California is a huge state, so choosing where exactly to go for a visit can be a chore. There are many fine choices, however I submit Santa Monica for your consideration due to the walkability of the area, proximity to the ocean and the airport, awesome farmers market, and the fact that I’ve been there recently.
Where to Stay
Parking is pretty bad, but thankfully you can easily Lyft or Uber from the airport and that walkability factor means you don’t really need a car. If you can find an Airbnb a little north of the pier, that area is very pleasant and close to a grocery. There are of course many expensive hotels in the area and, if that’s your jam, I’m sure they are quite nice. My budget dictates that they are not my jam, so Airbnb is my first choice. There’s also a HI USA hostel that is right in the thick of things, near the ocean and plenty of restaurants. If I were travelling alone, I’d choose there.
Aside from Lyft, Uber, and your own two feet, there is a shuttle service and a bus system. Also, electric scooters are everywhere, much to the dismay of locals. When I was there last there were passive aggressive signs all over the place on the sides of buses and buildings urging people to not ride on the sidewalks. I got yelled at by a lady just for trying to park one of the things (they get parked on sidewalks and can’t be at intersections). I happen to love them, even though I can understand the frustration with them. Just stay off of the sidewalks (except for the inevitability of parking) and enjoy the ride. They’re great if you need to get somewhere nearby cheaply and faster than your feet can take you. Try not to piss off the locals too much because I want the damn things to be there next time I visit.
What to do?
The ocean is right there and the climate is super pleasant, even in November (yes, this is when I visited). There’s also the pier and the aforementioned farmer’s market, which is quite big and full of awesome produce and other delicious options. It’s on Arizona between 4th and Ocean on Wednesdays and Saturdays and it’s super easy to grab a reusable bag (I always pack one) and hop on one of those scooters to grab some produce to cook up in your Airbnb. I tend to be a budget traveler, so I like to get Airbnb’s with small kitchens so I can avoid the cost of eating out every night.
I do like to sample local restaurants as part of the experience, but just can’t do so all of the time. When I do go, one place I have visited repeatedly is Ye Olde King’s Head, a British restaurant/pub/gift shop with nice curry and an even nicer atmosphere. I also like Chez Jay, a place that is more bar than restaurant (a rarity in Santa Monica), but still serves excellent food. Finally, there’s a little hole in the wall Italian place on Ocean called Bruno’s. Their pizza is probably the best deal in town and the “medium” Caesar salad on the lunch menu is pretty damn big and therefore a great deal. It’s a cozy (read: tiny) place, so prepare for a tight fit at busy times.
There are other restaurants and lots of shops on the Third Street Promenade (read: outdoor mall) that runs along… you guessed it – Third Street. It’s a nice stroll and there are lots of neat shops to check out. It’s a pretty wealthy mall, so there are a lot of shops you can’t afford that are interesting to look at. The climate is so nice in Santa Monica that I find myself really enjoying just walking around and occasionally stopping for a coffee.
Finally, there’s a YMCA nearby, so if you want a workout, and want to pick up heavy objects and put them down again, that is an easy affordable option. If you are aready a Y member, you can visit out of town Y’s for free. If you aren’t a member, inquire about a day pass. Many YMCA’s allow that.
Oh, and the Santa Monica website says there are events, so look into that, I guess.
Santa Monica is a pleasant, if expensive, area. However, it’s definitely possible to travel here on a budget and the climate and ammenities make it worth your time. It’s less of an adventure travel destination in my experience, though I might not think that if I knew how to surf. That’s a goal for the next time I come. Have you visited Santa Monica and do you have other suggestions for me? Leave a comment and let me know about it!