Stretches of Pico Boulevard, a main artery connecting Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles, have begun to look more like an art exhibition as of late: The local business improvement district, paired with nonprofit Beautify Earth, have adorned buildings here with a variety of striking murals. The people bustling through the area are equally diverse, drawn to a mix of small galleries, live music venues, shops, and ethnic restaurants tempting almost any palette. Accessible from the three Metro Expo Line stations in town and bordered by cornerstones like Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica College, and Virginia Avenue Park - home to a beloved Saturday farmers market - a youthful spirit pervades along Pico Boulevard.
The Madison at Reds may be the most unusually delicious pizza in town. An authentic Swedish pie, it’s topped with white garlic sauce and herbed rotisserie ground beef - like a kebab on a pizza. Lares Restaurant has been serving up burritos and tacos since 1968, alongside traditional Mexican specialties like birria (lamb stew) and camarones a la diabla (shrimp wrapped in bacon and dipped in spicy sauce). With classic and quirky movies projected on its loft-like walls, Upper West puts its twist on the classic dinner and a movie date night. Look for specialty cocktails and modern American cuisine - everything from crispy ahi tacos to miso-glazed duck and gourmet grilled cheese.
Be sustainable at The Colleagues, where much of the gently used women’s and men’s clothing, jewelry, shoes and housewares for sale are designer or vintage, not to mention you can also snag decorative arts and home goods. La Vie Parisienne serves as a showroom for jeweler Catherine Popesco, who uses early-20th-century Parisian inspirations to make eye-catching earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and pins. On Saturdays, big crowds gather for the Virginia Avenue Park Farmers Market, known as a favorite among several area chefs for its deep selection of fresh seafood. Inside tip: A free bike valet makes it easy to arrive sans car.
Like the coffee houses in college towns, UnUrban Coffee House is funky and friendly, with mismatched furniture and décor, an art gallery and live entertainment. McCabe’s Guitar Shop is legendary not only for its killer instrument collection, but also for intimate concerts with a who’s-who roster of musicians like Beck, M. Ward, and Steve Earle, among others. Knock back some pins at the recently renovated Bowlmor Lanes, featuring glow-in-the-dark lanes and comfortable banquettes. Home of the Santa Monica Theatre Guild, the oldest theatrical group in the city, the Morgan-Wixson Theatre puts on five plays per season, along with shows for kids.
For all you history buffs, pay your respects to stars like Glenn Ford and Ingrid Bergman at the City of Santa Monica's Woodlawn Cemetery (1847 14th St). Enjoy the natural beauty of this old fashioned cemetery and pick up a map for a walking tour.