Last fall, I wrote our personal Guide to NYC. But a few readers have also asked about our thoughts about LA, where we go every Christmas to visit Alex’s family. We LOVE LA–and the sunny skies, taco trucks and dudes on skateboards. So, even though we’re far from experts, I figured I’d share our favorite places in the city, and most of all I’d love to hear yours…

Where we stay in LA:

Los Angeles is peppered with cool neighborhoods, but we always choose to stay in either Santa Monica or Venice, so we can be by the beach!

1. We love the Oceana hotel (photos above), which I’ve raved about before. The Santa Monica hotel overlooks the beach, and you can swim in their huge pool, surrounded by comfy chairs and a fireplace in the evenings. Most of all, the service is impeccable. The friendly reception staff will greet you by name every time you walk in–which makes it feel like you’re staying with old friends.

2. We rented this cool Venice cottage during our babymoon trip before Toby was born. You can easily ride bikes to the beach and go to one of the delicious restaurants nearby. They also have a little outdoor space, where you can hang in the evenings and drink wine in the breezy ocean air. Note: It’s apparently on a somewhat dodgy street in Venice, we’ve been told by locals; but we felt perfectly safe while staying there. (FYI, these cottages also look cool.)

3. Recently we stayed in this wonderful rambling Victorian house on a “walk street” in Venice–which means it faces a quiet tree-lined sidewalk instead of a street. We loved the charming old character of the home–as well as the ridiculously comfy king bed. Toby liked the back garden (with a hot tub!), where he spent ages playing with his toy trucks and an old-fashioned top! Bonus: You can walk one block to the beach, or one block to Abbott Kinney–this place is perfectly located.

Where to eat:

For lunch in Santa Monica and Venice…
* Huckleberry Cafe. The best salads, sandwiches, soups, desserts. I could eat here everyday.
* Thyme Cafe. Go for the chocolate-chip cookies!!!!!!!
* Blue Plate Oysterette. Fish tacos in a breezy little nautical restaurant across from the beach.
* Abbot’s Pizza. Stop by for a slice of their famous salad pizza.

For dinner in Venice…
* Gjelina. Dark, sceney, fun vibe; sexy lighting. A fire pit in the back garden. You can go for lunch, too, when it’s a bit calmer. Also, they recently opened a take-out storefront, next door, which is awesome for picnics or an easy dinner at home.
* The Tasting Kitchen. We had such a romantic date here. Dark, lovely. Don’t miss the bread pudding.
* Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. A pop-up restaurant in Venice. Bustling and fun, laid-back in a cool way, rich flavorful dishes, great wine list.

What to do:

* Walk up and down Abbott Kinney, the main drag in Venice. Tons of cool little shops, bookstores and cafes.
* Stop by the Santa Monica’s Farmer’s Market on the weekends, which has live music, ponies for kids to ride, and delicious hot Mexican egg dishes.
* Visit the Getty Center. Just look at these photos!
* Admire views of the city from the Observatory, especially bathed in the golden light of the early evening.
* Drive to Malibu, which is about 30 minutes away from Santa Monica and Venice. Paradise Cove restaurant is an old-school tourist favorite, but it’s still awesome–you can share an enormous plate of calamari, drink a pint of beer, and then race each other on the beach! :)
* Walk on the beach in Venice and Santa Monica. You’ll pass cool swingsets along the beach that are so tall, they’re thrilling even for grown-ups. And you can rent bikes (there are rental places all along the beach) and ride down the (awesomely long) bike path on the water.
* Play games on the Santa Monica pier (although it freaked Toby out). You can ride the ferris wheel for panoramic views of the city, play whack-a-mole (my mom is a surprise genius at it), and watch the surfers to your heart’s content.

Have you ever been to L.A., or do you live there? Any favorite restaurants or tips? I’d love to hear…These are our favorite places, but we’re just once-a-year visitors! xoxo

(Photos by Jenna Park, Yolanda Edwards, and courtesy of the restaurants and hotels)