Before I first visited Los Angeles many years ago, I imagined a huge urban sprawl, connected by gridlocked streets and traffic choked concrete freeways. Sure, there are parts of Greater LA that live up to that mental picture, but it’s not the whole story. There’s a lot of natural beauty too, from the canyons of the Hollywood Hills to the Pacific ocean-side enclaves like Santa Monica where you can actually get out of your car and walk to the beach or to the shops along palm tree-fringed streets.
In the Roaring Twenties Santa Monica was a popular seaside resort, and today a lot of ex-pat Brits gravitate out west from Hollywood to Santa Monica to set up home. It helps too that it’s still basically a lovely seaside town, with an excellent farmers market (my story from a few years back here),
a fantastic oceanside path for running or blading, an outdoor shopping mall (the Third Street Promenade), a beach for watching the sunsets (they are phenomenal), and plenty of great restaurants and bars.
Add in some seriously good hotels and Air BnB options and all those things make it a great place for a holiday too. It’s a destination in itself – you could find enough to do for a week or so here, using Santa Monica as a base for other expeditions but, equally, if I was spending a week or more exploring the Los Angeles area, I would definitely factor in a couple of nights – or more – in Santa Monica simply because it’s just a very nice place to be.
(Although do not make the mistake I did on my very first visit some years ago where I presumed that in late spring, and with bright blue skies, I’d be running down that glorious beach for a swim – it’s the Pacific and it’s bloody freezing.)
This time around I headed straight to Santa Monica to spend a night at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. It’s a venerable Santa Monica institution, and a celebrated local landmark. Originally the site of a private mansion owned by John P. Jones, a former U.S. Senator and the founder of Santa Monica, it became a hotel in 1921, making it one of the oldest hotels in the area. Thankfully its excellent reputation is the only thing that’s old about it – the hotel has benefitted hugely from a very recent complete renovation project.
The hotel entrance sweeps round this incredible Moreton Bay Fig tree, one of the oldest in Santa Monica, and it’s extremely popular with brides for their wedding photos (apparently the tree’s general amazingness is a deciding factor in many wedding bookings!). There is valet parking here should you need it, but there is also lots of metered street parking in the near vicinity.
The bungalows and hotel rooms are arranged around the vast internal courtyard of the Fairmont Miramar – the large building to the left is the 1924 six-story Palisades Wing, which was originally constructed to provide apartments for guests who planned lengthy stays at the beach. Greta Garbo was one of the first celebrity guests to move into the wing and stayed there for more than four years.
Check-in was speedy and painless – I think I properly fell in love with the hotel when I spotted the basket of soft toys for both children and canine visitors (they are super dog-friendly) sitting behind reception,
and my room in one of the thirty-two bungalows arranged around the hotel’s huge planted courtyard (above and below) was just steps away from reception.
The bungalows, with their blue-gray slate roofs, are the only accommodations of this type in Santa Monica. Split between spacious en-suite rooms and bi-level suites, they were originally built in the 1930s, and have been meticulously restored. Whilst the entire hotel has been popular since the 1920s as a favourite getaway for Hollywood’s movie stars, it’s the bungalows which have traditionally been extremely popular with celebrities, thanks, in part, to each one’s private entrance: Eleanor Roosevelt, aviator Charles Lindbergh stayed here, Jean Harlow rented one of the Miramar’s bungalows in the early 1930s, and years later Marilyn Monroe frequently retreated to the Miramar when she wanted to disappear from the media.
Having holed up here myself for one night, I can absolutely understand Ms Monroe’s thinking. I practically had to be extracted from my room at checkout.
I rather fell for this seagull lamp, suspended from the ceiling.
The bungalow has French windows opening onto a small enclosed terrace. It’s a lovely place to eat breakfast or read a book, but do bear in mind that some terraces are overlooked both at ground level, and by the rooms in the main hotel.
After a very chilly and bracing walk around Santa Monica as the sun set and the temperatures plummeted in the evening, (LA had been hit by an El Nino storm two days prior and it was un-seasonally freezing), I was glad to draw a bath back in my bungalow, fill it with a self-indulgent half foot of Molton Brown bubbles and luxuriate in the warmth.
The tubs in the bungalows are phenomenal – both domestic and hotel tubs in American are often incredibly small, oddly low and kind of moulded into the walls. These ones, however, are the real deal: straight sided like Japanese baths but long and deep too. Absolute heaven.
The next morning I woke up to sunshine and blue skies. I flung open the French windows, and ordered room service breakfast.
Definitely a contender for both best and largest fruit plate.
I was so bludgeoned by jetlag that I couldn’t face the idea of exercise beyond a brisk walk on the beach but, had I felt like exerting myself, I could have swum in the outdoor heated pool, borrowed a bicycle to bowl around Santa Monica, headed to the spa – a partnership with New York’s exhale mindbodyspa, or used the fitness centre, whose USP is a great outdoor space.
I didn’t have time to check out the restaurant at the hotel, Fig, but it’s a destination restaurant, specialising in local and organically grown ingredients straight from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. and has had great reviews.
My biggest regret was that I only had one night in the hotel – the Fairmont Miramar’s Bungalow Bar is one of the city’s hottest destinations. Even without guests first thing in the morning, I wanted to settle in for the day. It’s inside this long low building, situated on the hotel’s entrance driveway.
I cant think of a nicer place to hang out for brunch at the weekend. (Reservations are apparently essential.)
The Bungalow: 101 Wilshire Blvd Santa Monica, CA. Telephone: +1 310 899 8530
Opening Times:Monday – Friday 5pm – 2am, Saturday – 12pm – 2am. Sunday – 12pm – 10pm
Sasha was hosted at the hotel for bed, breakfast and valet parking in February 2016.