When it comes to Santa Monica nightlife, things are generally broken into three main areas. You’ve got the hungry cougars crawling down Montana, the wide-eyed tourists looking for a buzz on The Promenade, and the blacked out 22-year-olds stumbling their way around Main Street. For a town that’s not as big as people think, Santa Monica’s nightlife is vast. But unfortunately, most of it isn’t really worth your time.
However, for every dime-a-dozen sports bars 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 dive bars to cocktail bars on the beach, there’s real drinking to be had in Santa Monica. And here are all the places you need to be.
In the land of nauseating bro bars and overpriced rooftop patios, Gas Lite remains one of Santa Monica’s best and most authentic places to simply let go. The name of the game of this den of debauchery is karaoke. Not to mention the 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.
When it comes to Santa Monica bars, there’s a belief that it's Chez Jay and everyone else. It's hard to argue. The 57-year-old nautical-themed landmark (literally) is a one-of-a-kind drinking hole where you can get dangerously stiff drink and a 10 oz. butter streak all at the same time. There are peanut shells on the floor, there's a weird giant fish on the wall, and The Stones just came on the jukebox. If you want one of the last remaining authentic Santa Monica experiences, drop what you're doing and head to this crazy shack by the water.
It’s not too difficult to find a bar with a tiki theme or an Irish theme or you can’t find the door so now it’s a speakeasy theme. But a bar solely commemorating Charles Bukowski, the American poet, novelist, and legendary drinker? Not so much. But alas, Santa Monica has one and it’s excellent. Expect a dimly-lit 1960’s dive feel with lots of tall boy cans, some pool tables, and plenty of Bukowski writings hanging around the walls for you and your friends to argue over.
Wait, the best burger in LA also has a great bar? You better believe it. Admittedly pretty claustrophobic during peak hours, the original location on Montana is small but nonetheless a fantastic place to get really beer drunk on a Saturday afternoon. The rotating craft beer list is solid and the people sipping them are unfairly attractive. The vibe is fun, casual, and laid back. Oh, and did we mention there's a burger? Read the full review
Located in the heart of the post-grad Fireball shot consumption zone that is Main Street, Library Bar stands as one of the few places in the area that's actually tolerable. A solid restaurant in its own right, Library Bar has made its name for being a true craft beer mecca. With over 25 taps at any point and big-name tap takeovers on any given weekend, if you’re in the mood for an IPA and a bison burger in relative peace, Library Bar is your one-stop Santa Monica shop.
While there’s no real formula for making a bar a success, The Craftsman sure seems close to cracking the code. For starters, there’s a four hour Happy Hour everyday that’s easily among the most popular in the area. Then there’s the bar food, which is also excellent (spicy tots are a must). Top it all off with nightly live music, shuffleboard, and a great outdoor patio perfect for catching that ocean breeze, and it’s not hard to see why The Craftsman is one of Santa Monica’s best.
In a town that doesn’t exactly hold on its past, the Daily Pint remains a classic. The 25-year-old English pub dive might not look like much, but the fact remains you’re not going to find a much better craft beer list on the Westside (not to mention those 300 kinds of whiskey either). 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 friendship.
Sometimes you just need that validation and you need it now. If we’re being honest, The Bungalow is a complete sh*tshow, full of young hot people who haven’t yet experienced what a three-day hangover feels like. Their time will come. But in the meantime, they’re enjoying what is still one of the best spaces in the city (it’s a converted bungalow house right on the beach) and a day-drinking situation that remains unparalleled.
With all the fancy craft cocktail bars and weird English pubs dominating the Santa Monica landscape, it sometimes goes under the radar that Santa Monica is also home to one of our best wine bars - Bodega. The unpretentious spot has a solid list of both red and whites, and a craft beer situation that's way better than you'd think. There’s an excellent Happy Hour from 5pm-7pm on weekdays, or come in on Andrew Jackson (Harriet Tubman?) Wednesday’s when all bottles of red and white are $20.
Located just a little too close to comfort to the Third Street Promenade, The Misfit is completely worth the hassle. Because at the end of the day, you’re hard-pressed to find a better all-around bar/restaurant in Santa Monica. Their happy hour is one of the best around (hint: it starts when the place opens) with $6 select beer and wine, and half-off well drinks. The food is also pretty delicious and the historic setting is a nice change of pace from the Aeropostale apocalypse happening outside.
If the crew is rolling deep on Saturday, West 4th and Jane is your move. The casual downtown spot has long communal tables on the main floor and a private event space upstairs if things get official. With over 24 taps, there's a great beer stock and a nightly 5pm-7pm Happy Hour where discounts run wild. Just don’t sleep on the food - it’s quite good. The lamb burger and sriracha ginger wings are musts.
Santa Monica is full of legitimate English pubs. They're everywhere. And while everyone seems to have their personal favorite, we'll never pass up the chance to sip some whiskey and chow down on fish & chips at Kings Head. Mere steps from the beach, the 40-year-old staple can certainly get a touch touristy, but it somehow adds to the allure. Come here for a Premier League game and see what true sports passion looks like. Bonus: There’s a magician on Sundays.
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 drink your drink in peace.
You could stumble past JP’s a hundred times and never notice it. But that would be a huge mistake. Because if you’re looking to get a little weird, dance to an old Garth Brooks song, and throw darts until you can’t, this Wilshire Blvd. dive has all your needs covered. JP’s isn’t the kind of joint you make an entire night out of, but with a who-cares-if-you-can't-stand vibe and zero lines, this is definitely your last stop of the night kind of place.