With restaurants helmed by both celebrity chefs and rising culinary stars, Santa Monica boasts a sizzling-hot dining scene. Start with a classic, Chinois on Main, where Wolfgang Puck pioneered the fusion style of cooking. There’s also Michael McCarty’s Michael’s restaurant, a landmark for California cuisine since 1979.
Chef Josiah Citrin split his two-Michelin-starred Mélisse restaurant into two in late 2019. Mélisse is now an intimate 14-seater featuring only a tasting menu, and Citrin serves creative variations on caviar and progressive California cuisine in a bistro setting. Sample irresistible creations (don't miss the organic fried chicken sandwich) at all-day breakfast hotspot Huckleberry Bakery & Café, home to James Beard award-winning pastry chef Zoe Nathan. (Her pastries and desserts, like Champagne chocolate tart and sticky toffee pudding, are also served at farm-to-table Rustic Canyon restaurant.)
If spending time in this seaside neighborhood gives you a hankering for seafood, you don’t have to look far. Steps from the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel, The Albright features local, sustainable fish dishes on its menu—lobster rolls, Hawaiian poke, black tiger shrimp taco, and fish-and-chips—in a casual, low-key environment. Parents will appreciate the al fresco dining and the view of the ocean; kids will love the nearby games and rides.
Burger lovers and vegetarians are in luck in Santa Monica too: For the former, head to gastropub Father’s Office for chef Sang Yoon’s deliciously decadent creation topped with smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and gruyére and Maytag blue cheeses. Just don’t ask for ketchup. Yoon doesn’t allow anyone to mess with his masterpieces. And for veggie indulgences, pay a visit to young chef and entrepreneur Salima Saunders’ reimagining of the previously shuttered Uplifters Kitchen. In addition to whipping up such specialties as Portobello mushroom sandwiches and hearty daal with coconut rice, Saunders provides a platform for female-owned businesses throughout L.A. Support these local purveyors and makers by buying coffee beans, fresh bread, and jars of to-go toasted granola in Uplifters’ curated retail section.