Elegant beach cottage style. Swanky Miami Beach-style gatherings. Star-studded pasts and presents. These are some of the hallmarks of Santa Monica’s top boutique hotels.
Many high-end hotels in the Los Angeles beach town of Santa Monica try to recreate the experience of staying at a quiet, elegant beach house. Many, like Shutters on the Beach, Casa del Mar, and Fairmont Miramar, come close, but none get it as right as the small, intimate, and beautiful Oceana does. Except for the occasional private evening celebration, the elegant hotel feels more like a homey, retro bed-and-breakfast than a high-powered hideaway for Hollywood's elite. And with only 70 rooms, the Oceana is the smallest luxury hotel in Santa Monica. The next largest, Casa del Mar, is twice the size.
Leisure travelers who can afford the rates at this palatial and historic property will find 129 luxurious rooms with huge jetted tubs, upscale coffeemakers, and tasteful decor. A seafood restaurant on the beach, popular bar scene, and beachside outdoor pool and whirlpool, plus a full spa and fitness center, are other highlights. Beautiful event facilities and meeting rooms cater to business travelers, too, though only limited basic Wi-Fi comes free. Its right-on-the-beach location can only be matched by its sister property, Shutters On The Beach, which shares this sandy spot.
A hip boutique hotel one block from the beach, Viceroy Santa Monica is better known for its style (sexy lounge, sceney pool) than its substance -- which in our experience includes comfy rooms and solid service. To us, the Viceroy's greatest drawback, if you can call it that, isn't anything about the hotel itself but rather the stiff competition nearby, some of it just down the street. Four other impressive properties are literally within blocks, including the famous beachside twins, Shutters and Casa del Mar, where you'll find better service and more luxury -- and higher rates. The Viceroy is a solid pick, but you might consider staying elsewhere and experiencing the Viceroy by simply grabbing a happy-hour drink in the lounge or out by the pool.
The 77-room Ambrose Hotel comes close to reproducing the actual Santa Monica lifestyle: decor that mixes Westernized feng shui and modernist Asian, a focus on environmental health, and a decidedly holistic approach to sustainability -- an ideology shared by many area residents. It provides preferred parking to hybrid vehicles (which can also be rented on-site), offers free unsweetened green tea in the lobby at all times, and recycles or composts a huge portion of its waste output. Its London taxi, available for guest car service within a three-mile radius, is powered by biodiesel fuel. It lacks the Hollywood credentials and features of our top three picks (no pool, bar, or full restaurant), but it's a fantastic and Zen-like alternative to Santa Monica's enormous beachfront hotels.
A fully restored classic with charm, history, and a whiff of the paranormal, the 84-room Georgian Hotel -- located on the bluffs above Santa Monica beach -- once hosted the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The mobster Bugsy Siegel held court in the basement speakeasy, where the staff claims that strange voices and unexplained footsteps can be heard today. After serving as a retirement home for many years, the 1933 landmark reopened as a hotel in 1993. Guests again enjoy great views of the sea from its veranda. The rooms harken back to its history with 1930s-style furniture and Art Deco bathroom fixtures. But with no pool or spa and a tiny fitness center, the Georgian can't measure up to the best Santa Monica small hotels, like Oceana.
Hotel Shangri-La is an upscale hotel with historic Art Deco style overlooking the beach, near all of Santa Monica's shopping and dining. Its 70 elegant rooms and suites feature modern amenities like large flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and free Wi-Fi. Spacious suites include gourmet kitchens and living rooms. A chic outdoor pool area is a highlight here, while the rooftop ONYX bar is a nighttime hotspot, with live DJ sets several times a week -- it's worth noting that bar noise can be an issue in rooms. Other features include a well-equipped fitness center, spa, and classy restaurant. For something more luxurious, Casa Del Mar is a stylish option right on the beach.
A family-owned, eco-conscious boutique hotel, the Ocean View has a beachy ambience and 66 stylish rooms with Keurig coffeemakers, rainfall showerheads, minibars, and allergenic bedding -- some rooms have furnished balconies and ocean views. Ocean View's features are limited to a 24-hour business center, free Wi-Fi, and concierge and dry cleaning services, but the property is across the street from the beach, and within easy walking distance of Santa Monica Pier, the Third Street Promenade, and several renowned restaurants along Ocean Avenue.