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Ask a Local: Where Should I Shop in Santa Monica?

By Jane Sung

May 19, 2021

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Merchant on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica is small but crammed with colorful pottery and midcentury furniture.

Courtesy of Merchant

Merchant on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica is small but crammed with colorful pottery and midcentury furniture.

An insider’s take on the best shopping on the Westside.

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Santa Monica is renowned for sand, surf, and its historic pier that bisects 3.5 miles of expansive beaches, so it’s no surprise that the local style is infused with a breezy effortlessness that sets it apart from its inland L.A. neighbors. We asked style-minded residents to share the best streets, markets, and neighborhoods that are truly worth a visit for that quintessential Santa Monica shopping experience.

“Santa Monica has the perfect mix of high and low. No one is overly dressed up and stuffy, but most aren’t fully beach casual either,” says Tara Hirshberg, jewelry designer and former art dealer who has lived in the city for more than 20 years. “When you have a town full of yogis, surfers, and runners, they like their design and style to also be practical.”

To fuel up for a day of shopping: Downtown Santa Monica Farmers’ Market 

In the heart of downtown Santa Monica, Third Street Promenade is home to what feels like endless shops in an open-air mall, but locals generally steer clear of the touristy hot spot except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when it hosts the farmers’ market, which delivers a vibrant array of organically grown produce, grass-fed meats, cheeses, and more from over 85 (!) local farms. “Our farmers’ markets are great, and if you can’t make it to one, just head [east] to Farmshop or Erewhon,” says Hirshberg. Both feature artisanal markets for fresh, locally sourced provisions like green juices, handmade chocolates, kombucha on tap and tasty market-driven fare like black rice sushi rolls and roasted Jidori chicken.

To upgrade your closet staples with some California cool: Brentwood Country Mart and Montana Ave.

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Hirschberg lives in the northern part of the city, steps away from what she considers the best area to browse for a dose of Westside chic. “There are so many excellent shops in the Brentwood Country Mart,” a restored country mart turned boutique shopping plaza, she says, “and you have all of [the stores along] Montana Ave. within walking distance”—uncommon within the sprawl of greater Los Angeles.

Jill Roberts and Savannah are favorites for elevated closet staples like menswear-inspired blazers and high-waisted cropped jeans. “Jill has the perfect buy of all the cool girl/cool mom designers: Ulla Johnson, Isabel Marant, Nili Lotan, etcetera,” she says. “You could easily rebuild your entire wardrobe or pick up the one or two perfect pieces that update what you already have.”

“When you have a town full of yogis, surfers, and runners, they like their design and style to also be practical.”

The Country Mart features everything from adorable children’s stores like Poppy Store to impeccably curated lifestyle shops like home store Turpan and clean beauty, wellness, fashion, home haven Goop that are almost impossible to leave without having picked up a gift for someone—or yourself. Another longtime resident of Santa Monica, interior designer Kimba Hills regularly visits Brentwood Country Mart for home accessories and fashion at Jenni Kane and the thoughtful selection of paperbacks at indie bookstore Diesel.

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Despite the designer labels and aspirational vibe given off by stores that are often as tastefully designed as their wares, Hirshberg emphasizes the affability of locals. “The shopping and style experience here is extremely welcoming and friendly,” she says. “For a place with so much to offer, there’s just not a lot of attitude.”

Hills echoes that sentiment to describe her adopted hometown. “It’s sophisticated, but breezy and relaxed,” she says. “No matter how chic a place is, it’s still easygoing and welcoming.” Case in point: Her own cottage in Sunset Park has naturally become a quasi-showroom after she closed down her adjacent store a few years ago. “People come over for dinner, and they leave with a sofa or painting,” she says.

To score home decor and vintage goods you’ll happily ship home: Ocean Park and the Santa Monica Airport Antique Market

Hills frequents her own neighborhood and nearby Ocean Park for unique home goods. Merchant on Lincoln Boulevard is small, but flush with colorful Moroccan rugs and midcentury furniture. “Owner Denise Portmans has a good eye for everything from ceramics to wall hangings to vintage furniture,” says Hills.

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If you’re in town on the first or fourth Sunday of the month, the Santa Monica Airport Antique Market is top-notch for one-offs and vintage pieces. A regular at L.A. flea markets, Hills has been going to this one for over 20 years. She recommends going when they open, to browse alongside designers and store owners who get there early for first dibs. “Even with people going online more and more these days, it’s a fun experience, and you can still find interesting pieces,” she says. “I’ve picked up some great chairs there, brass candlesticks, and a rug that I love. Once, I found a signed Ed Moses print, and I’m not sure if the seller even knew what he had.” Pro tip: “Ask what the best price is—that’s my lead-in,” she says. “And of course it helps if you’re getting more than one item.”

>>Next: The Best Things to Do in Santa Monica

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