With everything from dive bars to upscale lounges and live music venues, Santa Monica’s nightlife scene has something for every kind of nightlife-goer. Unlike other parts of Los Angeles, where table service and being on a club promoter’s list determines where you’re going and when you’re getting in, Santa Monica’s out-on-the-town scene is much more relaxed, both in atmosphere and expectations for dress. The dress code, in general, is much more casual (it’s the beach!), and getting in depends less on who you know and more on what time you arrive. By Breanna Wilson
For a list of all after-hours activities available in Santa Monica, search our Santa Monica nightlife listings.
Stepping into The Bungalow at The Fairmont Miramar Hotel is like stepping into the coolest California house party you’ve ever seen. From the cozy décor to the ping pong tables and readily available board games, it’s easy to feel comfortable here. Stop in early to avoid a long line (before 8pm), grab a Bungalow Margarita or Lychee Gimlet and let the night unfold in front of you. The crowd here is young and very trendy.
Cameo Bar, at The Viceroy Santa Monica, is a glamorous Santa Monica bar and lounge that plays host not only to the trendsetting travelers staying at the hotel, but also to some of Santa Monica’s finest locals, where it’s not hard to kick back thanks to poolside cabanas and weekend deejays. Drinks here are nicely balanced, such as the Library Libation, featuring Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Drambuie, fresh squeezed lemonade and ginger beer, making it light and appealing even to non-bourbon drinkers.
CAN’T-MISS HAPPY HOURS
There are a number of great happy hours right around the Third Street Promenade. Regularly voted one of the best West Side happy hours by publications in Los Angeles, The Misfit Restaurant + Bar’s Happy Hour is hard to beat. Running daily from noon-7pm, this shindig includes discounts on cocktails, sangria, mimosas, wine, and beer. Just around the corner is West 4th and Jane’s, where happy hour runs from 4-7pm on the weekdays featuring happy hour discounts on drafts, wine, sangria and the bar’s signature fish tacos, Latin flatbread, wings, and more.
Also around the Third Street Promenade is the Happy Hour at Copa d’Oro. You can order the Imperfect Manhattan, Caipirinha, Moscow Mule, Caribbean Collins for $5 apiece, as well as the Mojito, Tommy’s Margarita, Pimm’s Cup, and more for just $6. Wine ($5) and beer ($4) also are available, along with an impressive Happy Hour food menu that includes paninis for $6-$8.
For anyone familiar with Los Angeles-raised author Charles Bukowski, add Barkowski to your must-visit list. Paying homage to Charles Bukowski, this retro 1960s-style bar offers up a daily Happy Hour from 5-7 pm that features $2 off wine and beer (regularly $5-$13) and $5 drinks. This dark dive bar is known for its selection of beers, with about 50 options available between draught and bottle.
DIVE BARS, LIVE MUSIC AND DANCE CLUBS
When you mention dive bars in Santa Monica, Chez Jay is inevitably going to come up in conversation. Known as the “celebrity dive,” Chez Jay has been serving Santa Monica nightlife for more than 50 years. Grab a seat at the bar and rub elbows with locals while enjoying a glass of wine or pint of beer. Chez Jay, too, has a happy hour, running from 4:30-6pm with specials on wine and a few food items.
Consider the Daily Pint for another Santa Monica nightlife go-to dive bar. With pool tables, shuffleboard, darts, plenty of big screen televisions, and a hefty selection of draft beers and whiskey, it’s a great place to crack open a beer and have a great time. Whether it’s to watch a big game or just unwind after a long day of sightseeing, this offbeat bar on Pico Boulevard near the 10 Freeway is a low-key hideaway. They even have a craft beer and whiskey club with specials and discounts for the true connoisseur.
It’s evident that Santa Monica is a city for live music when you step into The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen. The house band, The Old Fashioned, takes the stage every Friday night, and on Monday through Thursday nights you can expect to find an array of other local acts. As a bonus, they have one of the longest happy hours in town, running from 4-8pm every day. For a unique Santa Monica nightlife experience, check out the Basement Tavern, literally a basement, located at the bottom of an 1800's-era mansion, the Victorian on Main Street. It has the feeling of a prohibition-era speakeasy, craft cocktails and all, and one of the most extensive whiskey menus in the area. Most nights include live music from local musicians, featuring everything from deejays to bluegrass bands to reggae nights.
Harvelle’s Blues Club, the oldest live music venue on the West Side, is a small, dimly-lit venue hosting live music and dancing nightly. Check the club’s calendar online before you go; with blues, jazz, rock, funk, and burlesque on the agenda, there’s something different every night.
Last but not least, The Room Santa Monica is where locals head for a night out dancing. Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in here, the crowd is a mix of people and they’re all there to dance the night away with friends.
CALIFORNIA WINE BARS
For something more romantic and fit for a special date night, Bodega Wine Bar is one of those places where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and have a conversation without yelling. The lounge stays open late (until 2am) every day, and offers a simple menu of small bites and pizzas (including a gluten-free option) that are perfect for sharing.
At Sonoma Wine Garden at Santa Monica Place, Europe meets California with Mediterranean flavors that combine with California ingredients and wines to the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. While it's great any time of day, head to Sonoma Wine Garden at dinnertime to catch the sunset from the patio while enjoying light bites and wines that are both local and international.
GO CAR FREE
Tourists can use our car free guide to learn about bus, bike and walking options in Santa Monica.