You’re planning a trip to sunny Los Angeles and want to figure out how to make the most of your visit. Our advice? Stay on the Westside. You may have to shorten your peek at the Hollywood sign, but the upside is that you can spend your days enjoying the city’s famous beaches, along with all the other unique things that make this L.A. neighborhood très cool.
The place you want to stay is Santa Monica, which is central to the west side of L.A. Try either the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Casa del Mar or the Four-Star Shutters on the Beach, two iconic hotels located right on the sand. In fact, Casa del Mar was originally a beach club built during the height of the Roaring ’20s before it was renovated to become a hotel in the mid-1990s.
Let’s assume you’ve chosen Casa del Mar for your pied-à-terre. You’ll be enveloped in the Old World, beautiful Renaissance Revival design when you arrive. The rooms, decorated in soothing creams and the palest aquamarine tones, evoke a sense of seaside calm.
Freshen up and change into something sporty because the first thing on your agenda is to explore the area on foot.
If it’s the weekend, start your journey at the entrance to Santa Monica Pier, where a small craft fair is usually set up with vendors offering handmade jewelry and other custom-crafted goods.
Pick up a small souvenir, then make your way downstairs. At the base of the south-facing part of the pier, you’ll find a store that rents bikes called Sea Mist Rentals. Bicycles will let you cover more ground, so take one out for a few hours.
Once you’ve secured your ride, head south on the bike trail, which will take you through to Venice Beach. Make sure you stop along the way at the original Hot Dog on a Stick for a corndog and lemonade. The iconic little stand, a Westside landmark since 1946, is painted bright red so you won’t miss it.
Continue along the trail until you get to the main Venice Beach drag. Stroll by the many little shops selling street art, T-shirts and souvenirs. This is a great place to stop and people watch, too. You may even catch a street performer playing live music or breakdancing, so you’ll want to pause for a while and maybe walk your bike on foot, or just park it altogether.
When you’re ready to continue, get back on the bike trail and take it past Marina del Rey. Admire the beachside condos while inhaling the fresh, energetic ocean breeze. Once you make it to Washington Boulevard, you’ll want to get off your bike again and walk around the area’s small beachfront shops. This would be a good place to pick up a snazzy two-piece, as there are several boutiques, like All Shore Beachware, with the latest from Beach Bunny Swimwear on display.
When you’re done checking out Marina del Rey, hop back on your bike and head north toward your hotel. After all that activity, you’re probably ready for some rest and relaxation.
Weather permitting, head down to the pool to work on your tan or indulge in a relaxing spa service at the Casa del Mar’s Four-Star Sea Wellness Spa, like the Feel the Ocean Breeze massage, which takes place in a cabana by the pool.
Afterward, prepare for an evening of countless possibilities, starting with food. Los Angeles has some of the best sushi you’ll find stateside, so make sure you get a reservation to the Westside gem Sushi Zo in Culver City, where the multi-course omakase tastings are de rigueur. Other options for sashimi and nigiri include the new Sushi Tsujita on Sawtelle Boulevard or the Santa Monica staple Sushi Roku.
For New American fare, Tar and Roses might be more your style. It’s an always-packed, small-plate concept that also delivers a great beer and wine list. Go here for roasted bone marrow and a charcuterie plate to share, followed by strawberry crostata with honeycomb ice cream.
For something casual and quite local, Father’s Office might be just the ticket. The small Santa Monica eatery is the place to grab a craft beer and the famous Office Burger, which some people credit for launching the gourmet burger trend. The decadent burger is made of house-ground dry-aged beef chuck, and topped with caramelized onions, arugula and blue cheese.
After dinner, it’s time to experience nightlife in West L.A., where the vibe is low-key and chill. Retire to The Bungalow, a lounge at Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows that’s housed in a breezy cottage facing Ocean Boulevard. Wander from room to room, canoodle on a couch, play Ping Pong on the patio or just cozy up in front of a fire pit with a digestif before retiring for the night.
Sunday mornings are perfect for bunch in West L.A., and the place you want to be is Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Not only is the popular restaurant always full of beautiful people (you might catch a star sighting), but the brunch is stellar. Get a seat on the patio and start off your morning with a mimosa or a spectacularly poured latte. The merguez sausage plate is outstanding, but truthfully, every dish — including the BLT with egg, the linguica sausage, and the crispy fried eggs with prosciutto — will make you happy.
Brunching at Gjelina also gives you the advantage of parking, which is much easier when you’re there early. Abbott Kinney is known for its boutique shopping, so you’ll have the perfect excuse to walk off your meal as you wander into shops like A+R Store for chic gifts and gadgets while taking in the clean, Scandinavian design.
With food and shopping under your belt, you’ll still have time in the afternoon for a dose of culture. The Getty Villa, located in the Pacific Palisades, is just a 20-minute drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Admission is free, but you’ll have to plan ahead by going to the website to snag tickets and book a late-afternoon visit.
The drive along the coast is spectacular, with views of the waves crashing along the smooth-sanded coastline to the left, and high rises and bungalows hugging the cliffside on the right.
Reserve at least a couple of hours to wander through the Getty Villa, which boasts an impressive collection of antiquities, the highlights of which are the Roman sculptures. Spending some time outside in the gardens in front of the main building is also a must, as it was built to resemble an ancient Roman home. From the landscaping to the grandiose column-lined walkways, the magnificent vistas make for an Instagram-worthy photo opportunity.
By the time you’re ready to leave, the sun may be starting its descent, casting a golden glow over the city. On your way back to the hotel, you’ll want to stop at Moonshadows in Malibu for the quintessential beach-dining experience. The cliff-perched restaurant offers bountiful waves and the perfect vantage point for sipping cocktails while watching the sunset.
Complete your 48-hour jaunt with curried tiger shrimp or Pacific swordfish at a table showcasing panoramas of the ocean.