If you asked most people what the best date spot in Santa Monica is, many would say Third Street Promenade. But Ocean Avenue has a collection of great restaurants and bars too. Although it’s gotten more crowded and touristy lately, it’s still a good bet on off-nights when it’s less insane, especially with Palisades Park right across the street.
Recommended Restaurants on Ocean Avenue
There is a string of high-end restaurants on Ocean avenue, most within walking distance of each other. Many are national chains, but they they still have great ambiance. Here are some of my favorites from South to North.
Situated a bit further away from the really crowded part of Ocean Avenue is my current favorite restaurant in the area, Herringbone. It’s trendy seafood restaurant with a coastal-inspired interior, away from the touristy crowds a few blocks to the north. My favorite dishes there are the oysters (try the sampler), the grilled octopus, and the scallops. The ceviche is supposed to be good too. This place is pricey but worth it. After dinner, you can go next door to bar at the Viceroy Hotel, or to Casa del Mar, or walk on the Strand all the way to the pier, making this a good date destination.
Right where Ocean Avenue meets the Santa Monica Pier is The Lobster. This venue has great 180 degree view of the pier and ocean, but the area can get insanely crowded on weekends, or even a Thursday night. I would recommend this place only during the quieter weekdays. The food here is pricey, but good. Try not to go here when the sun is too far above the horizon, as it can be blinding. Best time is right at sunset or afterwards.
Ivy at the Shore
Next, we have Ivy at the Shore, just across from the pier. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, the interior is super charming, not too noisy, and nicely lit. This place used to be one of my favorites, but the Yelp ratings have declined lately so I’m not so sure anymore. It’s also quite expensive, but if you want some of the best ambiance around, consider it.
Blue Plate Oysterette
There’s usually a line of locals waiting to get into Blue Plate Oysterette. They offer a good selection of fresh oysters and fish. I like the fish tacos. The lobster macaroni is a customer favorite. Be sure to make reservations if you want to go here, unless it’s an off-night.
Blue Plate Taco
Under the same ownership as Blue Plate Oysterett is Blue Plate Taco, just up from Ivy. It’s usually crowded with lots of young people and noisy, but I really like the food here.
Do not miss the grilled corn on the cobb with cotija! Yes, it’s $7 for corn, but it’s amazing, with cheese, butter, and spices. If you don’t like eating off the cobb, they’ll scrape it off for you and put it in a bowl (highly recommended).
Prices are reasonable for Ocean Avenue, though more expensive than most Mexican restaurants. Great for a casual date night if you don’t mind talking loudly. But do get reservations, even on a week night.
Meat on Ocean
Formerly Water Grill (and before that, Ocean Avenue Seafood), Meat on Ocean features dry-aged steak, a huge bar, and good American fare. Reviews are good on Yelp. Kind if in the center of the touristy area of Ocean Avenue though. That can be fine if you want to be in a happenin’ area.
So far we’ve been looking at mostly American food restaurants. If you want Japanese, there’s Sushi Roku. Although it’s yet another chain, its sushi is quite highly rated among reviewers. The ambiance is nice, although more than one reviewer on Yelp complained that the noise level was high there. If you want a more authentic Sushi experience, check out Sugarfish on Second Street.
If you’re craving steak, then Boa Steakhouse is the place to go. Boa has been around for a while, especially compared to the brand new restaurants down the street, but it is still holding its own.
Great Places for a Drink on Ocean Avenue
I have three recommendations for great places to get a drink on Ocean Avenue. These are all within walking distance of each other.
The Veranda at the Georgian Hotel
The first is the bar at The Veranda, located on the ground floor of the amazing Georgian Hotel. You will step back in time to the 1920’s when you see this art deco masterpiece. Each evening, The Veranda restaurant goes into “bar mode” and serves their signature martini, the Georgini. The vintage charm makes this a stop not to miss when you’re on Ocean Avenue!
Suite 700 at Hotel Shangri-La
Another art-deco masterpiece on Ocean is, of course, the Hotel Shangri-La. The ground floor of the hotel has outdoor pool area with cabanas and a bar.
However, the highlight of the Shangri-La is the rooftop bar, Suite 700, which has one of the best views in Santa Monica and is quite happenin’ on the weekends. This is an ideal place to catch a gorgeous sunset.
The Bungalow at the Miramar Hotel
Last but definitely not least is one of my personal favorite hangouts, The Bungalow, located at the Miramar hotel, 101 Wilshire Blvd. between Ocean and 2nd Street. To find the Bungalow once you get to the hotel, walk up the front driveway of the Miramar and make a left before you get to the gigantic tree.
The Bungalow is a very cool indoor/outdoor bar with occasional live music and cozy couches and a beach bungalow vibe. Crowd is mostly 20-somethings with some older folks. During Fridays and the weekends there will be a line after 9:30PM or so, and they sometimes even stop letting people in, so you may want to go early or avoid it altogether during those times. They have good drinks, and if you want dessert, you can get fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies sent from the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, called “Fig”.
There you have it. What did I miss? Please tell me about your favorite restaurants and bars on Ocean Avenue! – Brian