The Three-Minute Guide to LA's Santa Monica and Venice Neighborhoods
It's easy to forget when you're stuck in the never-ending traffic of Los Angeles that the sprawling city has thriving beach communities that seem wholly separate from the rest of the city. Not so long ago, Santa Monica and Venice, the two chicest hamlets bordering the Pacific, were no-man's lands full of wanna-be bikers, Gold's Gym muscle men, homelessness and random crime. Now it's pretty hard to walk through Santa Monica's pedestrianized urban mall or Venice's boardwalk without stumbling across a soy latte or a placard offering to help you get medical marijuana. Design companies, ad agencies, tech firms, venture capitalists and transplants pining for the ocean are largely fueling the renaissance. Famous sushi dens have given way to a plethora of new restaurants that tend to follow the open cafe, bar, brunch, Asian tapas model. My guess is that most will morph something else in a few years, if not months. The market is moving fast. With its urban-village nature, the best places to get food are the greenmarkets, which rival Paris for quality and breadth. Now if only we could afford $2 million houses so we could live there all the time.
Go With Clients
For Drinks: Try the Bungalow, a trip to the 1920s by the Fairmont facing the beach. It's like someone moved the fabled bar at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the ocean.
For Dinner: Gjelina is the modern day Michael's, a hub of gossip, people watching and consistently excellent food. It's hard to get into until you're "known." If well-aged steak is your thing and a more traditional room is needed, Belcampo is an exceptional spot. Finally, Rustic Canyon's Jeremy Fox may be the best chef in LA right now. This urban rustic charmer is spot on. Get the green pozole with clams or a steak with fresh market veg.
For Late Night: Michael McCarty's eponymous California classic, Michael's, is refurbished. Go enough times for late night drinks, and you'll eventually get in for dinner.
Go With Friends
For Drinks: Try The Misfit, in the heart of the Promenade at the 1920s clocktower building. You'll find classic, classy fun. Or head to the High Rooftop Lounge atop the once gritty Hotel Erwin; it's one of the few places you can see the ocean.
For Dinner: Cassia is an enormous indoor/outdoor option serving French-Vietnamese fare. The pot-au-feu is the ticket here. Or, for a sleek modern room in a great outdoor setting, check out Leona, a brand new California cuisine on formerly honky-tonk Washington Blvd. Before, take a walk around the canals, or head to the beach. You'll also like Wallflower, which transmits an industrial Venice chic, and serves a terrific Southeast Asian menu almost 24/7. It's a great example of the current trend that I hope survives.
For Late Night: The Brig strikes a good balance of Venice's dive-bar past and its new high-tech spirit.
Go With Family
Try any one of these for brunch, lunch, or dinner!
Gjusta: The bakery, take-out, coffee-shop Goth sister to Gjelina. With Gold's across the street and a few artists holding out, you get a real gauge of what's happening in Venice.
The Rose: A Venice stalwart in the middle of everything. Recently gutted to keep up with the times. Take-out, a bar, brunch in the California style.
Giorgio Baldi: An exceptional old-world Italian that works for the well-dressed and well-moneyed. Close enough to the beach and to Malibu.
Santa Monica Yacht Club: A relaxed (for Santa Monica) seafood joint that delivers the yacht club them and matching cuisine without feeling kitsch.
Valentino: Piero Selvaggio knows his Los Angeles and has for 44 years. If he knows you, this can be the best Italian in America. If not, at least the tables are huge and your car is parked.