Santa Monica is the California that you see on TV. The city would never have come up on our radar if it weren't for a map that we gave to our son. There is a bucket list scratch-off section at
the bottom of the map, and I asked him to choose the activity that he would like to do from the list. There were all sorts of options such as go on a safari, hike Macchu Picchu, see a Broadway show. From the many opportunities, he chose, "Eat Ice Cream on the Santa Monica Pier." Thus, proving that even from a young age, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Part of me was thankful he chose such a doable bucket list item, and we had never been to California, so the trip planning commenced.
This trip was to be part of a grand 10-day adventure around Arizona, California, and Nevada. We planned to spend three nights in Santa Monica catching some sun, seeing the surrounding area, and of course, eating some ice cream to check that bucket list item off. The trip was intended to be the relaxing portion of an otherwise jam-packed itinerary with a new hotel each night. We tend to power travel and see as much as possible. The world is a vast place, and cultural immersion isn't always an option when time is limited. We needed to go just for that relaxation, and Santa Monica turned out to be a perfect choice. It would make an ideal getaway spot for a long weekend or a week with some day trips to Disneyland when it reopens. Please keep reading to see our recommendations for lodging, coffee, and of course, ice cream!
When staying on the coast, for us, easy beach access is a must. We are also loyal to Marriott and will book that brand whenever we can. Marriott International is the largest hotel brand with accommodations in over 130 countries. With over 7000 locations worldwide, we find this brand the most beneficial for our needs, and we can quickly accrue usable points. We appreciate the wide variety of low-end to deluxe choices, but when combined with the Marriott Bonvoy credit card, we capitalize on the point system. This is what we did for our Santa Monica trip, paying nothing but valet fees and taxes for the three night stay. There are various hotel options, Marriott or otherwise in the Santa Monica area, but we ended up choosing the JW Marriott Le Merigot, which was very close to the beach. We also scored beach/pool views from our two rooms.
I have to brag on the Le Merigot for a hot minute. I realize I just said that I am a Marriott loyalist, but many times I stay at Marriott's that just plain suck (Marriott Nashville was one of those experiences). But, I thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality at Le Merigot. We sat in the bar for hours at night and never felt pressured to buy more than the two drinks each we consumed. The concierge was excellent, and the hotel provided us with free bike rentals and boogie boards. It was an extra perk complimentary to guests because of the lack of continental breakfast. Covid ruined buffets all across America but the Marriott provided a great alternative. In additon, Le Merigot's pool was gorgeous- spotless- and there were beach chairs available for use. They thought of everything and provided it at a very reasonable price. We didn't dine at the hotel because we wanted to try as much as possible in the surrounding area, but the atmosphere was perfect. Globed string lights for alfresco dining is always a favorite and there seemed to be quite a few groups enjoying the ambiance. I don't know that this particular hotel is especially a family-oriented, but we didn't feel out of place with our whole crew in tow.
Before this ends up sounding like a Marriott advertisement (remember, I get nothing for this endorsement), I will discuss other highlights of our trip, which you know, means food. We spent three nights and approximately two days in the Santa Monica area arriving late at night after a long drive from Joshua Tree National Park. We had a few things that we wanted to do while in the area,
1. Check out the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Stars, Chinese Theater, et cetera
2. See Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive with those iconic palm-lined streets and mansions of the rich and famous.
3. Spend time at Santa Monica Pier and Beach
We checked off 1 and 2 and were so unenthused about them we barely got out of the car. I guess
we are country folk at heart. The city bustle, expensive bags, and designer belts do not have the allure of a giant cinnamon, sugar-coated, funnel cake covered in velvety, chocolate ice cream and wacky pictures from a photo booth. Even though Pacific Park, the amusement park located on the Santa Monica Pier, was closed as were many of the restaurants in the area (casualties of Coronavirus), this still was one of our trip highlights. Walking the pier and shopping at the little souvenir shops was fun, and our youngest was mesmerized by the fishermen pulling all nature of sea life out of the ocean. We saw them catch little rays and glimmering fish one after the other. It must have been a good day. The pigeons were enjoying the view. And as evening approached, those of
us who were inclined to go for a bike ride rode over to Venice Beach to experience a whole different vibe. It was a people-watching paradise, and I was surprised to see boom boxes and roller skates, thinking somebody only staged that stuff for TV or Instagram, but
no. They were living in some weird alternative 80s throwback era where pot was legal. And it was everywhere. Something that I am not used to living in a state where it is only for medical use. Needless to say, we loved the beach and all of the activities that the area seemed to encourage. I can understand why there were so many beautiful people. They are all outside, soaking up the gorgeous rays and exercising. I could get used to this.
On the other hand, the food options were excellent, which may encourage me to overeat. One of the most memorable meals was from Rakkan Ramen (pronounced Rockin', Yelp review here), from the saffron sprinkled Brussels sprouts to the sake flights, the experience was delicious. Living up to their namesake, this is some of the best ramen I have ever eaten. We had two varieties, and I would recommend either. In our usual fashion, we tried to eat as much variety as possible so you, dear reader, would know where to find the best flavors. The family faves were the Chicken Buns, the Brussels Sprouts Hot Salad, the Ken "Sword" Sake, and the Amber Ramen. The Sword sake was expansive with notes of strawberry and banana making it very memorable. The seaweed salad was tasty, but be advised; it is mostly greens with a sprinkling of seaweed. The salad is a nice twist on the traditional but do not expect a lot of seaweed. Rakkan Ramen is a chain restaurant, but it was new to us, so we were glad we ignored our usual stance against franchised eateries. The food was tasty and worth the stop. Some Yelp reviewers called the restaurant overpriced for ramen, but the quality was so good that the $16 bowl was well worth it in our opinion. And everything is more expensive in California, am I right?
Another noteworthy restaurant was Capo Cantina, which in Yelp was formerly Cora's Coffee Shop. We went to Capo Cantina for breakfast and were seated almost immediately. The service was terrific, and the waiter gave us insight into all of the local attractions. The service was so kind and welcoming that it almost didn't matter what they served us, but the food was great too! We had very authentic tasting huevos rancheros with a delicious chorizo side, excellent pancakes, and a spectacular Salmon Plate special and some other items that you can see on my Yelp review. I cannot say that this breakfast was cheap; expect to spend about $20 per entrée, but it was delicious. The only thing that I wasn't nuts about was the Coffee Frizzante, $8. A sort of cold coffee with sparkling water infused into it. It was bitter as hell, and it took a lot to get past the carbonated aspects. I should have added
sweetener, but I try to avoid as much added sugar as possible on vacation. Vacations always seem to be full of unhealthy choices, which brings me to the reason for our Santa Monica trip, the ice cream!
There were not, admittedly, very many choices for ice cream on the Pier when we went. Covid-19 had shut down so many businesses, but this doesn't diminish the enjoyment we found in eating the scrumptious treats at Funnel Cakes (Yelp). As stated before, the Pier is such a groovy and iconic Californian, if not American, spot, and funnel cakes that originated in America seemed fitting accompaniment for the ice cream. Again, the biggest complaint by reviewers of this place was the price (around $8). I think by now, people should realize that food is pricy in California and all vacation spots in general. If you want to eat on a dime, go to a local grocery store and stock up on delicious local wines and cheeses, or expect to spend a little more on vacation, plan for it and enjoy yourself!
Overall, Santa Monica has so much to offer, but it is best to enjoy it as a rest and relax weekend and not try and stuff too many day trips in like we did. Enjoy the sun and surf, borrow a bike, ride the bike trail, and cap off the day by heading to the Pier for some oysters on the half shell with a pitcher of sangria. I cannot think of a better way to spend a weekend.
If you have been to Santa Monica, please do drop a comment and let us know your favorite things to do and your favorite places to eat. We are most definitely going back again, and I would love to try your picks!
Peace, Love, and Ice Cream
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