How To Explore Santa Monica Like A Tourist On The Expo Line
For the first time in six decades, Angelenos can now take passenger rail to the beach. In honor of the grand opening of the Expo Line Extension, which officially began rolling Friday morning, here are some ways to head west and explore Santa Monica and its 3.5 mile stretch of coastline like a tourist. Make a day of it and leave your car at home. Santa Monica is extremely walkable, and its Breeze Bikeshare program, which has kiosks in walking distance of all the city's Expo stops, makes figuring out last-mile transit especially doable.
As you may or may not know, Santa Monica is actually an independent city, with its own mayor and governing board. The seaside city is a place of many identities, long-dubbed "the People's Republic of Santa Monica" for its lefty politics, but also home to an increasing share of Silicon Beach. Surf and skate culture battle for sidewalk space alongside bougie boutiques, and ocean breezes waft through open doors.
There is an overabundance of places and things to see and do in this little city just 13 miles and a world away from the heart of downtown. So where to begin? Here are a few starting points to explore from.
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station (Just a couple of blocks away, if you get off the train and walk towards the beach)
Though officially called the Marvin Braude Beach Trail, this multi-use bike path and recreation trail is known as The Strand to all who use and love it. It starts just north of Santa Monica by Will Rogers State Park, and the 22-mile paved trail stretches all the way down to Torrance. You can bike, walk or rollerblade your way along the beach.
Back on the Beach
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station (It's a little over a mile and a half walk from the station, almost entirely along the beach).
The food is pretty good and the portions are big, but the real reason anyone comes to Back on the Beach is the location, which can't be beat. There are tables right on the beach!! You can eat with your feet in the sand under the shade of big, striped umbrellas. Lunch and brunch are served, along with the pure essence of the California dream.
445 Palisades Beach Rd, Santa Monica, CA 90402
Santa Monica Farmers Market (Wednesdays)
Nearest Expo station: Downtown Santa Monica station (just a couple of blocks away)
"Chef's Market," as its known, is basically mecca for local, fresh produce. It's the largest grower-only Certified Farmers Market in Southern California and a favorite for local chefs. The market, which has been around since 1981, stretches several blocks long. You can search for the perfect tomato while keeping your eyes peeled for the food world's bold-faced names, who all shop here. The Hollywood Reporter once described it as "a weekly Sundance Film Festival for foodies." There is also a Saturday market at the same location, but the Wednesday one is slightly bigger and preferred by restaurateurs. 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Arizona Avenue (between 4th & Ocean)
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
Nearest Expo station: Downtown Santa Monica station (ten-minute walk)
Bay Cities' glorious, overstuffed sandwiches—prepared at a deli counter inside a fantastic little Italian market—are among the best in L.A. The Godmother is certainly their most ubiquitous, but we are also big fans of the Burrata Caprese and The Spaniard. It can be crowded and slow at times, but poking around the market also makes for a great distraction. And the food is worth the wait. Get your sandwiches to go and picnic at the beach, or sit on their patio tables out front.
1517 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Santa Monica Stairs
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station (long walk, short bike ride)
The legendary Santa Monica stairs are 50 percent path (they do after all connect two streets), 50 percent workout, and 100 percent scene, usually packed not just with runners but also personal trainers and their clients. People wait in line in front of multi-million dollar homes for their turn to run up and down stairs while wearing scanty, matching workout outfits. Celebrities are often spotted. The Santa Monica Stairs are peak Santa Monica, like Runyon but with more moms. A visit is necessary to anthropologically understand the native habitat.
4th St & Adelaide Dr, Santa Monica, CA 90402
McCabe's Guitar Shop
Nearest Expo stop: Expo/Bundy station (fifteen-minute walk)
A Santa Monica institution for more than half a century, this musical instrument store also quietly hosts some of L.A.'s most intimate concerts. As the L.A. Times wrote, "Legends, traveling minstrels and local talent—they all seem to pass through McCabe's at some point. They may be there to get their guitars fixed; the club has a day job as one of the oldest stringed instrument stores in the city." At full-capacity, the small concert room holds a mere 150 people, giving it a real living room feel. Gillian Welch, Jackson Browne, Beck, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell are just a few of the names on the long list of those who have performed at McCabe's. The store itself, which specializes in acoustic and folk instruments, including guitars, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, fiddles, ukuleles, psaltries, bouzoukis, sitars, ouds, and ethnic percussion, makes for fun browsing even if you can't play a lick.
3101 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station
A bluff-top trail of a park with views immortalized in countless movies, Palisades Park hugs the edge of Ocean Avenue alongside the shore. It stretches over over 1.5 miles, from Adelaide Drive at its northern end, to the Santa Monica Pier. Mature eucalyptus, pine, palm, and fig trees provide ample shade, and there are plenty of benches for picnicking. Bonus fun along the path includes a human-scale chessboard and a rose garden, among other things.
Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401 (stretches from the pier to the northern edge of Santa Monica)Santa Monica Pier
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station
Santa Monica's hundred-year-old pier is a beautiful sight at night, with its ferris wheel and iconic sign aglow. And—touristy as it may seem—it's actually a pretty wonderful destination for daytime play. Anglers lean fishing rods along rusting railings as you approach Pacific Park, Southern California's only amusement park on a pier. The park is relatively small, but thoroughly charming and nostalgia-tinged.
200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Angel City Books and Records
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station (twenty-five minute walk, ten minute bike ride)
A relatively small but highly curated used bookstore, packed to the gills with goodness and odd treasures. The selection is eclectic but well-organized, and they also stock vinyl. Right on the border of Venice, so you can wander into the fray after you stock up on books.
218 Pier Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Santa Monica Airport Antique Market
Nearest Expo stop: Expo/Bundy station (half-hour walk, ten-minute bike ride)
This lovely outdoor market is far calmer (and less crowded) than the Rose Bowl or Melrose Flea. The selection may be smaller, but it's easy to navigate and full of gems, including some serious vintage clothing. Some argue that it's overpriced, but the high-end stuff is till fun to browse. Located on the south side of the airport, open on the first and fourth Sunday of every month. $5 admission fee.
3050 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Nearest Expo stop: Downtown Santa Monica station (just over a half mile from the station, Twelve minute walk or four minute bike ride)
This relatively new French-Vietnamese restaurant is one of Santa Monica's hottest. Cassia is a collaboration between Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, who are basically the First Family of Westside Food (Rustic Canyon, Sweet Rose Creamery, Milo & Olive and Huckleberry) and Bryan Ng of Spice Table. Tucked into Santa Monica's Art Deco Verizon building, it has a low-key cool vibe, though the prices aren't cheap. Jonathan Gold raves about the charcuterie platters, flat breads, and Vietnamese pot-au-feu.
1314 7th St., Santa Monica 90401