Road Tripping Through the Santa Monica Mountains
Arts & Culture
Road Trip Travel
Many people think of Los Angeles as a traffic nightmare with stop and go traffic contributing to smog heavy freeways. Though this might be the case for the city, a quick jaunt out to the Santa Monica Mountains can be a driving enthusiast's dream. All you need is this guide to lead the way, and you can be rewarded with endless open roads, fresh air and stunning vistas to match.
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Where to stay in the Santa Monica Mountains
Charming ranch perfect for a romantic stay or a wedding featuring trickling waterfalls, weeping greenery, quaint rustic surroundings and flowing branches decorated with fairy lights.
Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, California
Set at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu’s sunny beaches and Santa Barbara’s famous vines, this relaxed hotel offers a family-friendly atmosphere.
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Westlake Village Inn
A charming inn with an enchanting lake, cobblestone paths, vineyards and beautiful gardens with lovely gazebos and arbors enough to leave you captivated.
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Things to do in the Santa Monica Mountains
The Santa Monica Mountains are a diverse mountain range spanning from the Hollywood Hills to Ventura County. You can run, hike or bike through hundreds of trails that offer spectacular views of the canyons and the sea. But there's another way to experience this beauty and you don't need to be an athlete to do so. You can drive.
To make this drive one to remember, you'll need to start with a great car. There is no shortage of premium car rental options in Los Angeles, and a quick stop picking out a shiny sports car is a great way to start your day. If you've already got your rental, great! If you need a place to go, I'm partial to Falcon Car Rental in Beverly Hills for the widest variety of premium and luxury vehicles, plus their hospitable team. While you're there, grab breakfast in the Golden Triangle, the nickname for the affluent business district surrounding Rodeo Drive, to really get the Beverly Hills experience. After you're fueled up, in both ways, take iconic Sunset Blvd all the way down to PCH (the Pacific Coast Highway,) where you're hit with the first of many magical glimpses of the ocean.
Driving north on PCH, you'll be met with many great canyon roads and turning onto a select few will lead you onto miles of winding, breathtaking roads cutting through these mountains. Many of the best trails in Southern California can be found in this nearly 40 mile mountain range, so if you're up for stretching your legs there are plenty of options. However we all know vacations can be tiring, so relaxing comfortably in the car while you take in the views might be a respite from busy travel days. Topanga Canyon, Decker Road and Latigo Canyon Road are some of my personal favorites to drive without a destination and truly take in the natural beauty of one of the most visited natural areas in California. Of course, you can't miss some of the dazzling mansions nestled in the canyons — you're driving by some of the most expensive real estate in the country!
For lunch, stop by the Old Place, near the intersection of Kanan Road and the famous Mulholland Hwy. It's a long time favorite old-west steak house with the coolest wine store to match. Or, pack a picnic for the day, pull your car up to one of the stunning viewpoints and dine al fresco on the hood of your car like a true local. Continuing to drive east can pop you out into Westlake Village/Calabasas for boutique shopping or lunch lakeside at Boccaccio's. Driving west will take you back onto PCH and the rest of Malibu for the freshest seafood possible. Either way, if you return feeling like you've just been in a car commercial, don't be surprised. Many of them are filmed on these exact roads after all.
My favorite scenic canyon drives include:
Topanga Canyon Road: Plenty of great vintage shopping and great dining options. This is the most "populated" canyon drive that still offers incredible scenery.
Malibu Canyon Road: Turns into Las Virgenes Rd, or you can detour onto Mullholland Hwy for additional hiking and viewpoints.
Latigo Canyon Road: Eventually connects to Kanan Dume Rd.
Kanan Dume Rd: Leads you directly to my favorite hotel with the prettiest outdoor dining, Calamigos Ranch.
Decker Road: Pretty far north, but you're driving along the ocean the whole time. This is my #1 choice for spectacular views!
Places to eat & drink in the Santa Monica Mountains
Fountain Coffee Room: An iconic, long-standing diner setting at the low-key beverly hills hotel. Insiders only! Get the 24-karat gold juice for the complete experience.
Croft Alley: This pared down cafe is way more than meets the eye, they turn even the simplest of dishes into flavorful masterpieces. Order the french scramble and revel in the fluffiest eggs you've ever tried.
Alfred Coffee: If you'd rather take your breakfast for the drive, grab coffee and a bagel at this hotspot. They're known for their Iced Vanilla Lattes but also make a mean oat milk cappuccino.
Lunch & Dinner
Topanga Living Cafe: Health focused cafe for when you're craving some clean eats. Their smoothies, salads, and toasts are top tier, with plenty of GF and vegan options for everyone.
The Malibu Cafe: Nestled within the Calamigos Ranch property, this is a great hidden oasis for outdoor dining in a picturesque setting. Live music is usually offered on weekends.
Boccaccio's Restaurant: Elegant spot with a classic Italian menu featuring views of Westlake Lake from their serene patio.
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