Destination: California: Los Angeles
Casa del Mar
Shutters on the Beach and Casa del Mar, managed by the same family, are located side by side along a choice stretch of Santa Monica State Beach. The historic Santa Monica Pier, with an arcade and a 1916 carousel by master amusement-ride builder Charles I.D. Looff, is a wonderful stop for children and only a short walk away. Guests have signing privileges at both hotels and can use both pools. But Shutters and Casa del Mar look and feel vastly different.
The more opulent, Renaissance Revival–style Casa del Mar was built in 1926 as a grand beach club and hotel but was converted into a military hotel during World War II, then put to various uses until it reopened as a hotel, in 1999. The large lobby maintains its ’20s look, featuring leather club chairs and an inviting bar, and the small pool on the fifth-floor terrace offers a panoramic ocean view. Catch, the hotel restaurant and NYC transport, offers fresh seafood and a sushi bar. The small, attractive spa, with sea-grass walls and chintz-covered chairs, offers treatments that use products by Dr. Howard Murad, who runs the Murad Medical Spa, in nearby El Segundo.
While Shutters on the Beach is our favorite hotel in Santa Monica, this is a less expensive—albeit less refined option—that also celebrates Southern California beach living. The Fairmont Miramar recently underwent a major renovation in 2012 and now offers a more casual version of beachside hotel living in Los Angeles. The location is not quite as appealing as Shutters; it is not right on the beach but across Ocean Avenue. And the lobby, which does have a corporate Fairmont feeling, can be thronged with cruise groups (the hotel is popular with cruise departure groups), but the service is fine, rooms are comfortable and there’s a deservedly popular restaurant, Fig, on premises that draws a happening crowd nightly. Most of the guest rooms are in the main high-rise building but the best ones are in the bungalows that surround the pool. In fact, the duplex bungalows with Pacific Ocean views and a Malibu beach house décor almost feel like private cottages.
Bottom line: For those who want a Santa Monica base at a lower price than Shutters on the Beach this would be our top choice.
Best rooms: Behind the main building are bungalows surrounding the pool area. The two-story ones have upstairs living rooms with views of the beach. They feel like private beach bungalows and have been decked out with all of the elements to invoke coastal calm such.
Malibu Beach Inn
For west coasters there’s no better beach to walk your dog on in summer than Carbon Beach in Malibu (a.k.a. Billionaire’s Beach). Last week, when I was in L.A., the Times reported that summer rentals have reached new record prices, and that few beachfront properties should be left by the end of this month. By July, locals like Goldie Hawn and Larry Ellison will be sharing the sand and sea and canyon hiking trails with those lucky renters. Thanks to David Geffen’s elegant redo of the Malibu Beach Inn, though, you may still be able to get a room with an ocean view as well as access to the hottest lunch spots in town. (See below for how to get a day membership.) Geffen spent two years and more than $10 million dollars modernizing the three-story beachfront hotel, which commands a prime spot on the beach just south of the Malibu pier. Art from Geffen’s own collection hangs on walls throughout, so you can sip margaritas in your flip-flops with an endless summer outlook of the Pacific to the west and a wall of David Hockney’s views of L.A. to the east. What the forty-seven rooms lack in space (they range from 400 to 600-square-feet), they make up for in location.
After all, this is where celebrities like Pamela Anderson, Matthew McConnaughey, Cindy Crawford, Adam Sandler and Mel Gibson relax by the sea. It’s not technically a private beach, though moguls, including Geffen, did wage a local battle to make it so. There are hard-to-find public access points from the highway, but most days homeowners and hotel guests seem to have it to themselves. And the beach is the star attraction. The inn has no pool, no gym, no spa, not even bathtubs in the guestrooms. Whether you are in the lobby bar or the privacy of your room, you won’t be able to take your eyes off of the surf just steps away. Critics may complain that the understated interior design of beige walls and brown upholstery accented by white orchids could be anywhere. Ah, but it’s not anywhere. Here, you are an instant member of Malibu’s only beach club. The concierge will set you up with a chaise on the sand (where your laptop may still tap into the hotel’s WiFi), arrange surfing lessons and book you a table at the hotel’s own restaurant (inside or out on the terrace) or at Geoffrey’s, where being a friend of Mr. Geffen’s gets you preferential seating. Many of the rooms have fireplaces and all have beachfront balconies and sound-proof doors to keep the noise of the highway out so you can leave your terrace door open and hear the sound of the crashing waves. Yes, you’d have more space if you rented your own house but you might not have such great service. And if you stayed with David at his compound down the beach, you’d have to be an amusing houseguest.
N.B. Avoid the partial view king rooms. And remember even the suites do not have bathtubs, nor is there a pool. For the nearest coastal spot with great tubs (they even come with rubber ducks) and poolside pampering, head south down Highway 1 to Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica.
Indagare Tip: Come for the day. You can pay a daily membership fee to the Carbon Beach Club and for $75 secure a chaise on the beach, a sunscreen kit, priority seating at the restaurant and complimentary valet parking.
Shutters on the Beach
Shutters on the Beach and Casa del Mar, managed by the same family, are located side by side along a choice stretch of Santa Monica State Beach. The historic Santa Monica Pier, with an arcade and a 1916 carousel by master amusement-ride builder Charles I. D. Looff, is a wonderful stop for children and only a short walk away. Guests have signing privileges at both hotels and can use both pools. But Shutters and Casa del Mar look and feel vastly different.
For my money, it’s no contest. Shutters has an easy, Vineyard-Nantucket style. The wonderful lobby lounge—with overstuffed couches, leather armchairs, blue-and-white porcelain, two fireplaces and phenomenal beach-themed paintings and photographs by such artists as Robert Motherwell and John Diebenkorn—is the kind of place where you can have a tête-à-tête or, with sand still in your flip-flops, relax with potato chips and a glass of Champagne after a stroll on the Venice boardwalk. In 2004, star interior designer Michael S. Smith went to town on the 198 guest rooms and suites: they all now have hardwood floors, Oriental rugs and four-poster beds. Bathrooms offer pedestal sinks, whirlpool tubs and marble showers. Each room has either a small balcony or a terrace, but the best, of course, front the ocean. Suites come with Bang & Olufsen stereos and personal laptops. The Smith-designed spa is beach-chic, with seashell-embedded walls and wooden furniture. Ole Henriksen, who tends to Hollywood stars at his West Hollywood salon, designed the treatments. There’s a pool on the third-floor terrace and a sleek fitness center. Two attractive restaurants are on the property, and several others can be found in the neighborhood.
Best rooms: The oceanfront suites such as 203, which can be connected with the room next door for a two bedroom corner suite with a living room in the middle. Set just back from the beach, they feel like beach houses with all of the back-up of a five-star hotel.
Read an Indagare member’s postcard about Shutters on the Beach.
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