If you’re downtown for a lot of the suggestions here, you won’t be close to Santa Monica.
BUT, if you are, stop by Olvera Street for some taquitos at Celito Linda. It’s on the corner.
Some will say they don’t get it, but the tacos and burrito’s at Tito’s Tacos in Culver City (Washington Place near Sepulveda) are an inexpensive treat.
Right around the corner from Tito’s on Sepulveda is Johnny’s Pastrami. You can share a pastrami sandwich (with Swiss Cheese!!!) there, they are that big!
Killer Shrimp in Marina del Rey is a good and different meal. If you go just get the boiled shrimp. Don’t mess with rice or pasta. Not as good!
It’s a chain, but seeing that you’re from Wisconsin you might like one of our local chains.
In Santa Monica there’s Third Street Promenade. There are a lot of restaurants there. I like Gaucho Grill. I love the chimichuri they serve as a condiment, both to dip your bread into and to lather on to the rice.
Try some our ethnic restaurants. Thai and Indian are different and good.
Most of all…. enjoy yourself!