SANTA MONICA, Calif. — COVID has led to a lot of outdoor dining, but it’s the rare restaurant that has as spectacular a view as Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.
The last street before hitting the Pacific benefits from rolling surf, spectacular sunsets, and a ferris wheel that continues to light the sky despite being closed during the pandemic.
Ocean Avenue already had a fairly wide sidewalk on its east side in front of the many restaurants that operate there, but a wooden boardwalk now runs along the Pacific-adjacent roadway, from Broadway to Santa Monica Blvd. As part of a pilot program that quietly began operations this month, eateries’ tables extend all the way to the curb, rerouting pedestrians to a space that was once part of the street. Specifically, some of the parking spaces on Ocean Avenue’s east side have been taken over and repurposed into an elevated wooden walkway for foot traffic.
“We’re just trying to be as flexible and adaptable as possible so that our businesses, our residents, and our visitors can really make the most of our city even during these difficult times,” said Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Kristin McCowan.
As part of the project, the city worked with Santa Monica Travel and Tourism to relocate tour bus stops around the corner to 2nd Street to open up ocean views once blocked by idling tour buses packed with looky-loos. To accommodate the dining boardwalk near the Shore Hotel, the city also moved a commuter bus stop to create more room for pedestrians without impacting parking spaces.
Restaurants participating in the program include Blue Point Taco, Meat on Ocean, the Shore Hotel, the Georgian Hotel, and the Water Grill.
The new dining boardwalk “has been amazing,” said Nico Rusconi, owner of the Georgian Hotel on Ocean Ave., which has been operating its Veranda restaurant in a newly expanded space for the past two weeks. Now that the restaurant can put seating all the way out to the curb, he said, “we’re almost able to replace seat for seat from what we had inside to what we have outside now.”
Under current L.A. County COVID restrictions, restaurants are only allowed to serve in-person customers outdoors with tables spaced at least eight feet apart.
Steps away, the Third Street Promenade has also expanded dining in the famed pedestrian mall. Through its so-called satellite dining program, five restaurants that hadn’t had enough space to create a dining parklet are now using the Promenade space to serve meals, including the Britannia Pub, West 4th and Jane, The Independence, and Lanea.
“Everybody just needs more space in order to operate,” said Kathleen Rawson, chief executive of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., which manages the Third Street Promenade. “They’re not even close to their normal capacity even with this setup, but it makes the difference between staying in business and going out of business.”
The satellite dining program is in addition to the restaurants located on the actual Promenade that have expanded their outdoor operations to take advantage of the abundant space, including Silver Lake Ramen, Barney’s Beanery, Casa Martine, Cabo Cantina, and 1212.
“I can’t wait for COVID to be behind us, like everyone else. But so many great ideas have come out of it,” said McCowan, who hopes to keep the Ocean Ave. boardwalk going even after the pandemic subsides and restaurants are once again allowed to host guests indoors. “Outdoor dining has helped us all to see what we have right there in front of us, and we’ve had it all along. We just needed this pandemic to find ways to actually enjoy our beautiful surroundings.”