When most travelers plan a weekend getaway to the beaches of Los Angeles, they think about staying in Venice or Santa Monica. Venice has a hectic party vibe, while downtown Santa Monica feels more upscale and offers easy access to shops and dining.
I tried a number of accommodations over five visits, including a “budget” motel called the Bayside located between the two areas. While it was clean and conveniently located, on two separate stays there were loud partiers next door that kept me awake, and complaints to the management did little to alleviate the issue.
Two boutique properties, The Georgian and The Viceroy, were nice, though neither lived up to full expectations for a luxurious, relaxing weekend. Service at both hotels, except for the car valet, was nonexistent, and “view rooms” at both consisted of thin glimpses of the sea and sand between the overgrown palm trees lining Ocean Avenue. Yes, you can walk out the door to great dining, shopping and the beach, but the hustle and bustle is exhausting after a couple of days, and you pay a lot for very little to stay downtown. A weekend getaway should be serene and reset the body’s “refresh” button, and the only place that did that for me was the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey.
After dozens of stays in four-star hotels, I haven’t found another that compares to the chic elegance, top-notch service, and attention to detail of the Ritz-Carlton. My Club Level guestroom included a charming private balcony overlooking the gorgeous marina and access to the phenomenal Club Lounge, an intimate, luxurious-yet-comfortable, exclusive retreat with four complimentary food and beverage presentations daily, and two workstation areas with printers and high-speed Internet access. The concierge staff (designated only to Club Lounge patrons) gives new meaning to the word “dedicated” – they unobtrusively attend to your every need, and their sincerity is consistent with the staff at every Ritz property; it’s obvious they all love what they do and take great pride in providing tremendous service.
A huge bonus is the Ritz is not just dog friendly, it’s dog loving: The staff treated my pooch, Jazzy, like the princess she is, showering her with attention and presenting her with a special name tag and cookies upon arrival. In the room she found a gift box full of toys and treats along with a big fluffy bed for her to curl up on while she watched the sun set over the yachts in the harbor.
Marina Del Rey is home to one of America’s largest man-made harbors with more than 7,000 pleasure boats and yachts. The Ritz offers L.A.’s only waterfront pool and whirlpool (available 24 hours), two lighted tennis courts, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and bicycle rentals. You also have fast, easy access to downtown Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood. For family outings, Marina Del Rey is 30 minutes from Universal Studios and less than an hour from Disneyland. Cultural attractions include the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, both just 20 minutes away. There’s also an Art Crawl every third Thursday in Venice. And with the holidays upon us, the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue in downtown Santa Monica features an 8,000-square-foot outdoor ice rink open through Jan. 16, 2012.
Golfers will find four courses within three to eight miles. During baseball season, you can be at Dodger Stadium in 30 minutes, and, if there is a basketball season this year, you can check out a Lakers game at Staples Center, which is also just 30 minutes from Marina Del Rey.
Santa Monica’s famed Third Street Promenade is an outdoor shopping paradise featuring respected brands like Apple, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Fred Segal, and Sur La Table, as well as a popular weekly farmers’ market. Just a few feet away is the spectacular, new Santa Monica Place, a custom-designed, open-air mall with A-list stores including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Tiffany & Co., Coach, and Burberry along with trendier offerings like Kitson, Ed Hardy and 7 For All Mankind. On the north end of Santa Monica you’ll find Montana Avenue, known as much for its elite allure as it is for its fashionable boutiques.
But my pick for best shopping experience is the up-and-coming Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. If the Mission and the Marina had a baby that inherited the artistic flair of favorite uncle North Beach, it would look a lot like Abbot Kinney. If you’re hankering for vintage cowboy boots, handcrafted leather furniture, or cool store-branded t-shirts and hoodies, check out Surfing Cowboys. The place to find a crystal-studded antelope skull or super-hip furniture for home and office is Plantation Design (they also have a store in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley). Made in Earth crafts gorgeous, one-of-a-kind jewelry using more than 100 different gemstones from around the world, while Huset features quirky Scandinavian clothing and gifts. Pet lovers shouldn’t miss The Modern Dog, a shop full of high-quality treats, unique toys, and creative collars and leashes designed by local artisans. Abbot Kinney is also a nurturing artists’ community, featuring 10 fabulous galleries within just a few blocks.
From The Dining Room in San Francisco to Navio in Half Moon Bay, The Ritz-Carlton puts great emphasis on creating an excellent dining experience for each property. At Marina Del Rey’s Jer-Ne, one of L.A.’s only waterfront Michelin-recommended restaurants, executive sous chef Umit Kaygusuz brings Middle Eastern spices to seasonal California ingredients in deftly crafted dishes like a salad of goat cheese, dukkah (an Egyptian spice mixture), wild arugula, and pomegranate dressing.
Just down the road, Killer Shrimp is named for its signature spicy shrimp boil and is definitely worth a visit.
Some of L.A.’s best sushi is in the middle of a high-end strip mall at Sugarfish, where chef Kazunori Nozawa’s “Trust Me” menu is his interpretation of omakase (the chef determines your meal). The pristine seafood is simply, traditionally prepared and served with house-made soy and ponzu sauces. Nozawa, who trained with master chefs in Tokyo, has been artfully crafting sushi for over 50 years and it shows.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue are known for bistros that complement their respective shopping experiences. Santa Monica has a plethora of eateries, including some familiar Bay Area names (Ozumo, Pizza Antica) overlooking the Pacific on the Dining Deck at Santa Monica Place. For quick bites in Santa Monica, try the Caribbean-inspired Cha Cha Chicken, famous for coconut-battered fried chicken served with sweet mango and jerk dipping sauces. And you can’t go wrong with Original Tommy’s, where they slather their famous chili sauce on greasy-but-good burgers, hot dogs and fries. After dinner, head back to the Ritz Club Lounge and sip a perfectly chilled martini while gazing at the twinkling stars over the harbor.
Susan Dyer Reynolds can be reacehd at firstname.lastname@example.org