Santa Monica’s Hidden Gems: Local Recs for Places to Stay, Eat & Drink

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The Modern Travel Agency


    bike path weaving through Santa Monica beach

    Welcome to Santa Monica, where sun-kissed beaches, breezy palm-lined streets and a vibrant culinary scene converge to offer visitors an unforgettable coastal experience. We’ve asked our seasoned California-based Fora Advisors to give us their intel on the best hotels and restaurants, plus where to gather with friends and cocktails to watch that gorgeous sunset. 

    Whether you're seeking a tranquil beachside retreat, five-star dining experiences or craft cocktails with a view, Santa Monica delivers.

    Ready to travel? Connect with the featured advisors below to plan and book your Santa Monica getaway today. 

    Where to stay in Santa Monica

    sunset view from the pool at Shutters on the Beach

    Image courtesy of Shutters on the Beach

    Santa Monica Proper 

    A short 10-minute stroll from the bustling shops at 3rd Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Proper is a haven of contemporary design, personalized service and exquisite amenities. This chic hotel blends the iconic aesthetic of Kelly Wearstler with the city’s relaxed personality. The 267 rooms and suites, many with balconies, have a modern vibe, with whimsical curved headboards and soothing earth tones. 

    “You feel as if you have stepped into a curated art museum,” said Fora Advisor Caroline Weilert. “The experience is not only about impeccable rooms, the high-touch service and the exceptional food, but the immersion into a place unlike any other you've seen before.”

    Guests can unwind at the rooftop pool, indulge in treatments at Surya Spa or opt for a reviving cold plunge. Dining options include a stylish rooftop venue and Palma, the hotel’s signature bar and restaurant. 

    Insider Tip: Book the afternoon high tea at Palma, the perfect spot for a girls’ group or mother–daughter outing.

    Fora Perks: Breakfast daily, upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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    Advisor - Caroline Weilert
    Caroline Weilert
    • Family Travel,
    • Group / Corporate Travel,
    • Destination Events,
    • Incentive Trips
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    Shutters on the Beach

    A beloved Santa Monica property, Shutters on the Beach puts guests front and center for prime beach time and incredible sunsets. Rooms and suites exude an elegant coastal feel, featuring custom furnishings, plush linens and breathtaking views of the Santa Monica coastline. In addition to a gorgeous pool flanked by cabanas, activities are centered on the location and include a beachfront biking trail, volleyball and surf lessons. Other pluses include terrace dining with ocean views and a luxe spa. 

    “I love that they always leave a book on the nightstand for guests to enjoy and take home if they wish,” said Fora Advisor Jennifer Lopez. “The hotel rooms are spacious and beautiful, but still manage to feel homey.”

    Fora Perks: $100 credit, breakfast daily, upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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    Advisor - Jennifer Lopez
    Jennifer Lopez
    • Boutique Travel,
    • Food & Wine,
    • United States,
    • Europe

    Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows

    Set between Santa Monica’s shopping district and the stunning beach, the Fairmont Miramar (an Accor Preferred by HERA member) has a grand estate vibe. Guests seeking a bit of nostalgia appreciate its 1920s origin and savor the privacy of the five-acre resort. Airy rooms, suites and bungalows have contemporary decor, and some feature plush outdoor spaces. Plenty of amenities cater to guests’ every whim, including a spa, poolside cinema and afternoon high tea, plus two on-site restaurants. 

    “The Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is nothing short of iconic,” said Fora Advisor Caroline Weilert. “Its location at the end of Wilshire Boulevard and across the street from Santa Monica beach make it a perfect jumping off point for visitors.”

    Insider Tip: Wellness lovers should book the Serenity Suite, which includes classes via a lululemon studio mirror and all the fitness equipment you need to stay on track.

    Fora Perks: Breakfast daily, upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

    Viceroy Santa Monica

    Celebrating a playful, modern design, the Viceroy Santa Monica sits within easy reach of shopping, the beach and Santa Monica’s famous pier. Guests can expect fresh, upscale rooms adorned with art and pops of color, plus a magical outdoor dining space complete with a bar and fire pits. Wellness fans will love the beach yoga, in-room spa services and two outdoor pools with cabanas.

    Insider Tip: Because of the Viceroy’s lively nightlife, guests seeking a quiet night should book a higher floor.

    Fora Perks: $25 credit, welcome treat, upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

    Hotel Casa del Mar 

    Featuring an impressive beachfront location, Hotel Casa del Mar is the perfect choice for guests who want to be steps from the Pacific Ocean. Grand archways and a terracotta roof lend an elegant Spanish mood, accentuated by an elaborate lobby decked out with colorful tiles and romantic chandeliers. Rooms and suites are done in white and shades of blue, echoing a chic beachy design, and on-site amenities include the Sea Wellness Span, a beachfront pool and a lush, garden-themed terrace restaurant with Pacific views.

    “The Santa Monica beach grande dame,” said Fora Advisor Nicole Campoy Jackson.  “The restaurant, overlooking the waves and sand, is where many a special occasion has been celebrated. This is a prime beach location.”

    Insider Tip: Book a plush cabana at the impressive Lobby Lounge on Fridays, where you can enjoy live music while sipping a cocktail.

    Fora Perks: $100 credit, breakfast daily, upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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    Advisor - Nicole Campoy Jackson
    Nicole Campoy Jackson
    • Los Angeles,
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    • Food & Wine,
    • Boutique Travel

    Palihouse Santa Monica

    Since 1927, this boutique property has been a haven for travelers, offering stylish rooms and suites in a prime Santa Monica location. Within 15 minutes, guests can stroll to the beach or town’s lively shopping and dining district. Palihouse has a Moorish vibe, with rich fabrics and leathers, arched windows and tiled floors adorning the warm lobby living room. Charming outdoor spaces are surrounded by elegant gardens with tidy hedges, a bubbling fountain and even bocce and croquet. An intimate bar and all-day menu are available for small bites, and additional amenities include 24-hour concierge service, bicycles and a fantastic pet program complete with organic treats and plush dog beds.

    Insider Tip: Families can book the Two-Bedroom Residence, which is decked out with a fully equipped kitchen, a workspace and two full bathrooms.

    Fora Perks: Welcome amenity, upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

    Where to eat in Santa Monica

    salad in a blue and white bowl

    Santa Monica is all about outdoor living and soaking in that California sunshine, so we’ve asked our expert West Coast advisors to share their top picks for the best bites in Santa Monica, plus where to grab meals on the go. From morning coffee and beach picnics to sunset cocktails and romantic dinners, here are some of the best restaurants and bars in Santa Monica.

    Casual bites

    Santa Monica’s laid-back reputation means there’s no shortage of relaxed cafes to grab an iced latte and bite to eat. Our advisors also love the local specialty markets for al fresco lunches and do-it-yourself meals.

    Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery is “the local hot spot” for grabbing a sandwich on the way to the beach, said Fora Advisor Caroline Weilert

    Another Italian hidden gem is Guidi Marcello. According to Meredith Alexander, this “super secret” wholesale market offers imported Italian eats, ideal for assembling a killer charcuterie plate.

    For coffee and treats, Meredith also recommends La La Land Kind Cafe, while Fora Advisor Jennifer Lopez gushed about the fresh doughnuts (there are vegan options!) at Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee and the Danish pastries at Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe.

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    Advisor - Meredith Alexander
    Meredith Alexander
    • Los Angeles,
    • New York City,
    • Paris,
    • Edinburgh
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    Tried & true favorites

    After a day of exploring Santa Monica’s coast, a reliable meal is a welcome find. Check out these eateries for trusted menus and favorite recipes.

    Focused on local, seasonal fare and creative cocktails, Rustic Canyon aims to be an elevated neighborhood staple, with a decidedly Californian feel.

    Also recommended by Meredith, Lunetta is known as a neighborhood restaurant offering an all-day menu, plus dinner and brunch options.

    Dishing up more than pies, Spumoni Pizza Restaurant satisfies those Italian food cravings  in a casual setting. And taking Italian favorites up a notch, UOVO’s open kitchen turns out handmade pasta creations in an intimate space. 

    Special occasions

    For those seeking an extraordinary culinary experience, these fine dining restaurants don’t disappoint. Reservations may be hard to come by, but well worth the planning to snag one.

    The understated exterior does little to indicate the gastronomic delights inside Mélisse, a 14-seat offshoot of Citrin. This exclusive experience is orchestrated by a Michelin-starred chef and a sommelier, for perfect pairings.

    An iconic venue dripping with style, The Georgian Hotel is a favorite of Hannah’s and has a fantastic bar and patio seating. 

    Across from the beach, BOA Steakhouse not only offers a fantastic location, but also a flavor-packed menu filled with choice cuts, fresh seafood and classic side dishes. 

    Where to drink in Santa Monica 

    three yellow cocktails with colorful garnish

    For drinks just steps from the beach, head to The Bungalow, a lively find with an eclectic atmosphere offering craft cocktails across the street from the beach. About a block away, Élephante not only serves up great dishes, but also is home to  a chic rooftop lounge serving up creative cocktails alongside panoramic views of the Pacific. It is a great spot for birthdays, Fora Advisor Hannah Taylor shared.

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    Advisor - Hannah Taylor
    Hannah Taylor
    • Italy,
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    Amidst the lively shopping district, The Misfit Bar is known as a historic haunt with a lively ambiance and innovative cocktails. Guests craving tequila can sit at the bar at Lanea, a vibrant Mexican-inspired cantina with a wide range of handcrafted cocktails infused with fresh ingredients and bold flavors. Massilia is another popular stop for both cocktails and a robust wine list.

    Other top cocktail spots include The Chestnut Club, a sophisticated speakeasy-style bar featuring exposed brick walls, and Ye Olde King's Head, a lively pub with casual English fare and pints.

    Ready to start planning your Santa Monica getaway? Reach out to book with a Fora Advisor today. They’ll be able to help find you the perfect place to stay, plus share insider recs on what to do while you’re there.

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