At Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, you can find tranquility in the heart of Los Angeles. Assuming you survive the trip from the airport.
IT IS 7 O’CLOCK ON A FRIDAY NIGHT, AND we are sitting in traffic on the 405. It reminds me why I hate Los Angeles. Please forgive me. I’ve tried to like it. Southern California is a perfectly beautiful place. The activities (and star sightings) are endless, and a Texas girl can certainly appreciate that, even in the middle of summer, in spots near the ocean, the mercury hovers in the mid-70s. But once I get on one of those 12-lane freeways, jammed bumper-to-bumper with cars in both directions, I yearn for Central Expressway at 5 p.m.
The good news is we’re only in the car for 30 minutes before we reach our destination: Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. The better news is we don’t have to get back on those LA freeways again—until the return trip to LAX.
I hand the keys to our PT Cruiser to the valet, thankful that I won’t see them again until after checkout. Santa Monica, you see, is its own destination, free from the long lines, traffic jams, and attitudes of LA. And Shutters, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, is a laid-back hideaway in an otherwise 100-mph city.
At first glance, you might think you’re staying at your grandmother’s beach house. The architecture of Shutters recalls the historic beach resorts and cottages of the Southern California coast in the 1920s and ’30s. But your grandmother never had accommodations like these: exquisite Frette white linens hug plush pillow-top mattresses, huge marble bathrooms house Jacuzzi tubs stocked with Forest Essentials products, and white sliding shuttered doors open to fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean in the 186 guestrooms and 12 suites. Each of the hotel’s three buildings, detailed with flower-covered trellises and cute striped awnings, has the characteristic white shutters on every window. In between the taller structures sits the pool, where guests relax in chaise lounges and drink in the cool ocean breeze. This is what I call the City of Angels.
The first day, we decided to hide out at our hideout, leaving the property only for a proper perch on the sandy beach along the breezy Santa Monica Promenade. We had breakfast outdoors at Shutters’ casual restaurant, Pedals Cafe, situateddirectly on the bicycle path that runs in front of the hotel. We spent the rest of our day on the pool terrace—though it did get a bit chilly for our Texas bones. Later in the afternoon, we grabbed a seat on the balcony overlooking the ocean and people-watched.
For dinner, we walked to Ocean Avenue, where we found patio after patio overlooking the Pacific. We had a decision to make: should we go for a glass of Due Torri Pinot Grigio and a delicious cracker-thin pizza capricciosa at I Cugini, or should we do the oyster sampler and a glass of Buena Vista Sauvignon Blanc at sister restaurant Ocean Ave. Seafood? We went with option number three: Ivy at the Shore, a popular Hollywood hangout, where the tropical, beach-shack décor belied the solid and pricey American cuisine (think crab cakes and $26 fried chicken). Despite the elbow-to-elbow crowd and slight wait at the door, we enjoyed the view of the Pier while we ate.
Day two, we decided to explore Santa Monica. On the advice of a friend who used to live in LA (bless her heart), we headed straight for Cafe Montana, a tiny, white-tableclothed restaurant on the trendy Montana Avenue shopping strip. We ordered huevos rancheros (California, not Texas, style) and an egg-white omelet filled with fresh veggies, but the real attraction was the floor-to-ceiling window display at A.B.S. Allen Schwartz, across the street. Before we got to shopping, though, we stopped at the bakery case and fortified ourselves with a manhole-sized cookie.
Then it was off to the Third Street Promenade, filled with shops for every fetish (French Connection, Anthropologie, Z Gallerie) and restaurants for every taste (Broadway Deli, Bravo Cucina, Yangtze). My half-Jewish travel companion squealed with delight when she saw matzo ball soup on the menu at Broadway Deli, so she ordered up a bowl with her turkey pastrami on rye. I opted for a BLT and French onion soup and a chocolate-covered matzo to go. ("The real deal," my friend declared.) I like to believe that we worked off the calories strolling the Promenade.
Quick aside: I know I swore I would never touch the car keys until we had to go back to the airport. But we couldn’t resist a drive along Pacific Coast Highway with the windows down on the PT Cruiser. Besides, the binge shopping had drained our pocketbooks.
We jumped in the Cruiser and drove north toward Malibu, in search of a bright green, shamrock-accented shack called Patrick’s Roadhouse in Pacific Palisades. Patrick’s is the place to go for a Farmer’s Breakfast or greasy tuna melt, but it also offers that most LA of attractions, the celebrity spotting. According to owner Tracey Fischler, who inherited this legendary spot from her dad Bill, we just missed Reba McEntire and Anthony Hopkins.
We saved our best meal for last: dinner at One Pico, the famed restaurant inside Shutters. Dallas-based Paul Draper and Associates designed the interior (in Dallas, the firm designed Lombardi Mare and Sevy’s), and the views of the ocean are as amazing as Chef Matt Lyman’s American cuisine. After our waiter popped the cork on our Sauvignon Blanc, we enjoyed a lovely, rare ahi tuna salad with artichokes and chanterelle mushrooms, followed by a fabulous smoked salmon with corn cakes and crème fraiche and sautéed plump Maine scallops. Main courses included rosemary lamb chops and a lovely roasted Chilean sea bass.
After dinner, we mustered the energy to hit the bar next-door at Hotel Casa del Mar. The Edward Thomas Hospitality Corporation, which also owns Shutters, brought this Santa Monica legend back to life. Casa del Mar, built in 1926, was formerly a famous beach club and hotel. But by the 1990s, after a stint as a drug-rehabilitation clinic (how LA) and the controversial Pritikin Longevity Center, the national landmark was in total disrepair. After a $60 million renovation, Casa reopened in 1999. Now the 129-room hotel, reminiscent of the roaring ’20s, is a fun place to stay or sit and sip cocktails into the wee hours. Rooms are small and cozy, with a sexy divan at the foot of every down-comforter-topped bed and a fully stocked Jacuzzi tub—down to the rubber ducky—in the impressive and spacious bathroom. But the real fun is downstairs, where pretty people, sunk into comfy chairs and overstuffed couches with cocktails in hand, mix, mingle, and listen to live jazz.
Our last morning, we took a leisurely breakfast on the Shutters lobby terrace, slowly sipping our coffee, staring out at the Pacific, trying to savor every last bit of the pleasant ocean breeze. I rang the valet to bring the car around, now confident I could take on LA traffic. The hotel staff had told me how to get to the airport without getting on the freeway.
Photo Courtesy of Shutters on the Beach, Casa Del Mar
|JUST THE FACTS|
HOW TO GET THERE
American Airlines flies nonstop from DFW to LAX. From there it’s a 30-minute drive. Call 800-433-7300 or visit www.aa.com for reservations and a rental car.
WHERE TO STAY
Shutters on the Beach
Hotel Casa del Mar
WHERE TO EAT
Ivy at the Shore
Ocean Ave. Seafood
One Pico (at Shutters)
Pedals Cafe (at Shutters)
One Pico Blvd. 310-587-1707
WHAT TO DO
Shop the Third Street Promenade (www.thirdstreetpromenade.com) or Montana Avenue (www.montanaave.com). Catch a joy ride on the roller coaster on the Santa Monica Pier. But we highly recommend parking it on the beach or on a chaise lounge at the pool and forgetting about the 100-degree heat back home.