Three great neighborhood hotel picks for lost souls passing through the City of Angels.
LAX is well known as one of the world’s busiest airports and a gateway for many international tourists, but many travelers choose to only stay one night or bypass the city altogether. It’s true that Los Angeles can be a pretty overwhelming place to navigate if you’re not from America, and sometimes even if you are. With its sprawling highways and disparate neighborhoods, it’s easy to get lost and think it just looks like a big film set. But if you know where to go, a whole other side to the city opens up to the unfamiliar tourist that can make the world of difference if you are just passing through. If you are short on time, just focus on one or two neighborhoods – don’t even try to attempt them all – and take the time you do have to discover their secrets. Here are some of our favorite spots to get you going in at least two directions.
Santa Monica & Venice
After a long-haul flight, what better place to stretch your legs than along Santa Monica Beach. Spanning 3.5 miles from Pacific Palisades to Palos Verdes there is much to see and do from riding the ferris wheel at the famous Santa Monica Pier to bike riding, rollerblading, skateboarding, surfing, beach volleyball, and of course, great people watching. The Annenberg Community Beach House is another big drawcard after its $27.5 million renovation in 2009. The original building was a private estate built in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for the actress Marion Davies. With spectacular views, splash pad, playground, gallery, beach courts and fields, community and cultural events, a historic pool (closed between October and 22 May), free wi-fi, and more; there’s something for everyone to enjoy!
Take a detour and walk the historic Venice Canals for a completely different perspective on LA. Created in 1905 by a local developer who sought to recreate the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy, in Southern California, today it is a tightly held residential community not far from the famous Abbott Kinney Boulevard. Regarded as one of the coolest blocks (and neighborhoods) in America, the vibrant street is filled with restaurants, shops, bars, art galleries, spas, furniture, and antiques, well worth exploring.
And let’s not forget those stunning Californian sunsets. One of the best places to watch it go down (along with a few cocktails) is from Suite 700, an open-air rooftop bar with panoramic views at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Casa del Mar
If you’re feeling tired (and flush) after your big trip, bed down at the landmark Casa del Mar, which sits in pole position right on Santa Monica beach next to its sister hotel, Shutters on the Beach. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you won’t find better rooms with a view than here as the local council will not allow any more developments along this protected bit of coastline. Literally steps from the beach, the original Casa del Mar opened in 1926 as a private club and made a name for itself during tinsel town’s glory days as the place to see and be seen. Not much has changed today since it was transformed into a luxury beachfront resort in 1999. The Grande Dame of Santa Monica has successfully managed to retain her timeless elegance and remembrance-of-things-past vibe without feeling dated thanks to a recent makeover by White House decorator Michael Smith.
The lobby, bar and dining areas are reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance and Victorian era, but with a fresh So-Cal modern twist. Smith has curated the public spaces with one-of-a-kind art pieces, contemporary photographs, decorative ceramics, and striking light features to enhance the eclectic ambiance. At happy hour, guests can settle into to one of the cozy cabanas, snuggle up by the fire or perch upfront by the bay windows and watch the passersby from a bird’s-eye view as the sounds of live jazz and blues waft through the rooms. The Terrazza Lounge serves lighter seasonal fare with Italian-inspired dishes, while Catch is the hotel’s more formal dining room, where guests can dine on fresh local fish, a bountiful raw bar, and juicy prime cuts.
Upstairs, the spacious guest rooms are bright and airy with touches of sea and sand to reflect the coastal setting, courtesy of California designers Rooms & Gardens. It’s easy to relax and sink into the big comfy chairs, Frette toweling robes and luxurious beds, particularly after a long hot soak in the hydrothermal massage tub. If just being in the room is not enough to make you unwind, visit the hotel’s Sea Wellness Spa, which offers a range of massages, beauty treatments and fitness programs for both the mind and body, including yoga on the beach. For a refreshing dip, head up to the Palm Terrace pool, and take in a front-row view of the beach, perfect for soaking up those California rays in a comfortable, stylish and exclusive setting. If you want to spoil yourself, this is the place to be. (Rooms start at $495 p/night.)
Palihouse Santa Monica
At the other end of the Santa Monica promenade is a hidden local gem perfect for visitors looking for a quieter and more residential-style hotel. Oozing with charm and old Hollywood glamour, the Palihouse is a classic 1927 Spanish revival building, which opened up as an affordable boutique hotel in 2013. Once a haven for stylish elderly ladies, artists, writers, and the odd vagrant, the hotel incorporates residential features ideal for long-stays or guests who want to feel more at home than in a hotel. Think mini Chateau Marmont but with a more relaxed beachy vibe than the celebrity-filled Mecca up in Hollywood.
Behind the Moorish-influenced Mediterranean façade, the lobby is filled with old leather Chesterfields and has a distinctly English clubhouse atmosphere with its dark teal-blue walls, wood paneling, stuffed stag heads, and large wood-burning fireplace. The furniture is mostly vintage and whimsically placed as if part of a Wes Anderson film set. Any minute you might expect Bill Murray or Ralph Fiennes to appear and ask if you’d like afternoon tea in the garden over a casual game of bocce. The staff must know this, as they are very playful and always happy to point guests in the right direction. Only a short distance from the bustling Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Farmers Market and the Santa Monica Pier, why not ditch the car and jump on one of the hotel’s complimentary Linus ‘Dutchi’ bikes to go explore the neighborhood.
The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant or bar per se but does offer an all-day menu which can be served anywhere on the premises, and BYO is allowed. All of the guest suites, except the Classic, are equipped with a decent sized and fully equipped kitchen, ideal for cooking in if so inclined, although there are plenty of great restaurants in walking distance. Decorated with beatnik artwork, vintage pieces, bold fabrics, and quirky ornithological wallpaper designs most of the 37 rooms feature the original wood beam ceilings and are very spacious and light with floor to ceiling windows that open up onto the courtyard or street. Know which room to pick: Penthouse 1 if you can afford it has an Anglo-Moorish vibe, large balcony and private courtyard. But anything facing the hotel’s inner courtyard will give you a room with a delightful view. (Rooms start at $440 p/night.)
Bordered by West Hollywood and Beverly Hills and stretching down to the Miracle Mile on Wilshire, the Fairfax District may not necessarily invoke the silver-screen glamour of its more famous neighbors, but canny tourists will discover there is much to experience in this village-like vanguard of urban development. Historically a Jewish district, it now attracts thrifty trendsetters, as well as young families looking to escape its pricier surrounds. Here, you can shop until you drop, hoover up art all day long along Museum Row, eat until you’re bursting at the seams from one of the hundreds of food stalls at the original Farmers Market, and then drive (or Uber) the short distance to the bright lights of Hollywood to party with the best of them.
The Farmer’s Daughter
Located on Fairfax, almost directly across the road from the Farmer’s Market and The Grove shopping center, the Farmer’s Daughter started out as a rather seedy motel in what used to be not such a great part of town dating back to the days when it was all farmland and orange groves. But now all that’s changed and this agrarian-inspired hotel has earned a cult following of loyal hipsters who flock to its central location to shop, graze, look at art, listen to music, and have fun!
A recent facelift has transformed some of the hotel’s guest rooms from the original farm-style décor of denim, plaid, hardwood floors, and egg-yellow rooster wallpaper to a more muted and contemporary version of country kitsch with grasscloth wallpaper, modern furniture, Acacia wood beds, polished concrete flooring and faux cow-skin rugs, including original artwork from local Los Angeles artists displayed via an “art box” built into the wall of each room. The new bathrooms are very schmick with transparent walls that allow guests to create their own live art installations, even if only for their own amusement. (Having fun is all part of the Farmers Daughter experience…did I mention the room with the mirror above the bed?)
Other new touches to the hotel include a game room with billiards/ping pong table, as well as an updated courtyard featuring three new vinyl cabanas with group seating, fire pits, and a new exterior bar to complement the existing pool area and on-site TART restaurant – where Southern cuisine meets British pub fare with a California twist. Designed by the hotel owners, Peter and Ellen Picataggio (a husband-and-wife team), they took their inspiration from the hotels checkered past but have given it an interesting modern makeover to reflect the “new urbanism” movement happening in the neighborhood.
The hotel’s latest “Nobody Walks in LA” Package (follow the #NobodyWalks) provides guests with the amenities needed to enjoy a vehicle-free vacation and supports the movement to promote more walkable neighborhoods. Designed to inspire guests to leave the car keys at home and challenge the notion that Los Angeles is a car-dependent city, the package includes a pair of California-designed SeaVees sneakers for each guest, a prepaid metro card complete with a map of Farmer’s Daughter-recommended bars and restaurants near a Metro stop, as well as vintage bicycles for use during the guest’s stay, and more. With rates starting at $500 for the two-night stay package in one of the newly renovated deluxe ‘Robin Rooms’, guests can satisfy their wallet and their conscience by being green. (Standard rates start at $179 p/night.)
Next Trip: Check out Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Brentwood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Griffith Park, Pasadena, Downtown, and Chinatown… just to name a few!