Santa Monica: The Good for You Getaway
As the focus on personal wellness continues to rise, it's worth remembering that wellness isn’t limited to a “perfect” diet or daily Peloton classes. There are plenty of ways to care for yourself that both are pure fun and get you out of the house. The wellness trend we’re most excited to restart when the time is right? Travel. Studies show that heart health, mindfulness, mood and stress can all be improved by simply taking a vacation (even if it's a quick getaway to the coast). For a therapeutic escape, head to Santa Monica—the Southern California beach city that’s been on a health kick for decades.
It's no surprise that Santa Monica—a city long focused on wellness—took the initiative to create its own health and safety program for businesses: the Santa Monica Shines COVID-19 Assurance Program. Visit the Shines Assurance Program page to learn more about the assurance program requirements and the 90-plus businesses that have completed the program to demonstrate their commitment to safety of guests and employees.
Read on for six ways to find good vibes, food and fun as you practice self-care on your Santa Monica retreat.
Begin at the Beach
What better place to start your wellness journey than along Santa Monica's 3.5-mile stretch of stunning coast? Even the usual beach fixtures are better here—the wide, pale sandy beaches are distinctly Californian; the surf is the subject of songs; and then there's the ever-present warmth of golden sunshine.
If the thing your soul needs is utter relaxation, begin the day by sprawling out with a beach towel and a brain-candy book. For a bit of indulgence, treat yourself to an umbrella and sun chair reservation (complete with butler service!) from Perry's on the Beach. They'll set you up for a full day in the sand and deliver food, drinks and sunscreen as needed.
Once you've had your fill of unwinding, hit the beach volleyball courts. There's quite a history of spiking on these sands—the sport originated here in the 1920s and reached pinnacle pop-culture-icon status in the '60s when beach culture dominated the States. On Santa Monica's Sorrento Beach, The Beatles played a match and President Kennedy attended a volleyball tournament. Today, you can play (or spectate) there too—you'll find the nets about 1.5 miles from the Santa Monica Pier (just remember to bring your own ball).
And, of course, if you're here for iconic Santa Monica, you'll want to pick up a surf board or paddleboard to ride the waves. No board of your own? Rent gear from Poseidon Paddle & Surf; or if it's your first time with the sport, you can take surf lessons from Aqua Surf. A Travelzoo Tip for you: Get the wetsuit rental. The Pacific is known to be a bit chilly.
Have a good (and good-for-you) meal outdoors
Having worked up a proper appetite after all your time in the sun, head to one of Santa Monica's many acclaimed restaurants to refuel. Thanks to the year-round perfect weather, you'll have your choice of outdoor dining options, no matter what time of year you visit. Menus here tend to be driven by what's in season at the local farmers markets, with a focus on healthy and sustainable ingredients. But the food is prepared so delightfully that you might find it hard to believe you're being "good."
Bardonna serves all-day brunch from a sunny location on boutique-lined Montana Avenue. Order the turmeric latte with a side of huevos rancheros or When Pigs Fly (a biscuit sandwich with egg, gruyere, bacon jam and fermented chili salsa). Stop in to the recently revamped Uplifters Kitchen on Ocean Park Blvd—a female-owned vegetarian café with house-made pastries, noteworthy coffee and a serious mission to impart "joy, belonging, nourishment, care, and interconnectedness."
For light bites, charcuterie and a vintage list that spotlights natural and small production wines, head to Esters Wine Shop & Bar; this spot is casual, welcoming and oh-so stylish. But, if a peanut-shells-on-the-floor dive bar is more your speed, sip a local brew (a 310 Blonde maybe?) at Chez Jay—beloved by locals for its laid-back atmosphere and celeb-rich history (The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson was once a regular). And those free peanuts the bar is known for? One lucky legume took a roundtrip flight to the moon with astronaut Alan Shepard (another Chez Jay frequenter) in 1971.
The secret garden vibes at Fia alone make your visit worthwhile, but the palate-pleasing, coastal-forward menu featuring handmade pastas is what makes this spot a perfect dinner option. KazuNori serves fresh and simple sushi handrolls; it's an LA staple with a few locations around town, but we're partial to the Santa Monica location because of the proximity to the sea. Frankly, once you've had alfresco sushi with a side of sea breeze, there's no going back.
For classic sunset-on-the-sea views with your meal (or cocktail), take a seat at rooftop Élephante where a DJ spins records as diners enjoy Mediterranean fare.
Take an outdoor fitness class
Yes, Santa Monica is home to the Original Muscle Beach (and its turn-of-the-century, strongmen-style gymnastics equipment including parallel bars, ropes and rings), but until recently it was one of the few outdoor gyms on offer. Talk to locals about new-on-the-scene outdoor fitness classes and you'll hear a range of "finally!" to "why wasn't this already a thing?" reactions. We've said it before, but it bears repeating: This city has perfect weather.
Head to Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier to take an interval class (H.I.I.T) from Circuit Works, or try your hand at the flying trapeze or an aerial arts class from TSNY with the famous solar-powered Ferris wheel in the background. If you'd rather sweat it out down on the sand, book a Beach Cycle spin class, or a sun salutation flow with Beach Yoga SoCal.
Wellness doesn't end with the body, of course; there's the mind to keep healthy. Take it easy with a sound bath under the stars as singing bowls, symphonic gongs and crashing ocean waves create a meditative space. AZ | AM hosts this soothing class on the pier every Friday at 6 p.m.
Not new, but a beloved classic: Marvin Braude Beach Trail ("The Strand" to locals) is a 22-mile-long, paved bike path that starts north of Santa Monica and ends in the South Bay. Take a beachside cruise after picking up a set of wheels from Santa Monica Bike Rentals.
Self-reflect on a self-guided art tour
At 8 square miles, Santa Monica punches above its cultural weight class. You'll find 150-plus museums, galleries and public art installations within the city limits.
Reengage the artist in you (and do a bit of introspection) with a self-guided art tour through the city. All eight of Santa Monica's neighborhoods feature colorful murals splashed on the sides of businesses, but the largest concentration of murals is along Pico Blvd (this mural guide will prove handy as you plan your tour).
Be sure to visit the sculptures in Palisades Park, where the concrete figure of Saint Monica has resided for more than 80 years. Another favorite installation adorns the side of a parking garage (of all places); Cradle is a massive depiction of a Newton’s Cradle—the pervasive desktop toy of corporate executives.
You'll find the city's largest concentration of art galleries housed in a former railroad station: Bergamot Station Arts Center. It's free to visit, but you may need to make an appointment due to current health and safety requirements.
If you're traveling with kids (and it's a Wednesday or Saturday), let your little one create their own masterpiece at the Cayton Children's Museum under the guidance of an instructor via their outdoor creators program.
Take some retail therapy
There are a number of shopping districts where you can go for some good old-fashioned retail therapy. The Third Street Promenade is perhaps the best-known of the bunch, housing outposts of national shops.
Browse the stores on Main Street where local purveyors operate boutiques and design stores. Some notable options here are Angel City Bookstore (shop for vinyl and vintage books) and Lost & Found Home (for its curated housewares). The ten blocks of upscale and eclectic shops on tree-lined Montana Avenue are worth a visit too. While window shopping, pick up some picnic reinforcements from Santa Monica mainstay Andrew's Cheese Shop and head down to oceanfront Palisades Park.
Don't miss McCabe's Guitar Shop on Pico Blvd; the 60-year-old music store is an institution. Beyond boasting the largest stringed instrument inventory in California, it's known for the backroom venue which has hosted acts like Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen (the backroom is currently closed for in-person shows, but you can attend a virtual concert).
Check in to a relaxing hotel
When it's time to turn in at the end of a fill-your-cup day, you'll want to bed down somewhere equally fulfilling. As part of the Santa Monica Shines Assurance Program, an ever-growing number of hotels in the city have demonstrated their commitment to keep health and safety top-of-mind by following health authority-recommended protocols. You'll know that a hotel is designated when you see the Santa Monica Shines seal.
As for which hotel to choose for your getaway, we won't play favorites. Just know that you'll have your pick of some of the LA-area's best hotels and resorts. Many of the properties here are situated near the beach, feature their own acclaimed restaurants and spas, and regularly pop up on Condé Nast Traveler lists. In most cases, you can save on hotel costs by visiting during the week versus weekends, and with the resorts' many on-site amenities offered (free bike rentals, surf rentals and yoga classes, to name a few) you'll find even more value in a Santa Monica stay.