California Road Trip: Day 4 in LA, Venice & Santa Monica

Hi Friends,
Thanks for stopping by Casually Coastal again! I’ve had so much fun pulling together this California road trip series for all of you. Just thinking about our road trip through the LA area has me wanting to take this vacation all over again!

In case you missed the recap of our first through third days driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, I’ve linked them here. So definitely catch up before reading about our day four adventures:

Day 1 in San Jose, Santa Cruz & Monterey

Day 2 in Monterey, Big Sur & Pismo Beach

Day 3 in Pismo Beach & Santa Barbara

As we took this road trip prior to COVID-19, the hotels, restaurants and attractions featured in my post may not currently be open, or they may be offering limited service. If you use this post to plan your own trip, please verify these important details directly. Also, for those traveling now or planning a getaway in the very near future, please wear a mask to protect the locals and your fellow travelers. We’ll get through this pandemic together!

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Day 4: Los Angeles, Venice Beach & Santa Monica

Santa Barbara to Los Angeles

On day four of our California Road Trip, we packed a LOT in over the course of twenty-four hours! We woke up early in Santa Barbara to head south towards the Los Angeles area – but not before a stop at Santa Barbara Roasting Company. By now, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that Josh and I don’t start our day without an IV of coffee. Ha! Their Nitro draft cold brew and iced latte were the perfect choices. 

Our plan was to stay the night in Santa Monica, however we weren’t able to check into our hotel until much later in the day. So we decided to head into Los Angeles first. The drive from Santa Barbara took about two hours but we hugged the coast a good portion of the time so it was incredibly scenic. I had wanted to at least drive through Malibu, which we did, and then we arrived at our first stop of the day.

The views from the Griffith Observatory were incredible, and we lucked out with a very clear day. From one side you can see the entire downtown of Los Angeles. Of course the main draw is the famous Hollywood Sign, which you can see from the other side. We viewed a couple of the exhibits inside the Griffith Observatory. We didn’t linger too long though as we were trying to hit a number of sights during the 20 hours we had in the LA area.

A must-see on any road trip through LA - the Hollywood sign. We took this photo from the Griffith Observatory.
Hollywood sign in the distance from the Griffith Observatory

After leaving the Griffith Observatory, we drove through the rest of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We didn’t stop, but we made sure to drive down Rodeo Drive which was fun to see. Hunger was creeping in and after spotting an In-N-Out, our car mysteriously went on auto-pilot! Next thing we knew we were standing in line ordering burgers. Ha! We had to see what all of the hoopla was about since this chain doesn’t exist on the east coast. OK, now I get it! I will agree, they make a pretty darn good burger!

Venice Beach

Our next stop in the LA area was Venice Beach. Josh was itching to check out Muscle Beach, the home of famous body builders including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. We didn’t stay long as parking was next to impossible and we parked in a pretty questionable spot. It was buzzing with activity, but the number of homeless folks at this beach was truly heartbreaking. A very beautiful beach though.

Venice Beach
Venice Beach
No road trip through LA is complete without a visit to the Venice Beach Boardwalk!
Venice Beach Boardwalk

Santa Monica

After calling the hotel to confirm that our room was ready, we headed a few miles up the road to the Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Monica. One thing I learned is that hotels in Santa Monica are not cheap – even on a weeknight! We paid $425 for the room (yes, for a Hampton!) but it kept us in walking distance to the pier, restaurants and shops. The property was only a couple of years old and we liked that it was modern and clean, and the room was a decent size. After checking in, we walked the three blocks down to the Santa Monica State Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. The beach itself was beautiful – tons of room to spread out, and it had some great waves.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

We walked along the beach and through the pier for a bit, and by then we were ready for a late afternoon cocktail. There’s a ton of restaurants directly across the street from the beach so we headed on over to Blue Plate Taco. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar and ordered margaritas while still enjoying the view. I had their “La Pina” margarita, which had tequila, charred pineapple, cilantro, simple syrup and citrus. Josh had their “El Matador” which included tequila, blood orange, jalapeno, rosemary and Campari. Their guacamole and chips looked amazing but we didn’t want to spoil our appetites given our dinner reservation was just a couple of hours away.

After we wrapped up our happy hour, we headed back to our hotel room to shower and change. We then walked back down towards the pier for our dinner reservation at The Lobster. I was really excited to try this highly-rated. restaurant. However, out of all of our meals on our trip, this was the only one I was slightly disappointed with. This was surprising considering it’s a Michelin winner, but the service we received was slightly lack-luster (and we are as low-maintenance as diners come). Our meals (crab cakes and NY steak & frites) were cooked well, but weren’t overly memorable. However, I will say that the view made up for it! We witnessed a spectacular sunset from our table.

Gorgeous sunset at the Santa Monica Pier
Gorgeous sunset at the Santa Monica Pier

After dinner, we grabbed a few shots of the sunset from the beach and then wandered over to the Third Street Promenade to check out the shops. It’s entirely outdoors, open to pedestrians only, and it spans three full blocks. There’s something for everyone there between the hundreds of stores, restaurants, live music and street performers.

From there, we strolled through Santa Monica Place, a three-story open-air shopping destination containing mostly high-end retailers. Most of the stores were getting ready to close down as we got there. However, we got lucky and stumbled upon The Dudes Brewing Company Tasting Room on the upper floor. We snagged a couch on their outdoor patio and we each grabbed a flight so that we could try a few of their craft beers. Their vanilla wafer ale was SO good! I had wished I had brought some home with me! We called it a fairly early night as we had a decent drive ahead of us the next day.    

Stay on the lookout for tomorrow’s day five road trip post, which I’m excited to get up on the blog. From our quick stop in Laguna Beach to our scooter rides and beer flights in San Diego, I promise it’s a good one.

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California Road Trip: Day 4 in LA, Venice & Santa Monica


    • October 30, 2020 / 4:29 pm

      California sure has some of the most beautiful views in the country, if not the world!!

  1. Thanh Chowen
    December 5, 2020 / 1:31 am

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