Soaking up the sunshine in Santa Monica

by Louise Evans on 30 June 2014, 11:06AM


It’s not often you’re actively encouraged to eat sweet treats in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. In fact, this beach city on the West Coast is renowned for its all-round healthy-living lifestyle. From eating to exercising, Soulcycle (a spinning class in a club environment), IOBELLA (exercising in temperature-controlled pods), M7 fitness (a private pilates centre) and beach yoga are popular and sought-after fitness trends here. The laid-back outdoor healthy lifestyle is the norm. The famed local farmers market (with street stalls on Arizona and Second Street every Wednesday and Saturday) is the bread and butter of the Santa Monica scene, with most of the restaurants chefs sourcing their food fresh as well as many if the avid locals. The farm-to-fork movement isn’t just a mantra here; it’s a way of life.


So how did I end up scoffing my way through fresh peppermint and chocolate ice cream (organic and freshly made that morning albeit), rich homemade, delectable dark chocolate bites, miniature Mexican cookies, caramel brownies and a fat wedge of organic, gluten-free, carrot cake slathered in butter cream in the space of three hours, one morning?


Because I was on the Sweets Tour, which is a new concept from The Santa Monica Bike Centre (based on Second Street). The idea is a great way to see the sights of Santa Monica, combined with visits to hand-picked, local tasty treat hotspots. In sunny Santa Monica bikes are a handy way to get around, although 80% of visitors are happy enough on foot (not a bad percentage considering we’re in car-crazy LA). But this beautiful beach city breaks any pre-conceptions of LA you might have had. Exploring by bike is a great way to see the sights, and the sweet treat tour took us through Santa Monica and nearby neighbourhoods, including Brentwood, which many celebs call home, including Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.


Later that day, still with about 3,000 calories to burn off, I took my bike for a leisurely cycle along Santa Monica’s 26 miles of coastline, stretching from Santa Monica Pier down to Torrance. Starting at the world-famous pier, I checked out the views across the city and Pacific Ocean from the top of the ferris wheel, which were spectacular. Then, as I meandered past Shutters on the Beach, I stopped at The Living Room bar for a ‘skinny mini’ cocktail, a refreshing mixture of gin, Cointreau, fresh basil and pink grapefruit. It’s the perfect spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.


I continued my bicycle marathon, as I passed the original muscle beach, to see men flexing their pecs and tightrope-walkers precariously balancing high above the sand. On to colourful Venice Beach, tarot card readers and hippies line the boardwalk and people sit outside coffee shops enjoying the year-round sunshine. Veering away from the beachfront, I turned up Abbott Kinney, a cool-spot with vintage shops and cute eats that I would liken to trendy Shoreditch in East London - only much sunnier! For cool spots, you’re spoilt for choice in Santa Monica. The 'coolest hangout' of the lot has to be Bungalow, situated at the Fairmont Miramar hotel. This is the place to be seen, in a laid-back Southern Californian way, and I enjoyed a chilled glass of the local chardonnay as the sun set.


The next day, with a fair few calories still left to burn off, I couldn’t help but be influenced by the local healthy lifestyle and rise early for a run along the beach. It’s not uncommon to spot major A-list celebrities here, so I kept my eyes peeled as I pounded the boardwalk. No luck for me though. Next on my must-see/ do list in Santa Monica was a visit to the shops. I started on Third Street Promenade, half a mile of shops with the premium Santa Monica Place mall at the end. Home to high-end well-known brands including Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Tiffany’s, shopping is a major pastime here, and with the current exchange rate favourable to sterling, there are bargains to be had. I treated myself to a watch that cost half of what it would in the UK!


Fashionista’s should also definitely head to Montana Avenue, just off the beach. Here you’ll find more than 150 hi-end boutiques and restaurants, as well as countless beauty parlours, all along one street. It’s a woman’s heaven. After a different kind of marathon (shopping), I grabbed some absolutely delicious tortilla chips and guacamole (a must-eat in Southern California) with mac n’ cheese at Blue Plate, before a final pit-stop at The Duck Blind Fine Wines & Spirits off-license to stock-up on my Californian wine to enjoy on my return to the UK.


Sipping my chardonnay in the garden back at home, it’s not quite the same as the warm evening sunsets sat at Bungalow bar, but at least the wine brings back all of my wonderful memories of my time spent in Santa Monica.

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