A Guide to Santa Monica Hotspots

SANTA MONICA – While Los Angeles is a city that seems to inspire either love or hate in visitors, Santa Monica appears to hit the right note with just about everyone, thanks to its laid-back, beach-town vibe and the respite it offers from big-city life. (The locals like to think of it as an entirely separate and far superior world to its brasher neighbor, Los Angeles.)

Nestled between the mountains and hidden beaches of Malibu, and the funky cafes and stores that line the streets of Venice to the south, Santa Monica offers beautiful old weather-boarded beach houses lived in by cool youngsters, likely to be sporting a surf board in one hand and a yoga mat in the other, low-key entertainment, fabulous hotels and spas, and some of the city's most sought-after dining options. Herewith some of the highlights for new and returning AFM-ers some of whom, we hear, haven't seen beyond the four walls of their AFM booths, for the better part of a decade.

Best Cheap Eats

Musha Restaurant – An inventive and delicious Japanese Izayaka, offering some of the freshest and most delicious food in town. Be sure to try the handmade tofu which is a real delicacy. (From 6 p.m.)

Wokano -- Great Asian dishes and lunch specials in the $10 ball-park, in an elegant setting in the middle of downtown Santa Monica.

One Life Natural Foods – A cute health-food store on Main Street offering take-out soups, sandwiches, sushi and a 1960s vibe.

Sushi-Sho – A tiny and delightful sushi restaurant on the upscale Montana Avenue, offering healthy $8 lunch specials and brown rice and take-out options.

Santa Monica Place – Check out the food options on the open-air roof deck at the newly refurbished mall, which offers shoppers everything from Louis Vuitton to Nike.

Farmer's Markets – On Wednesdays and Saturdays there's a food stand from a local restaurant at the must-see Farmer's Market (8 a.m. – 1 p.m.) on Arizona Avenue, and on Sunday's (8 a.m.- 1 p.m.), there are dining options galore at the Farmer's Market on Main Street in the parking lot on the corner of Main Street at Ocean Park.

Cholada Thai Beach Cuisine – Delicious Thai getaway on the Pacific Coast Highway, just North of Topanga Canyon, which offers lunch specials for under $10.

Bravo Pizza – A pizza favorite on Main Street (just south of The Loews), offering everything from meat balls to pasta and pizza by the slice.

Neptune's Net – For the really adventurous, fish and chips and a great view of the coast can be had at this popular locale, a thirty-minute drive north on the Pacific Coat Highway, and taken onto the beach to eat.

Santa Monica Seafood – This is where the locals go to buy great seafood, and there is also an in-house cafe offering cheap eats including the popular dish of Clam Chowder.


Marisco's - Recommended as the best place to eat in Los Angeles by a former Four Season's chef, Marisco's Mexican food van (10 a.m. - 4.30 p.m. except Thursdays), on Rose Avenue, offers delectable dishes, including the cerviche tostada for a mere $1.50 and delicious tacos with grilled vegetable sides from as little as $2.50.

Border Grill - An upscale Mexican dining staple in downtown Santa Monica. Check out the potato tacos. (Lunch specials available.)

La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill - One of the best fast-food options in the U.S. is the La Salsa Mexican food chain which offers fresh food and fast service.

Best Happy Hours

Recession-friendly America offers tons of happy hours, many of which can be found along the beach in close proximity to the AFM.

Coast at Shutter's on The Beach - The best deal in town is the $1.50 tacos at Shutters on the Beach Happy Hour in their downstairs restaurant. Other delicious seafood options available. (4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Monday-Friday.)

The Lobster – This seafood favorite, next to the Santa Monica pier also has a popular Happiest Hour and great views up the coast. (4.30 p.m. – 6.30 p.m. Monday-Friday.)

Best Breakfast Joints

Cora's Coffee Shoppe - Located next to Le Merigot Hotel, a few steps from the Loews, this popular day-time cafe offers delicious burrata omelets and gourmet huevos rancheros.

Patrick's Roadhouse - Quirky decoration and possible star sightings for those with a car, at this Malibu favorite just north on the PCH.

Shutters on the Beach -- Offers a popular Sunday brunch with an outdoor dining option.

Farmer's Markets -- The Sunday Farmer's Market (8 p.m. - 1 p.m.) on Main Street offers breakfast options galore. The local favorite is the omelet stand. There's also a pony show and lots of old-school hippies dancing with their kids to the tunes of local bands.

Bars to Take an Important Client

Coast at Shutters by the Beach - Offers a great view of the ocean and an elegant old-worldly setting.

The Viceroy -- Across the street from Shutters, this hip hotel has a separate, intimate library, accessible to everyone, funky interiors, and private corners for conversations out back.

Hotel Shangri-La -- For more privacy and some fabulous Art-Deco touches, try the recently refurbished Hotel Shangri-La, located north of the Loews on Ocean Avenue.

Bars To Take The USC Co-Ed You Just Met At A Party The Night Before

Library Ale House -- Lively bar and restaurant on Main Street with lots of drinking and karaoke next door.

The Yard – Popular with a young crowd and conveniently located in downtown Santa Monica, you can hide-away here from market types.

Bars to get Hammered When The Deal Falls Through

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. -- Head to Bubba Gump's neon-lit, noisy retro bar/restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier, order the Cajun shrimp starter with lots of drinks, and then wander down to the end of the pier, hang out with the fishermen and consider a new career.

Best New Age Cafes

Euphoria Loves RAWvolution – This hippie-fied, raw food favorite on Main Street offers fabulous sugar-free cakes and chocolates, and all sorts of health boosting drinks, potions and meals, if you need some extra juice. Be sure to go for a real meal afterwards.

Inn of the Seventh Ray – Nowhere tops this Topanga Canyon New Age retreat for great health food, a romantic setting, and a throw-back feel to the California of the 1960s. Original health food options galore and an amazing but pricey Sunday breakfast buffet with champagne.

Fancy Dining Options

Chinois on Main -- This old-school favorite from Wolfgang Puck, offers elegant dining but be sure to book ahead.

Melisse -- Local French restaurant, consistently ranked as one of Zagat's best dining options in Los Angeles.

Chaya Venice – Upscale sushi and other dishes on Main Street. Be sure to book ahead and also try the Happy Hour or late night Happy Hour at the popular bar.

Beau Rivage – Elegant and excellent French cuisine in this old-school, romantic restaurant, miles away from everything, on the Pacific Coast Highway. The French owner will give tours of his wine collection and the pianist plays favorite tunes late into the night. (Thirty-minute drive.)

Nobu Malibu – Sushi favorite in the Malibu shopping colony offering star-gazing and great food.

La Botte Ristorante -- Great Italian food in downtown Santa Monica

Locandao Portofino – Cute Italian restaurant situated on the upscale Montana Avenue.

Best Getaways

Tikkun Holistic Spa – This upscale Korean spa in downtown Santa Monica, offers a green-tea hot tub, for the ladies, jade-, Himalayan-salt-, and charcoal-saunas, body scrubs, massages and facials.

Loews Hotel Spa – Massages, facials, a gym and sauna, and daily yoga and fitness classes, which will take place in and around the hotel during AFM.

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