Besides Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice are Los Angeles' key beach destinations. For visitors who want to tour L.A. but prefer to be near the water, they are relatively close to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other prime tourist destination. Neighboring beach communities such as Pacific Palisades and Marina del Rey (and pretty much everything else all the way south to Manhattan Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes) are primarily residential and don't have as large a selection of hotels or amenities for leisure travelers.
During the '70s and '80s, both Santa Monica and Venice were sketchy neighborhoods, especially Venice east of Ocean and the Ocean Park area of Santa Monica, an area dubbed Dogtown by local surfers and skateboarders because rents were cheap and drugs were plentiful. Revitalization began in the '90s as companies like ad agency Chiat Day and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and actors like Dennis Hopper began moving in. Restaurants and stores started opening, first on Main Street in Santa Monica; later the town developed three blocks of Third Street in downtown Santa Monica and made it into a pedestrian shopping mall. The Santa Monica Pier also was brought back from near death, and many historic hotels that had been turned into retirement homes (The Georgian) and health clinics (Casa del Mar) were restored to their former glory. Now the area boasts more than 37 hotel properties with more than 3,500 rooms combined.
Originally planned in 1905 by the developer and conservationist Abbot Kinney as a theme resort with canals mimicking its Italian namesake, Venice has evolved into a bohemian Shangri-la. A few canals remain and are worth visiting to see the period bungalows lining them, but the main draw today is Ocean Front Walk, aka the boardwalk, a stretch of sunbaked T-shirt shops, hot dog stands, and pizza joints along the beach. All summer and during winter weekends the walk is a circus. If you're into street performers, musicians, bodybuilders, skateboarders, and assorted burnouts, this is a must-see.
Santa Monica has a wide range of hotel options. For travelers who want to be near the sea but not on the sand, and close to downtown Santa Monica, the pier and the restaurants, shops and bars on the Third Street Promenade, and Fred Segal Couture, the luxury hotels on the bluffs of Palisades Park are the way to go -- The Fairmont Miramar,Oceana and the Georgian. Just beware: To visit the beach from these properties, guests must cross Ocean Avenue, pass through the park (and the homeless who loiter there), and take one of four footbridges that span the Pacific Coast Highway. Not recommended at night.
If getting sand between your toes is paramount, as well as quick access to the Strand for running and biking, it's the Casa del Mar, Shutters on the Beach, Loews, or the Merigot that you want. The Ambrose is a unique property more than 20 blocks from the beach but close to the upscale boutiques on Montana Avenue, the art galleries on Colorado Avenue, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and the Bergamot Station Art Center.
Resisting almost all attempts at rehabilitation, Ocean Front Walk on Venice Beach remains a sketchy place. The Hotel Erwin, right in the vortex of the insanity, is a civilized retreat from the freakshow but with a clear view of it from a rooftop lounge (appropriately called "High"). Top drawer restaurants and bars are a few blocks inland on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The three towns of South Bay -- Manhattan Beach, Redondo and Hermosa -- are a good choice if you're looking for a more solitary stay on the water, or more serious surfing. The swells are excellent here in the winter and the volleyball scene for participants and fans, particularly in Manhattan Beach, is intense. Redondo has a small amusement pier that's cleaner and more wholesome than (though not as large as) the Santa Monica Pier. It's not easy to find a luxury hotel in the South Bay, but there are a few, including the Belamar in Manhattan Beach and the Ayres Hotel, which is right off the congested 405 highway.
|Airports:||Los Angeles Int'l (LAX)|
|LA/Ontario Int'l (ONT)|
|Bob Hope Airport (BUR)|
|Peak:||June 21 - Sept. 22|
|Electricity:||120 V, 60 Hz|
|Tipping:||15-20% at restaurants|