Hidden Gems in Santa Monica

Santa Monica is one of L.A.’s most popular destinations for domestic and international visitors alike.

Museum of Flying
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Flying, Facebook

Named one of the Top 10 Beach Cities in the World by National Geographic, alongside
the exotic likes of Rio de Janeiro and Honolulu, Santa Monica is one of L.A.’s most
popular destinations for domestic and international visitors alike. Beat the crowds and go on a trek less traveled to some of the hidden gems in this sought-after seaside enclave, from historical structures with incredible backstories to contemporary cultural hot spots.

Photo courtesy of Annenberg Community Beach House, Facebook

Annenberg Beach House

Offering a heated outdoor pool, beach sports, yoga, cultural events, and much more, the Annenberg Community Beach House comprises five oceanfront acres overlooking Palisades Beach. First developed for actor Marion Davies in the 1920s, it was originally a 100-room mansion replete with marble swimming pool, where guests included Hollywood luminaries like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable . After World War II, it became the opulent Oceanhouse hotel and members-only Sand and Beach Club. Within a decade, the main mansion was demolished, but the site reopened to the public as the Annenberg Community Beach House in 2009, combining elements of the historic Marion Davies Estate with new amenities to create a unique community destination , now open to all.

Photo courtesy of Basement Tavern, Facebook

Basement Tavern

Sheltered from the hustle and bustle of Main Street beneath the beautiful Victorian Santa Monica event venue, The Basement Tavern proves well worth the search. Its unbeatable whiskey selection is well suited to a speakeasy aura accented with dark woods and green upholstery lit by ceiling-wide chandeliers. The Basement offers one of the best happy hours in town, lasting until 8 p.m. every weekday and featuring signature crafted cocktails at unbeatable prices. Savor vintage and historic vibes into the wee hours on themed music nights or live band events amidst a decidedly Instagram-worthy ambiance. Meet you downstairs!

Bergamot Station
U.R. Art Festival at Bergamot Station | Photo courtesy of nightmoves.me, Facebook

Bergamot Station

Previously a railroad and trolley stop, Bergamot Station Arts Center is today a campus-like complex for the showcasing of art amidst its evocative industrial and rustic surrounds. A leading cultural hub for nearly three decades, it’s dedicated to furthering equity and access to visual and performing arts through free exhibitions, inclusive performances, and community-driven public programs. More than 600,000 visitors enjoy Bergamot Station’s nearly five acres of unique and compelling arts environments annually. These include fine art galleries, monumental scale installations, live performances, video art, music, educational programs, poetry, comedy, and theater performances.

McCabe's Guitar Shop  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

McCabe's Guitar Shop

Specializing in acoustic and folk instruments, McCabe's Guitar Shop also doubles as a famously intimate live music venue, with a concert room holding just 150 people. First opened in 1958, the shop has hosted what it declares "the best guitar music west of the 405 Freeway" since the end of the 1960s. Surrounded by bare bones decor oozing authentic vibes, you'll find mandolins, bouzoukis, sitars, ukeleles, banjos and, of course, guitars. Despite its cozy and unpretentious surrounds, McCabe’s has hosted an incredible list of musical luminaries, including Fiona Apple, Arlo Guthrie, Cowboy Junkies, and Laura Nyro.

Original Muscle Beach | Photo courtesy of JKG II, Flickr

Original Muscle Beach

Not to be confused with its better-known namesake in adjacent Venice, the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica dates back to the 1930s. By the ‘50s, the area’s temperate climate, beachfront view, and the influence of nearby Hollywood made this spot just south of Santa Monica Pier a workout mecca for gymnasts, stunt people, wrestlers, and acrobats. When maintenance became difficult, the gymnastics platform and weightlifting shed were bulldozed, and the area finally closed in 1958. The previously little-used outdoor weightlifting facility on Venice Beach inherited the vacated Muscle Beach name. But in 1989 the City of Santa Monica rededicated the original area, which today features parallel bars, ropes, swings and more.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Flying, Facebook

Museum of Flying

Originally established in 1974 as the Douglas Museum and Library, what would become the Museum of Flying had oodles of artifacts but no actual aircraft. That changed when it relocated to a newly constructed home on the north side of Santa Monica Airport in 1989. Renamed the Museum of Flying, it now boasted an original collection of vintage aircraft, with an emphasis on those from World War II. Following temporary closure during the early aughts, the facility reopened on the south side of the airport in 2012, featuring 22,000 square feet of exhibition space and an outdoor monument to Donald W. Douglas and his company’s industry-changing DC-3 airliner.

Route 66 End of the Trail Sign | Photo courtesy of C H Ogawa Photography, Flickr

Route 66 End of the Trail Sign

One of the original roads of the U.S. Numbered Highway System, the 2,448-mile Route 66 was established in 1926 to connect Chicago to Los Angeles. It was the route taken by many desperate families as they migrated west during the Dust Bowl era a decade later. Decommissioned in 1985 in favor of the Interstate Highway System, the precise location of Route 66’s western terminus is the subject of some debate. But since 2009 the “End of the Trail Sign” at the Santa Monica Pier has marked the official final frontier of a great asphalt artery so deeply rooted in American history.

Santa Monica Farmers Market
Santa Monica Farmer's Market

Santa Monica Farmers' Markets

Santa Monica boasts no fewer than four regular farmers markets. There are two on Saturdays in Downtown Santa Monica – at Arizona Avenue and Second Street, and at Virginia Avenue Park – plus a Sunday market on Main Street. The largest of the four is the Downtown Farmers Market on Wednesday mornings, where you'll find a thriving foodie scene including influential celebrity chefs shopping for their restaurants. Families, singles, and restaurateurs alike throng Santa Monica’s comprehensive farm-to-stall gatherings, stocking up on produce, eggs, meat, seafood, and other locally sourced dining table treasures.

Singing Beach Chairs | Photo by Sondra Stocker, courtesy of Santa Monica CVB

Singing Beach Chairs

Among the most popular of Santa Monica’s many public art installations are the fun and fascinating Singing Beach Chairs by San Francisco artist Doug Hollis. Located on Santa Monica Beach between Pico Boulevard and the pier, this 1987 pair of pastel-colored steel and aluminum constructions produce oboe-like tones when the wind blows through them. Each is large enough to seat two people and their 18-foot vertical pipes project sound up to 500 feet. There’s also much un-commissioned street art scattered throughout Santa Monica, from eco-themed murals to Banksy-esque social commentary.