Here’s an “only in LA” adventure that is custom made for the holidays: dining with your toes in the sand before heading to an ice-skating adventure, all within a few blocks of each other. Welcome to winter in Santa Monica!
Back on the Beach: Santa Monica
Back on the Beach has been a fixture on the beach in Santa Monica since 1989, but I’d forgotten about it because the popular destination had to shutter during construction of the new pool and rec center next door at The Annenberg Community Beach House. It had slipped out of my consciousness, but the good news is this: Back on the Beach is still intact!
The tables are in the sand. You can kick off your shoes under the table, and feel sand between your toes as you enjoy a delicious meal, and strong coffee. A playground with swings was in view of my table, so my son could swing and climb and chase sea gulls instead of waiting for our food. I ordered a mushroom omelet that was delicious and came with a scone and potatoes and was also well priced considering the full on ocean view. And, as always, in Santa Monica the people watching is priceless. (During winter hours are 8:00 – 4:00 PM, so good for breakfast, brunch and lunch). Best of all, for the reasonable price of $8, you can purchase all-day parking in the lot right behind the restaurant.
The restaurant sits right next the big path that attracts bikers from everywhere. You can rent bikes, but it’s best to bring your own because the rental shop is too far down the beach to traipse with young kids. We opted instead to look for shells, play ball and watch beach volleyball. The Annenberg Beach Center’s pool is closed off-season, but the Marion Davies Guest house opens at 11:oo AM for 30 minute tours. For the right kid this would be fun and I wanted to peek inside… but I hadn’t brought the right kid. He wanted to hunt for crabs, so we did that instead.
ICE Santa Monica
Blissfully beached out, we shifted gears and drove 5 minutes to ICE at Santa Monica Place at the corner of 5th Street and Arizona, just two short blocks from the 3rd Street Promenade, which is open from November 1 to January 19. It’s a charming outdoor rink with a little practice area for beginners that succeeds in bringing a little winter wonderland to the beach. It’s not cheap at ($15 per skater), but the price includes skate rentals as well as a full day pass. The rink is open from 10:00 PM on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
We were there on a particularly warm day, so the ice was very slick and watery. (To be fair, they had it marked the condition as wet) And wet it was. My son, who had an absolute blast, went from falling down every step to skating pretty well in just a couple hours. But he was drenched when he finally came off the ice. Note to the wise: Bring an extra set of clothing, and gloves! Tee shirts are fine, but gloves are needed for the tumbles.
It’s particularly festive to do a night skate during Christmas when the decorative lights are on and adding a sweater helps you to feel truly transported to a winter wonderland. The truly ambitious can skate during the day and return at night to take advantage of the day rate. ICE also offers cabanas to rent for parties which is perfect for a December birthday party.
After skating we headed for the promenade where, as is often the case, we stumbled on something fun: a Fire Truck Christmas parade. It couldn’t have been scripted better for my boy – a series of red fire trucks sounding their sirens and transporting Santa passed right in front of us. It’s a truism that you’ll always see something fun at the Promenade – musicians, street poets, seasonal activities, etc. It was Saturday so we caught the tale end of the Farmer’s Market which is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM. After picking up some incredible fruit, we went in search of a late lunch.
Eating Around the Promenade
The area surrounding the 3rd Street Promenade is replete with excellent restaurants, so don’t settle on something run-of-the-mill. One of my favorites is Blue Plate Tacos. It’s on Ocean Blvd, which is a bit farther away (towards the Pier) but every seat has an ocean view. Delicious tacos and salads, fairly priced, a fun atmosphere (and great for dinner and drinks for adults at night). If you want something uber-healthy and ridiculously delicious I also love True Food Kitchen, at the edge of Santa Monica Place. Other great choices include: Border Grill, Umami Burger (if you’ve never been you will fall in love with the hamburger again), The Vanilla Bake Shop for sweets, and Fig (nice with grandparents!).
However, as we were headed for some of these amazing restaurants our nine year olds saw Johnny Rockets and that’s where we ended up! Lay your plans, but be flexible if that’s what works for your crew. And, how great, post skating, to be sitting out on a promenade eating burgers, listening to local street musicians, and soaking in the holiday spirit.
The promenade does gets crowded, especially at the holidays, but mostly because it is fun to be out with people, fun to look at the lights and feel the Christmas spirit in the air. Best of all, shopping doesn’t have to be part of the experience — there’s plenty else to do! Happy Holidays.