Downtown, The Pier & Main Street, Pubs, Clubs & Legendary Lounges
Its diversity makes it appealing for visitors, as they can have an “L.A. experience” without having to travel all over the place. As a result, it is heavy with tourists, although an ample number of nearby residents help it keep a local flavor.
One neat and unique aspect of Santa Monica is the Big Blue buses. These marvels of mass transportation run from UCLA in Westwood through Santa Monica and all the way to LAX.
They stop at major spots along the way – including Third Street Promenade – at a cost of only 50 cents (service ends at 11 p.m.). The only question is: Why can’t the rest of L.A. do the same? For those who drive (but don’t drink if you do!), there are parking garages on Second and Fourth streets.
A good mix of pubs and clubs – some super casual, others all “blacked up” – make Santa Monica a kind of one-stop-shopping spot for nightlife.
Santa Monic’s Best Bars At The Beach
Santa Monica is know for both its pubs and its clubs. It’s a bit more “worldly” than other parts of Los Angeles, meaning it can comfortably host English and Irish pubs, a Euro dance club and American clubs all within its borders.
The daytime pub scene in Santa Monica best experienced at the beach. Located right on the beach just south of the pier, Big Dean’s is an afternoon must-stop. Pretty much the entire local population stops in there at one time or another during weekend days.
The outdoor seating area faces the bike path, the cocktails are inexpensive and the tuna sandwich is delicious yet many prefer it’s double-beef, double-cheese burger for just $8 (it’s not quite the waiting heart attack as it would seem).
Big Dean’s is not a wild place but it’s hard to beat when time to take an afternoon break,
Directly on the pier, Bubba Gump is a Forrest Gump-themed restaurant but it does have a bar that’s nice for a Bud or two. The location used to rock with salsa on Sundays when it was the Boathouse, for those who may be wondering whatever happened to that place.
Inland is a Santa Monica classic, Chez Jays.
Inside, it has sawdust on the floor and because the bar sags in the middle, drinks rest at an angle. It attracts every type of bar patron imaginable: The young and pierced, the “blacked-up,” crowd, casual beach-goers and long-time dwellers.
It can be good any night, though rarely late, and Mondays are especially popular. And while it may be difficult to believe considering the environment, the adjoining seafood restaurant is outstanding.
Chez Jay has been around for decades. In a no-frills manner, it has entertained Hollywood stars, local legends and those just lucky enough to know about it. A favorite haunt of Henry Kissinger, Chez Jays is recognizable by the gigantic conch in the parking lot.
Speaking of basic bars, Santa Monica is rich with them, especially English pubs. And the most popular – in fact, the #1 hangout bar in Santa Monica – is Ye Olde King’s Head just off the Third Street Promenade at Santa Monica Blvd.
It’s a favorite haunt of Rod Stewart, and he should know an authentic British Pub when he sees one. It’s a good place for a pint or two, either to start the night or finish the night, or for the entire night. If you’re not sure of where to go out in Santa Monica, start here.
A hot spot in Santa Monica is a wine bar called Salute. Patrons buy a card and go up to various wine dispensers and sample the offerings. But the real attraction is the scene; wine bars offer great socializing and mingling opportunities and it’s worthy of a “cheers” at this place. Salute is located at 2435 Main Street.
Third Street Promenade is a walk street running north-south that has a couple of worthy stops, such as Barney’s Beanery for sports and a massive menu.
There are a few bars on the third level of Santa Monica Place but these are best for a drink or two at Happy Hour and are not true nightlife destinations.
Santa Monica’s Best Hotel Bars
Sophisticated drinkers by the beach prefer to sip beachside cocktails quietly at Shutters, an upscale hotel (room rates up to $750 a night) with a first-class lounge.
It’s one of many hot and happening hotel bars in Santa Monica.
Another is Bungalow. Located in the Fairmont Hotel, it’s an indoor-outdoor paradise. It’s both beach casual and club cool, so be prepared more for the latter than for the former. Go after dark – as many people do – and expect lines with doormen.
Inside, there’s a ping pong table and chairs and couches on a patio that will make you suddenly think you are at a friend’s beach patio party.
Except you have to buy your own drinks. Plus, depending on your friend’s social status, it’s unlikely you would find this kind of single mingling at his or her place.
Bungalow is laid-back by day and Hollywood by night. It goes from sandy to swanky when the sun sets and the night arrives.
But Bungalow is not the only cool, hip place across from the ocean for Santa Monica nightlife hounds.
A few blocks south is the Viceroy, a swanky hotel with both an indoor bar and an outdoor area by a pool. At the latter, cabanas are ideal for relaxing and actings like one is a high roller in Vegas.
Here, the high rollers can be at the next cabana, too. Most of the mingling action, however, occurs inside. And the pool is occasionally closed for private events.
And for a classy bar/lounge with a view, there are two places, the Huntley Hotel and Shangri-La. Of the two, PubClub.com, prefers Shangri-La; it’s an Art Deco bar with a rooftop patio.
The view is better as a result and the attitude of the place is a bit more casual than the club feel of the Huntley.
Santa Monica Nightlife Bars
Now this place is not a really a pub, or even a club, but Rene’s Cafe (4th and Wilshire) is a very popular indoor/outdoor bar. With four rooms and one that resembles a turn-of-the-century doll collector’s bedroom, it has quite an interesting personality.
The old movie playing above the bar is bizarre, but somehow mystically captivating at the same time. This is not a wild whoop-it-up place, but if your group is looking for a funky spot to hang out and have a few beers, this is a cool place to do it.
The coziest of the pubs is the Sonny McLeans (26th and Wilshire). Comprised mainly of locals, it warmly welcomes visitors. There are 20 beer choices on tap, hundreds of bottles on a shelf above the bar (take your pick), dart boards, a pool table, even air hockey in a back room.
Casual drinkers soak up the sofa in a den-like room overlooking the main area. The staff is from Boston, and any sporting event involving a team from that city is shown on television. This is PubClub’s pick as Best Pub in L.A.
A short walk toward the ocean at 23rd Street, O’Brien’s Irish Pub is a more modern choice. It’s more of a bar than a pub, with a clientele that doesn’t arrive in force until after 11 on weekends
More inland are an interesting collection of pubs. The Three of Clubs (NW corner of Santa Monica and Vine, no sign on the door) is dark, narrow bar typical of the area that attracts up-and-coming actors. Rio the bartender was in the movie “Swingers.”
The Liquid Kitty (Pico and Barrington) is a cool martini hangout that has a lounge-type feel to it. Cool music but often so loud on weekends it’s hard to have a conversation. It’s really dark inside – make advance note that for the restrooms the first door is for the ladies and the second is for the men – but the crowd is casual and friendly.
It’s in a pretty cool corridor that also includes The Arsenal two blocks down the street to the West and a sometimes-happening historic Mexican restaurant across the street.
The Arsenal is just that – the old Mexican arsenal from the 1800s. Guns, swords, bullets and shells are on the wall in the dining area and while in some parts of LA displaying these things would not be a good idea, here it’s okay. That’s because despite the “LA scene” look of the place – dark interior, candles, couches on a patio and a black-clad staff – the people are actually friendly and laid-back.
Yes, a cool bar in L.A., where it’s actually possible to meet someone! Friday’s are best – that’s the case for the trio of places in this area –with a crazier crowd while Saturday and other nights are more tame.
As for the Mexican restaurant, it’s called Don Antonio’s and it’s across the street from the Kitty. Wednesdays, the dollar tacos bring in the crowd (peak time 6-7:30) and the $5 schooner sangrias keep them there until about 10. The $1.50 valet parking is about the only option; street parking on anything other than Pico requires a local residential permit.
Fridays are the next-busiest night; a good routine would be to start here for dinner and drinks, pop into the Kitty for a round or two, then walk to The Arsenal. The latter, too has food, mainly steaks ($12-20.)
St. Nick’s, near 3rd and Crescent Heights, is a good place to have a beer after work and Lake Colonio (Beverly and Robertson) is a classy alternative in a tropical environment. Down Wilshire a few blocks, Madison’s Neighborhood Grille (on Broxton) is on the edge of the UCLA campus, making it a popular college hangout. It discourages evening trips to the library with nightly drink specials.
The young, fun crowd dances at Lush. It’s the only dance club in the area with no cover. It features a live band and a livelier crowd (mostly men, though). Dress is not to impress.
Casa Escobar is a dive Mexican restaurant that turns into a dance club by dark. It’s fairly large and gets crowded Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The West End used to be the most popular club in Santa Monica, but now it’s a place called Zanzibar. It’s a Morrocan themed dance bar with music that switches from hip-hop to reggae with a small, sweaty dance floor.$5+ cover, Thursdays-Saturdays (open Sundays).
Santa Monica’s Best Bars Locations:
• The Arsenal, 12012 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 479-9782
• Big Dean’s: 1615 Ocean Front Walk. (310) 393-2666
• Brittiana: 318 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 458-5350
• Bungalow, 101 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 899-8530
• Chez Jay: 1657 Ocean Ave. (310) 395-1741
• Don Antonio’s, 11755 W. Pico (310) 312-2090
• Huntley Hotel, 1111 Second Street (310) 394-5454
• Madison’s: 1037 Broxton, Westwood. (310) 824-6250
• Liquid Kitty: 11780 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A. (310) 473-3707
• O’Brien’s Pub: 2941 Main Street. (310) 396 4725
• Salute, 2345 Main Street, (310) 450-3434
• Shangri-La, 1301 Ocean Ave., (310) 394-2791
• Shutters: One Pico Boulevard, (310) 458-0030
• Sonny McLain’s: 26th & Wilshire, (310) 449-1811
• St. Nick’s: 8450 West Third St. L.A.. (323) 655 6917
• Three of Clubs: 1123 Vine, Hollywood. (323) 262-6441.
• Yankee Doodles: 1410 3rd. St. Promenade. (310) 394-4632
• Ye Old King’s Head: 116 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 451-1402
Clubs In Santa Monica
Dancing is a favorite activity of many Santa Monica club dwellers. The options are plentiful, ranging from the upscale to the casual. With the exception of one place (keep reading) these clubs have cover charges from $10-15.
Santa Monica’s place for the well-dressed is 217. It is a magnet for the upper 20s-mid 30’s professionals. It’s decor is soft lights, comfortable couches for relaxing and is known for its good dancing music. Expect a $10-15 cover.
Voda (Broadway and 2nd) is very upscale and attracts a lot of Europeans on holiday. It serves the best martinis on the Westside in a dark restaurant/bar atmosphere.
Bar Copa has become hot and features two DJ’s:8-10pm Latin Funk fusion, 10- 2am Hip-hop and dance. The taff is great; it has a dark, loungy look with an intimate dance space and booths. Imported beer is just $5 and there’s no cover on Thursdays; it’s quiet that night but the mood makes it an ideal date drink destination.
Main Street’s Best Bars
The most happening bar on Main Street – and one of the best in all of Santa Monica – is the Basement Tavern.
In its calmer moments, it’s like a large study of a rich English man. In his prime party mode – weekends after 10 and you had better be in the place by 9:30 – it’s a rocking club with a live band and squeezed into a small space surrounded by patrons dancing shoulder to shoulder.
One of the coolest bars in Santa Monica is 14 Below (between Wilshire and Broadway). With brick walls in the outer bar area, it resembles a soothing jazz club. Go past the curtains and into the dance room where bands play to a mostly 20s dancing crowd seven nights a week.
It’s recently re-opened and offers drink specials – $3 drinks and $4 Bud Lights – all night, every night.
On Main Street, a road that runs parallel to the beach, about two blocks inland that connects Santa Mocha to Venice, there’s the Circle Bar.
It was once one of LA’s classic dive bars, but has gone somewhat swanky with a doorman, stantions, booths and almost no lighting except for those Pizza Hut candles around the bar.
It gets a strong crowd, but mingling can be a challenge. The place still has its dive undercurrent, but with an air of pretension not even the ceiling fans can blow away.
The friendliest person is the light blonde bartender whom we believe to be attractive but it’s so dark we cannot confirm. Perhaps had we been so bold as to have snapped a photo…
The pub in PubClub prefers Rick’s Tavern on Main. Across from the Circle Bar, it’s long and narrow like a New York bar, but light enough to see whom one is talking to – and talking with others is part of its charm. Considering it’s neighboring establishments, instead of being a diamond in the rough, Rick’s is a rough in the diamond.
Two other places are The Brig and James Beach.
The former is an old dive bar that’s gone so upscale it serves water in glass bottles. Used in a Super Bowl ad, it’s a reasonably good mingling spot. Be sure and dress well. The latter is a restaurant with a large patio serving as the “hangout” bar.
Fairly casual, it’s set up for mingling. Large lines are commonplace on weekends from about 10-midnight and the bar can get really crowded; for quicker drink, attempt the “end run” to the bar in the restaurant, which is closed later in the evenings.
Santa Monica’s Best Clubs Locations
• Bar Copa, 2810 Main St. (310) 452-2445
• Barney’s Beanery, 1351 3rd St. (310) 656-5777
• Basement Tavern, 2640 Main Street (310) 396-2469
• 14 Below: 348 14th St. (310) 451-5040
• 217: 217 Broadway. (310) 394-6336
• Casa Escobar: 2500 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 828-1315
• Circle Bar: 2926 Main Street. (310) 450-0508
• Lush: 2020 Wilshire. (310) 829-1933
• Rick’s Tavern, 2907 Main Street. (310) 392-2772
• Schatzi’s: 3110 Main Street. 310-399-4800
• World Cafe, 2820 Main Street. (310) 392-1661
• Voda: 1449 2nd St. (310) 394-9774
• Zanzibar: 1301 Fifth Street. (310) 451-2221