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Finding Good Vibes, Beach Culture, and Street Art in Santa Monica

Sun-filled Santa Monica offers the natural beauty of a coastal setting, the cutting-edge arts scene of a city, and plenty of California’s freshest and finest cuisine—all in one place.

Finding Good Vibes, Beach Culture, and Street Art in Santa Monica

Jessica Sample

Choosing between the laid-back bliss of a beachy getaway and the mind-expanding and palate-pleasing joys of a trip to a cosmopolitan city is a tough decision. With Santa Monica, you get the best of both worlds and from there, your options for mixing it up are wide open. Located just miles from LAX and a little further away from John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA), which United both serves with a plethora of flights, you’ll find the whole Cali vibe, from yogis on the sand to surf shops and burrito joints.

At only 8.3 square miles, many of SaMo’s eight, personality-filled neighborhoods are walking (or skating) distance from the sand. The coastal city’s location near Hollywood and its storied past as a fishing community also mean there’s a ton of history with lots of surprising firsts and other quirky gems for upping your general trivia game.

Moving forward responsibly

In the spirit of traveling responsibly, the Santa Monica Shines Assurance Program rolled out city-wide in support of safety and cleanliness across local businesses. United too puts the health and safety of guests first. The airline has committed to delivering industry-leading cleanliness, prioritizing wellness, and innovating for a healthier tomorrow through its United CleanPlus℠ program. From wheels up to wheels down, United provides greater peace of mind by sanitizing its aircrafts, training staff on health protocols, and better protecting wellbeing.

One of the world’s most cosmopolitan beaches

The Getty Villa Museum is modeled after a seaside villa in Italy, the Villa dei Papiri.

The Getty Villa Museum is modeled after a seaside villa in Italy, the Villa dei Papiri.

While Santa Monica is stylishly bohemian, it’s also surprisingly urbane. In fact, it has the second largest collection of art galleries in the U.S., second only to New York City for galleries per square foot. The onetime railway station turned art hub, Bergamot Station Arts Center, houses 20 some galleries and other creative businesses. Or for socially conscious exhibits, head to the 18th Street Arts Center. A short drive less than six miles up the Pacific Coast Highway, the Getty Villa, a replica of an Italian villa overlooking the ocean, has a vast collection of Greek and Rome antiquities along with four tranquil gardens.

Beach views from Elephante’s rooftop setting.

Beach views from Elephante’s rooftop setting.

Stewart Uy

Likewise, for all of the city’s chilled-out coffeeshops like Urth Caffe or Huckleberry Bakery & Café, there are plenty of serious culinary experiences among its more than 400 restaurants and plenty of luxury, boutique, and family-friendly hotels minutes from the beach. (Design fans will want to book one of the breezy, light-filled rooms or suites at Santa Monica Proper, a hotel in a 1920s landmarked building and one of the area’s newest lodging options.) From patio seating to tables with beach views, outdoor dining is one more way to appreciate world-class culinary talents. Whether enjoying an elevated meal at the rooftop Elephante, a down-to-earth lunch at Kreation Kafe & Juicery, or the renowned burger at the gastropub Father’s Office, local dining spots span highly polished to simply charming.

Exploring street culture

Larger-than-life art adorns local buildings and streets.

Larger-than-life art adorns local buildings and streets.

In Santa Monica, you can kick back in the sand and totally disconnect, or get a feel for its city streets through more than 130 street art murals. Many of the streetscapes are the work of Beautify Earth, a nonprofit which transforms walls into masterpieces and launched a global movement. But that’s not the only thing to be created on Santa Monica’s innovative streets.

In the late 1950s, in a nook of Santa Monica once known as Dogtown, surfers started fashioning skateboards to practice riding waves and doing tricks on land. Soon the sport took off, and skateboarding became one of the Southern California exports that still dominate the global cultural landscape today.

Soaking up healthy living

Find California’s fresh agricultural abundance at four local farmers markets, frequented by top chefs and locals alike.

Find California’s fresh agricultural abundance at four local farmers markets, frequented by top chefs and locals alike.

Skating isn’t Santa Monica’s only surprising piece of wheel-related trivia. It also put spinning, as in indoor cycling, on the map. In the 1990s, fitness guru Johnny G opened the first spin studio. And this beach city’s history of healthy living runs deep.

The locale can also flex its active lifestyle cred as home to the Original Muscle Beach (not to be confused with Muscle Beach in Venice). During the Great Depression, acrobats, gymnasts, and stunt people flocked to the O.G. of open-air gyms to work out and put on a show for curious onlookers. Interestingly enough, it’s also where Elzie Crisler Segar dreamed up the famously muscled-up Popeye comic in 1919, based on a Norwegian sailor he met at the pier.

Today Santa Monica serves up clean living and eating with locally grown flavors, including four weekly farmers markets.

Getting back to the surf

Surfing with a view of the skyline is a true Santa Monica experience.

Surfing with a view of the skyline is a true Santa Monica experience.

While Santa Monica has a profusion of restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries for your cultural cravings, for many locals, the beach is where their heart will always be. Not surprisingly, when locals started playing indoor volleyball, it wasn’t long before they took the sport outdoors, setting up nets and courts on the beaches along the Pacific Ocean in the early 1900s, creating a new spin-off sport, beach volleyball.

Naturally opportunities abound for water sports too. If you’ve ever looked out at the waves and daydreamed about riding one in, Santa Monica’s sand bottom, beach break, and steady swell make for a user-friendly way to learn in real life with an array of surf schools for all levels.

To enjoy Pacific Ocean views above the ocean and sand, the historic Santa Monica Pier makes for a pleasant stroll or afternoon experiencing activities including trapeze school, an aquarium, and arcade. Even here, Santa Monica’s beach-meets-modern lifestyle stands out; the solar-powered Ferris wheel was the first of its kind in the world when it debuted in 1996 and has since been redesigned to be even more energy efficient with 174,000 LED lights.

Ready for easy escapes

With restrictions lifted in California, travelers seeking sunshine and relaxation have the greenlight to head to Santa Monica. To take the confusion out of traveling, United launched its Travel-Ready Center (TRC) through the United app and website earlier this year and continues to expand its offerings.

With every destination maintaining their own set of travel rules, the TRC acts as a personalized, digital assistant helping customers with travel requirements and electronic validation of these requirements from the comfort of their own home or hotel room. In most cases, customers who use the Travel-Ready Center become “Travel Ready”, receiving their boarding pass(es) and allowing them to bypass lines at the airport. The TRC uses an intuitive design and keeps customers informed through easy to understand status indicators. Major features include: entry requirements along your travel route, COVID-19 testing requirements, the ability to find a testing provider and schedule a test, electronic validation of passports and visas, vaccine documents, COVID-19 test results, and entry forms.

Along with simplified planning, the award-winning United CleanPlus program features relationships with The Clorox Company for industry-leading disinfecting protocols and with Cleveland Clinic for expert advice on various safety measures to keep employees and customers safer at the airport and when they fly. At the airport, cruise through a contactless check-in process with ample hand sanitizing supplies and sneeze guards. On the plane, all surfaces are regularly disinfected and high-efficiency (HEPA) filters remove airborne particles. Even snack time has been streamlined into a convenient goodie bag with a wrapped sanitizer wipe, 8.5-ounce water bottle, and two treats.

You’ll arrive in Santa Monica ready to explore and soak up this beach city’s good vibes.

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