05/27/2015 03:28 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2016

Best Santa Monica Restaurants to Hit This Summer

Santa Monica equals summer. From the Annenberg Beach House to the Promenade, it's not a matter of if Los Angelenos will visit Santa Monica between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but how many times.

So let's get down to it, where should you be dining? Here are three must stops this summer season.

Santa Monica Yacht Club (SMYC)
No, there's not a secret harbor in Santa Monica you didn't know about, but SMYC will make it feel like you stepped onto a millionaire's mid-century boat. Chef Andrew Kirschner took over the space on 6th Street, previously occupied by La Botte and just down the block from his previous hit restaurant, Tar & Roses.

Need a little wind on your face? The restaurant also has an outdoor patio to enjoy the cool summer breeze coming from the ocean only a few blocks west. The bar program features many rum-based beverages to complete the feeling of an ocean vacation. I can recommend starting with the Seamail, a refreshing blend of rum, lime, pineapple and cava to start and then moving on to the fresh oysters paired with the Smooth Sailing, Jamaican pot stilled rum, orange bitters and green chartruese.

SMYC Charred Octopus - photo by Gina Hall

If you only try one appetizer, make it the ceviche. Served in a half coconut, the striped bass blends so well with the coconut water, cilantro and just a little heat from some jalapeno. But who can stop at just one appetizer at a place like this? The yellowtail served with citrus, white soy, whipped ricotta and shiso will be popular with the table and make sure to grab a bite of the charred octopus, it's unbelievably tender.

Still have room for more? Two words: lobster toast. Served with garlic aioli, lemon, dried roe and chive, it's a great summer dish, light and satisfying. And who can skip dessert? It's worth the extra time at SoulCycle to try the Key lime treat. So sweet and tangy, it's the perfect end to the meal.

Little Door Santa Monica
Want to impress someone coming to Santa Monica for the first time? Take them to Little Door Santa Monica. A second location following the popular Little Door in West Hollywood, the Santa Monica spot is practically hidden behind ivy across from the Brentwood Country Mart on 26th Street. The restaurant boasts a rustic patio, perfect for a date or intimate conversation. It appears to be a favorite of locals as well, it was packed when I was there on a Tuesday, not exactly date night.

It's Chef T. Nicholas Peter's Moroccan-French menu that makes this a destination, in addition to Michael Gannon's superb bar program. I highly recommend beginning with a bourbon bellini, which includes Elijah Craig bourbon, peach nectar and Crémant de Bourgogne, although the Perfect Paddy, a combo of Paddy Irish whiskey, Carpano Antica, Dolin Dry and orange bitters, is a solid start as well.

If you're feeling indulgent, the duo of duck foie gras is a rich way to dig into the appetizers. The foie gras is served torchon and as a creme brulee and makes you wonder how long Californians could have survived the ban on the delicacy. Looking for something a little lighter? The fresh goat cheese and pistachio tart is paired with a trio of roasted beets topped with an orange blossom and mint vinaigrette.

Little Door Santa Monica's fresh goat cheese and pistachio tart - photo by Gina Hall

I always hate to copy the order of the diner next to me, but when I saw her order the pancetta-wrapped monkfish, I knew I had to do the same. The salty ham and the fresh fish make for an excellent combination, served with tender morel mushrooms.

And as I can never tell anyone to pass on dessert, make sure to tell your waiter to bring over the chalkboard of the day's specials. You can't go wrong if the chocolate and cherry tart is on the menu, but if the strawberry rhubarb tart is still there, consider finishing your meal with the seasonal treat.

Ashland Hill
Spent the day surfing, biking or even working on Silicon Beach? Make your way over to Ashland Hill for a casual night out just a short walk from the beach.

Occupying the space previously taken up by Wildflour Pizza on Main Street, the restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating where you can watch the sky change colors as the sun sets on the Pacific. A beer and wine spot, Ashland Hill has plenty of hyperlocal drafts on tap, including one of my favorites, the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.

Chef Bradley Miller, a busy guy who also oversees Ox & Son over on Montana, features elevated gastropub fare that's full of original flavor combos. Start with the avocado and roasted tomato toast. The avocado spread is fresh and well paired with the roasted tomato, goat cheese, thai chile, pickled pearl onion and smoked salt. Looking to add a little heat? Try the red curry deviled eggs. I'm not big on spicy, but this had just enough heat to make it interesting.

Ashland Hill's avocado and roasted tomato toast - photo by Gina Hall

Apparently there's some friendly competition for title of "Best Burger" between the staff at Ashland Hill and Ox & Son. The Ashland Hill version is topped with red onion bacon jam, sharp white cheddar, paprika mayo and paired with herb parmesan fries. I've tried both, but I'll leave it to readers to decide which is best, I can't choose.

A full meal at Ashland Hill will leave you stuffed, but try to save space for the blueberry crumble. Topped with whipped white chocolate and ginger ice cream, pair it with the Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout (no, I'm not making that name up and, yes, it tastes like peanut butter).

Is that enough to whet your appetite for summer? Then go out and get eating.

  • Santa Monica Yacht Club Oysters
    There are many reasons to visit Santa Monica Yacht Club, but chief among them is the fresh seafood. Start with the oysters, topped with a little cocktail sauce and yuzu mignonette.
  • Santa Monica Yacht Club Ceviche
    Most seafood restaurants serve ceviche, but not in a half coconut. This striped bass ceviche is topped with coconut water, cilantro and thai chili. Make sure to dig into the coconut to get a little of the meat. It's the heat and sweet that can't be beat.
  • Santa Monica Yacht Club Charred Octopus
    I doubt you can find charred octopus served more tender than at Santa Monica Yacht Club. While it's intended as a share plate, you might want to order two.
  • Santa Monica Yacht Club Lobster Toast
    You had us at lobster and burrata. Simple and fresh, the lobster toast at Santa Monica Yacht Club is too good to pass up.
  • Santa Monica Yacht Club Key Lime Dessert
    Nothing says summer quite like Key lime. Santa Monica Yacht Club's tangy dessert is served topped with a warm meringue.
  • Little Door Duo of Duck Foie Gras
    Haven't had foie gras since before the ban? Celebrate its return with it prepared two different ways at Little Door Santa Monica. The duo of duck foie gras torchon & creme brulee is a decadent, but delicious way to start a meal.
  • Little Door Fresh Goat Cheese & Pistachio Tart
    Looking for an appetizer that will make your friends on Instagram drool? Little Door's fresh goat cheese and pistachio tart has a trio of roasted beets topped with an orange blossom and mint vinaigrette. A great appetizer to share paired with the restaurant's bourbon bellini.
  • Little Door Pancetta-Wrapped Monkfish
    There are many excellent seafood dishes at Little Door, but if you have to pick one entree, the roasted pancetta wrapped monkfish with morel mushrooms isn't to be missed.
  • Little Door Chocolate & Cherry Tart
    Leave room for dessert. Your waiter at Little Door will bring a chalkboard of the day's dessert specials over to your table and you may need a few minutes to choose between all the amazing ways you could end your meal. The chocolate & cherry tart with a shot of Lagavulin is certainly a great way to cap off an evening.
  • Ashland Hill Avocado & Roasted Tomato Toast
    Normally, I'm not a huge fan of avocado spreads, but this one is so fresh and perfectly paired with the roasted tomato that I have to insist that this is the appetizer you start with when you visit Ashland Hill.
  • Ashland Hill Red Curry Deviled Eggs
    Deviled eggs with a bit of a kick, but not so much heat that it burns your mouth. Pairs will with the many beers on tap, my personal favorite is the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.
  • Ashland Hill Burger
    Apparently there's some friendly competition for title of "Best Burger" between the staff at Chef Bradley Miller's Ashland Hill and Miller's other restaurant, Ox & Son, which just opened on Montana Ave. The Ashland Hill version is topped with red onion bacon jam, sharp white cheddar, paprika mayo and paired with herb parmesan fries. I've tried both, but I'll leave it to readers to decide which is best, I can't choose.
  • Ashland Hill Blueberry Crumble
    Nothing tops off a summer evening quite like a fresh fruit dessert. The blueberry crumble at Ashland hill is paired with whipped white chocolate and ginger ice cream.