Northeast Santa Monica

Early this year, we became enamored with a local bakery called Cookie Good. It’s a gourmet cookie shop in Santa Monica that makes insanely good and incredibly specific flavors of cookies that rotate constantly and usually come out tasting like the thing it’s emulating. (Key word being usually—the Cheetos cookie, while good, didn’t really taste anything like a Cheeto, although the Hostess Apple Pie cookie was absolutely spot-on.) Cookie Good shut down operations when the pandemic started, but has recently reopened its doors. Given that we had such a short window of time between learning about them and them closing, we were eager to go back and enjoy what else they had to offer.

So we decided to turn the errand of picking up a box of cookies into an occasion to explore a lovely corner of Santa Monica, away from the touristy districts along the beach.

The Expo (E) Line travels between Downtown L.A. and Santa Monica, taking just under an hour to go from one end of the line to the other. It’s a pleasant ride, with a lot of good views of the Westside as it crosses over several elevated segments through Culver City and West L.A. We’re taking it to 26th Street/Bergamot Station, at the corner of 26th and Olympic Boulevard on the east side of Santa Monica.

The neighborhood surrounding the station is predominately office buildings and converted warehouses. Right next to the Expo Line station is its namesake: the Bergamot Station Art Center, a collection of prestigious art galleries housed in a set of old warehouses and industrial sheds. Before the pandemic, this was probably the neighborhood’s biggest draw. But currently most of the galleries are closed or have moved to online-only exhibitions, so Bergamot is pretty quiet these days.

Cross 26th and Olympic and make your way into the complex of gleaming white office buildings across the street from the station. This is the Water Garden, a high-end office complex with an elaborate plaza in the middle. A large fountain sits on the corner facing the Expo Line station, from which flows a stream into the complex, crisscrossed by multiple paths. The stream is minimalist but beautifully designed, with a shallow concrete bed colored in a gradient between sandy yellow and a reflective blue, like an abstract beach. The stream flows into the plaza at the center, surrounded by grassy lawns and seating areas designed for the office workers who populate the site. In the corners you can find some shady areas where you can take a seat beneath a grove of trees.

The office buildings of the Water Garden, as well as many on the surrounding blocks, are home to many familiar brands of the entertainment industry. Within the Water Garden itself are the offices of Amazon Studios and video game studio Naughty Dog, while nearby are the offices of Hulu and Lionsgate. Just to the west across Cloverfield Boulevard (which, yes, is where the name of the film franchise comes from) is the headquarters of Universal Music, which has adorned the corner of their complex facing Cloverfield and Colorado with the Universal globe.

From the Water Garden, walk north up Cloverfield a couple of blocks to Santa Monica Blvd. Along the way, you’ll pass by a dinky city park that might be Santa Monica’s smallest: it basically consists of only two benches and a handful of trees wedged between the street and the apartment complexes next door. At Santa Monica Blvd, cross the street and make a right. After a block, make a left onto Chelsea Avenue, which will take you through the neighborhood to Wilshire Blvd. Make a right, and you’ll be right across the street from the green hill of Douglas Park.

Cookie Good sits in the middle of the block facing the park, tucked between two far larger buildings in a tiny storefront. The interior is miniscule, with just enough room to show off their fresh cookies. Their flavors change constantly, so check their website ahead of time to see what’s available—or just walk in and be delightfully surprised.

These are pandemic times, so thankfully a lovely park is located right across the street for you to enjoy your cookies at a appropriately socially-distanced picnic table outdoors. Douglas Park is a surprising gem in the middle of the neighborhood, with a bowling green at the base of the hill and an idyllic duck pond at the top, with two burbling streams flowing downhill to smaller ponds flanking the bowling green. A little island sits in the midst of the largest pond, surrounded by wetland grasses while turtles slowly poke their heads out of the water and wait to see if you’re going to feed them.

The pond and the large, shady trees are lovely, but our favorite feature of Douglas Park is the picnic tables. Scattered around the park are picnic tables designed by artists Ellen and Allen Wexler that are each just a little… off. One has a tree growing through it. One has a roof. One has the actual table seemingly folded down to create two benches. And another has a bridge built through the middle of it, rendering it useless as a table but really fun to walk across.

After you’ve taken an moment to appreciate the delights of Douglas Park, proceed uphill to shady California Avenue, which runs along the back of the park. Make a right and walk a block to the corner of 26th Street, where you’ll find a wonderful local landmark. Known as the Farnam House, this otherwise humble house is covered in colorful ceramic tile across every square inch of its walls. Owned by a family who runs a local tile and mosaic business, the house is adorned with nature scenes, religious imagery, statuary, and colorful words and symbols, creating a feast for the eyes.

One side is heavily ocean-themed, with depictions of dolphins and whales leaping out of the water and octopus and fish swimming beneath the waves. A chicken is perched on the roof, while the sculpture of a fish greets you at the front gate. A stairway is adorned with depictions of old towns. Even the plantings—spindly, colorful succulents that almost resemble coral—fit with the sea-themed artwork. It’s a wonderful piece of public art, one that rewards close examination (but remember that it’s still a private house, so be respectful).

In fact, the Farnam House is so good that it has apparently inspired many of its neighbors to step up their decorating game. The few blocks of California Avenue on both sides of Douglas Park are home to charming houses with elaborate gardens in their front yards. Just next door to the Farnam House is a house where shark fins protrude from the planters. Across the street and a few doors down is a zen garden. And couple of blocks down, on the other side of Douglas Park, is a front yard covered with an incredibly elaborate display of literally hundreds of small figurines, bobbleheads which sway in the wind, and decorative signs, like a massive display from a folk art museum.

California Avenue and Douglas Park might be the center of the most charming neighborhood in Santa Monica, a world away from the touristy realm of the pier and the beach. When you’re done admiring the lovely homes and gardens along the street, you can walk back to the Expo Line station or take one of the frequent buses along Wilshire or Santa Monica Boulevards, which can take you to Downtown Santa Monica or east into LA proper.

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