The Best Bars In Santa Monica

Dives, breweries, and local hangs under the pier. There’s a lot more to Santa Monica bars than you probably think.
Santa Monica Brew Works exterior

photo credit: Kim Fox

For a town that’s not as big as people think, Santa Monica’s nightlife is vast. For every dime-a-dozen sports bar with 20 dudes staring in silence at a Lakers game, there are two other spots down the block with actual activity happening inside. From throwback dives to chic rooftops and cocktail bars on the beach, there’s real drinking to be done in Santa Monica. And here are the best places to do it.


photo credit: The Coco Club Rooftop


Santa Monica

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightOutdoor/Patio SituationDrinking Good Cocktails
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The Coco Club on top of The Beacon feels like the only hotel bar in Santa Monica that tourists haven’t heard about yet, and it's got great views. In addition to hosting dance parties every Friday night (with DJs from 9pm-2am), this rooftop bar overlooking the California coastline has a wraparound terrace where you can sip a tequila sunrise and watch the sun clock out for the day. The place stays calm through the early evening and then gets clubbier most nights and weekends—that's when you can expect a crowd of leather-clad people two-stepping between cheetah sculptures or hoping to have meet-cutes in the green velvet booths near the bar.

photo credit: Maxime Lemoine

Although technically a restaurant, The Georgian Room doubles as a historic piano lounge. So if you’re looking for a moody place with red leather booths to celebrate something big, book a reservation. That’s the only way you’ll get into this dark basement bar, hidden just off of Santa Monica’s packed Ocean Avenue strip. It’s the kind of place where you have to buzz a mysterious doorbell and put a privacy sticker over your phone camera before you’re seated. Start with one of the house martinis, and don’t leave until you hear the jazz singer crooning renditions of Britney Spears songs next to a vintage Steinway.

The profound lack of good rooftops in Santa Monica’s is one of society’s great mysteries. At least we have Calabra. Perched atop the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, this gigantic bar has an indoor lounge, poolside patio, and curved couches that you can rent out for more privacy. Come weekends, the music is loud and people are definitely dressed up, but if you want to sneak up on a weekday to watch the sunset and sip a gin and tonic, you’ll always be able to find a seat at the wrap-around bar.

Offhand is a natural wine bar that looks like it could be a Chipotle from the outside. (Sorry, no moody, candlelit atmosphere here.) But if you want a casual spot that pours interesting wines, then this is your place. Not everything at Offhand is soulless and gray, though. They’re spinning vinyl, the friendly staff is eager to explain every bottle on their list, and locals stroll in wearing their comfiest hoodies to drink chilled reds and dry rieslings. It’s just-sophisticated-enough, making it perfect for a date or night out with friends that entails a lot of chit-chat.

Located on a stretch of Pico in Santa Monica that’s slowly evolved from a no man’s land into a place where you might actually want to hang, The Brixton is a restaurant/bar with an extremely relaxed atmosphere. The excellent bartenders pour mezcal cocktails made with fancy things like habanero bitter and caramelized pineapple, and there’s a Happy Hour from 3:30-7:30pm (yes, four whole hours) every night of the week. Also, the mac and cheese layered with a truckload of breadcrumbs and chives should be ordered at some point.

It might not be fair to judge a book by its cover—but in the case of Big Dean’s, what you see is what you get. And that’s why we like it so much. Because even though this beachside sports bar is basically underneath the pier, it’s one of the few places where you’ll find actual Santa Monica locals hanging out this close to the tourists. Grab an excellent burger (an underrated LA classic) and a pitcher of beer, then head to their turf patio to watch whatever game is happening.

Esters is an all-purpose wine bar and restaurant directly next to Cassia (and also run by the same people) that’s perfect for a first date, a pre-dinner drink with a group, or getting some work done when you’re sick of coffee shops. In addition to a fantastic selection of wines by the bottle and glass, they also have a full bar and serve excellent cocktails, like the Esters’ Old Fashioned made with earl-grey-infused bourbon.

When it comes to Santa Monica bars, there’s a belief that it’s Chez Jay and everyone else—and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Opened in 1959, this nautical-themed landmark (literally) is a one-of-a-kind watering hole where you can get a dangerously stiff drink and a 10-oz. butter steak at the same time. There are peanut shells on the floor, a weird giant fish on the wall, and a jukebox playing The Stones. If you want one of the last remaining authentic Santa Monica experiences, head to this crazy shack by the water.

At this den of debauchery, the name of the game is karaoke. The Gaslite is one of the best bars in Santa Monica where you can cut loose, plus there’s free popcorn and a dance floor that gets wild in a hurry. So skip the scene and the long lines at a bar you don’t want to be at anyway and go experience the dive bar of your dreams.

Santa Monica Brew Works is the only brewery in the neighborhood not located in a mall, so they could probably skate by on mediocrity. But they don’t. Their taproom pours a long list of beers, like tangy witbiers, IPAs, and more experimental brews like a fruity guava-piña sour that tastes like something we’d order at a beach bar. The physical space is pretty standard for a brewery, but what sets it apart is its built-in lunch option: Emmy Squared. The Brooklyn-based pizzeria has QR codes on the table so you can order a sheet pan pizza for the group or their damn good burger.

Does Father’s Office have one of the best (and most divisive) burgers in LA? You better believe it, and the bar’s not bad, either. Admittedly pretty cramped during peak hours, the original location on Montana is a small, but nonetheless fantastic, place to drink beer on a Saturday afternoon. The rotating craft beer list is solid, and the ambiance is fun but still relaxed, which is what we want from an evening in Santa Monica. 

The Daily Pint is a 20-something-year-old English pub/dive that might not look like much, but you’re not going to find a better craft beer list on the Westside (not to mention their 500 kinds of whiskey). Quirky, dimly lit, with old pool tables scattered about, this is the kind of place 50-year-old pirates go to get their Stone Imperial Russian Stout and reminisce about ports of call.

The Misfit is another restaurants that often gets used as a bar, and even though it's located a little too close to the Third Street Promenade, we grin and bear it. The crowd is full of locals, the pitchers of white sangria come extra cold, and the food is solid, like the massive fried chicken sandwich with creamy fennel slaw and a quinoa-kale salad that’s great for sharing. Also, there are free cookies and a Happy Hour from noon to 7pm daily.

photo credit: Ye Olde Kings Head



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Santa Monica is full of legitimate English pubs, and while everyone seems to have their personal favorite, we’ll never pass up the chance to sip whiskey and eat a basket of fish & chips at King’s Head. Mere steps from the beach, it’s a staple that can certainly get a touch touristy, but the crowds add to the fun when there’s a Premier League match on the TV. Come and see what true sports passion looks like.

If you’re looking to get rowdy and make a few mistakes but drink well-made cocktails while you’re doing it, Chestnut Club is where you go. The craft cocktail bar is located in that strange, sleepy stretch of inland Santa Monica, but it still gets all-out mobbed on the weekends. So get there early or prepare to wait in line. Or just go during the week when things have calmed down considerably, and you can drink in peace.

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