Move over, Los Angeles - Santa Monica is the hot Californian destination for your bucket list

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Alessia Armenise
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Just a short drive away from thriving LA, Santa Monica is the beach city turned tech-hub that keeps the Los-Angelinos’ sane.

When you think of the United States of America as a holiday destination, what springs to mind? The hustle and bustle of New York? Maybe the desert landscapes of Arizona or the colourful New Orleans? And, of course, let’s not forget the golden state of California.

With all this in mind, it will probably come as no surprise that the US is the fourth most popular destination for British holidaymakers after Spain, France and Italy.

If Los Angeles is on your list of places to visit – Air New Zealand direct flights from London make it easy to get there in 9 hours – then Santa Monica is a must-see destination just 20 minutes’ drive from the heart of the city. 

The coastal city is growing in popularity with a thriving tourist trade transforming it from a place that people day trip to, into a destination in its own right. Perfect for a fun holiday with friends, a romantic getaway next to the ocean or a detox and wellness solo escape, here’s why Santa Monica should definitely be on your map. 

Where to stay in Santa Monica

  • The Georgian

    A testament to Hollywood Golden Age, The Georgian is a 1930s architectural gem.

    Retaining the charm of the old era, The Georgian is now a modern-day beach hotel blessed with the perfect location to explore the city, being minutes away from Santa Monica Pier, but equally close to the city’s shopping hub, the Promenade, and the numerous restaurants around downtown.

    You’ll wake up in a bedroom overlooking Santa Monica’s sandy beach and the Pacific Ocean – how can it get better than that? 

  • Shutters on the Beach

    As the name suggests, Shutters on the Beach is located right on Santa Monica beach, literally steps away from the golden sand.

    A white and blue Californian heaven, perfect to spend a few days relaxing, sunbathing and enjoying the delicious food at 1 pico Restaurant and the Coast Beach Cafe.

    For an extra dose of pampering, indulge in a treatment at the ONE Spa – now, that’s a holiday. 

  • Casa del Mar

    A Mediterranean feel, a South American atmosphere and a very Californian location. Casa del Mar has everything you might want from a beach hotel, and more.

    Dining on the Catch Restaurant terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the famous Santa Monica Pier, Swimming in the Palm Terrace Pool or relaxing at the Sea Spa – you won’t even need to get out of the hotel to enjoy your holiday. 

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Where to eat in Santa Monica

  • Élephante Beach House

    Located minutes from Santa Monica Beach, Élephante Beach House has everything you could want from an ocean-side restaurant.

    The airy space is made of wood and stone, with copper and straw accents that remind of a Mediterranean home while the large terrace overlooking the palm trees and Pacific Ocean couldn’t feel more Californian.

    As far as food is concerned, the Australian-born chef Thomas Lim was inspired by his travels to southern Italy. Spicy Calabrian sausage, traditional home-made pasta and pizza and the Italian seaside classic dishes like fried calamari and chicory salad. My personal favourite? The whipped aubergine topped with delicious olive oil.

  • Gjusta

    A bakery, deli and cafe in Venice (Santa Monica’s neighbouring beach) Gjusta is a great option both if you are after a light lunch or to take away some treats for a picnic on the beach.

    Daily baked bread and pastries, pizzas, sandwiches but also super fresh fish, classic pastrami and more – we suggest sharing a few dishes since it’s impossible to choose.

    From Turkish falafel to Italian porchetta, a pit-stop at Gjusta is like a world-tour for your tastebuds. 

  • Little Ruby

    In perfect Californian spirit, Little Ruby offers fresh, light and delicious meal all day long but also burgers with a side of truffle aioli fries.

    If you are searching for a place to kickstart your mornings right, join the locals for breakfast. From granola bowls to egg sandwich and the classic avocado toast, you will definitely find what you are searching for.

    And for a very Australian twist, a Vegemite toast is also on the menu. 

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What to do in Santa Monica

  • Pacific Park

    It might sound like a cliche, but when in Santa Monica, you need to spend at least a couple of hours regressing to your younger self at Pacific Park.

    This Californian style fun-fair is small but very amusing. Plus, thanks to its great location on the edge of Santa Monica Pier, the rides offer not only a thrill, but also a great view of the city and the Ocean all around.

    To maximise the fun, it’s possible to buy an unlimited rides wristband. These tickets allow you to ride all day, with no obligation to stay in the park. You can ride in the morning, go for a swim or lunch and come back to enjoy more rides until the park closes.

  • Private yoga class on Santa Monica Beach

    You are in one of the world’s wellness capitals, you might as well capitalise on it!

    If you are a yogi or you just enjoy a good old savasana pose (basically sleeping on your mat), a private yoga class on the golden Santa Monica beach will make you fall in love with the practice.

    Yoga teacher Allyn Cioban ha been teaching in Santa Monica for years and she swears on the positive power of practising with the breeze in your hair and the golden sand between your toes… 

  • Bike around the city

    Santa Monica’s eight neighbourhoods and 3.5-mile stretch of coastline could be difficult to pack in a couple of days. With the city being extremely walk and bike friendly, the best way to see it all is jumping on a bike.

    The bike lanes go around downtown but also all along Santa Monica beach, up to Venice.

    Start from Santa Monica Pier to the edge of Venice, stop for a tasty lunch overlooking the beach at The Waterfront and get back on to finish your tour. Getting around a city couldn’t be easier.  

  • Indulge in a Korean Facial at Tikkun Holistic Spa

    Home of stars and beauty gurus, the LA area is definitely the best place to try out some new beauty treatments.

    Tikkun Holistic Spa, in the heart of Santa Monica shopping district, is famous for their face-changing Korean facials.

    Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop swears by it, so it’s probably worth a try. 

What to pack

Lead picture: Gerson Repreza

Air New Zealand flies directly to LAX from Heathrow with returns from £395 in Economy and £1,219 in Premium Economy. See for more details.