Ubiquitous on film and television, the coastal town of Santa Monica, within grasping distance of Los Angeles, needs no introduction.
With an average annual temperature of 16°C, Santa Monica makes a great travel destination all year round.
The image of swaying palm trees lining the beautifully maintained 3.5-mile soft sand beach; the piercing blue sky; the Pacific Ocean rolling onto the shore – it’s all true.
Celebrities are plentiful and it’s very likely you’ll run into a star or two hiding behind a pair of Ray Bans at a local restaurant or strolling through a weekend farmers market. An ‘anything goes’ attitude means that you might see Converse sneakers worn at chic restaurants and tuxedo-clad customers at street food pop-up trucks. The Californian spirit embraces both young and old and makes everyone feel welcome.
There are three top luxury hotels that are very different from each other located in this West Coast oasis of Santa Monica.
All three hotels are oceanfront and near the Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, Main Street, the elegant shopping and dining areas of Montana Avenue, as well as the gardens, walkways and expansive ocean panoramas of clifftop Palisades Park.
The hotels are located just a mile from the famous Pacific Coast Highway, around eight miles from LAX International Airport and the shopping mecca of Rodeo Drive, seven miles from Century City and 15 miles from Downtown LA.
Once an apartment complex and home to comedian Stan Laurel, this ivy-covered, family-owned and privately operated hotel is classy and intimate, with a quiet and residential vibe. The service is personal and attentive and the hotel staff will always greet you by name.
In 2019, the Art Deco designed Oceana Santa Monica underwent a $30 million renovation, and reopened as a unique, elegant and luxurious escape situated on the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles’ upmarket seaside city.
Santa Monica has a lot to offer, and Oceana is central to all the action. It’s just a few steps from the beach, and a short walk from the iconic Santa Monica amusement pier, restaurants and shopping areas.
The concierge service is a well-oiled machine and there’s little they can’t arrange; they will pull out all the stops to fulfil guests’ wishes.
The scent of lavender and lemon (the hotel’s signature beverage is a refreshing lavender lemonade) fills the open-air courtyard, the heart of the hotel, with its glittering swimming pool flanked by luxurious lounge chairs and a black and white tiled deck.
The 70 suited guest rooms are built around the courtyard over four levels and create a home-away-from-home atmosphere with their calming ocean colours, luxurious linen, deep pile rugs and locally created art adorning the walls… the main ingredients for a peaceful slumber in a city that never sleeps. The third-floor oceanfront suites offer the best vistas: close enough to watch the Pacific Ocean waves break on the sandy shore. And you can always book Stan Laurel’s actual abode: Room 23.
Some rooms around the courtyard have white leather porch swings outside the front door and deep velvet couches… a nod to Hollywood’s golden era. You’re never far from the history of nearby Hollywood as the hotel walls are full of luscious black and white photographs of classic movie stars including Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman.
Using in-season produce from the nearby famous Santa Monica farmers market, the hotel’s Sandpiper restaurant features Californian nouveau cuisine with delicious dishes including watermelon frisée salad and grilled octopus with kumquat chimichurri, to name just a couple.
The hotel’s outdoor lounge on the second floor is the perfect place to witness spectacular Californian sunsets and pay tribute to the hotel’s most famous resident by ordering a Stan Laurel cocktail. This is also a good spot for morning yoga sessions.
The hotel offers surf lessons, bicycles to hire, a modern gym with Peloton bikes, a Spa and Salon treatment room, plus the concierge can easily arrange treatments in your room.
The hotel works with Ascot Limousine Service who offer private transportation in luxurious style and absolute comfort. The company was founded in 1981 as a boutique, referral-based executive transportation service that catered to Los Angeles's most elite, high-profile clients. Ascot offer a wide range of immaculately maintained vehicles, including Luxury Sedans, SUV's, Mercedes Sprinters, Vans, and other specialty vehicles. All of their chauffeurs and vehicles are equipped with the latest communications equipment, and a customer service agent is available 24/7 to assist with any needs (ascotlimousine.com; T: 310 559 5959).
Styled by the Obamas’ White House designer, Michael S. Smith, Shutters on the Beach is a popular destination for savvy locals and celebrity guests. Shutters is one of Santa Monica’s most cherished spots for oceanfront brunches, sunset cocktails or chilling on a deckchair while absorbing the surrounding scenery.
The hotel is close to the iconic Santa Monica Pier, buzzing restaurants and shops, and the winding beachfront path, lined with iconic Californian palm trees and popular with joggers and cyclists.
Entering the hotel lobby, guests are embraced by fresh sea air blowing straight off the Pacific Ocean and engulfed by iconic works of art by artists such as David Hockney, which fill the nautically themed space.
Shutters is unique because it is one of the only hotels in Santa Monica situated right on the beach. During the day, the outdoor terrace is an ideal spot for coffee and people-watching, and there’s no better place to be for sunset cocktails.
At the Living Room bar, pull up a chair by the fireplace in this cosy after-hours space, where it’s not impossible to rub shoulders with Hollywood actors, producers and others in the film industry. It’s a fun place to have a tantalising cocktail and there’s live jazz most evenings to create a relaxed atmosphere.
There are 198 rooms in total which, compared to Oceana, means that staff are less attentive or familiar with guests. It’s a busy hotel, so don’t expect such a personal service.
Guest rooms at Shutters have a homely feel with classic wooden furniture, thick rugs, small balconies (be sure to book an Ocean View room) and whimsical touches, all of which create a relaxed beach vibe.
Shutters boasts two restaurants including 1 Pico, a more formal setting, and the casual and sunny Coast Beach Café and Bar, with its huge portions of classic American food. The popular café buzzes with visitors, locals and, yes, well-known attention-seeking personalities.
If you’re looking for a place to hang out, grab a table on the heated porch: it’s the closest you’ll get to the ocean without getting your feet wet.
Hotel Casa del Mar is the sister hotel to neighbouring Shutters and located right on the renowned and buzzing Santa Monica beach.
This historic beach club and hotel, with its 129 guest rooms and suites, is big, bold, beautiful and always busy. From beach level, you climb a short staircase to enter a huge space shared by the reception, lobby lounge and Italian restaurant, Terrazza, with vast windows offering spectacular sea views.
Architect Charles F. Plummer designed the opulent Italian Renaissance Revival-style hotel. Casa del Mar first opened its doors in 1926 and fast became one of America’s most exclusive beach clubs. With its red-brick façade decorated with wrought-iron balconies, its eight floors are crowned with a red-tiled roof and sculptures are dotted throughout the property. It was considered one of the most glamorous buildings on the West Coast at the time.
Almost 100 years old, the hotel has undergone several million-dollar renovations and in 1999, after a $50 million splurge, it was restored to its splendid 1920s glory. Casa del Mar attracts California’s elite because it offers the very best to guests.
Catch is the hotel’s smart-casual, fresh seafood restaurant that’s popular with locals for a weekend brunch. The seasonal al fresco Patio del Mar bistro offers seafront seating, creating the perfect spot day and night. The Lobby Lounge is the place to be during the evenings, as talented local musicians perform for guests throughout the night.
Designer Darrell Schmitt created the spacious guest rooms to evoke a romantic beach property: they’re light and bright in blue and ivory, and boast ridiculously comfortable four-poster walnut beds complete with crisp white linen… and the sea views!
There’s a pool area (the Palm Terrace) with a garden exclusive to hotel guests and where a light lunch and drinks can be enjoyed al fresco during the day.
Three lavish two-storey penthouse suites are also available and are designed to resemble Italian seaside villas, each with a living room complete with fireplace, formal dining area and one or two bedrooms.
Without doubt, the sea views from the hotel are spectacular, especially at sunset, with the surfers, iconic swaying Californian palm trees and the vast Pacific Ocean rolling onto the Santa Monica sand… what’s not to love about this hotel?