This elegant Pacific coast resort is the antidote to big city stress in nearby Los Angeles. The breezes blow pure and cool off the Pacific, the sunsets are spectacular and – can you believe – people actually walk.
I find the best bits of the California lifestyle packed into Santa Monica –
just 16 miles from LA airport, and a short limo hop from Hollywood – and
lists his six top draws.
Nobody loves a pier as much as we British, but Santa Monicans come close.
The city’s pier is a survivor of the halcyon days of California seaside
They marked its centenary last year (2009) with a big bash, then made
it the official western end of Route 66, the historic road from Chicago.
Walk the pier before breakfast, and it’s only you and a few fishermen
casting into the glass-calm Pacific. During the day see the under-the-pier
sea life in the Aquarium, fighting hard to clean up local waters
(www.healthebay.org). Go in the evening for full throttle fun. The carousel
was filmed in The Sting. The wondrous Ferris Wheel, lit with solar power,
gives the best view in town.
Third Street is a key piece in Santa Monica’s revival. In 1989 they shut a
shabby three-block stretch to traffic, and created one of the West Coast’s
most stylish city strolls. The Third Street Promenade is paved in hexagonal
tiles, “guarded” at each end by topiary dinosaur fountains and filled with
trees, flowers and street performers. Web sites list the latest Hollywood
stars seen there for the shopping, restaurants and cinemas. The Third
Street Historic District boasts 38 fine old houses (built 1875-1935).
On Wednesday and Saturday the city’s main farmers’ market fills several
blocks. Go early and you may spot top chefs buying up the heirloom tomatoes
and purple asparagus for the day’s menus. They look after their own here.
All produce on the market must be California grown.
Once the car was king in the Los Angeles area. Nobody walked. Ever. But
big changes are, literally, afoot. The new Santa Monica Mountains Ridgeline
Trail is the biggest triumph yet for two feet. It curls through the peaks
beyond the city for about 60 miles, with many splendid views. They cut it
up into easily walked sections – see the excellent online map on
www.nps.gov/samo. It begins three miles north of the city in Will Rogers
State Historic Park, set up around the 1930s film star’s ranch. There are
short strolls here, and polo on summer weekends. In nearby Temescal Canyon
a four mile trail takes in woods and a waterfall, with more fine ocean
views from on high. (No. 9 bus runs close – day pass $2.50,
www.bigbluebus.com. Connects to LA Airport too).
It’s the wonder of the West Coast, the sun dipping into the Pacific in a
golden blur. You can see it from Santa Monica, on average, 340 days a year.
But the window sunset seats in the bars and restaurants along the beach
still fill fast. Try booking in any of the following – the Lobster,
Penthouse, Ocean Avenue Seafood, Coast and Veranda Bar, for food and
cocktails. The city was named Southern California’s best dining venue in
2008. The new trend is to offer greener menus. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Seafood Watch Program advises local chefs which fish come from sustainable
sources. There are good ratings for Santa Monica Seafood café
(www.smseafood.com). And Border Grill, for eco-friendly Mexican fare.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst knew how to make a girl happy. He
built his mistress, silent screen star Marion Davies, a 106 room mansion on
Santa Monica’s seafront. They threw lavish parties for Chaplin, Garbo and
Gable. Time and earthquake took it down. But that wasn’t “The end”. The
city, and heiress Wallis Annenberg funded Annenberg Community Beach House,
the USA’s first public seaside club, on the site. It opened last year
(2009), and is free to all comers. Whoever you are – tourist or
Oscar-winning star from nearby Hollywood – you stand in the same line. It
has many gracious touches, and a top green rating. The decking is made of
recycled plastic. The black-and-white tiled pool is solar heated.
Shape up city
If your idea of “active” means no more than ordering another Blueberry
Thyme cocktail at Fig Restaurant, that’s fine. But if you want join the
city’s full-on outdoor lifestyle, there is a long list of things to try.
The Trapeze School on the pier could inspire a new career as a circus
performer, www.losangeles.trapezeschool.com. Perry’s Legends Bike tour will
guide you around the local highlights. www.perryscafe.com.
The Pacific Pleasures Running Tour is an easy pre-breakfast guided four
mile jog in the soft sunlight, past fine buildings and upscale shops
(before they open, so no temptation). Includes a café stop and a
celebration T-shirt. www.offnrunningtours.com
Then there’s volleyball, wave-riding, yoga classes on the beach, triathlon
tuition, skateboarding in Ocean Park – one of its birthplaces – and in-line
skating in the Venice district. www.santamonica.com
See www.britishairways.com for Santa Monica stays.