Park at one of the many metered street spots (Sundays are free) and start the morning off with brunch at 17th Street Cafe, where a basket of freshly baked scones and muffins are placed at the table before you even peek at the extensive menu. The breakfast burrito with crispy potatoes is as savory as the delicious red velvet pancakes are sweet. Want something more upscale? Head up the block to Cafe Montana, where large glass windows allow for prime people-watching. Breakfast favorites include the rib eye steak and eggs, Norwegian smoked salmon and oat-bran banana pancakes.
Let the shopping begin! (But check your parking meter first, this area is known for swift ticketing.) For one-of-a-kind kid's and adult shoes (think: sequined Toms, leather Converse All-Stars and Nike 2k4 Huaraches) head to Kicks Sole Provider. Flats tickle your fancy? The quaint London Sole—the only LA outpost of the coveted British flats store—carries colorful Ballet-inspired footwear. Now, just add some sparkly baubles from Roseark. Husband and wife team Rick and Kathy Rose design and curate a unique collection of jewels and accessories into wearable art—from Blair Lauren Brown brass cuffs ($150) to Ludevine fossil earrings ($16,690). Beachy chic men’s and women’s designer looks are on hand at Planet Blue. For breathable, warm-weather clothing, check out Ruti Boutique where limited-edition women’s clothing and accessories—by owner Ruti Zisser and 18 Israel-based designers—hang on floating racks throughout the store. But enough about you, what about the kids!? Find super-cute kidswear including T-shirts, shorts and dresses at Peek, or spoil them silly with the pricey special-occasion collection at Janie and Jack. Looking for the latest-and-greatest baby gifts and mommy must-haves? That would be found at Giggle, which stocks everything from posh cribs and aerodynamic strollers to allergy-free wipes and non-toxic toys for well-to-do tots.
For lunch, try one of the 30 gourmet salads (Asian edamame and tofu, fusilli with salmon) and comfort food staples (Aunt Ella’s Chicken Pot Pie, beef lasagna) at the small but buzzy Marmalade Cafe. Get friendly with your neighbor at a communal table inside if you can’t snag a small sidewalk table. Further up Montana, Blue Plate serves salads, wraps and specialty items (grilled falafel burgers and brown rice bowls) for a health-conscious crowd. Although the tables are tight, the room is energetic and kid-friendly—plus, the $7 kids menu and a tin bucket of crayons oughta keep you both happy. Indulging a sweet tooth? Then get thee to Sweet Lady Jane, a dainty corner bakery that’s happy to serve you a single slice from more than 28 amazing cake choices. Choose the creamy signature Triple Berry Shortcake if it’s in season. If cake’s not your thing (and really, what’s wrong with you?) there are plenty of tarts, pies, cookies, cupcakes and croissants as well.
For an afternoon pick-me-up, sip artisanal coffee at the serene Caffe Luxxe. For an airy, light-filled space check out Primo Passo Coffee Co., featuring baked goods from nearby Farmshop and a rotating list of microbrewed, globally sourced Stumptown beans. Sit at the small communal benches and bar tables and marvel at ceilings so high you’d swear there’s an echo. Looking to detox instead? Kreation Kafe features cold-pressed juices, smoothies and custom cleanses that claim to be the natural miracle cure for whatever ails you.
Of course, if it’s boredom that ails you, the surest cure is to learn something new. Time to get crafty! Walk up the street to Cheryl Fudge for unique arts and crafts projects good for large groups and for kids of any age. Tap into your inner–Coco Chanel or Ralph Lauren and design clothes using patches, trimmings and other textiles that you sew on in-store. If it’s music that moves you, take a drumming tutorial ($1 for 1 minute) at Seasons, where wind chimes fill the tiny store and a soft drum meditation can often be heard from the street. If it’s food for thought you’re after, sample the cheese, bread and spreads at Andrew’s Cheese Shop, known for such hard-to-find cheeses as L'Aigle Noir Roquefort ($71/lbs)—that’s French for “black eagle.” Be sure to sign up for the next grilled-cheese-and-beer-pairing night. Later, wash away that nasty limburger scent across the street at Pure Sense by Paula, where you can create custom-blended fragrances to be used in the form of candles, soaps, perfumes and diffusers.
Before dinner, primp and pamper yourself with an al fresco haircut by hair pro Shin An on the back patio of her Shin Salon. For unruly hair, tame your mane at curly-hair experts Ouidad the L.A. outpost of the NYC-based salon. While you’re getting your $300 highlights, send your thrifty boyfriend down the street to Victor “Vic” Barone at Esquire Barber Shop where a plain-old haircut is $16, cash only. Get him started and Barone, who grew up in the area, will regale your guy with the storied history of this Santa Monica neighborhood, directing him to the history books lined up next to his barber chair and the many black and white photos covering the shop’s walls.
For dinner, the reliable R+D Kitchen is good for dates and happy hour, but usually overflowing with bar hoverers. Find sophisticated dining at the hidden-away Locanda Portofino, which serves delicious linguine, parmigiana, risotto and traditional Italian fare. Pradeep's Indian Cuisine's dishes include masala curry and a plethora of vegetarian options. The burgers and beers at Father’s Office are a neighborhood staple, and not just for dapper dads. This gastropub helmed by chef Sang Yoon is always jam-packed with locals standing shoulder-to-shoulder waiting to grab the next available table. Expect upscale bar food like the messy but delicious Office burger (Applewood bacon, gruyere, maytag blue, arugula and caramelized onions) and a beer list almost triple the length of the eats menu. Dessert time already? Head to Spumoni Cafe, next door to its Italian counterpart, Spumoni restaurant. Manager Roberto Basile—you’ll know him by his heavy Italian accent—makes fresh batches of creamy gelato in seasonal flavors (think: ricotta and figs) as well as the crowd-favorite Fondante, a nondairy dark-chocolate that tastes like a rich, decadent mousse. End the night at local landmark Aero Theatre, where special screenings, revivals, director Q&As and cineaste surprises await.
Hear the inside scoop from notable locals on what makes this laid-back SaMo street one of a kind.
Kathy Rose, co-owner of Roseark
“It’s close to the beach! And it’s really magical. One of my favorite restaurants in all of LA is Locanda Portofino, across the street. I love the penne vodka! We get our wine at The Duck Blind across the street, too. I also love Father’s Office—I can live at that place.”
Victor E. Barone, local resident and owner of Esquire Barber Shop
“It’s a destination-shopping zone. It wasn’t like that in the old days, in the ’60s and ’70s the only people here were locals from the neighborhood.”
Sang Yoon, chef-owner of Father’s Office
“Montana Ave really has evolved. It’s become a Rodeo Drive West. I like that it has a sexy cosmopolitan feel but it’s also neighborhoody, so it doesn’t feel like a shopping district—it feels very organic.”