The best first date I ever had was in Santa Monica Canyon. I thought he had taken me to a remote beach town until I saw bustling Pacific Coast Highway nearby.
But the buzzing traffic was unnoticeable when I was feasting on grilled fish and fresh pasta in the intimate dining room of Caffé Delfini ($$; dinner daily; 147 W. Channel Rd.; 310/459-8823). It's one of two top-notch Italian restaurants in the canyon, the other being Giorgio Baldi ($$$$; dinner Tue–Sun; 114 W. Channel; 310/573-1660), where Italian waiters recite specials as if extolling the virtues of their homeland (hand gestures and all).
Nestled at the western edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, just south of Pacific Palisades, the neighborhood's two-street retail section is home to at least six dining options, from casual to romantic.
Feast on a big breakfast at Patrick's Roadhouse ($$; 106 Entrada Dr.; 310/459-4544); enjoy steak and potatoes and fascinating people-watching at the venerable Golden Bull ($$; dinner daily; 170 W. Channel; 310/230-0402); or go for a more upscale meal at Sam's by the Beach ($$$; dinner Tue–Sun; 108 W. Channel; 310/230-9100).
Despite the residents' high per capita income, this enclave is actually representative of a variety of social sectors ― from movers and shakers to beach bums. At Santa Monica State Beach (west of Pacific Coast Hwy.; 310/458-8974), easily accessible via an underground tunnel, visitors can jump on the bike path or watch professional volleyball players practice.
At night, Marix Playa (118 Entrada; 310/459-8596) has a hopping bar scene, as does the Friendship (112 W. Channel; 310/454-6024), a gay bar. It sports a jaunty, nautical exterior and sponsors an entertaining karaoke night every Tuesday.
When not eating, singing, or soaking up the sun, visitors can wander the neighborhood, shopping at Canyon Beachwear (106 Entrada; 310/459-5070) or visiting the Psychic by the Sea (by appointment only; from $45 per session; 107 W. Channel; 310/573-7703). Perhaps if I'd stopped by the latter after that first date, the psychic would have predicted my love affair with the canyon would last far longer than the one with the man. And maybe that's not so bad.
Santa Monica Canyon's main street, W. Channel Rd., runs north from Pacific Coast Hwy. (State 1). For general information, contact Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau www.santamonica.com or 800/544-5319.