When you think of your ideal Los Angeles vacation, what comes to mind? If beaches, palm trees, and spectacular sunsets are must-haves on the agenda, then plan on spending at least a couple of days on LA's Westside. The area's popular neighborhoods – including Santa Monica, Venice, and Malibu & the Pacific Palisades – offer miles of shoreline, a thriving local food truck scene, only-in-LA workouts, drinks with a view, and the chance for celebrity sightings in the wild as you dine, shop, and people-watch in hip neighborhoods.
While sunny California is considered to be synonymous with the Pacific Ocean and its quirky and trendy beach towns, there are so many to choose from that, even once you hone in on LA, it can be hard to squeeze them all into one weekend. But with proper planning you can, in fact, pack the highlights of many of LA's most popular Westside neighborhoods into the following two-day itinerary.
Morning: water yoga, the marina, and brunch
Start the day off right at Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey (known by locals as MDR) with YOGAqua – stand-up paddle boarding meets yoga, with classes offered Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
After you've worked up an appetite, follow up your exercising with a meal at the go-to MDR waterfront brunch spot, the Jamaica Bay Inn; don't pass up on those pancakes with cinnamon honey butter.
If you're in the mood for more marina views and the chance to spot sea lions, walk, drive, grab one of the many on-demand scooters available, or schedule a free ride with the Circuit (an electric shuttle with free service in MDR and neighboring Venice) to nearby Burton Chace Park, a public county park where locals enjoy picnicking and free outdoor movie screenings and concerts in the summer, or Fisherman's Village, which hosts free weekend concerts year-round and also offers parasailing, water-sport rentals, and dining cruises.
Afternoon: shopping and strolling the Venice Canals
Shop, grab a bite from local food trucks, and get a taste of the local arts scene at Artists & Fleas in the Abbott Kinney area of Venice, open every Saturday from 11am to 4:30pm. With more than 50 vendors to peruse, you'll have your pick of vintage clothing and one-of-a-kind finds. If the name sounds familiar, Artist & Fleas has additional locations in Washington, DC, New York City, and Downtown LA.
Beyond the Flea, Abbott Kinney Boulevard is lined with eclectic shops that offer up such LA essentials as organic pressed juices, gourmet donuts, organic airbrush tanning services, and handmade-in-LA lingerie. Tom's, Warby Parker, and small-batch ice creamery Salt & Straw, with its fan-favorite flavors like black olive brittle and goat cheese, all have outposts here.
If you're in town on the first Friday of the month, check out the neighborhood's packed First Fridays food truck event, a chance to sample food – from sushi to poutine to BBQ and tacos – from all over the world.
No matter the time of day, the Venice Canals of America – complete with a series of interconnected pedestrian-only bridges and walkways and a mix of quaint vintage beach cottages and modern mansions – are a wonder to behold. One minute you're on a street that looks just like any other and the next, you'll find yourself stepping into America's take on the Italian originals.
The American version first debuted in 1905 (and yes, there were once gondola rides), as the brainchild of Abbot Kinney, after whom the boulevard is named. Unfortunately, in 1929 most of the canals were paved over to make way for the age of the automobile, an act that was celebrated for its foresight and progress. The remaining canals that were spared, were listed on the Register of Historic Places in 1982, underwent a complete renovation in 1993, and can still be admired to this day, in a fairly easy 2.1-mile loop.
Evening: Sunset on the beach, food trucks
Sunset on the beach in Venice is an experience that locals and tourists alike will stop to take in (and take a selfie with). After Disneyland, Venice Beach is the second-largest tourist draw in Southern California, attracting up to 30,000 visitors per day. With about two miles of the Venice Boardwalk, a winding, ocean-front bike path, and its sandy shore to explore, it doesn't ever feel too crowded, and nearly anywhere along this stretch of beach is sure to meet your photo opp criteria.
Some highlights include the vibrant murals of the Venice Beach Art Walls, the historic Muscle Beach Venice – where bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger have worked out – the Venice Skate Park, the Venice Pier, and the boardwalk's hundreds of street vendors (loaded with souvenirs) and performers.
Don't miss getting a picture with the iconic Venice sign, located two blocks inland at the intersection of Windward Ave at Pacific Ave.
To cap of the day's activities, eat like a local at one of the weekly food-truck nights in Marina del Rey: Thursday night is Beach Eats (6pm to 8pm from the end of May to the end of September); try Tuesday in Santa Monica (5pm to 10pm); or make a date on the first Friday of the month in Abbot Kinney. Otherwise, check out Twitter, Instagram, or websites like Street Food Finder to see where popular LA food trucks will be stationed for the night.
Morning: farmers markets
Sample local produce, listen to DJs and live music, and grab a bite to eat from food vendors at one of the weekly Westside farmers markets:
Santa Monica, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday morning
Venice, Fridays, 7am to 11am
Marina Del Rey, Saturdays, 9am to 2pm
Playa Vista, Saturdays, 9am to 2pm
Pacific Palisades, Sundays, 8am to 1pm
Mar Vista, Sundays, 9am to 2pm
Malibu, Sundays, 1am to 3pm
Afternoon: bike or scooter ride, sightseeing, and wine tasting
Rent bikes or grab one of the many on-demand scooters available in the Westside, and hit the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, a 22-mile (mostly) oceanfront bike path that stretches from Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades to Torrance County Beach.
Points of interest along the route include the Venice Beach area highlights from Day 1 (if you'd like to combine them here), the Pier at Redondo Beach, and the Santa Monica Pier; stop for an epic ferris-wheel ride overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or consider ditching the path altogether to check out the eating and shopping options at the Third Street Promenade.
If you end your bike or scooter ride in the Pacific Palisades, you'll be a short car ride away from Malibu, where a tasting at one of the area's wineries awaits. Rosenthal Wine Tasting Room is across from the beach and offers live music Fridays through Sundays and food trucks on Saturdays and Sundays. Or there's always Malibu Wine Safari, which gives tours through a 1000-acre ranch, with a tasting of local wines included.
If your schedule permits, you can try to fit in Malibu's top attraction, the Getty Villa, a museum and estate offering ocean views and a chance to admire oil tycoon J Paul Getty's collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities.
Evening: dinner and cocktails
Congratulations, you've managed to fit in some of the most talked about (and Instagrammed) highlights of LA's Westside in one weekend. End your vacation with celebratory cocktails at the Penthouse (perhaps try the the Naked and Famous or Bellini by the Beach?), a chic rooftop bar and restaurant with enviable ocean views, located in Santa Monica's Huntley Hotel.
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