A trip to Santa Monica feels like the perfect antidote for sea-starved business travelers. Ditch the suit and rental car, and opt for early-morning jogging, a brisk workout at the Santa Monica Steps (shh, it’s getting crowded), and perhaps a surfing lesson or two. Arguably the carb-free capital of America, one of my favorite qualities of this health mecca is the wackier your food order, the better. Extra flax seed, egg whites, and fat-free yogurt—on the side, please—are the norm and served up without a fuss, which is a refreshing twist considering my European counterparts have a hard time with requests for ketchup without grimacing for days. It may sound cliché, but Santa Monica is a city with it all: great beaches, a handsome mayor who doubles as Bono’s best friend, funky shopping, and droves of restaurants; world-class hotel options and people-watching that would make Paris blush.
With an average of 310 days of sunshine per year, this Mediterranean clime in western Los Angeles County is an easy sell for a long weekend, an extended business trip, or a new way of life. Home to old movie theaters, great arts events, and the all-important pier, Santa Monica can offer plentiful options for your inner beach bum, dormant bohemian, or your hopeful Hollywood glamour-puss.
It’s rare that a hotel as hyped as Shutters on the Beach lives up to its reputation, but it does. The rooms are beachy yet modern, the amenities impeccably thought through (from hacky sacks to after-sun aloe vera) and the service subtly magical. You, of course, pay for these perks, from $445 per night for a basic room that probably overlooks a parking lot, but on the whole the location right on the beach is worth it. The spa and restaurant get booked incredibly early, so nab those appointments now and be warned that the beds are tempting enough to lounge in all day. Although $50 for breakfast is typically included in your rate, I’ve got two words for you: homemade granola.
Next to Shutters is sister property Casa del Mar. This feels like the “adults only” version, and what could possibly be wrong with that? Rooms are slightly more affordable at $410 per night and they offer an incredible event series that lures local movers and shakers to come and opine. You decide.
The Viceroy is the sexy urban option in Santa Monica. From the outside, it’s a dump, but inside you’ll be pleasantly surprised with funky light fixtures, bright colors, and high design. To me, it’s the perfect place for a drink—not to stay. It’s beautiful, sure, but it feels like the opposite of "beachy and relaxed" with the mood lighting and dark clothing. The pool area is straight out of 90210. That said, it is a chic alternative to hardwood floors and baby blues. There are 162 rooms, most with amazing ocean views, from $395.
I consider Southern California’s proximity to Mexico a major perk, Mexican food being one of my gluttonous guilty pleasures. Now, before you judge me, I only like authentic Mexican fare—the fancy filet mignon with mole sauce doesn’t do it for me. A real find is El Cholo restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. Started in 1927, the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and Lindbergh made his way across the Atlantic, this little Mexican gem is totally delish. Fine dining, this isn’t, but when you hear they sold their one billionth tortilla in 1996, you know it's a serious place. I had the best chicken enchiladas of my life and a friend had blue corn enchiladas that were a dangerously close second. Try the guacamole “mocajete style” (made at your table), and give up all plans of putting on a swimsuit later that day. Average dish costs $7-$10 and clocks in at (what I’d guess is) 2,000 calories.
For dinner, try Via Veneto. This cozy, authentic Italian restaurant is one of the best kept secrets of the Santa Monica dining scene. Your waiter will likely be Italian-born (or Marco or Fabrizio, the owners) and the list of daily specials will inspire a grumbling tummy before you get to the main courses. Try the fresh salads (portobello mushroom and Caprese) and anything pasta-based is a sure thing. It can be pricey with wine, but it’s as close to Tuscan cuisine as you’ll get in California.
Contrary to what you’d guess, Santa Monica is home to amazing bakeries. Huckleberry is a great breakfast and lunch spot, and Vanilla Bakeshop sells divine mini-cupcakes in flavors like “Mom’s birthday cake” and “Meyer lemon raspberry.” My longtime fave is Rose Cafe & Market in neighboring Venice. It’s close enough to sneak it in.
“Happiness is not a destination but a manner of travel—pack accordingly.” Meet Nicole Pollard, native Angeleno and impresario for the perfect anniversary present, corporate makeover, or shopping spree for the next “It” girl. Her company LALALUXE offers inspired shopping adventures that turn visitors into insiders, whether you’re on a mission to meet Daddy Warbucks or just desperate for the perfect vintage boutique. LALALUXE offers highly personalized shopping experiences so you leave knowing all. Indulge.
Give your wallet a break and mark your calendar for Glow, the dusk-to-dawn biannual art event on Santa Monica Beach. This mesmerizing party features dozens of local, national, and international artists and is the only event of its kind in the U.S. Over 200,000 people participated in the last event… so make that espresso a double and get in line.
With all-night partying and shopping out of the way, keep your eyes peeled for the budding museum scene. This year the Museum of Flying debuts on Olympic Boulevard and the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum on Santa Monica Boulevard. Both offer varying bits of history on art, culture and aviation. For today’s treasures, try Museum of Art on Michigan or the best thing about the Pier: the Aquarium.
Many will steer you to Third Street Promenade, the pedestrian-only stretch of shops and fast-food restaurants. It is a total time-waster. Home to shockingly poor street performers and stores that make H&M feel like Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s the McDonald’s of outdoor shopping: fast, predictable, and sounds like a good idea until it’s finished. There are such better options—find them.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50% of the year. Her recommendations are aimed at business travelers who are short on time but not on taste. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. She lives between New York and London.