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Judy Crowell: Santa Monica an Urban Oasis

Boasting its famous pier and much more, the beachside California city is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike

The Santa Monica Pier, aglow at night, features the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel.
The Santa Monica Pier, aglow at night, features the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel.  (Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows photo)

By Judy Crowell, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Santa Monica is a beachside city, bordered on three sides by the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles and on the other side by the majestic sprawl of the Pacific Ocean — a marvelous mix of sophistication and kitsch.

The 100-year-old, double-jointed Santa Monica Pier is a magnet for the young and young-at-heart. A melting pot of tourists, locals, surfers and anglers, all drawn to its restaurants, arcades, brilliantly gaudy shops, carousel, the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel at 130 feet high, an aquarium, a trapeze school with accommodating net below, pier fishing and 4-foot waves. The epitome of kitsch — and a must-see.

Sophisticated lodging options include Shutters on the Beach hotel for the feel of a beach house, Shore Hotel for the feel of contemporary luxury and The Georgian Hotel for the feel of Old Hollywood.

Getting the feel of all of the above and then some, we chose Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows and were greeted by its landmark 135-year-old fig tree and exemplary service and pampering. Situated atop the bluffs of Santa Monica on five acres of lush, landscaped gardens, the spacious rooms and private poolside bungalows have been welcoming celebrity guests such as Greta (“I vant to be alone”) Garbo, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Lindbergh, and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton since 1921. Chef Ray Garcia’s bistro, FIG, offers ingredient-driven seasonal cuisine. Be sure to order the warm quinoa salad and short ribs.

For romantic and/or group socializing, the eclectic Bungalow, the hotel’s newest addition, is amazing, with spaces ranging from quiet library appointed bars and Baja-style casitas to shabby chic furnished terraces and patios with pingpong tables. Somehow it all works. Oh, and it looks right out over the Pacific. Best of all is the hotel’s location, within one mile of all the best that Santa Monica has to offer.

So put on your walking shoes and head for the following must-sees:

» 26-Mile Bike Path — biking, jogging and simply strolling along this ocean promenade

» Santa Monica Beach — one of the widest beaches, a favorite for movie and TV producers

» Santa Monica Pier — a melting pot of people and just plain fun stuff

» M.I’s Westside Comedy Theater — best standup and improv in the L.A. area

» Pacific Park — the amusement park on the pier

» Angels Attic — a charming dollhouse museum

» Blue Plate Oysterette — fabulous fresh fish, key lime pie and ambiance

» Third Street Promenade — pedestrian-friendly shopping

» Santa Monica Place — open air shopping at Bloomingdales, Nordstroms and more

» Locanda del Lago — northern Italian cuisine

» Tar & Roses — the latest in Southern California dishes

» Planet Blue — for chic vintage clothing

» Basement Tavern — great happy hour in a 19th century Victorian house

» Farmers Market — every Wednesday on Arizona Avenue

» Annenberg Community Beach House — built in 1926 by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, Marion Davies; now open to the public

» Ivy at the Shore — coziness abounds in this lunch spot, sister of the famous Ivy in L.A.

» Lorin for shoes and Lush for cosmetics — all on Third Street Promenade

» Fred Segal — an L.A. institution and wonderland of unique clothing items

Add another half-mile to your walk for: Blue Plate for fish tacos and breakfast, Bergamot Station Arts Center for modern art works and museums, Father’s Office for marvelous hamburger and beer selections, and Aero Movie Theater for American classic movies since the 1940s.

If the pace of this lovely urban oasis isn’t frenetic enough for you, there’s always the concrete sprawl and marvelous craziness of L.A., just minutes away. Such delightful dichotomy!

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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