Santa Monica is probably one of the most iconic neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with its famed boardwalk, shopping promenade, and that neon-glowing, solar-powered ferris wheel seen in oh-so-many TV shows, movies, and aerial shots of the city (it was also named one of the coolest ferris wheels in the world in 2013). But this is our version of Santa Monica, all the lesser-known, locally beloved spots far from the Third Street Promenade and the throngs of tourists. In fact, we didn’t step foot on the promenade or Main Street during our Santa Monica day, opting instead for the special spots we favored during our years as residents in this sun-speckled, beachside neighborhood. If you’re using our blog as a guide, get ready to discover all the places you won’t find in guidebooks or “Top 10” lists.

Stop 1: Sweet Rose Creamery

Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan are Santa Monica heroes: the couple who were both born and raised in Santa Monica, and slowly and thoughtfully opened a handful of restaurants, bakeries and café’s (mostly along Wilshire Boulevard) throughout the neighborhood, capitalizing on local ingredients, handmade products, and delicious ideas. You can’t really go wrong with any of their spots (Milo and Olive is one of our favorites in the entire city for pizza), but Sweet Rose is our place for coffee. This small and bright café is barely more than a walk-up, with seasonal ice-cream offerings and coffee drinks written on giant chalk wall behind the counter. We ordered two iced versions of the cold-brew with homemade vanilla syrup and a splash of cream, and then ogled the pastries (the strawberry walnut scone in particular).

(826 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica)

Stop 2: Virginia Avenue Park Farmer's Market

We’re certainly not lacking for farmer’s markets on the Westside (and the one in downtown Santa Monica is epic), but this sweet market in the Virginia Avenue Park has long been the locals’ favorite. There’s a fantastic selection of flowers, with many of the bunches $10 and under, a shaded food court with tables and chairs, and so much juicy, fresh, and ripe pieces of fruit and vegetables, you’ll never want to enter your local Albertson’s ever again. We ordered the beef quesadilla (probably one of our favorite breakfasts in town) for $6, and grabbed a bulbous, crisp apple for $1.50 for dessert.

(2200 Virginia Avenue, Santa Monica)

Stop 3: Bergamot Station

By the time we pulled out onto Pico Boulevard, temperatures were over 90 degrees and we needed somewhere we could cool off, stat. We headed to Bergamot Station, an old train station (the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad operated its line here from 1875 to 1953) turned art gallery complex. Passenger service at the train station ceased in the 1950s, and the sprawling complex was purchased by the city of Santa Monica in the 1980s and converted into artists’ studios. The art gallery and cultural complex now house over 30 galleries and a darling (and delicious!) café. We scoped out original photographs of Marilyn Monroe, the eclectic and whimsical gift shop, walls of floral artwork, and some Dali-inspired sculptures. Who says the Westside is lacking culture?

Insider’s tip: there’s a vast parking lot with free parking for gallery visitors.

(2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica)

Stop 4: Vintage Shopping on Wilshire Boulevard

Santa Monica is a neighborhood with great shopping – every single chain store you can imagine, an outdoor mall, sweet boutiques. But its vintage shopping is a lesser-known treasure, and there are some fantastic finds along Wilshire Boulevard. Haute Seconds is any designer-lover’s dream: a meticulously organized shop brimming with Chanel, Prada, Oscar de la Renta, and so many more. Pieces are in impeccable shape, and they have the prices to prove it. We did find one rack on the left-hand side of the shop with options from $25 to $95, and these included a few lovely DVF and Tracey Reese dresses. Drool.

Great Labels is another shop featuring designer threads, and although the clothes skew a little more mature, the price-points are much lower than Haute Seconds. The shop is easy to navigate, and we saw many a pair of high-heels we would love to teeter around in.

(2629 Wilshire Boulevard and 1126 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica)

Stop 5: Caffe Luxxe

The coffee at Caffe Luxxe is no joke. This adorable neighborhood coffeehouse handcrafts their artisanal coffee with beans they roast at their own facility in Gardena. The baristas also receive one year of training, so clearly take their technique seriously. Sounds fancy, right? Fortunately for the local regulars, this seriously delicious coffee comes without a serious attitude. They specialize in cappuccinos (they boast that their beans are the best, so their cappuccinos are also the best) and because it was still smoldering outside, we got ours over ice. We also ordered the vegan banana walnut chocolate cake, which was sticky, dense and chocolatey. OH MY.

(925 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica)

Stop 6: Pono Burger

The burger is a big deal in Los Angeles. A really big deal. Tacos, French Dip, and burgers – these are the food items we brag about, the dishes that we know are better here than anywhere else in the country. And in Santa Monica, you have some of the best burgers to choose from: Umami, Father’s Office, Rustic Canyon.

But we didn’t visit any of those joints on this day. We beelined to one of our favorite new hamburger restaurants, where organic grassfed burgers are served with a Hawaiian twist. Pono Burger embraces everything great about Santa Monica: the materials and ingredients of the restaurant are all locally sourced, down to the firewood and the fresh flowers from the farmer’s market. The menu changes seasonally, the beef comes from a family-owned California ranch – and did we mention you can eat your meal in a World War II bunker?

We ordered the Piku “Fig” Burger, The Paniolo Burger, the Russet Potato Fries, and a half-order of the Seasonal Farmer’s Market Salad. The Piku was a clear favorite, because the combination of brie cheese and fig was other worldly, although the sauce on The Paniolo was something we wanted to eat by the spoonful. The folks at Pono have perfected the details of their menu – the meat is juicy, the burger bun is fluffy and sweet, and their condiments are divine (the aioli! the guava rum sauce! the coffee Bourbon barbecue sauce!)

“Pono” most definitely has to mean DELICIOUS (it actually means “to do the right way”). Umami what?

(829 Broadway, Santa Monica)

The Details:

Santa Monica is very walkable, but we highly recommend getting around on bike. You can rent bicycles here.

A map of our day looks like this:

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