Downtown Ambassador Stephanie Gonzalez gives directions to a tourist from Australia on the Third Street Promenade on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us will soon be hosting out-of-town family and friends. For residents of one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, that means playing tour guide to visitors excited to experience Santa Monica’s unique pleasures. So for this week’s column, we asked three longtime residents to talk about some of their favorite local things to see and do with guests.

Mayor and five-term Councilmember Kevin McKeown starts off every guest’s visit with what he calls his “quick tour,” which includes the Third Street Promenade, Tongva and Palisades parks, the Pier, Main Street, Montana Avenue and a walk through one of the city’s eclectic residential neighborhoods. “After the quick tour,” he says, “they invariably want to see more.”

If your visitors are up for a slightly more active sightseeing excursion, McKeown suggests hitting Santa Monica’s famed beachside bike path. “After 40 years, I never tire of a bike ride along the beach,” says the councilmember, who notes that the city’s new Breeze bike-share program makes doing so even more convenient for visitors. Currently in a limited test phase, the program is scheduled to roll out 500 bikes in November.

For Rose Mary Regalbuto, a 36-year resident of the city, the perfect holiday activity for visitors of any age is skating at ICE, Downtown Santa Monica’s seasonal ice rink, which operates from Nov. 1 to mid-January.

Regalbuto, who is president emeritus of Meals on Wheels West, also counts the Santa Monica Municipal Airport among the city’s best-kept secrets. “It’s a wonderful place to take the little ones to watch the small planes arrive and depart and then have a delicious lunch at Typhoon,” she says. “For the older crowd, Typhoon hosts live music at night along with their exotic menu of Pan-Asian food.”

When Kelly Kupper’s family and friends come to Santa Monica, she likes to get them outside where they can enjoy the city’s scenic vistas, balmy breezes and unequaled people watching. “Walking to the beach, along the bluffs, through the farmers markets or around the Third Street Promenade all offer up the quintessential Santa Monica sights and sounds,” says Kupper, director of MML Public Relations. “To take in the views, we head up to Suite 700, the rooftop bar at the Shangri-La, for a cocktail by the fire pit.”

There’s no shortage of excellent places to eat in Santa Monica, and everyone has a favorite spot to share with visitors. Kupper is a fan of Hostaria del Piccolo, located on Broadway near Sixth Street. “It has great ambiance, an extensive wine list, some of the best pasta dishes and pizzas around, and the portions are exactly the right size,” she says. “It’s perfect for an intimate dinner for two or a party on the back patio. I’ve never been disappointed there.”

Although Kupper has called Santa Monica home for the past decade, she says she’s still discovering new hidden treasures. One of her recent finds is M.I. Westside Comedy Theater. “They have great stand-up comedy with a couple of shows per night on the weekends and a variety of free shows and events during the week.” Founded in 2009 by comedy troupe Mission IMPROVable, the theater is located in the alley just east of Third Street Promenade between Arizona and Santa Monica.

If your visitors need a hotel room where they can rest up after a long day of taking in the sights, Santa Monica offers a plethora of choices, each with its own distinctive features, notes Regalbuto. “There’s Casa del Mar with its old-world elegance, the Loews with its lovely ocean view, the Fairmont with FIG Restaurant, the Huntley with The Penthouse, and the Georgian, an Art Deco hotel with a lovely veranda where you can watch the sunset. And those are just a few of the many hotels our community offers, many of which are offered at a deeply discounted rates around the holidays through the Extra Bedroom Program.” The annual campaign, spearheaded by Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, allows Santa Monica hotels to give back to Santa Monica locals by extending discounted rates on hotels that they can pass on to visiting friends and family (

If there’s one thing all of our local experts agree on, it’s that Santa Monica’s most spectacular and iconic sight is available free-of-charge, all year round. So what is it? “The sunset,” says McKeown, “whether seen from the surf line in Ocean Park, across Santa Monica Canyon along the north side of Adelaide, or from Mt. Olivet.”

Adds Regalbuto: “No matter what the temperature is, I love watching the sunset from the Ferris wheel and always share it with my visitors.”

– Misti Kerns

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.