Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Originally built in 1939 and owned by the same family since 1983, this gleaming white Art Deco jewel houses just 71 rooms, including suites. With an utter absence of straight lines or angles, the hotel's exterior unmistakably evokes a cruise ship. Because the building enjoys strict landmark status, its two-year, $30 million makeover didn't allow for any significant structural changes. So L.A. designer Marc Smith subtly and ingeniously embarked on a maritime motif.
The dazzling pool and lounge area with striped cushions, tiered levels of shiny wood, and lots of spherical shapes honors the original architecture and calls to mind the Queen Mary. Guest rooms feel like first-class staterooms, but are bright and airy, and forgo any garish opulence. A small, but well-equipped fitness center and a memorable restaurant round out the radiant property. And inside and out, the hotel aspires to an impressive level of environmental stewardship.
Plus, the best of downtown Santa Monica is literally outside Shangri-La's door: the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, restaurants, and, of course, the beach. Guests are a mixed, primarily refined bunch: straight, gay, European, Australian, film and TV movers and shakers -- and most are unapologetically groovy types who appreciate a server sailing over to their poolside cabana with a well-made artisanal cocktail or two. Over the years, Sean Penn, Bill Clinton, Diane Keaton, and Madonna have slept here, adding to the Shangri-La's pedigree.
A few blocks away and in the same price range, the intimate Oceana evokes a similarly unprententious yet luxurious mood with even fewer rooms (63). The nearby Huntley is less expensive than both properties, but lacks a pool, spa, or prime Ocean Avenue location.
Attentive, personal, and fully committed to guest needs
Hotel Shangri-La sits on the edge of downtown Santa Monica -- the arty hotel-packed beachfront community west of downtown L.A. -- directly opposite the bluffs overlooking the beach. Along Palisades Park's jogging path on the west side of Ocean Avenue, locals run, walk dogs, and do boot-camp exercises with personal trainers. Two blocks east on Wilshire lies the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only outdoor mall with shops, a movie theater, and national chain restaurants including Hooters and Johnny Rockets.
Also, nearby Venice Beach, popular with tourists because of its cool cafes and restaurants on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and its large concentration of hippies, skateboarders, and surfers, doesn't have many fine hotels other than the Erwin; many travelers elect to stay in Santa Monica and drive 10 minutes south to visit Venice.
Stylish, spotless, with European-inspired touches
An Art Deco aesthetic, with a dash of minimalism, prevails. Ultra-comfy rooms look pristine, feel lavish yet unfussy, and include almost everything a guest could desire -- except robes and slippers. Thankfully, the nifty original windows survived the recent overhaul, and peek-a-boo windows from the bathroom to the bedroom are a clever update. One complaint: Dark wood floors have been polished to a sheen, but you can hear guests walking around above.
A five-minute amble to a miles-long stretch of sand
Although most guest rooms have shimmering sea views, the Pacific Coast Highway and towering bluffs lie between Hotel Shangri-La and Santa Monica Beach. After crossing Ocean Avenue, beachgoers navigate an easy path through Palisades Park, then cross a footbridge above the busy highway before they reach the 100-yard-wide stretch of sand. The water sometimes smells acrid as a result of the enormous pollution Los Angeles generates, but the waves at Santa Monica Beach are a magnet for surfers.
Light years beyond compact fluorescent bulbs and changing linens every other day
Hotel Shangri-La puts eco-consciousness into serious practice. Aside from typical nods to the environment (nonsmoking rooms, using recycled plastic whenever possible), the hotel is striving to be awarded a two-year, renewable membership in the Santa Monica Green Business Certification Program, which upholds extremely strict criteria for "conserving resources, preventing pollution, and minimizing waste."
Youngsters aren't unwelcome, but would definitely stand out.
Sure, there's a pool (and free cribs, and rollaway beds for a fee per night), but Hotel Shangri-La is the kind of low-key hideaway that gives you the distinct feeling that its guests choose it precisely to avoid children (and not just because of the in-room intimacy kit: Lifestyles condoms, personal lubricant, antiseptic wipes, for a fee). Plus, there are no connecting rooms, just super-luxe suites.
Thoroughly renovated, and it shows
One could practically eat off the guest room floors, and the entire property feels freshly washed, laundered, cleaned, dusted, and polished (with the exception of pool lounge chair cushions, some of which were already grubby from overuse). Plus, the spotless bathrooms glimmer.
One real option, and that's a good thing
The Dining Room serves simple and pricey dishes like chicken paillard, a shrimp cocktail, and monkfish with lentils and pearl onions. The eye-catching indoor seating and bar area overlooks Ocean Avenue. The rounded dark wood chairs, hanging lamps, colorful area rugs, and white curtains in the outdoor seating area near the pool conjure up images of a private yacht en route to Casablanca or Istanbul.
A slick and inviting boutique hotel overlooking the Pacific, with 71 exquisite rooms and lustrous interiors in an iconic Art Deco building that displays the curvy contours of an elegant ocean liner. For a modish and luxurious ocean-side getaway, the Shangri-La is mighty close to perfection.