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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

Shutters and the Casa del Mar - Santa Monica

I awoke to the sound of surf and sea breezes. Stretching out on a plush king size bed atop cool and soft linens, I had but to barely lift my head to glance out through the shuttered doors of my room's balcony to the beach. As my gaze rose, I saw palm trees, the broadest of sandy beaches, a dark blue sea, a pastel blue sky, and sea gulls meandering among wisps of white clouds. Had I flown around the world to a Polynesian isle, a Riviera resort, a Caribbean idyll? No, I was pretty much still at home in L.A. But this is how one awakes at Shutters On The Beach (800-334-9000) in Santa Monica.
Shutters is a first class, Cape Cod style 198-room hotel. Its aura can best be described as casual elegance. The grey sided, white balconied building has a pool and sundeck, a lobby lounge, and two restaurants that all look out to the beach. Nearly 75% of its rooms have breathtaking views of the coastline.
Step out their back door, and you're on the sand. Walk a few hundred yards to the north and you're at Santa Monica Pier with its carousel, its roller coaster, and Ferris wheel. A few blocks inland are the shops and eccentric entertainments of the Third Street Promenade. Walk south along the beach and you'll meet Venice's exotics from roller bladers to fire eaters. And if you want Beverly Hills or Century City, they are just a 20 minute drive away.
You can spend a comfortable day just in your room with a balcony view of the sea. In each room, there's a wine rack with an assortment of California wines, romantic and jazz CD's at your bedside, and a huge spa tub where you can soak alone or in tandem and look out at the sea. You can spend the day at poolside or on the sand. You can body surf or surf the net. The hotel is wired for wireless so you can surf the internet at DSL speed on your laptop by the pool or on the beach. And if you don't have a wireless connection, they'll help set you up with one.
As morning crept into afternoon, I rested my arms on a rail at the pool deck, relaxed and warmed by the sun at my back. I was entertained by the action on the beach. There were seagulls and surfers and leaping dolphins to watch. There were dog walkers and joggers. Young couples rode bikes with their toddlers in caboose strollers towed behind. There were suited businessmen flying kites and homeless locals pushing shopping carts. A Coast Guard helicopter hovered offshore dropping divers into the sea, practicing water rescues. Santa Monica puts on a hellova show.
At night my wife and I dined in Shutter's Pedals Café. In the distance the lights of Santa Monica's pier were ablaze. The restaurant, whose doors open to the beachfront sidewalk, caters not only to guests but to passersby. You can dine by candlelight, indoors or out. The cuisine is American and superb. But they won me on the dessert. To put a little extra curl in your smile, just ask for the warm chocolate pudding cake with praline ice cream.
While Shutters can be described as "casual elegance," the beachfront hotel next door, the Casa del Mar (800-898-6999) can be described as "European elegance." The eight story brick façade building, which opened in 1926 as the Club Casa del Mar, one of California's first private beach clubs and hotels, is an historic landmark. It was the swinging grand dame of Santa Monica in the roaring twenties and remained so until WWII. Then, Santa Monica beach was barb wired out of invasion fears and the hotel became military housing. After the war, the hotel fell on hard times. It subsequently became Synanon, a drug rehab facility, and then the Pritikin diet center. In 1997, it was purchased by the owners of Shutters and after a 60 million dollar renovation re-opened in 1999.
While from the outside, Casa del Mar seems a little staid, on the inside, it is magnificent. There are 129 rooms, most with ocean views, and a lobby and grand veranda that overlooks the ocean. The décor is an elegant mishmosh of styles - somewhat Morrocan, Mediterranean, with a touch of art deco. Climb the marble staircase to the plush couches around the lobby's fireplace. Sit in the formal library. But you must proceed on to the bar and veranda with comfortable wicker chairs that look out to the sea. Here is perhaps the best place in Los Angeles to watch the sunset. It has also been rated as one of the best places in the U.S. to close a deal. During the week, there's plenty of entertainment here - from blues, to jazz, to romantic piano.
In Los Angeles you can choose from many elegant hotels in center city, Century City, or Beverly Hills. But if you want to see L.A. as a city on the sea, Shutters On The Beach, and its sister hotel next door, the Casa del Mar, with rates from $335/night, are the only deluxe hotels right on the beach in L.A. And they have a patent on beach front elegance and charm.