santa monica and los angeles. | JT vacation recommendations and trip ideas.

With the next few months being my off-season for weddings, I decided to take this time off to travel. Over the next few weeks I’ll be in California, Colorado, and Arizona… keeping it all in the Southwest before heading out to Europe for a mid-year getaway in June! The first trip on the 2014 docket… Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

I had an absolute perfect trip with a few of my girlfriends. Every day was jam packed with fun activities and just enough time for the right amount of relaxation. From riding bikes along the ocean to Muscle Beach, to amazing sushi in Hollywood at Katsuya, to having drinks at The Beverly Wilshire on Rodeo Dr. sitting next to Rev. Run’s daughters, and even accidentally stumbling across a live music venue that we thought was a dueling piano bar. I wouldn’t change a thing. The only regret I have, and this is the ultimate nerd in me… is that we could have found Bolthouse Productions (yes, the place that Heidi Montag worked on The Hills) or that we would have run into Lauren Conrad because I’m a Laguna Beach and The Hills fanatic and could have chatted with LC about K-Cav, Talon, and especially Justin Bobby for hours. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to run into her… truth and time tells all, right JB? 😉

Special thanks to a few of our friends for providing recommended spots in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Malibu. I included a list of everything we did in case anyone is looking to take a trip out there and needs some itinerary ideas. I LOVED everything we did, but I put a ** next to a few of my faves.

Checked into The Shore Hotel (great location/ambiance)
  • Right on Ocean Ave. the view is great. It was across the street from the beach so we could walk to the ocean. It’s also just around the corner from the Santa Monica Promenade (think Chicago Gold Coast shopping), and a bike ride distance to Venice Beach. Very modern, great service, pricey but swanky hotel that was nice to stay at for just one night – shout out to our favorite bellhop TC!
Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations
Coffee at Cafe Crepe
Stuck our feet in Pacific Ocean
Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations
  •  Food trucks were definitely on my list of things to check out in Cali. Both of these were great. I recommend the carnitas or carne asada tacos at Danny’s. The fish tacos at Boba’s were delish too. The only complaint by my friend… the fish was good but there was too much of it… never a complaint in my book 😉
Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations
Rented bikes in Santa Monica, rode down the pier to Muscle Beach**
  • This was probably my favorite part of the trip and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Santa Monica for the first time. It was the perfect way to enjoy the 80 degree temperature swing, soak in the ocean view and breeze, and see all that Venice Beach has to offer. We parked our bikes near the skate park and walked the Venice Boardwalk which didn’t disappoint. It was full of interesting characters, handmade crafts, and fantastic people watching. Definitely a must-see.
Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations
  • After attempting to go to another restaurant that was recommended to us but no longer open, a quick Yelp! search led us to The Sunset Restaurant. It stayed true to its name as we had a perfect view right outside of window of the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean. We ordered Calamari for the table, which was good. For my main course I got the Seafood Risotto which had a scallop (amazing), shrimp (good), calamari (great), and mussels (I had one bad one in the bunch that kind of ruined my experience). It was in a lobster broth which was good but the risotto was undercooked and a little bit hard. I definitely recommend this place more for the atmosphere than the food.
Drinks at The Bungalow**
  • This ambiance here was awesome. It was like a house that was turned into a bar/lounge. Imagine having drinks inside a Hollister. When we were standing at the bar I joked about the fact that it felt like there should be tables of folded t-shirts around the corner. Decent cocktails, plenty of areas to sit with your group, a ping pong table, and a chill atmosphere made this a place I was super glad we checked out… but it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to stay all night.
Drinks at Brick and Mortar (felt like a typical, upbeat Chicago bar – comparable to Piece or Homeslice)
Jill Tiongco Photography | Santa Monica Recommendations


Brunch at Cafe Crepe
Hike Griffith Park – Hollywood Sign (great views of the city/Hollywood sign)**
Jill Tiongco Photography | Los Angeles Recommendations JillTiongcoPhotography_0011
Check into Best Western Sunset Blvd. (good location)
Soak in the sun at hotel pool
Lunch at Fresh Corn Grill (great salads, fresh ingredients)
Dinner at Katsuya**
  • After seeing this sushi place on the list of recommended places and recognizing the name from The Hills, we definitely had to check it out. Everything was awesome. Ambiance, service, food… loved it. We got a Brussels Sprout Salad and Baked Crab Hand Roll as an appetizer – both were SO GOOD. Honestly, I don’t even like brussels sprouts and this salad was amazing. The sushi was some of the best sushi I’ve had in a long time, too. We got a Rainbow Roll (always a favorite of mine), the Sunset Roll (might have been my favorite), and the Special Katsuya Roll (my least favorite). We also got dessert cocktails which, as expected, hit the spot.
Jill Tiongco Photography | Katsuya Hollywood Review
Drinks at Wood and Vine (really cool vibe and great cocktails)**
Dancing at Hemmingway’s (upbeat library styled decor, fun dancing)


Walk Rodeo Drive (saw a lot of ferrari’s and lambo’s cruising around)
Drinks at The Beverly Wilshire on Rodeo Drive (sat next to Rev Runs daughters)**
Football Sunday Funday at 33 Taps (felt like a Sunday Funday at home. the atmosphere was great but the service wasn’t the best – they lost our name on the list)
Dinner at Blue Palms Brew House (hidden gem dive bar – looked like a hole in the wall from the outside but was super fun inside)**
Live Music at The Piano Bar (great live music, chill atmosphere)**
Jill Tiongco Photography | Hollywood Recommendations Jill Tiongco Photography | Hollywood Recommendations Jill Tiongco Photography | Hollywood Recommendations


Farmers Market at The Grove
Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theater (very touristy but the handprints were cool to see)
In-n-Out Burger (double double animal style… good greasy burger to end the trip)**
Attempted to find Bolthouse Productions (couldn’t find it)
Explored downtown L.A. (don’t worry Chicago, competition wasn’t even close)


All around fantastic way to kick off 2014. Next stop… Breckenridge, CO to shred some gnar. Stay tuned!
*photos taken with Samsung S3, Canon Powershot, and Canon 5d Mark ii