Santa Monica is an American road trip classic, not least because it marks the end of the legendary Route 66. So if you’re planning a dream Californian road trip, be sure to stop off here.
LA’s beach city is well known for its pier and the city has also served as a filming location for iconic movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ocean’s Eleven and Forrest Gump. There is plenty of fun to be found on the beachfront, but be sure to look beyond the ferris wheel and you’ll find even more joy in the city’s booming wellness culture, buzzy restaurant scene and less obvious ways to spend some time in the sand.
1 Find your zen with Beach Yoga SoCal
This is a perfect solution for those in need of a mid-road trip stretch. With two locations on Santa Monica beach, one next to lifeguard tower 26 and the second beside lifeguard tower 2, the classes offered by Beach Yoga SoCal are suitable for every level of yogi.
“All of our instructors are trained to teach a “beach flow” that is curated to anybody that could walk on to the beach, into class, whether you’ve never done yoga before or you’re an actively advanced practising yogi,” says Vee Gomez, the company’s founder. “All of the instructors offer modifications to make things easier or more challenging, and the experience is more about connecting to the ocean, getting grounded in the sand, taking in the fresh air, connecting to the sun or looking at the sunset if it’s evening time. It’s an all-encompassing experience where we’re working all of our senses, not just the physical body.”
Gomez, who was born and raised in New Jersey, began practising yoga after being diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders. “I have something called Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus as well,” she explains. “I turned to yoga because I felt lost and confused and I read that yoga would help my symptoms, and it did.”
After visiting California in April 2018, she fell in love with Santa Monica and decided to relocate. “I had this idea that we could really grow a beach yoga business, because we’re in the epicentre of health and wellness, as well as a really big tourist destination,” says Gomez. “All of those elements combined propelled us to take a leap of faith and move out here to grow Beach Yoga SoCal.” beachyogasocal.com
2 Enjoy an Instagram-worthy beach day with Santa Monica Picnic Co
Take your beach picnic to the next level with a little help from Santa Monica Picnic Co. Established in July 2020, while Covid restrictions were ever-changing and socially distant outdoor activities were one of the few ways for Santa Monica residents to stay connected, founder and CEO Sam Ancona and her team have now hosted more than 600 events and will curate everything you need for a picture-perfect beach day – with just 72 hours’ notice.
Whether you’re planning a lunch for two or a full-day affair for 10, picnics are easily bookable through the Santa Monica Picnic Co website, with games, flowers, musicians, photographers and sound baths among the available add-ons. Ancona works with local partners on everything from furnishings (Fragments Identity) and charcuterie boards (Andrew’s Cheese Shop), to chocolates (John Kelly Chocolates) and baked goods (Broadway Baker). santamonicapicnicco.com
3 Indulge in a little Hollywood history at the Aero theatre
Once you’re all beached out and fed and watered, catch a movie at the single-screen Aero theatre, which originally opened back in 1940.
Built by the Douglas Aircraft Company in a streamline moderne style, the theatre, operated by the American Cinematheque, was renovated in 2005 and subsequently reopened as the Max Palevsky theatre at the Aero in Santa Monica. It has undergone further renovations in 2019 and 2021 to improve projection equipment and sound.
Showing films in 35mm, 70mm and state-of-the-art digital projection, the American Cinematheque screens both new and repertory films, and hosts live discussions with film-makers and Hollywood luminaries at this historic venue.
Film buffs may even recognise the Aero from its starring roles in Get Shorty and Donnie Darko. americancinematheque.com/about/theatres/aero-theatre
4 Cleanse your palate at Santa Monica Brew Works
Santa Monica Brew Works (SMBW) is a must-visit for any craft beer fan. Founded by Scott Francis, former president of Warner/Chappell Music, the tasting room is a perfect hangout for groups and solo travellers alike thanks to its plentiful space and chill vibes.
“We love Santa Monica and wanted to provide our hometown with a beer to call its own,” says Francis, who launched SMBW in 2014. “Craft brewing is a vehicle for expression. It’s not only about the chosen ingredients – but also the environment from which it was born. That’s why we were uncompromising in our efforts to build a brewery in Santa Monica.”
The beers on offer include the popular 310 California Blonde Ale, Head In The Clouds double IPA with notes of passion fruit, mango and guava, and the (PCH) Pale Chocolate Heaven, Golden Milk Porter, which is brewed using more than 45kg of cacao nibs per batch.
Brew Works also has a constantly rotating selection of food trucks, offering everything from burgers to poutine to soak up those beers.
“We embrace our role as flag bearers for independent beer on LA’s Westside,” says Francis. “We believe the spirit of craft beer is rooted in community. We think of ourselves as more than just a producer of beer – we’re part of the fabric of our neighborhood.” santamonicabrewworks.com
5 Leave room for dessert at Fia
The first collaboration between restaurateur Michael Greco and British chef Brendan Collins, Fia is a garden paradise frequented by celebrities, locals and visitors alike, thanks to its fairy light-adorned patio, bottomless brunches and insanely delicious food.
Offering plenty of seafood on its menu that is equal parts Californian and Italian in influence, Fia serves up everything from spicy salmon tartare cones to salt and pepper calamari, vegetarian lasagne to chicken parm … and you had better leave room for dessert.
Already Instagram famous, the chocolate dome is served on fire, making for the ultimate melt-in-your-mouth treat. The cascading tiramisu is also *chef’s kiss*.
As for that bottomless brunch, the prix fixe menu is $59 per person (about £43) and is served each weekend from 10:30am until 3pm, with two hours of mimosas, margaritas or Modelos included. fiarestaurant.com
Book your Santa Monica trip with British Airways