A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

ed_sig

Santa Monica – a fun slice of L.A.

May 21st, 2004

Santa Monica beach in the haze

Santa Monica beach in the haze

As a New Yorker, I can’t help but admire LA for its climate and outdoors-oriented lifestyle. That’s why I always make sure any trip to California includes a day at the beach… Santa Monica to be exact. It’s an eclectic, vibrant section of LA, with miles of gorgeous beach, great restaurants, and so much more.

The expanse of beach is incredible, several hundred yards of white sand stretch from the streets to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. In the morning, you can smell the salt air as the dew forms a blanket of hazy fog. Palm trees line the beach as far as the eye can see, and lifeguard chairs are dotted along the coastline. There is a path for bikers, runners and rollerbladers that bisects the beach – it runs all the way from Venice in the south to Pacific Palisades up north. This path is alive with sun worshipers. Along the path there are rental stands for bikes and rollerblades so that you too can join in the fun.

Southern California is a mecca for beach volleyball, and this strip of beach is no different; nets are set up everywhere. Teams battle it out in the sand, smashing that white ball as fast as a rocket. Volleyball players represent a good cross section of the community, representing all ages, sexes and nationalities – the commonality amongst them is that fit physique and golden tan. But the fitness fanatics are not just playing volleyball, it is fascinating to see all the exercise areas set up along the beach – a jungle gym for adults. One gymnastic area was particularly unique – picture a high bar as used in gymnastics, but 30 feet off the ground. Every few feet is a rope that dangles to the ground, and people are climbing these ropes like chimpanzees. But don’t feel intimidated, the ocean beckons, grab your towel and enjoy the waves.

The Santa Monica Pier provides a stark contrast to the tranquility of the ocean and the beach. It is a carnival that stretches way out over the water. With a carousel, roller coaster, and many arcade games, it provides hours of entertainment for the kids, or those adults that feel like kids. The Pier also holds free concerts every Thursday night during the summer.

Although the beach is the primary source of entertainment, the town is quaint and has a lot to offer. The 3rd Street Promenade is a shopping section that is closed off from traffic. It is a regular spot for musicians and other street performers. Although there is a proliferation of chain stores, there are also some uniquely creative stores thrown in. Montana Avenue is, however, the place for serious shopping with high-end boutiques and antique stores. But if you are not in a spending mood, sit at one of the many coffee houses and enjoy the people watching. Santa Monica is not just a maze of fancy stores, it’s quite a cultural center with a strong emphasis on art. The largest concentration of galleries in Santa Monica is at Bergamot Station, a complex of rehabilitated warehouses located on the site of the historic trolley depot. There are 40 art galleries including the Santa Monica Museum of Art. My favorite being the Peter Fetterman Gallery, which focuses on B&W photos.

Artichokes

Artichokes

When I think of LA, I think of healthy organic foods. Organic farming has been very popular in California for many years, and one of the best outdoor markets to buy from these farmers is in Santa Monica. It’s held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings on Arizona & 2nd. The organic produce is spectacular. Where else can you see five types of avocados? Carrots and asparagus are stacked two feet high, and the artichokes are the size of soccer balls. This is a must adventure for any food lover.
Carrots

Carrots

If you are looking for a unique diversion, take a walk south from Santa Monica to Venice Beach. Although best known for muscle beach, its real claim to fame are the street artists and the tattoo parlors. Some may find the area too seedy, but all will find it fascinating. Picture the burnt out hippies of the 60’s that did not want to lead the stereotypical corporate life. Musicians with tie-dyed shirts are strumming their guitars and singing. Religious fanatics are passing out leaflets. Every third store is a tattoo parlor, and the rock music is blaring. Artists are painting, while others are selling jewelry or trinkets. What a trip!

Artist in Venice Beach

Artist in Venice Beach

Staying in Santa Monica is quite luxurious, and yes quite expensive. The Inn at Shutters and Casa del Mar are two superb hotels that combine a small hotel feeling with five star service. For those with a family seeking a larger hotel, the Loews would be an excellent choice.

Santa Monica is not just a great self contained section of LA, it is also very convenient. It is 30 minutes from the Getty Museum, perhaps the best museum in town. Beverly Hills, and its famed Rodeo Drive is also a 30 minute drive. Downtown LA is far, over an hour drive, but unless you are going to the Laker’s game, don’t bother. And lastly, it is only 8 miles to LAX, making for an easy escape.

So if you have the opportunity to spend a few days in LA, have some fun in the sun…… and do it in Santa Monica.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply