It’s 8am on a Monday morning when I slap my yoga mat onto the hot studio floor, feeling a pre-emptive sense of virtuous wellbeing as the first beads of sweat gather on my brow. But any premature smugness is swiftly eviscerated when I overhear a few hissed words from my neighbour to her friend. “Are you double-classing today too? The killer combo is hot barre then hot power yoga, back to back.” Welcome to Santa Monica, California, where ‘double-classing’ is a verb.
For decades, this beachside enclave has attracted the most health-trend obsessed inhabitants of a health-obsessed city (Los Angeles) in a health-obsessed state (California). As the coastal district closest to Hollywood, it was destined to become the palm-fringed playground of choice for sporty starlets, bodybuilders, dancers and performers. During the ’70s, Jane Fonda opened her aerobics studio here, future Olympian Carl Lewis trained at the Santa Monica Track Club and Arnold Schwarzenegger pumped iron at the weightlifting mecca, Gold’s Gym. Today it’s where fitness trends and health fads are cooked up, sampled by a hungry but ruthlessly discerning public, and then either spat out or savoured and given the coveted Santa Monica seal of approval.
The Fondalike ’70s aerobics queens are still here but, a few decades and husbands later, they’ve swapped calisthenics for Cardio Barre and the grapefruit diet for paleo. The changing room demographic is a mix of taut faced, oddly airbrushed-looking women who could be 49 or 69, semi-recognisable celebrities and fitness-obsessed twentysomethings working at tech companies on Santa Monica’s Silicon Beach. Mine are the only pale thighs in the room. I’m also the only one with mismatched gym socks. Thing is, I’m no stranger to gyms. Back home, I do yoga at home most mornings, run 8km three times a week and ClassPass my way around pilates, barre and BodyPump. I’ve had my fair share of flings with faddier offerings, and would rate myself a solid seven on the slob-to-sporty scale. Yet, in Santa Monica, I suspect that number drops to a frumpy four.
I leave Hot 8 Yoga and console myself with a $14 Date Shake at Moon Juice, the most raved-about cold-pressed juice bar and ‘lunar apothecary’ of the moment. I’m eavesdropping gleefully as the post-workout, pre-work crowd hotly discuss their favourite brand of whey protein and enzyme supplement, which Pop Physique (an LA-born barre workout) instructor has the best playlist, and their new obsession with Shape House, an ‘urban sweat lodge’ where you’re swaddled in an infrared blanket and left to sweat for 50 minutes like a dumpling.
Walking down 2nd Street, every other person is carting a yoga mat; most are wearing neon New Balances. Because what Rodeo Drive is to designer boutiques, Santa Monica’s 2nd Street is to designer workouts. On the same strip, I pass Equinox (swanky gym), Orangetheory (high-tech quantified cardio) and Exhale (boutique fitness studio) all interspersed with paleo-friendly pit stops with names like ‘True Food Kitchen’ or ‘Kreation’. All the gyms are open 24 hours. This city never sleeps – not because it’s up all night partying, but because it’s up at 4:30am for kundalini yoga. “There’s a lot going on here between 5am and 6am,” says Adam Gillman, co-owner of Cycle House. “In West Hollywood, you don’t see that. Santa Monica is definitely a super-fit and active part of LA.”
It doesn’t take long for Santa Monica – a city of superlatives, where self-improvement is the meaning of life – to work its spell on me; before I know it I’m celebrating my final Cardio Barre class of the week with a kaletini (yes, that’s a gin cocktail with cold-pressed kale) at the glossy bar in Elovate, the vegan restaurant run by Roberto Martin, former personal vegan chef to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. It’s Friday night, my fellow drinkers and I are clad in workout gear, accessorised with a post-SoulCycle glow. Admittedly, it’s not any old workout gear; we’re talking Onzie’s brightly patterned harem style pants, Lululemon tops and swathes of Kit and Ace’s technical cashmere.
Santa Monica isn’t about deprivation; it’s about guilt-free gluttony and hangover hacks. Much like my kaletini, this city is a careful balance of health and hedonism. It’s as though every facet has been given a health twist. So when someone talks about “the best burger in town”, they mean Rawvolution’s raw vegan ‘burger’ with sprouted onion chia bread topped with coconut jerky strips. That Lycra-clad girl licking an ice-cream? She’s indulging in a Kippy’s vegan goji berry and coconut milk concoction. And at hipster bars such as The Misfit, locally brewed kombucha is on tap alongside craft beers.
In Santa Monica, you can have your cake and eat it – just as long as it’s made with agave and raw cacao. You can have a stressful job in tech and stay serene – if you make it to 6am yoga every morning. Here, women aren’t shamed for showing a little self obsession. I’d always assumed SoCal women were born with it. But a week in Santa Monica has taught me that California girls don’t have an unfair advantage, they have an attitude of serious self-investment. They’ll fill their wardrobe with bum-flattering $100 leggings and drink double-digit juices, but they’ll also spend $200 on botox or on eyelash extensions. Their glowing skin isn’t just from hot yoga and wheatgrass shots, it’s from high-tech electronic facials. Contrary to what we might think, health isn’t a birthright in California. It’s a passion.
Overlooking the pier, this beachfront luxe hotel offers up a full gym (with daily classes from core conditioning to spin), farm-to-table dining and eco-friendly spa treatments. Splash the extra cash to upgrade to a cabana room with a balcony fire pit.
Pulled up sore after all of that jumping and lunging? Their signature Beachcomber Massage features warm tiger clam shells infused with self-heating, mineral-rich kelp and seawater that melts muscle tension.
Similar to Uber, the rideshare app matches you with local drivers at the tap of a button. Handy for jumping from class to cafe without the seven-block slog.
Cassia is a casually cool spot for upscale French-Asian fare and seafood that won’t undo all that hard work. Head next door to Esters Wine Shop and Bar for a sneaky glass of bubbles.
Save a few bucks and sign up for the monthly membership for access to Santa Monica’s top studios. Our picks? Mighty Pilates, Pop Physique and Pilates Platinum.