Los Angeles Coastal Cities: Perfect Day Trips to Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu
September 9, 2018
LA Coastal Day Trips
Los Angeles is a divided city. You have your West Hollywood/Hollywood die hards and then you have the West Siders where it’s beach or bust. Why can’t we just all live together in perfect harmony? Because most of the day it takes about 45 minutes in traffic to go about 10 miles between these 2 areas and nobody here is about that life after a long work day. While I absolutely love the busting city life in West Hollywood, there is nothing better than a drive down Pacific Coast Highway with a free day at your disposal. That is why I decided to create a guide to the best day trips along PCH, to the coastal parts of Los Angeles. Let the day trips commence!
Day trips in Venice should always start off with some super fancy coffee. And, don’t you worry because there are an abundance of trendy coffee shops to get your caffeine on. The most popular of these are Intelligencia, Groundworks, Menotti’s and Blue Bottle. All of these places have outstanding coffee so don’t worry about choosing the perfect location, you’ll love whichever one you choose.
After you are sufficiently jittery, you’ll either be on or nearby one of the main streets in Venice called Abbot Kinney which you should absolutely spend time strolling down. If you are a shopping lover, then you will be in serious retail heaven; if you are like me and love the idea of shopping but get anxiety deciding between so many options, it’s still an awesome place to people watch and admire the store fronts as they are all original and incredibly beautiful.
Nine times out of ten I’ll skip breakfast, so by late morning I’m only thinking about what’s for lunch. Head to C & O’s for the best garlic knots of your life. Anything else you order doesn’t really matter, because you are going here solely for the bread. Also, C & O’s is perfectly located between the Venice Canals and the start of the Venice Boardwalk, which is quite convenient because those are your next two destinations.
First, head to the Venice Canals which were created by Abbot Kinney (yes, the street that you shopping/window shopping/paying way too much money for coffee on earlier) because he wanted to bring a piece of Venice, Italy to Southern California. The houses on the canal are stunning and if the weather is nice, you’ll see lots of residents boating or drinking wine on their rooftop terrace. It’s literally the most heavenly place minus the other hundreds of people just like you doing the exact same thing. It’s totally worth it though and unlike anywhere in Los Angeles. You’ll probably spend 45 minutes to an hour or so walking around the canal grid. Don’t forget to play the “which house would you choose to live in” game with your traveling companion.
You’ll definitely get your 10,000 steps in as you make your way from the canals to the famed Venice Boardwalk to go on yet another stroll down this iconic thoroughfare. While Abbot Kinney highlights the more ritzy side of Venice, the boardwalk exhibits the true grunge feel of what Venice is all about. I think it’s a must to experience both perspectives during your LA day trip. Slowly check out the shops, the rollerblading dancers, the skate park, and the beach as you walk along. The people watching here is absolutely insane and no matter how many times you go, you never know what you will find on the Venice Boardwalk.
Eventually, you will make your way toward the end of the boardwalk (on the Brooks Ave side) and happen upon the Venice Beach Drum Circle if it’s a Saturday or Sunday after 3:00PM. Don’t be shy and join in as everyone is welcome and the circle will only grow in size as it gets closer to sunset. Recently, there has been a flag exhibit right in front of the drum circle with flags of all the world’s countries as well as flags of our 50 states.
If you are planning this trip in advance, make sure to make a reservation for Gjelina about a month ahead of time. The food is so fantastic! I highly recommend getting a pizza. Also, I know this sounds really random…but the best Arnold Palmer I ever had was the one at Gjelena. There is also a Gjelina takeaway pizza store next door if you do not have a reservation and want to find a picnic spot. To cap off the night, you may want to indulge in some dessert. There will undoubtedly be a long line, but if you’re down to wait, Salt & Straw ice cream is the place to be.
All Santa Monica day trips pretty much have to include a stroll down the Third Street Promenade. So why not start off the day with one when the crowds are fewer? Grab a coffee and check out this major LA thoroughfare. The stores are not exactly unique, you’ll see your standard Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Brandy Melville etc., but the promenade is a Santa Monica staple and tons of fun nevertheless.
For lunch, you’ll want to grab an uber and pick up the Godmother of all Godmother’s at Bay Cities Deli. This place is small locally-owned grocery store with some of, if not the best, sub sandwiches in Los Angeles. Pick up some chips and a drink to go along with it and uber back to the beach for an ocean picnic.
If at this point, you want to plop yourself down on a beach towel and enjoy the rest of the afternoon soaking in some Vitamin D, by all means go for it. But, if you’re yearning to be active and really see the whole of Santa Monica, I would recommend renting a pair of roller blades (skates?…not sure) and blade/skate from the pier in Santa Monica down the beach toward Venice. Renting blades cost under $10 an hour.
If you’re trying to find a great happy hour spot, look no further than Fig at 5 at the Fairmont Miramar hotel. From 5-6 daily, you can get half-off most menu items which are gloriously delicious. And, since the restaurant is located at the pool of one of the nicest hotels in Los Angeles, you instantly feel like you are on vacation while happy hour-ing at Fig restaurant.
After happy hour, there is nothing dreamier than walking along Ocean Ave at sunset and heading to the Santa Monica Pier for a night ride on the ferris wheel. Yes, the pier is a total tourist trap, but it’s also a super iconic feature of Los Angeles, especially Santa Monica. If you just let all of that go, and enjoy the ride (literally), I think it’s the perfect way to end your night. After your ferris wheel ride, you can grab a hot chocolate and sit on a bench and watch the waves crash below you.
Malibu is a mecca for active persons as there are tons of mountain ranges and hiking trails overlooking the water. That’s exactly why I am suggesting the Escondido Falls hike as the starting point to the day. There are many more strenuous hikes you could do, but I think this one is just the right amount should you still plan on having a full day of exploring. There are a total of 3 waterfalls. The first and main one is about a mile and a half in; the second is up a steeper cliff, and the 3rd is a complete vertical incline that seems nearly impossible to do. The hike to the first waterfall is a must and the second waterfall is awesome, but only do the second if you’re feeling ambitious that day. There is a small parking lot, so if you get here early enough, you shouldn’t have any issues with parking.
Next, grab a coffee at the Malibu Country Mart which is one of a series of three malls all right next to each other. The stores are beautiful (especially at the Lumberyard), so it would be nice to stroll and admire the shops while sipping on that latte.
From here, I usually continue my walk down to the Malibu Pier about 3/4 of a mile away down Pacific Coast Highway to have lunch at Malibu Farm. Be sure to go to the cafe at the end of the pier for the best views and not the restaurant at the front of the pier. The food is good (I typically get the skirt steak sandwich or cauliflower pizza) and the views of the ocean are simply beautiful. I could sit here for hours and hours—and usually do—just watching the waves crash, the surfers and paddle boarders doing their thing, and the seagulls flying overhead.
Don’t stay too long, because you will want to uber over to the Getty Villa for some more afternoon views. Admission to the villa is free and parking is $15 or $10 after 3PM, hence the uber suggestion, and you need to make sure to get your tickets online and print them in advance. The Getty Villa is an art museum with botanical gardens. I don’t find the art particularly interesting, but the architecture in the gardens is absolutely worthwhile! It sort of feels like you are in a Roman villa oasis.
Reward yourself from being classy museum-goers with a cocktail at Nobu in Malibu. I mean, if you’ve got dough to spend, then by all means have dinner there because Nobu is the place to splurge. But, if not, choose a fancy cocktail and watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. If you’re starting to get hungry, you can head back to the Malibu Country Mart and choose from one of many restaurants. My personal fav is Taverna Tony, which is a Greek restaurant.
And there you have it…my favorite day trip ideas for Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu. I also created travel vlogs exploring these three coastal parts of Los Angeles, so feel free to check them out to give you a better visual!
Day Trips Travel Vlogs
What are your favorite things to do on day trips to these popular Los Angeles coastal areas/cities? Please share all additional ideas for day trips to Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu in the comments below!
Are you on Pinterest? Pin these Day Trip Guides for later!
Heading elsewhere along the coast? Check out some of my other posts for more of that Cali lifestyle!