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Santa Monica/Laguna Beach


I will be in California for about a week this Fall. A couple of days I will be at a Conference and will not have a choice of restaurants. I have been reading this Board diligently for several months, doing some deeper dives when appropriate, so for the remaining days I have free I am hoping to get feedback on some spots that interest me!

I am from Minneapolis, and will be dining solo most nights. I will have a car, but will not use it to drive to dinner as I like a glass of wine or two with my meal. I will hoof it or short cab ride (will be staying at The Huntley in Santa Monica, Montage in Laguna Beach).

I adore fish and seafood, eat meat maybe once a week, not fond of truffles or caviar, but love, sadly, foie gras (“sadly” because of the recent ban.) I love Mexican, but we have a pretty good scene here, so will probably just grab a great fish taco for lunch some day. Italian is another fave. Oh, and I picked up a terrible Oyster habit a few years ago in Seattle. I have eaten at top restaurants (French Laundry, Charlie Trotter, Picasso, Everest, Oya, Topolobampo, Restaurant Alma) and like to check out places where Chef has been honored by James Beard Foundation. Last, I am passionate about Farmer’s Markets. I love every vegetable and most fruits – fresh and local rocks me. Many times at restaurants I will construct my own tasting menu out of 4-6 appetizers and salads, which most of the time I think are much more interesting than the entrees. Last, if I can get a great cheese plate for dessert, I am in heaven.

I thought carefully about, but ruled out, Melisse, Providence, and Urasawa, mostly due to distance or, with Melisse, in looking at website, didn’t feel like I would be comfortable dining solo. My Laguna Beach dinners seem uninspired, and I rarely eat in Hotel dining rooms, but I understand The Studio is an exception? So, I have a final draft of what I think I might be interested in, and would live to hear your thoughts!

Day 1 - Tuesday: Get oriented. Dinner at The Hungry Cat.

Day 2 – Wednesday: Santa Monica Farmer’s Market (any tips for eating there?) Conference rest of day.

Day 3,4 – conference.

Day 4, Friday noon: Bike to Venice (one must do this, right?) Dinner at Capo or Fig.

Day 5 – Saturday: Santa Monica Farmer’s Market; meet friend in Malibu for lunch at Neptune’s Net; meander down coastal Highway, stop at Old Tony’s Bar for a break; continue down to Laguna Beach; dine in hotel at The Loft.

Day 6 – Sunday: Farmers Market in Laguna Niguel (is there good on site eating options there? Or should I check out early lunch at The Fisherman Oyster Bar on San Clemente Pier ?), Mission San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point for dolphin/whale trip; dinner at Hotel – The Studio.

Day 7 – Monday: Hang out on beach (Beachcomber?); check out shops in Laguna Beach; dinner at Raya or The Studio.

Thanks for reading this rather long post. To close, I would like to commend you all on your Board - it's one of the top Boards I've seen!



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  1. You should find plenty to eat at the Wed. SM Farmers Market. See LA Times story on same here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/daily...

    5 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      There aren't that many food stands at the Wednesday market. The Sunday one has a lot more food options.

      1. re: PeterCC

        Do know that the Sunday Santa Monica Farmers Market is in a different location, it is on Main Street and Ocean Park Blvd. The Wednesday & Saturday markets are on 2nd and Arizona St.

        1. re: wienermobile


          Ironically(?), though Servorg says there's plenty to eat at the Wednesday market and links to the article for examples, the article lists stands at the Sunday market and the "other" Saturday market at Virginia Park (Pico and 23rd), not either of the markets by the 3rd Street Promenade.

            1. re: wienermobile

              It's probably my favorite for shopping for produce, but I don't really find it a good one for having a meal. Unless I'm missing some, I think I can count the number of ready-to-eat food stands on one hand: one or two hot food stands, Holy Guacamole, Carlsbad Aquafarm, Rockenwagner...

      1. Is your conference at the Huntley as well? If so, you may want to sneak across the street to FIG earlier in your trip, so that you have a chance to go back if you end up liking it as much as my wife and I do. Go between 5 PM and 6 PM and nearly everything is 50% off, including drinks.

        6 Replies
        1. re: PeterCC

          Yes, PeterCC, the conference is at The Huntley. Good tip! We usually meet for dinner at 6:30, so maybe I will sneak in a cocktail and appetizer at Fig on Wednesday.

          By the way, I believe our host is considering BP Oysterette or Ocean Avenue Seafood for one night, and The Lobster for the other. Which is why I might need a change of pace for Friday, thus Capo.

          1. re: rp1760

            I suggest skipping BP Oysterette and Ocean Ave Seafood. The Hungry Cat is far superior. Capo is a great suggestion (if on an expense acct). Food is excellent. If you have about an hour to kill and want a killer pizza, try Milo and Olive (www.miloandolive.com). It's not as crazy busy as it was when they first opened and the food is still great. Rustic Canyon is quintessential Farm to Table as is Capo. (Saw Capo's chef there this Wed). As you are going to the Wed Farmers Mkt, I don't quite understand the need to go to Saturday's. The Wed Market is just the best of the best. BTW, I was there this Wed and at Sat. today. No comparison. Go on Wed. Great experience. I took a friend there recently, who was a first timer. She got so excited she hyperventilated.:)

            1. re: maudies5

              I second the skipping of BP Oysterette and Ocean Avenue (and The Lobster, for that matter).

              OP, I realize those were your host's choices, but they're relatively touristy and not anywhere near as good as the other places you came up with yourself.

              1. re: PeterCC

                Thanks, you two, I would love to skip them, but I will be at the mercy of my host those two nights. (:

              2. re: maudies5

                I will definitely be at the Wednesday Farmer's Market. I will go to at least one other market during my trip, as I go to the market as much for coversation (when they are not busy) with the farmers/vendors as for the fresh produce. I love chatting about farming techniques, weather, the successes and challenges they face in their world. I have been inspired over and over by their stories. Some go to the movies, I go to the markets..... :)

                1. re: rp1760

                  That's pretty cool! Unfortunately, you won't have time to do this since you're attending a conference, but some of the farmers have tour programs of their farms that you can sign up for at the farmer's market. This is according to my wife, so I don't have more specific details, but it sounded cool.

          2. Fig is a perfect choice given your criteria; although Capo is good, I find it overpriced. Some other places to consider in Santa Monica that are near your hotel: Chinois (Wolfgang Puck's interpretation of Chinese), Gjelina (Californian small plates in Venice), Huckleberry (bakery/cafe from the owners of Rustic Canyon), Musha (Japanese izakaya), Rustic Canyon (American), Tar & Roses (American small plates), Tasting Kitchen (Northwestern in Venice) and Valentino (Italian). For what it is worth, I have often dined at Melisse alone without qualm. You should also have drinks in the Penthouse in your hotel around sunset--the views can be spectacular.

            16 Replies
            1. re: New Trial

              Thanks, New Trial. Now I am re-considering Melisse... and Gjelina and Rustic Canyon.

              Some of the restaurants you mentioned above - in particular those in Venice - are those walkable or are they in my "short cab ride" criteria? Or maybe walk there, cab back?

              1. re: rp1760

                Venice is not walkable from your location in either direction. Taxi is really recommended. About 3 1/2 miles to Gjelina and the resturants on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

                1. re: wienermobile

                  My boardmates have covered most of it so I'll add my +1s:

                  The Huntley has a great penthouse-level bar that has wonderful views up and down the coast, appropriately named the Penthouse. While few would recommend spending a meal here, it is a great place for a drink, particularly at sunset.

                  Biking down to Venice is a fine idea. It would give you an opportunity to work in a lunch at Gjelina, on Abbott Kinney a couple blocks north of Venice Blvd. Definitely try their butterscotch pot de creme -- it is an offshoot of Mozza's famous butterscotch budino, and from my tastes I like Gjelina's better. Gjelina also has a lunchtime takeout option, GTA, but you won't feel out of place inside at their communal table or on the patio at one of the small two-tops.

                  Chinois on Main is one of Puck's first and is still excellent. They are open for lunch on Fridays. If you are solo there, ask for a seat at the counter in the rear looking into the open kitchen. You sound like someone who would enjoy that; I do. Chinois' smaller dishes are strong and their flavors are bold, as is the decor. Fun place, I highly recommend it. Not really walkable from the Huntley, but bikeable.

                  Is your conference at the Santa Monica Conference Center or a hotel (which)? We could recommend close, walkable places from either...

                  1. re: nosh

                    I had lunch at Chinois yesterday and it was excellent......the last time I was at Chinois was in the 80s....this restaurant had really held up over time. Looking forward to returning for dinner.

                    1. re: foufou

                      +3 for Chinois. They are part of this summers DineLA going on right now.

                      1. re: wienermobile


                        Consistent, excellent food. I love Chinois.

                        1. re: wienermobile

                          What would your choices (any of you who plussed Chinois) be of the DineLA menu there for lunch?

                          1. re: PeterCC

                            The sliced filet w/ the szechwan sauce, if it is the same classic dish that has long been on the dinner menu, is fantastic. The wok-fried minced lamb in the radicchio cups is a great small dish.

                            1. re: PeterCC

                              Miso Black Cod....some of the only fish I eat in LA. It's outstanding along with the Duck Fried Rice.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                the duck fried rice and the catfish are great....

                                1. re: foufou

                                  Thanks latindancer and foufou. Unfortunately, those dishes aren't on the dineLA menu, but I'll keep those in mind if I go to Chinois after dineLA is done. For now, I'd like to stick to the deal, so I can try the place out on a budget.

                                  1. re: PeterCC

                                    Seriously, PetterCC, I can't think of anything that I've tried at Chinois, that hasn't been outstanding. His dishes are just that good and more.
                                    I never get tired of Chinois.

                                    1. re: latindancer

                                      Sounds good. Glad I can't go wrong there. :-)

                                      1. re: latindancer

                                        yes, I may return sooner rather than later for a DINELA dinner....I was that pleased with lunch

                          2. re: nosh

                            OP replied above that the conference is at The Huntley as well.

                            As far as what's walkable, it's all relative. My sister, who lives in NYC, might actually consider Gjelina walkable from The Huntley. She would definitely not find it weird to walk to Chinois, especially if one chooses to stroll down the 3rd Street Promenade and Main Street and browse shops and stuff on the way (the distance from The Huntley to Milo & Olive is nearly the same as it is to Chinois, but walking down Wilshire is infinitely less interesting). Huntley to Rustic Canyon would be a cakewalk for my sister, no pun intended.

                      2. re: New Trial

                        PULEEEZZ go to Melisse. It's the best we've got.

                      3. Mary, this CH fellow knows what he's talking about:

                        "some places in Laguna Beach I like a lot: Three Seventy Common, Broadway by Amar Santana (cocktails!!), House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, Scandia Bakery, 230 Forest."

                        Permalink | Reply
                        By Das Ubergeek on May 8, 2012 09:46 AM

                        1. Keep an eye out for Carlsbad Aquafarm stand at the SM Farmers' Market for oysters.

                          Craig Strong was nominated for Best Chef/Pacific Region in 2009 James Beard awards, please report back if you go.

                          1. If you love fine dining such as the French Laundry, I am sad for you to miss out on Melisse. It is really incredible, and by far the best restaurant I've been to in Los Angeles. Both meals I've had there I will remember forever. The wait staff is so friendly and accommodating there, I feel they'd go to lengths for it not to be awkward. That said, it is a formal dining room.

                            Highly encourage a switch Fri to La Botte (Michelin star italian.) It has fabulous food and is very laid back in atmosphere. (Not awkward at all for one diner). I am an Italian food snob and adore La Botte.

                            Just in case you don't find enough ready made at the Farmer's market for lunch, maybe a back up? Border Grill is in walking distance- it's not the best food in LA but it's pretty good, celebrity chefs, they have great lunch specials on the week. Or maybe Bay Cities (Italian Deli) for their famous sandwich. (can be real crowded)

                            If you wanted to upgrade your Malibu lunch perhaps Nobu or Geoffeys or Moodshadows. (Or I even love Paradise Cove, not for special food but the private beach and ambiance).

                            I haven't attempted fine dining in Laguna, but for lunch or sunset cocktails/relaxed fare I like the Rooftop Lounge at the Case Del Camino. It has stunning views and I enjoyed my nicoise salad for lunch. Right before sunset, there is a mad rush/ wait, so if you wanted to experience the sunset get there early.

                            ps- Gjelina is often recommended here on the board, but it can be impossible to get a reservation there, and they have such an attitude, I certainly wouldn't want to dine there solo.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: sarahbeths

                              I actually find Gjelina to be very accommodating to a solo dinner w/o a reservation. I love the food, and it's my go-to place in my neighborhood when I want a leisurely meal alone. The communal tables and the bar both allow one to socialize, or not, depending on the mood. Granted I usually go at off hours (2:00 lunch, 5:30 dinner), but they've always treated me well.

                              1. re: cookie monster

                                to get that "accomodating" treatment without having a reservation you NEED to go at off hours.
                                tried popping in on a tuesday night at 9pm hoping for a seat at the communal table and the wait (be aware there is no place to sit while you wait) was an hour.

                                that said, gjelina is still on my regular rotation, but i usually go for a 2pm or 2:30pm lunch.

                              2. re: sarahbeths

                                Thanks for all the good information, sarahbeths. I took a couple of your suggestions to heart!

                                I see you recommended Border Grill as a backup for food on Wednesday after the Farmers Market. Are you recommending that over Loteria Grill, which I see just got a good rec on this Board? I'm interested in both...

                                BubblyOne, Ramos House looks really cool, but I'm not one for brunch (I'm a lighter eater in the morn) and they don't seem to have an option other than their $35 brunch on Sunday. I did some digging around the area, and am intrigued by a place called Olamendi's. Does anyone have any thoughts on that?


                              3. Day 6- Skip the LN Farmer's Market (nothing special) and The Fisherman, it is the epitome of a tourist trap. Plus, you can get your eating on the water fix at Beachcomber the next day, and it has much better food.

                                If you are planning on going to the Mission, I'd rec Ramos House for brunch instead, which is walking distance.

                                Personally, I wouldn't want to eat 3 meals in hotels, maybe nix one. Tabu Grill is still turning out some of the best food in Laguna and will give you the charm that is a big part of the city. There is a chef's counter, and they will certainly do a tasting menu for you. It's a short ride from your hotel or you can take the free trolley if drinking is a concern- there is a stop right in front.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: BubblyOne

                                  I agree with Bubbly One. Ramos House for Brunch is excellent. Also, it you head to San Clemente and like Mexican, South of Nick's is upscale and delicious. Their Laguna Beach restaurant called "Nick's" is one of my favorite places to sit at the bar and eat. The food is really good...great fish and steaks..and the asian cole slaw is exceptional. If you like Mussels, the best I hear is at Brussels Bistro on Forest Ave. Brussels Bistro is a gem. Tabu is pricey but excellent. You might find it boring there if you are eating alone. PS...you will love the Montage.

                                  1. re: RobertC

                                    That's why I rec'd the chef's counter at Tabu- fun place to sit and gab.

                                    I'd maybe not do the Loft, since Studio is so wonderful. I love their tasting menus and lots from the on-site garden. Raya is great too and would give you an opportunity to check out the Ritz.

                                    Hopefully Das will chime in about the farmer's markets, but the one out by UCI you would enjoy.

                                    Wherever you go, should have mentioned more re: the free trolley. There is stop right across the street from your hotel and in goes all the way into downtown with stops along the way. It's very safe and used by tourists and locals as well. There is one every 15-20 minutes and it runs until 11:30. No constraints with where you dine that way.


                                    1. re: BubblyOne

                                      The free trolley in Laguna Beach only runs during the summer. Traffic and parking in the fall is much easier than the summer.

                                      If you have visited any of the Santa Monica farmer's markets, the Laguna Niguel market will be a big disappointment. The UCI market is much better than Laguna Niguel, but it's on Saturday, not Sunday.

                                      Ramos House would be a much better choice than Olamendi's. There are much better choices for mexican than Olamendi's in OC.

                                      If you are going to the Beachcomber, just be aware that you're really there for the beach and not so much for the food. The food is ok. You have to park in the Crystal Cove state beach parking lot, then grab the shuttle to a beach drop off point, then walk downhill to the beach. The restaurant will validate for the state beach parking. Crystal Cove is basically between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. Slightly less work than the Beachcomber, but still on the beach is The Deck, which has valet parking and street parking. From there, it would be much easier to wander around downtown Laguna.

                                2. A big THANKS to everyone who has taken the time to read my long post and then affirm or suggest alternatives. I have been having quite a bit of fun reading the posts and looking at all the suggestions.

                                  I have modified my original list of dining spots, and have some time until my trip in October to be swayed to modify it further!

                                  Tuesday: Melisse!
                                  Wednesday: Conference (I hope to talk Host into Fig)
                                  Thursday: Conference
                                  Friday Dinner: The Hungry Cat or La Botte
                                  Saturday: Lunch: Neptune’s Net
                                  Cocktail: Old Tony’s Bar
                                  Stone Hill Tavern
                                  Sunday: lunch: olamendi’s – Capistrano Beach
                                  Dinner: The Studio
                                  Monday: break/lunch: The Beachcomber
                                  Dinner: Raya

                                  Thanks, again, I am so appreciative,

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: rp1760

                                    Awesome!!!!!!! So happy you're going to Melisse :)

                                  2. The Laguna Niguel Sunday farmer's market doesn't have much in the way of prepared food to grab. It's a good idea to plan lunch elsewhere. It's in the parking lot of a Sprouts Market and, if you're not familiar with them, you may want to wander in to check it out. Lots of bulk nuts/grains, etc. and good prices on fruits/veggies. Think mini-Whole Foods. Sort of. Kind of. Enjoy your time in South County - we'll plan some good weather for you.