Each year from May through July, Southern California’s coastline buzzes with throngs of sunseekers, from surfers and sunbathers to fitness pros, cyclists, and nature enthusiasts. But as the days slowly begin to shorten, locals look forward to a quieter stretch: September through November, or, as it’s popularly known, SoCal’s “secret summer.” The crowds thin as kids and college students return to schools, and thanks to the region’s subtropical Mediterranean climate tempered by the Pacific Ocean, warm days continue well into fall. Perfect for sightseeing, shopping, and dining out.
Santa Monica, a beachside city with a plethora of daily sunshine and generous access to one of the state’s largest beaches, makes an ideal base for enjoying Angelenos' popular time of year. Anthony Valadez, a DJ for the local KCRW radio station, describes the city and its sounds this way: “Santa Monica is synonymous with happiness, sunshine, and inclusivity.” The radio celeb created a soundtrack that encapsulates the essence of this favourite California destination. Stream it and slip into Santa Monica’s extended summer vibe as you browse where to go and what to do on your next escape in the city.
Make your way to Huckleberry Bakery & Café, where co-owners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan serve New Californian cuisine sourced from ethical and organic suppliers—highly recommended: the breakfast burrito (organic scrambled eggs, aged cheddar, crispy potato, avocado mash, and salsa roja are just the beginning) or, for a group, the family-size order of pancakes with organic butter and pure maple syrup, plus add-on local blueberries.
For faster fare, head down the street to locally owned Sidecar Doughnuts, whose flavours have catapulted owners Chi-Lin and Sumter Pendergrast into the national spotlight. Their reimagining of eggs Benedict into doughnut form, which includes house-made basil hollandaise sauce and local ham, will delight umami fans. Each doughnut comes with a recommended coffee drink pairing, tasting notes, a batter type, texture descriptors, and a full ingredient list.
For lunch, the iconic Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery is only a few blocks away. Do as the locals do: order your sandwich online to avoid the queue, then bring it to the beach. If you’re in the mood to be spoiled, your Vision Travel Advisor can collaborate with local caterers to set up a luxe picnic on the beach, complete with tableware, lanterns, floral arrangements, music, and gourmet charcuterie and cheese boards of your choosing.
The Santa Monica bar scene brings heated – or rather, ice-chilled – a competition to outdoor spaces across the city. Lively rooftop bar Élephante from Australian restaurateur Nicholas Mathers attracts a chic see-and-be-seen crowd with its breezy ocean views, design inspired by southern Italy and northern Africa, and concoctions such as the Perfect Alibi (vodka, Cocchi Rosa, lime, and sparkling water) or Bold Sea Slushie (Herradura tequila, watermelon, coconut, and lime).
For a more speakeasy-inspired experience, meander over to long-standing art deco haven The Misfit on the Third Street Promenade, where the cocktail menu constantly changes with seasonal offerings. Small-batch liquors, local microbrews, and an eclectic wine list pair well with the kitchen’s vegetable-forward plates, sandwiches, and starters, such as a spicy red pepper and walnut dip, Misfit’s take on Aleppo’s muhammara.
Health-obsessed Californians have embraced the benefits of ancient fermentation. JuneShine, a casual terrace and airy tasting room on Main Street, is the go-to for organic hard kombucha, with flavours ranging from citrus to tropical.
Santa Monica's Cayton Children's Museum teaches kids about their community in a tangible way, with costumes and instruments, pretend play as a veterinarian, or a real firetruck to clamber up and explore inside. Even rescue floats donated by a recycled Coast Guard ship help youngsters imagine what it's like to conduct search-and-rescue missions on the city's coastline.
To treat your inner child, ride the Ferris wheel in Pacific Park for a bird’s-eye view of Santa Monica. Another great option is to hike the gentle Topanga Lookout trail, two miles round-trip: From its 2,375-foot summit, the lookout provides unmatched 360-degree views of the Santa Monica Mountains – especially popular at sunset.
While fitness is – let's face it – an entirely optional vacation pastime, Santa Monica's active lifestyle might inspire you. Surf lessons and board rentals are available at the beach and bikes are waiting there to pedal along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. On the Third Street Promenade through September 25, Self-Care Saturdays offer free weekly workouts ranging from yoga (mat not included) to cardio hip-hop. Be sure to book your spot in advance on Eventbrite.