Santa Monica Place used to be one of my favorite destinations when I lived in Venice. A short 15-minute bike ride along the coast, and I was shopping at Forever 21, Sanrio Surprise, BCBG and more. I had heard rumors that the mall as it stood – half occupied, but the occupants that did rent there were quality – was in talks of going under a massive renovation.  

The Macerich Company proposed that the Santa Monica Mall be torn down and replaced with something more modern, namely condominiums and offices, with specialty boutiques. Fearing that this would go against the beachy lifestyle and makeup of Santa Monica, residents strongly rejected the idea. So as it goes, in 2007 a happy medium was reached where the mall still stood, but the roof was lifted and the walkways expanded. It took about three years for this process, and so far, so good.

The Santa Monica Place houses something for everyone. But what really stands out, for better or worse, are the food options. On the top level of the circular mall, the Dining Deck displays a great variety of restaurants, like Pizza Antica, Xino and the wine wonderland Sonoma Wine Garden. But nestled off in the corner is the Market, a quaint section that can be likened to San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Not to be mistaken for a food court, the Market features artisan eateries and an organic skincare kiosk.  

When you step through the doors, it’s almost like an oasis. The hustle and bustle of neighboring restaurants is quieted, and it feels sort of like a farmer’s market, but indoors. Right now, the Market has more sweets and snacks than anything, but they are “fresh, fun and local:” Aurélie Vachresse, the Cookie Guru’s fresh baked chocolate chip cookies; Groundwork Coffee Company; Röckenwagner Bakery (the most delicious pretzel bread!).

The pretzel bread paired with Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar’s wonderful cheeses is a nice little pick-me-up. You may be better off eating one of Norcino’s Panini, like the Calebrese: sausage and pesto on ciabatta bread. Or you can treat yourself to some appetizers, wine and/or dinner at Primi Al Mercato. I enjoyed the chopped vegetable bruschetta, paired with the Rigatoni with tomato and mint basil pesto. You can order low-carb, gluten-free items and vegan items here. Or you can indulge in one the classic decadent Italian desserts, including the creamy cannoli and tiramisu.

The Curious Palate is the biggest player here however, with the patio-adjacent café, seasonal menu and small market. The same delicious entrees like the Cubano sandwich and Famous Mac n Cheese from the original Venice location have made their way over to Santa Monica. Some of the best things here include the Shishito Peppers and Ceviche. I think the winner might be the Grilled Cheese Royale. Gruyere, mozzarella and cheddar all come to the party, with a side of fries.

A nice added touch to the Market is the Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories, a school started by French pastry chef Clémence Gossett and Southern maven Hadley Hughes. Here you can learn how to perfect your cooking techniques, and meet some great chefs with cookbook signings and special events. Or you can visit Magical Blooms, Jenny Barker’s floral designs space that features unique arrangements and classes.  

There are some things that need to be worked out at the Market. Though the food is local and fresh, there needs to be more of it! If I could walk in there and purchase fresh fruit and vegetables to go along with my flowers, pretzel bread and jasmine green tea, that would be something. Also, most of the shops are on the pricey side, especially when you can step outside and eat at one of the neighboring restaurants. An addition like Cabbage Patch, fresheast or Tender Greens would make the Market a big draw. There’s hope, as the Market just opened in May, so there’s plenty of room to grow.  

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