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A wide shop of Esters Wine Shop and Bar which includes table and bar seating.
Photograph: Courtesy Jakob N. Layman

The 11 best bars in Santa Monica

Make the most of your Santa Monica happy hours and get-togethers with our 11 favorite bars, updated for 2021.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributor
Erin Kuschner
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What makes a decent bar in Santa Monica? Depending on age, relationship status, income level and tolerance for blacked out tech bros, that answer may vary widely. Putting aside the beachside city’s singles hotspots, rooftop bars and tourist draws—we’re looking at you, Bungalow and Circle Bar—we’ve rounded up the 11 best bars in Santa Monica.  

On this list, you’ll find steal-worthy happy hours, divey karaoke and grown-up wine and cocktail spots worthy of a celebratory night out. With something for everyone, don’t knock a  Santa Monica nightcap until you’ve tried one of these destination-worthy bars.

Best bars in Santa Monica

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Part wine shop, part wine bar, Esters is a place where you can take your time with a glass of your favorite vino (or discover something new) while contemplating what bottle to pick up for your next dinner party. Inside, you’ll find comfortable bar seating, where your bartender will gently guide you through an impressive wine list featuring sparkling, white, red and dessert options (glasses range from $13 to $29). Outdoors, a small patio area lets you sip while people-watching. A seasonal, farmers' market driven small plates menu rounds out a trip to Esters, including plates of burrata, grilled cheese and smoked kielbasa—as well as a customizable cheese and charcuterie board.

  • Bars
  • Gastropubs
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

With its high, tinned ceilings, vintage tiled floors and columns, and ambient globe lighting, you could almost mistake the Misfit’s interior for 20th-century Paris. While an obvious shoe-in for date night, it’s also the perfect spot for classy day drinking, with one of the best happy hours in town. From opening to 6pm daily, most of the bar’s specialty cocktails are half price, so you can easily lose yourself in a Saturday (or Sunday) stupor if you’re otherwise engaged throughout the week. Don’t forget to snag one of their complimentary house-made chocolate chip and French sea salt cookies that come with the bill.

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Downtown Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Inside an elegant, wallpapered parlor, choose from a row of vintage bar stools or settle into the maroon upholstered banquette as you sip expertly crafted takes on classic cocktails, like the coffee negroni made with gin, coffee liqueur, sweet vermouth and Cynar. Ideal for small groups, the kitchen also serves cheese boards, small plates and burgers, while backgammon boards provide a bit of postprandial diversion.

  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • Downtown Santa Monica

Chez Jay is something different to eveyone: an institution, a dive, a time warp, a wormhole to a totally bizarre experience. To us, it’s all of the above, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths, its taxidermied fish mounted on the wall, its bit-of-everything clientele. It’s the diviest dive, but comfortable, and just as ready to serve you a heavy pour of well rum as it is some steamed clams or steak at cutthroat prices.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Exposed brick, sexy lighting and plenty of studded leather sofas: This is the Chestnut Club, from the same crew behind Black Market Liquor Bar and Scopa Italian Roots. When it comes to cocktails, a favorite is the Stay Cock n’ Bull Special, made with bourbon, armagnac, benedictine and orange liqueur. It’s boozy as hell, but balanced to a T. Grab a spot near the large window facing 14th Street for some fresh air and solid people-watching.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Fans of chardonnay and merlot alike flock to this wine bar, where vino is the star no matter your grape preference. Choose from a hefty list of light, medium and full-bodied reds and whites to clink glasses on a casual first date, or order pizza and apps along with your wine for a longer night out. Stop by on Wine Wednesdays, where select bottles are just $25. They also offer a happy hour 3 to 7pm Monday to Thursday and 7pm to close on Sunday with $7 glasses of wine and $8 starters.

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

At first glance, this might look like your standard dive, but step inside and take a closer look because there are hundreds of bottles of whiskey cluttering the shelves and an impressive, ever-changing lineup of craft brews on tap, from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Cocoa Mole to Firestone Double DBA. Because it’s not just a dive: It’s a British dive, and they take those seriously. Grab a bottle or glass, then stick around for a game of pool.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

This carefully curated gastropub is a beer lover’s heaven, featuring roughly 30 craft beers to enjoy alongside American pub fare—burgers, fried and beer-braised mussels, anyone? You’re stumbling distance—two blocks, to be exact—from the beach, so you can always sober up with a long walk on the sand.

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  • Clubs
  • Santa Monica
  • price 1 of 4

If you’re in the mood to drink and sing some tunes, the Gaslite in Santa Monica is the place for you. This ultra-divey, old-school karaoke bar with a small dancefloor is one of the best places to watch Westside locals let loose and get weird. Open from 4pm to 2am daily, anything goes at the Gaslite, and sometimes, that’s exactly what you need when you go to a bar.

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  • Bars
  • Gastropubs
  • Downtown Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

The Westside likes to keep things casual, and West 4th and Jane is as laid back as they come. Comfortable, communal tables fill up throughout the week with small plates (they have a bomb lamb burger) and pints of well curated beer. If you’re having problems picking a brew, try the beer flight sampler, with four 5-ounce pours of their best beer on tap. The biggest draw of all might be the daily specials, though: Check their Instagram @west4thandjane for the latest deals.

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