-walled rooms filled with sustainably sourced furnishings.
Things to do: You may have noticed there’s a very large beach here, and you can easily fill a whole weekend with boogie boarding, surf lessons, stand-up paddleboarding, or just beach bumming it. For fun on dry land, you can rent rollerblades or bikes and cruise the paved path that parallels the beach. Trapeze School New York’s LA location is right at the Santa Monica Pier, where the exhilaration of flying through the air circus-style is paired with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. You’ll need a car or Uber to get any hikes in, but they're worth it; try the always-jamming Los Leones Trail in nearby Pacific Palisades, or the bite-size 2.6-mile Temescal Canyon Loop that gains a good 900 feet.
On Saturday mornings, follow the crowds to Santa Monica’s monstrous Downtown Farmers Market, where you’ll see wandering white-coated chefs picking up seasonal produce; it butts up against the Third Street Promenade, which you can stroll afterwards for a retail fix of mainly big national names like Apple and Adidas. For artsier independent boutiques and galleries, meander along nearby Main Street, which is also home to the California Heritage Museum, located inside the landmark Roy Jones House, built in 1894.
Best restaurants: Stop by Ari Taymor's brunch-only Little Prince on Main Street, where many of his seasonal-inspired dishes with come out of the wood-burning oven (including the nine-grain pancakes). For a quick lunch along the Promenade, go for a mouth-torching fried chicken sandwich from David Chang’s Fuku, part of the SocialEats. It's also worth a pilgrimage to Bay Cities, the Italian deli destination famous for sandwiches like its signature Godmother (layered with every meat known to man).
Step into Cassia's historic art deco space for a seafood-driven dinner of Southeast Asia-meets-California dishes, then skip dessert and slip out for a sip and a cheese plate at adjacent wine bar Esters. A bit further from the beach you can hit up newcomer Fia with a Coastal Cal-Ital Mediterranean menu served on a posh patio that’s covered in a clear tent come winter for dining under the night sky without the chill. Check out our full Santa Monica dining guide for more inspiration.
Bars and nightlife: Bands of all types play several nights a week, including weekends, at underground vintage-y bar Basement Tavern. Check the calendar for live band karaoke. For cocktails and jazz, pay a visit to new tropical-inspired cocktail lounge Canary, where you can catch Grammy-winning headliner Dave Yaden kill it on the piano every Sunday night along with his band, rotating vocalists, and occasionally, burlesque dancers.