Find out the best places to stay west of Hollywood or near the Pacific Coast beach in this California playland. As you move west across Los Angeles, the real estate values rise and the smog disappears until you reach pretty and prosperous Santa Monica. Within its 8.3-square-miles, this sophisticated but very casual city boasts fine shopping, gourmet restaurants, excellent museums and a fresh sea breeze. Active families will appreciate the 22-mile-long beachfront boardwalk and access to bike and rollerblade rental shops and watersports.
With funky Venice and Muscle Beach (birthplace of America's fitness craze) just a few miles' walk south, and exclusive Malibu to the north, the colorful Santa Monica Pier (with its solar-powered, illuminated Ferris wheel, historic carousel, fun arcade, and crummy but incredibly scenic eateries) is often considered the "center" of town.
Family-friendly attractions like the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (310/393-6149; 1600 Ocean Front Walk Santa Monica 90401) and the Bergamot Station (310/586-6488; 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica 90404) playground and gallery complex offer fun alternatives to the beach or pier. Don't miss a stroll through the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade (310/393-8355; 1351 Third Street, Santa Monica 90401), down fashionable Montana Avenue or through the lively stalls at the weekend Farmer's Market.
With public transportation, the Westside is well served only by Big Blue and Metro Rapid buses (see www.metro.net or www.experiencela.com). We suggest you leave Marilyn Monroe at a "Bus Stop" and follow the "Baywatch" crowd to a rental convertible, so you can cruise the beaches and drive through one of the delightful In-N-Out Burger outlets around town.
Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel
1700 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401
866/LOEWS-WB or 310/458-6700
Home of the American Film Market and other entertainment industry gatherings, the Loews is best known for its atrium, lined with towering 45-foot-tall grayish palms. (The staff admitted that they were 'petrified' real palms rather than 'fake' palms.) With dramatic effect, they lead visitors through an elegant lobby to a beachview sundeck and large pool. Once the hotel's greatest family asset, the pool has lost much appeal since its domed, mid-length cover was removed to increase deck space. However, it remains a very scenic spot for a sunset fruit punch and a magnet for families. The Loews 342 rooms, quietly and tastefully furnished, are punctuated with a few splashes of color and surprising style; oceanview suites are the most "Hollywood"choice.
Loews most popular restaurant Ocean & Vine, is a chic, oceanview, top quality dining room with a great Sunday brunch. An attractive fitness center has spa treatment rooms, yoga classes, a beauty parlor and kid-welcoming locker room adjacent to the pool deck. Some real pluses here are the "California Dreamin" location and having rental bikes and blades just a five-minute walk away. However, the Loews new YouFirst program requires a membership and a certain amount of stays in order to qualify for many amenities that used to be free. Rates: $$-$$$$ depending on season.
1301 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310/394-2791 or 800/345-STAY
A little bit north of the city's commercial fray, this ca.1939 Deco moderne gem recently underwent a $30 million renovation. Previously a simply but comfy residential hotel, it is now a super luxurious accommodation in a beautiful location. Mom and Dad will appreciate the art-deco furnishings to match the architecture, and families will love the elevated pool set in the well-manicured courtyard, while fitness fiends will appreciate the outdoor exercise and yoga deck.
Families interested in cruising the boardwalk will be delighted. 71 rooms and spacious suites, full food and beverage service in a restaurant, sidewalk cafe, and rooftop bar are available in this cozy boutique hotel. If space is your first priority, this place is a great choice, and the very friendly staff will make you feel at home. Rates: $$-$$$$$
The Hotel California
1670 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310/393-2363 or 866/571-0000
Almost in the shadow of the pricier Loews Santa Monica, this two-story surfer-motif boutique hotel has an array of colorful rooms located near the Santa Monica Pier and Pico Boulevard. Drive up to your room, unlock the door and smile at the surfboard-headboards, surfboard coffee tables, nautical knickknacks and other once-kitschy, now-trendy decor. Not bright and airy but way imaginative, guest rooms have shiny wood floors, a Euro-California style and very neat, efficient facilities. Count on the kids having a large TV, firm bed (standard rooms have two queen beds but there are suites), and a mini-fridge for their Sprite. Don't miss the Elmore Leonard-style garden courtyard. Nice staff if not overly attentive… but at these rates, you'd be out surfing too. Rates: $-$$ depending on season and room location.
For more information about what to see and where to stay in Santa Monica, go to www.santamonica.com.
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