For me, traveling is all about venturing beyond tourist attractions and getting a peak into local life. But that doesn’t mean I shy away from popular destinations; in fact, I find it quite exciting to seek out local experiences in popular cities. Uncovering that locals’ pizza spot in Rome or that hidden street market in London makes me feel alive.
Another example of a destination I love to explore for its local experiences is my part-time hometown of Los Angeles. L.A. is a city that attracts millions of visitors each year, many of whom head straight to Hollywood Boulevard, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. In my opinion, Santa Monica is the best place in Los Angeles to find locals’ haunts, and Montana Avenue is the best place in Santa Monica to find authentic locals’ experiences. Here’s are some tips to flip your Santa Monica trip into a local excursion.
Shopping and more shopping
Tree-lined Montana Avenue runs perpendicular to the coastline. The stretch that runs between 11th and 17th streets is a thriving pocket of local activity. By contrast, the 3rd Street Promenade, a few miles away, is packed daily with tourists and street performers, and is flanked by big brand-name stores.
In other words, Montana Avenue is a world apart.
This is where Santa Monica locals go not just to shop but to socialize, exercise, and dine.Block after block are boutiques and a mix of clothing, jewelry, lingerie, shoes, beauty supplies, and home décor stores. There even are a couple of art galleries.
Just one rack at LAKicks on Montana Avenue
For jewelry, Moondance is my favorite store, full of delicate necklaces, rings, earrings and leather goods from local artists. For lingerie, I like Footsie and Only Hearts. Many Angelenos come to these two stores from far and wide for their quality undergarments and sleepwear. Don’t miss KicksLA, where you can find designer sneakers including Jordans, Nikes, Pumas, and lesser-known brands in wild colors and textures.
There also are a few big-name stores along Montana Avenue, such as Lucy, Aveda, and Williams-Sonoma, but somehow they don’t detract from the quaint, small-town feel that this Santa Monica district provides.
Fitness, beauty, and pampering
If when in Rome you may eat gelato; when in Los Angeles you may consider some fitness, beauty treatments, and pampering. Along Montana Avenue there are a number of yoga, cycling, and fitness venues. The best way to experience them: Put on your stretchy pants and take a class.
I recommend Yoga Works for rejuvenating yoga sessions, and Revolution Fitness for hardcore cycling workouts. There also are a number of nail salons, blow dry bars, and massage places. Just be sure to check schedules and make appointments in advance, as most of these locals’ faves usually get booked by…you guessed it, locals.
(My final recommendation for embracing fitness locals’ style in Santa Monica actually isn’t near Montana Avenue at all: It’s running the bluff-top trails along the coast, or bicycling the Marvin Braude Bicycle Trail along the beach itself. To do the latter, rent a bike from any of the Mike’s Bikes locations along the trail itself, and be sure to stop by the Annenberg Community Beach House, a restored 1930-era beach chalet that was reopened in 2009.)
Goodies at John Kelly Chocolates on Montana Avenue
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Montana Avenue also is a great place to eat. Starting small, the area boasts a number of coffee shops; my favorites include Luxxe Caffe, Primo Passo Coffee Co., and Ground Works, which sells some of the best European-style coffee in Los Angeles. Ground Works also has an eclectic selection of teas and welcomes those looking to set up shop for a few hours, using free WiFi.
For goodies, the cakes, pies, and pastries at Sweet Lady Jane’s are top notch. The bakery has been around for more than 25 years.
There is no shortage of restaurants along Montana Avenue either. These eateries offer a range of types of food as well as experiences. Blue Plate is an LA-style diner that serves California fare; the egg dishes, pancakes, and salads shine brightest for me.
On my list for dining outdoors is the Courtyard Kitchen. Here, produce from the local farmers’ markets takes center stage on the menu with a French flare.
If you are visiting Montana Avenue in the evening, check out Father’s Office for what many hail as the best burger in Los Angeles. This restaurant is great for those seeking a lively and young crowd. And if you are wanting a romantic date night, make a reservation at Locanda Portofino for really delicious Italian.
What are some attractions in city travelers should be sure not to miss?