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An art installation at Tongva Park (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

Worry-Free Santa Monica

In California, San Francisco prompts proclamations of love from locals (and a desire to move there from visitors), and San Diego’s sunny, laid-back vibe earns it kudos all around. Then there’s Los Angeles.

The lexicon associated with L.A. includes “shallow” and “vapid.” I think that reputation is undeserved (or at least only partly true). Every time I’m in L.A., I feel refreshed. That is, unless I’m stuck in the city’s crazy parking-lot traffic.

That’s why I love Santa Monica, where going car free is not only possible but preferable. (It will be easier than ever to get to Santa Monica from downtown L.A. when a 15-mile light rail line is completed.) While I have an unabashed appreciation for all things Los Angeles, it’s carefree Santa Monica that hooks me every time.

I don’t worry about what I’m eating, what I’m breathing, or about the carbon footprint I’m leaving behind when I’m in Santa Monica, where sustainability and organic, healthy living are top of mind. A chopped salad and almond-milk smoothie taste better than a real milkshake here…almost.

Since my last visit, the city has become greener than ever, starting with the ubiquitous neon bike lanes that have been installed to protect two-wheeled movers. And more are on the way–all part of a five-year Bike Action Plan to make Santa Monica as accessible and livable as possible. Cyclists can also get a scenic workout on the world’s longest oceanfront bike path–the 22-mile South Bay Bicycle Trail–which begins in Santa Monica and snakes through Venice, Marina Del Rey, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo.

Even my home base while I’m in town, which occupies a coveted spot across from the Santa Monica Pier close to the Third Street Promenade, is green. At the new family-owned Shore Hotel, certified Gold under the LEED program, everything–from the glass walls and solar panels to the drought-resistant plants–is designed to take advantage of the plentiful natural sunlight.

And, as an added bonus for guests, Tongva Park, designed by the team behind New York City’s High Line, is just one block away. This eco-conscious park, which is so new that it retains the precision of an architect’s rendering, comes complete with observation decks that provide striking views of the Pacific Ocean and put you right in the center of the Ocean Avenue action.

From Tongva, you can walk to a personal favorite, the Sunday Santa Monica Farmers Market on Main Street. The market, which doubles as a neighborhood block party, welcomes 20,000 shoppers a week on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays in different locations.

“The fastest way to kill a farmers market is to cram everyone in, so our criteria is very selective,” says market supervisor Laura Avery.

For me, it’s all about the strawberries, which are so sweet and perfect that going back to the typical supermarket variety will be an inevitable disappointment. Though California supplies 80 percent of the strawberries in the U.S. market, those

berries have to be tough to withstand long transit times. But in Santa Monica, heirloom cultivars such as Gaviota and Chandler are sold by the heaping box.

In the words of chef Raphael Lunetta, who returned to his hometown after living and working abroad for many years to open local favorite JiRaffe, “The produce is right in our face here.” But, in the end, it all comes down to how it feels doing business here. “In Santa Monica, I walk down the street and see so many people I know,” he says. “There is diversity and strong ties to the community [here].”

And, because it epitomizes worry free, I treated myself to a surprisingly affordable massage at Alchemie, an organic spa that plants a tree for each signature product it sells. I made only one mistake: I should have booked the massage after I climbed the Santa Monica Stairs. They seemed painless at first, but after a few trips up and down (I climbed more steps than it takes to get to the top of the Empire State Building and back down to ground level) I was sore for days. But the view of the Pacific Palisades from the top was reward enough.

Annie Fitzsimmons is on the beat exploring some of the sunniest places in America. Follow her adventures on the Urban Insider blog, on Twitter @anniefitz, and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.

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