Santa Monica — just five miles from downtown L.A. — has long been a nesting place for those wishing to escape the city’s urban sprawl. Mary Pickford, Cary Grant and countless A-list celebrities have spent time there.
First things first, you’re here to have fun. The beachfront is filled with joggers, cyclists and roller skaters. A bit off the beach, you’ll find visitors shopping along the Third Street Promenade and hanging out at the chic restaurants and boutiques along Main Street. Thrill-seekers need not venture farther than the pier, where there is an old-fashioned amusement park, complete with a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel that offers spectacular views of the coastline.
If you go
» CATCH A LOBSTER
Located at the foot of the Santa Monica pier, the Lobster Seafood Restaurant offers old-school dining with a perfect view of the ocean. The menu changes daily, but you can’t go wrong with classics, such as ahi carpaccio, Dungeness crab “Louis cocktail” and grilled Pacific spiny lobster. A favorite among visitors and locals, the portions here are large and yummy — and the ambience is lively — people are just happy to be here, sipping cocktails and eating lobster tails.
Info: 1602 Ocean Ave; (310) 458-9294; www.thelobster.com.
» DRINKS AT SUNSET
The only way to describe having drinks in its large, ocean-facing lobby lounge at Casa del Mar — is decadence. Although it feels a bit like a Las Vegas lounge — filled with beautiful people sipping martinis — the vibe is still beachy and relaxed. The lounge has clubby chairs and sofas, try to snag a table near the windows — for an unobstructed view of the Pacific.
Info: 1910 Ocean Way; www.hotelcasadelmar.com; (310) 581-5533
» SHOP TILL YOU DROP
OK — the Third Street Promenade has been around for a while — filled with restaurants, movie theaters and shops, such as Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters. It’s still a great place to stroll — and spend money. When you’re ready to take a break, and maybe catch a few innings of a Dodgers game, drop by Barney’s Beanery for a bowl of chili and one of the 132 beers that it has on tap.
Info: 1351 Third St.; (310) 656-5777; www.barneysbeanery.com.
» 340 DAYS OF SUN
Santa Monica’s 2½-mile footpath — which connects it to Venice to the south — is filled with in-line skaters, cyclists and sunbathers. And because of its mild surf, Santa Monica beach is great for swimming as well as beginning bodysurfing or bodyboarding. Surfing is permitted south of the pier between lifeguard towers 18 and 20 and between 28 and 29. Beachgoers with an itch to bodyboard or surf can rent equipment and take lessons at several spots along the beach. In addition, there is a row of free public beach volleyball courts south of the pier, at which anyone can join pickup games.
» WHERE TO STAY
If you want to feel like you are in the Hamptons beach house from the movie “Something’s Gotta Give,” book a room at Shutters on the Beach, one of the most elegant hotels in Southern California. Located directly on the ocean, Shutters features beautifully furnished guest rooms, a warm lobby area where you can enjoy drinks and small meals, a rooftop pool facing the ocean and a restaurant that serves a killer breakfast. It’s the next best thing to staying at a compound on Cape Cod. Rooms rates start at $505 per night.
Info: 1 Pico Blvd.; (310) 458-0030; www.shuttersonthebeach.com.
A marina like no other
If you’re looking for serenity — and a place to make you feel like you are far, far away from L.A. — make Marina del Rey your home base. Located four miles from LAX in between Playa del Rey and Venice, Marina del Rey is built around the largest small-boat harbor on the West Coast.
What I love about this town is all its open space. Unlike its slightly more busy neighbors, here, you’ll find wide sidewalks, harbor walkways, bike trails and toe paths — and miles of slips filled with boats, yachts and launches. You can rent a sailboat, take a sunset dinner cruise, spend an afternoon bird-watching or navigate the ocean waves on top of a surf kayak.
If you go
» A CULINARY JOURNEY
Marina del Rey has no shortage of restaurants, but foodies will not want to pass on the Jer-ne Restaurant + Bar, located at the Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. Featuring California regional cuisine, the waterfront restaurant is elegant, open and airy — and features a 14-foot Mexican onyx communal table designed by Guenter Sprang as its centerpiece. Helmed by chef de cuisine Drew Sayes, the restaurant features small and large plates for sharing, as well as a fantastic tasting menu that changes daily. Needless to say, the service is above and beyond what is expected. Make a reservation, and enjoy a long evening of food, wine — and the company of a special someone.
Info: 4375 Admiralty Way, (310) 574-4333, www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/MarinadelRey/Dining/Jer-NeRestaurantBar
» HOP ON THE TRAIL
Marina del Rey has one of the longest stretches of L.A.’s 26-mile coastal path, which wiggles from Malibu in the north to Palos Verdes in the south. Cycle, roller-skate or walk along the harbor town’s 6-mile stretch, which starts near Admiralty Way, continues past the UCLA boathouse and traverses the top of a levee that separates the main marina channel from Ballona Creek. Although the path is busy — it does have designated bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly lanes — it is never packed. Visitors can rent in-line skates and bikes at Spokes N’ Stuff.
Info: 4175 Admiralty Way; (310) 306-3332.
» SUMMER CONCERTS AT BURTON CHACE PARK
Throughout July and August, Marina del Rey will host free concerts at Burton Chace Park, a 10-acre park facing the marina that offers barbecue grills, sheltered picnic areas and chair rentals for the concerts ($5).
» This year, the park will feature “Pop Saturdays” for fans of big band and bossa nova on July 21, Aug. 4, Aug. 18 and Sept. 1; for fans of classical music, the park will also host “Symphonic Thursdays” on July 12, July 26, Aug. 9 and Aug. 23. All concerts are free, and performances are from 7 to 9 p.m.
Info: 13650 Mindanao Way; www.marinadelrey.lacounty.gov; (310) 305-9545
» A stylish way to get to the park is by Marina del Rey’s WaterBus, which operates exclusively for concertgoers on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to midnight and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to midnight. The fare is $1 per person, one way, and the WaterBus has six stops (Fisherman’s Village, Burton Chase Park, the Waterfront Walk, Marina “Mother’s” Beach, the Dolphin Marina and Marina Harbor).
Info: (310) 628-3219.
» CELEBRATE THE FOURTH
It’s no secret to locals that July 4 is one of Marina del Rey’s most popular days of the year — and for good reason: what better place to watch a traditional fireworks extravaganza. This year, the celebration lands on a Wednesday (July 4), and festivities will kick off promptly at 9 p.m. Both Burton Chace Park and Fisherman’s Village are very popular spots to watch the show, which will be choreographed to patriotic music.
» A NOTE ON PARKING
As an alternative to driving, take the WaterBus (see above) or the Playa Vista Beach Shuttle (free), which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and connects passengers with the WaterBus.
» WHERE TO SLEEP
Without a doubt, the Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey offers luxury, service, a new spa and one of the best hotel pools in L.A. The AAA Five Diamond hotel recently remodeled its 304 rooms — all of which have either marina or dramatic city skyline views. For those with deep pockets, book the “Sails in the City” package ($949 per night), which features overnight accommodations, a private two-hour charted sail of Marina del Rey on a 42-foot sailboat and a gourmet picnic basket for two.
Info: 4375 Admiralty Way; (310) 823-1700; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/MarinadelRey.