The LA Streets series is an ode to the expansive streets that extend the width of this sprawling city, filled with opportunities for discovery. This series is inspired by Jonathan Gold, who learned how to eat on Pico Boulevard, and in turn, taught us all to take a closer look at the streets we drive by every day. 

part three: santa monica boulevard

one street, many personalities

good morning santa monica

LACMA | Mid-Wilshire

Santa Monica Boulevard is as weird one to say the least. It starts off pretty chill in its namesake Santa Monica. Your typical touristy center. What one might picture California to be if you’ve never been. It’s pretty wide, well-paved, uncluttered until you hit the turning point. Or rather, an intersection point. The point where Wilshire and Santa Monica meet in Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica continues north of Wilshire, growing farther and farther as we move along east.

Santa Monica Boulevard in Weho is iconic. Santa Monica in Hollywood is chaotic. Santa Monica once you pass the 101 is a whole other world. And then it somehow blends seamlessly into the best part of Sunset Blvd at Sunset Junction. Compared to some of the other great boulevards of LA, Santa Monica is an angled but not to windy shot straight through the city. It is, after all the 2. A state high way that continues far beyond city limits by way of Glendale (and becomes very squiggly around La Cañada. But we’re focused on the boulevard part. So let’s get into it.

cruising across the city

Driving along Santa Monica Boulevard is mostly sitting through traffic staring at boring, not so pretty cityscapes. But somewhere in the middle-ish you get the heart of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood in all its chaotic glory. It’s definitely not my favorite street, both for practical and impractical reasons. But it does have some iconic addresses that redeem it.


Santa Monica Boulevard starts, as expected, in Santa Monica. In the heart of Santa Monica. The place where tourists flock. The place where post card photos sell you on sunny California. The place where suburban families and teenagers drive in for a weekend day trip. Santa Monica Boulevard is born in the thick of the chaos, right at Ocean Ave, with a view over the end of PCH, the crowded beach and ocean beyond on one side, and the local’s nightmare that is Third Street Promenade on the other.

This part of Santa Monica feels like one big outdoor mall. The convenience of a great American mall with all the chain stores you can imagine with the pain of city parking all rolled into one. Plus the touristy icons in the form of dinosaur fountains along the often seasonally decorated Promenade.

the promenade dinosaurs

To be honest, unless you’re visiting or have visitors, or are very desperately running errands on the west side, you probably don’t want to be spending much time here. To me, Santa Monica feels like college memories. Many a Saturday was spent haunting these streets. Muscle memory parking in lot 1 or 5, setting timers for an hour and a half and running around all the stores, grabbing lunch, saying hello to the beach and then continuing on my way. A core college memory was doing “drive by” coffee runs to Philz (back when this was the only Philz in LA), one person running in to order, the other circling around the block. “Studying” in cafes that no longer exist, eating at the various lunchy spots on a college student budget. Celebrating 21st birthdays at The Misfit.

Nostalgia aside, there’s really not much reason to come here, most things that exist here also have locations elsewhere — do your shopping and be on your way. Ok, maybe do a slight detour and grab a Bay Cities sandwich on your way out.

views over the beach at ocean ave 

coffee by day // wine by night

bay cities: an icon in itself


Quickly, almost suddenly, right around Lincoln Boulevard, where most tourists and non-westsiders will have turned to get onto the 10, the landscape quickly changes to be extremely local. The monotony of auto shops and car dealerships are interrupted by nondescript strip malls. Genuinely unless you are in the market for a car or have a car issue (ahem, I have personal experience with this part of town due to unfortunate car issues and therefore may be a little biased), this is a pure drive through neighborhood.

Except for one important thing. DK’s Donuts. An icon worth driving out for. Particularly at weird times of night. A must stop.

24 hour donuts

night churros

milkshakes & diner food

movies and street scenes

ramen without the chaos of sawtelle proper

Once you hit the 20s car dealerships turn into hospitals and medical centers. Keep driving until you hit the part with more strip malls than anything. Lots of mediocre local restaurants, fast food chains and grocers, random hotels, your typical neighborhood shops that serve various community functions. Not all that much here, but a college student favorite Vietnamese restaurant: Mama Hong’s, and actually quite a few longstanding mom and pop Japanese restaurants as strip mall hits.

As you get closer to Sawtelle, it starts feeling a bit more like LA. An old school theater and a Venezuelan churros restaurant only open at night. A 50s themed cafe that hits all the right campy notes and has milkshakes AND a parking lot? (many college nights were spent there too). Some fratty feeling sports bars. Some solid Mexican spots (but let’s be real, there’s no shortage of that in any street in LA). Technically on Sawtelle but close enough to mention are Shin Sen Gumi (which always gets bonus points in my book for easier parking given it’s north of Santa Monica Blvd) and a newer spot to the scene Tuk Tuk Thai right in that stress-inducing intersection. In fact the blocks just east and west of the 405 are probably my least favorite part of this entire street (yes, even the boring auto shop part). During rush hour it could take half an hour just to get past these short blocks.


Congratulations, you’ve made it to the other side of the 405. To your left you’ll see the worst Starbucks location. To the right, a strip mall that every knows of and yet no one actually goes to, with a Fatburger and a rare Chinese restaurant for these parts (until Sichuan Impression opened across the street). Behind that, a Zankou that is always a solid pit stop, unlike the Starbucks). The patchwork cityscape continues until you reach the wonderful intersection that is Westwood Boulevard. World Market to your right (their parking lot is stressful), gas stations to your left. One might be tempted to turn and get some Persian food. If you do, Sunnin (Lebanese) is but a block away.

As you continue forward, you clearly feel the transition from Westwood (cute, neighborhood feels, college town slash generational family feels) to Century City (corporate, sterile, new, commercial). It’s probably the best paved part of the street, very wide and pleasant to drive on (perhaps the one part of the street that actually feels like it’s a highway lol). It’s all a smooth ride with nothing in your way… until you get to the Century City Westfield, the place we all love to hate, though these days it is getting harder to deny just how convenient it is (I mean, you can go get bougie groceries at Gelson’s AND get Din Tai Fung AND shop at Eataly AND work it off at Equinox and just park once? the appeal is undeniable even for a Century City hater). Just be warned that parking can be stressful when busy, and it’s almost always busy. Also if you come on a weekday at lunch hour and you work anywhere near the realm of entertainment, you’re almost certain to run into someone you know whether you like it or not. And if you don’t work in the industry and wonder why you’re stressed, it’s because of all the talent agency folks in suits, you’re breathing in second hand anxiety.

like fine it’s a really nice mall ok

but first coffee


media, so yeah culture


The best and worst part of Santa Monica Boulevard, imho.

The best because there are two choices and is plenty to look at with either option, from staring at tourists taking pictures by the Beverly Hills signs on the north route, or window shopping through the car window along the south.

Also it is overwhelmingly satisfying to drive through when all the traffic lights are synced to green, cutting right through the thick of Beverly Hills. Just make sure you don’t come on an event night.


Perhaps the most famous part of the street, notably not in Santa Monica, perhaps the most interesting part of the street, but also the part I actively avoid driving on unless I have to. West Hollywood. Santa Monica Boulevard is the heart of West Hollywood. It’s everything WeHo claims to be and more.

You got the iconic theaters and venues, the landmark gay bars and restaurants, bright and colorful and loud. Everything is a scene. The brunch scene feels like the club scene with music blasting and drinks flowing. As you move past Crescent Heights, past Fairfax, you are in the more local part of WeHo, less parties more parking lots for strip malls with grocery stores, lots of apartments, lots of parking restrictions (WeHo parking police is no joke), and some longstanding local institutions like Jones and Formosa Cafe that evoke memories of older times.

Just… don’t come here during Pride. Or Halloween. Or do. Just don’t drive.

i mean there’s no shortage of shit to look at while you’re driving through the west hollywood part of this street


Past La Brea we’re officially in Hollywood. Things aren’t particularly exciting here. Traffic is bad, the lanes are cramped. We’re keeping our eyes on the road and moving right along.


Once you cross over the 101 it’s like you’re in a different world. East Hollywood where Historic Filipinotown blurs with Thai Town and Little Armenia all with heavy Central American presence throughout. You have taco stands on the sidewalks, Filipino bakeries next to falafel shops in the strip malls. You have the a beloved Lebanese restaurant and classic Salvadoran and Guatemalan bakeries all in little strip malls so easy to miss. This is probably the richest cultural part of the street and yet so easy to drive past without seeing it.

And then finally, the street comes to an end shortly after Virgil, going up into the most gentrified block (a Palisociety hotel AND an Erewhon, please), a little yellow bungalow housing a local favorite Middle Eastern/North African restaurant, and then turning right into Sunset Boulevard at Sunset Junction.

bookmark these

  • Santa Monica Visitors Center: Ok not really but if you’re here do yourself a favor and soak in the sights of the beach from the park above (no, no need to go any closer)
  • The Misfit: I mean, it’s a core part of the Promenade without feeling like, well The Cheesecake Factory (or The Bungalow for that matter), and for that we’ll take it
  • Bay Cities: technically not on Santa Monica but very worth a detour for their iconic sandwiches
  • Bodega Wine Bar: while you’re here you might as well get some coffee and or wine (depending on the time) at this loungey spot where Santa Monica professionals like to hang
  • Wexler’s Deli: listen LA doesn’t have a lot of deli’s the way New York does so when we do we rally and Wexler’s is a popular one for good reason
  • Esters Wine Shop: another one technically not on Santa Monica Boulevard but just around the corner, a vibey spot for wine and small plates
  • Cassia: and next door, a popular southeast Asian slash French restaurant that is also quite vibey as upscale restaurants in Santa Monica often are
  • DK Donuts: 24 hour donut shop with a bountiful selection of classics and creative flavors, bring cash
  • Mama Hong’s: solid Vietnamese restaurant, not much to say here but a good one to keep in mind if you’re looking for an easy casual meal
  • Cafe 50s: is it good food? absolutely not. but did they go all in on the theme? oh yes they did. And honestly after a long day, it’s the right move.
  • GoodPeople: cute cafe, with a patio too
  • Churros Calientes: churros and Venezuelan fare that is open only in the evenings (pair with a movie next door and you got yourself a cute low key itinerary)
  • Nanbankan: a tiny Japanese shop specializing in yakitori
  • Tuktuk Thai: a new-ish Thai restaurant that looks vibey but is actually very legit
  • Century City Mall: we love to hate it but you gotta admit they did a good job curating, lots of stuff in one place, even if it’s too close for comfort to the CAA Death Star
  • Sprinkles: yeah the trend is long over but it’s still a very LA thing
  • La Colombe: the Beverly Hills location is pretty nice
  • Alfred Coffee: tiny location but hey it’s there
  • Paley Center: media center, check the programming
  • Troubadour: iconic WeHo venue
  • The Abbey: quintessential WeHo proud gay party establishment
  • Bottega Louie: not the OG but to not have to trek out to downtown
  • West Hollywood Park and Pacific Design Center: just off the main street but it’s a good walk, WeHo keeps things pretty
  • Yogurt Stop: like a Yogurtland but like bolder and better
  • Dayglow: I mean, of course the WeHo location is more vibey than the Silver Lake one but it’ll do in a pinch
  • Kitchen24: a neighborhood favorite that has been around for a minute, diner-ish and cocktails, feels like life in plastic
  • Hamburger Mary’s: classic American bar and grill fare but with drag shows, it’s iconic for a reason
  • Conservatory: honestly mostly just bookmark for the vibes, they have great loungey outdoor seating, kinda like the place reality TV show people would lunch so take with that what you will
  • Connie and Ted’s: New England cuisine seafood, which in WeHo feels like a theme park
  • Laurel Hardware: it’s in an old hardware store and it’s a scene, but a popular spot for cocktails, you’ll probably run into someone you’d rather not
  • Employees Only: good cocktails, prohibition era vibes
  • Kashtan: v authentic looking Russian restaurant
  • Breakfast by Salt’s Cure: the griddle cakes are undeniably good and on a weekday it’s actually very much not a scene unlike the New York location (everything in New York is more annoying than it needs to be)
  • Astro Burger: heavy on the nostalgia
  • Galanga Thai: very well priced lunch special, pretty comprehensive menu, tiny parking lot, what else could you want?
  • Jones: a cozy classic Italian American restaurant that feels like the platonic ideal for a nostalgic Hollywood restaurant
  • Formosa Cafe: the iconic restaurant has been completely revamped and reopened a year ago with a modernized menu but still the old Hollywood vibes
  • Hot N Juicy Crawfish: I mean Dave Chang and Lena Waithe hung out here sooo
  • Leif Gallery: bougie antique furniture shop
  • Hollywood Forever Cemetery: I mean, it’s a tourist attraction
  • Glitter Moon: crystals and other “metaphysical” goods that make you question how much of this is appropriation but anyways this place has a very comprehensive inventory if you’re into this kind of stuff
  • LA Skate Co: old school skate shop that evokes a cooler time for LA
  • El Comal: no frills family friendly Mexican restaurant
  • Tlayuda LA Restaurant: Oaxacan food, family owned
  • Sasoun Produce: for lovers of harder to find fruits and produce
  • Falafel Arax: strip mall falafel joint
  • Marouch: a Jonathan Gold favorite Lebanese restaurant – get the mezze and you’re covered
  • Karihang-Pinoy: small, authentic, filipino restaurant in, you guessed it, a strip mall
  • Guatemalteca Bakery: Guatemalan food and miscellaneous baked goods, a longtime local staple
  • Tacos Espiritu Santo: street tacos, you’ll smell it before you see those super bright fluorescent lights and smoke, and you know it’s good
  • The Virgil: I mean unsure if people actually go here but it’s a saloon themed speakeasy of sorts so there’s that
  • BBQ+Rice: Korean bbq and rice, take out
  • Bowery Bungalow: a very cute bungalow that is a local favorite for north African and Levantine inspired foods, cute back patio too
  • Silver Lake Pool & Inn: impeccable aesthetic for everything you’d want in a socal hotel
  • Bulan Thai: neighborhood staple for vegetarian Thai food
  • Erewhon: I mean, still a little annoyed they’ve infiltrated the east side but alas we’ll happily overpay for buffalo cauliflower

a day on santa monica boulevard

Not the most intuitively sensible itinerary, it makes the most sense to jump around geographically, which doesn’t make sense with traffic patterns, but if we had to do it here’s what we’re doing.


Start on the west side because you know you don’t want to be here by the time Third Street Promenade gets going. Look over the ocean and think about how you should come to the beach more often. But no, not this one. Move right along.

Grab a coffee at Philz, to go, and then go straight to DK’s Donuts to pick up some goods (be sure to bring cash). Continue on your way. Don’t stop til you get to Century City, the bougie mall. Ok here’s your chance to run a couple errands, pick up some Din Tai Fung, maybe circle around Eataly or something, do what you need to do and then get tf out before lunch rush. We’re hustling along!


Ok continue onwards to Beverly Hills. Pick your path. If you’d rather not participate take the north path and hope for all green lights. If you’re looking to people watch and window shop, take the south path. Maybe stop by for some early 2010s nostalgia and pick up Sprinkles. Maybe actually be cultured and go to the Paley Center (or just admire the City Hall architecture from the car).

West Hollywood is tolerable in the afternoon. Get Thai food for lunch at Galanga, froyo for dessert at Yogurt Stop (yeah yeah, it feels like an out of trend choice but let’s be honest, froyo is delicious and Yogurt Stop doesn’t skimp on the toppings). Or get a caffeinated pick me up at Dayglow (yes, the cute one that also has a location on Sunset in Silver Lake). Do some shopping (from thrift stores to weed stores SM Blvd has you covered), run some errands (no seriously, they have all the best errands stores on this street between Weho and Hollywood).


Dinner is at Marouch or Bowery Bungalow. And you finish with a night cap ever so slightly slightly beyond Santa Monica Blvd at The Black Cat or Cafe Stella or 4100 and call it a night (preferably at the Silver Lake Pool and Inn), if you’re a tired adult. If you’re not, well then scratch ALL of that, turn yourself right around and go back to West Hollywood. Get dinner somewhere that feels like a scene (you have a range to choose from, Bottega Louie to Hamburger Mary’s or Laurel Hardware) and then go out out, catch a show, bar hop, get late night tacos. Channel your best transplant energy and live your best life.

Alternatively choose the old Hollywood route. Grab dinner at the newly reopened Formosa Cafe or Jone’s and then finish the night with Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

see also