Los Angeles: Santa Monica & Venice
Santa Monica is the city's biggest beach community, known for its pier, beautiful people, and pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade. Eclectic Venice Beach, laced with canals, is home to many artists.
SEE Venice Beach Boardwalk
From Rose Ave. to Washington Blvd.
More of a sidewalk of sights than a traditional boardwalk. The promenade is lined with street performers, psychics, and struggling artists who look like they've been there since the late 1960s. Cheap eats and crazy T-shirt shops, too.
EAT Blue Plate
1415 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, 310/260-8877
Serves omelets, pancakes, and soups to brunching Hollywood starlets and power players. Lunchtime is less hectic, and once you're in, the waitstaff will make sure you're well taken care of.
EAT C & O Trattoria
31 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey at Venice Pier, 310/823-9491, cotrattoria.com
Singing waiters, heaping portions, and great prices make it a prime spot for family and friends to enjoy a no-frills Italian feast. The table Chianti is self-serve (it's on an honor system), the garlic rolls are free-flowing, and the menu is surprisingly varied. Dishes like fettuccine al limone arrive on plates big enough to share. The lively atmosphere keeps the place packed, so be prepared to wait. Never fear: C & O has been known to serve samples of its killer garlic rolls out on the street.
EAT Hal's Bar & Grill
1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310/396-3105, halsbarandgrill.com
Unpretentious neighborhood joint that showcases works by local artists and serves wholesome, filling brunches on weekends. Diners are greeted with complimentary warm muffins and biscuits. The mimosas and Manuel's scrambled eggs, a healthy Mexican twist on a breakfast classic, are exceptional; the Dungeness crab sandwich is savory but messy.
EAT Mao's Kitchen
1512 Pacific Ave., Venice, 310/581-8305, maoskitchen.com
Cheap Chinese food. Almost everything can be made for meat lovers or vegetarians. For example, the dumplings come three ways: chicken, shrimp, or tofu with black mushroom and vegetables. Portraits of Mao Tse-tung hang on the brick walls. Outdoor seating.
Hotel Casa Del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica, 310/581-5533, hotelcasadelmar.com
It doesn't get much posher than sipping drinks in this glamorous hotel's oceanside lobby lounge, where there's usually someone tickling the ivories. The 1920s decor is inviting; you'll melt into the large, comfortable couches. Quality people-watching guaranteed.
1413 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310/450-6288, shopfirefly.com
Quirky collections of cards, books, and artistic creations of all kinds--from pottery to hand-decorated T-shirts--are crammed into every corner. It's hard to leave empty-handed.
SHOP Third Street Promenade
Third St., Santa Monica, 310/393-8355, thirdstreetpromenade.com
Good for the clearance racks at popular clothing stores like Banana Republic and for finding bargains at quirkier stores like Kenzie (contemporary women's fashions from Canada) and Lush (known for its all-natural beauty products).
1301 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Suite 33, Venice, 310/396-5122, nitespa.com
After-hours spa-bar with slumber party ambience. Try a massage (from $25) or facial (from $85) with a cocktail. Neapolitan-ice-cream-colored walls make for a cheery backdrop, and a D.J. spins tunes until 2 a.m.
PLAY Santa Monica Pier
Colorado Ave. and Ocean Front Walk, 310/458-8900, santamonicapier.org
A coastal landmark where there's always something going on. For a cheap date, ride the Ferris wheel at Pacific Park, eat hot dogs, and take pictures at a photo booth ($3 for color, $1 for black and white) in the bustling arcade. Ride pass from $20, kids from $10.
ESCAPE Santa Barbara Wine Country santabarbara.com/winecountry
About 40 miles north of the luxury shopping and high life of Santa Barbara and 120 miles from L.A., day-trippers can visit the beautiful countryside and wineries made famous by the movie Sideways. You can even download a map from the region's official website and take the same route as the characters in the movie. Most wineries are clearly marked.
Firestone Vineyard and Winery is large and popular; but you'll have to fight your way past the crowd of ladies in search of Andrew Firestone from The Bachelor, who is one of the owners (5000 Zaca Station Rd., Los Olivos, a few minutes' drive from Hwy. 101, 805/688-3940, firestonewine.com).
Koehler is a quieter, more easygoing experience; it's a great spot to uncork a bottle and picnic (5360 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos, 805/693-8384, koehlerwinery.com).
Area oddities include: Ostrich Land (610 East Hwy. 246, between Buellton and Solvang, 805/686-9696, ostrichland.com), where you can feed ostriches and emus in exchange for donations; and the town of Solvang, known for its touristy Danish souvenirs.