8.) James Beach (Venice Beach) – Cool bar and restaurant with world-famous fish tacos. A bit pricey, but what other bar has boxer shorts hanging around their lights?
9.) Big Foot ‘West’ Lodge (Culver City) – So, you’ve always had this dream about drinking a flaming marshmallow martini while sitting at bar made out of a giant pine log? Well, Bigfoot Lodge makes that dream a reality. Pull up a log, and cozy up to the cabin vibe. Be sure to order a ‘Toasted Marshmallow’ and avoid the ‘Sasquatch’ (unless you want to be hung over for about a week).
1.) Cha-Cha Chicken (Santa Monica) – One of James’ favorite restaurants probably ever — you can’t beat this beachy shack’s awesome mix of authentic Caribbean and Latin flavors. Try their Jerked Chicken Enchiladas, Ropa Vieja, or even just some fried plantains. Oh, and bring some booze — this place is BYOB!
2.) Primativo Wine Bistro (Venice @ Abbot Kinney) – Okay, so we’ll be honest that this place is a tad on the pricey side (it’s tapas style, what do you expect?), but it’s just too good to pass up. It’s got a great wine selection, delicious plates to share, and yeah, you can even draw at your table. Be sure to make a reservation, this place fills up fast!
3.) Father’s Office (Culver City) – For those of you staying at the Culver Hotel during your visit – THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST. They have dozens of awesome craft beers on tap, awesome sweet potato fries — and if you’re a burger snob, you gotta try their house burger. In fact, they’re so confident in their burgers, you can’t have ketchup or make any changes to it!
4.) Swingers (Santa Monica) – An easy-peasy place to go if you’re itching for some good ol’ American diner food. They’ve got a huge menu and they’re one of the few places open until 3AM (also a great spot to go if you’re hungover the next morning). Try the vegan chocolate chip cookies– even if you’re not into that kinda thing.
5.) Sonoma Wine Garden (in the Santa Monica Place Mall) – You’ll smell the truffle oil the minute you step off the escalator. This place has great food, great wine, and a cool outdoor set up that you’ll fall in love with. Grab a table next to a fire pit, or snag a sofa with your posse. Be sure to order the ‘Garden Pizza’ & “Artichoke Spinach Dip” – your stomach will thank you!
6) Irori Sushi (Marina del Rey)– It wouldn’t be LA without sushi, and you’ll see great spots on every corner. But we wanted to mention one that packed both amazing fish and a cool experience…and where else can you get that but a strip mall? Take off your shoes and sit in their unique floor-style tables, order up some sashimi, and live the sushi dream!
7) Joni’s Coffe Roasting Cafe (Marina Del Rey) – A great spot to grab fresh-roasted coffee or homestyle breakfast, right around the corner from the Marina Marriott!
7.) In and Out Burger – OK, so you’ve heard a lot about this fast food chain. And yes, in our opinion, it’s worth the hype. If you want to be extra cool, order a “secret” off-the-menu item like their grilled cheese, or get your burger “Animal Style” (ie – with pickles, extra spread, and grilled onions).
– Marina Del Rey “In and Out” – 13425 West Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90292
– Culver City “In and Out” – 9245 Venice Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90034
1.) The Coolhaus Ice Cream Shop (Culver City) – They named it ‘Coolhaus’ for a reason – because it’s freakin’ cool! Choose from a festive cookie variety, pick an ice cream flavor, and BOOM…you’re in ice cream sandwich heaven. They change their flavors frequently so you just never know….but we will say – be brave and maybe go for something you wouldn’t normally get (like fried chicken and waffles, candied bacon, or Maker’s Mark – yes…these are actual flavors!)
2) Manhattan Beach Creamery (Manhattan Beach) – If you ever find yourself a bit south and in the mood for a frozen treat, grab a cone at this Manhattan Beach staple. Get a couple scoops in a fresh waffle cone, or try their famous homemade ice cream sandwiches and specialty cupcakes.
1.) Stroll the world-famous Santa Monica pier – While it can get busy, this is just something you’ve GOTTA do in California. I mean – how many times have you see than Santa Monica pier signs in movies? Lots to do and see on this LA beach-side staple!
2.) Check out the Venice Boardwalk – “Wow. Just…wow” – you, after you visit the Boardwalk. Where to even begin? Street art, home-made crafts and souvenirs for sale, Muscle Beach, weird people in rollerskates…it’s world-famous for a reason. Besides shopping and people watching, you can also do some killer activities here — like renting bikes and cruising the 30+ mile bike path.
1.) Santa Monica Beach – This famous beach in Santa Monica is about 2 miles long…but no matter where you go you’ll love it. Under the famous pier is a Boardwalk with tons of little restaurants and shops. Hit the sand early if you plan on having a beach day – it can get pretty hectic in summer. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
2.) Playa del Rey Beach – Avoid the tourist craziness, and head to James and Roxy’s old stompin’ ground — the Playa del Rey Beach. In our totally-biased opinion (hey, we lived there for 4 years), it’s the coolest and mellowest beach around. Grab a beer and a burger at the Shack, get some wine at The Tripel, and chill at the beach until sunset. Getting there is pretty easy too — it’s a straight shot down Culver Blvd — a hop skip and a jump from Marina del Rey.
3) El Matador (Malibu) — If you’re looking for a mini-day trip, this secluded little beach is king (and James’ favorite beach in LA). It’s about 45-60 minutes from the Marina, so you’ll need some time — but the drive up the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway is beautiful. Tons of movies and TV shows have filmed here… you’ll see why if you make the trek.
1.) 3rd Street Promenade & Santa Monica Place – The famous 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica is a great outdoor spot to shop and people watch, and it’s right near the Santa Monica Pier. If you’re looking for larger department stores, higher scale shops, and good eats (see Sonoma Wine Garden above), check out Santa Monica Place at the end of the Promenade! It’s a big tourist spot and it can get a bit crowded – so get there early!
2.) Abbot Kinney – Go here for anything artsy or handmade. This unique little strip of shops and eateries in Venice is definitely one of the hippest around. It’s on the pricier side of things, but you can bet whatever you buy will be a one of a kind.
3) Main Street in Santa Monica — Another great strip of shops, bars, and eateries in Santa Monica. Very walkable and happening!
*You Don’t Want To Miss
The Venice Boardwalk – Go here for a corn dog, a pint at James’ favorite bar On The Waterfront, a souvenir t-shirt and…oh ya…that’s right…ALL OF THE CRAZY THAT IS VENICE BEACH. Street performers, psychics, and tattoo shops fill the stretch of the boardwalk. We can almost guarantee you’ll see the electric guitar guy on roller skates, the tree man, and/or someone from the freak show trying to get you buy a ticket. Be a true Californian and be sure to have your swim suit on already, as the beach is right along the boardwalk. Nothing says Venice like a dip in the Ocean and guy walking on glass.
[images via: Cha Cha Chicken, Santa Monica Pier, Welcome]