Ask Young Yoon why visitors are drawn to Santa Monica, and he'll say the city promises a classic California beach vacation—sun-splashed and just a little indulgent.
"Santa Monica is what a lot of people picture when they think about coming to Los Angeles," says Yoon, general manager of the 70-room Oceana Santa Monica. "It's part of the city of Los Angeles, but it's the beach side of the city," he says. "The ocean has a big influence on the lifestyle."
Yoon says many of the Oceana's guests are seeking a hybrid experience, "a private beach home that's also a hotel." They'll spend the day at the beach or by the pool, but as evening approaches, they gather with other guests at the third-floor Sunset Terrace.
"It's an outdoor lounge surrounded by palm trees, where you can watch the sun set over the ocean," he says. "Every day it's a slightly different color."
Yoon, who has worked in hospitality for the past 19 years, grew up on the East Coast and attended hotel school in Switzerland. His career brought him to Los Angeles in 2013, and he became the Oceana's general manager in 2020.
"I walk around the hotel quite a bit and interact with our guests as much as possible. Our mission is to be both simple and elegant, welcoming and comfortable.
Yoon says Santa Monica's relaxed, pedestrian- and bike-friendly atmosphere makes it easy for visitors to explore the coast.
"I encourage our guests to ride the bike trail from Santa Monica to Venice Beach," Yoon says. "It's a very L.A. experience—you see a sudden shift in atmosphere between the two towns. I also suggest they drive a few miles up the coast to Malibu so they can see a very different kind of beach. Santa Monica has more of a city-beach atmosphere, and Malibu feels more exclusive and private," he says.
"Their burgers have just the right blend of flavors. They're messy but not too messy," Yoon says. "And I always order the piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese."
Also nearby is the Santa Monica Pier, which Yoon calls "the most iconic spot in Santa Monica." The 1,600-foot-long wooden pier offers seaside pleasures from thrill rides to funnel cake. Among the pier's seafood restaurants and ice cream shops is a 1920s carousel with 44 hand-painted horses, a steel roller coaster, and the world's only solar-powered Ferris wheel, which puts on a colorful light show.
"At Pacific Park, all the rides sit right on top of the pier. From the high point on the roller coaster, you can see the entire coast," Yoon says. "It's especially beautiful at night with all the city lights."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Yoon shared a few extra can’t-miss local spots—the kinds of places and experiences insiders rave about:
Sunset spot: “Right across the street from our hotel is Palisades Park. Every evening, lots of families show up with their chairs and their kids in strollers. The park is elevated on the bluffs, so when you walk to the edge, you have an unobstructed view of the sunset.”
Artsy scene: “Bergamot Station Arts Center is an old, converted train station that has about 20 art galleries, plus a theater and a cafe. There's a wide variety of paintings, photographs, and sculptures, and you can often catch an artist talk or gallery reception.”
Wine bar: “Wally's Santa Monica serves fantastic wines and a great collection of cheeses, charcuterie, and caviar. It's both a wine bar and a market, and the staff really know their wines. It's a lively environment with the walls completely covered in wine bottles and big marble tables you can sit at.”
Special dinner: “The Lobster has an absolutely fantastic view of the ocean. It's right by the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier, and it's been there for almost 100 years. They serve California spiny lobster, Maine lobster, oysters, and really great calamari and shrimp.”
Bike the coast: “There's a paved bike trail called The Strand that runs for 22 miles along the coast, and it goes right through Santa Monica. It starts at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades, goes underneath the Santa Monica Pier, and then heads to Venice. You can keep riding all the way to Torrance, passing through one beach town after another, each with a different personality.”
Start your journey at Travel.Hilton.com/California