The solar powered lights of the legendary Ferris wheel have just come on as I look out at Santa Monica Pier. It is quite the spectacle, made all the more memorable from my perch on the rooftop bar of Hotel Shangri-La seven storey’s up.
Santa Monica may have a changed a lot over the last 78 years, but apart from a $30M facelift in the early 80s this iconic Art Deco hotel looks just as elegant as she did when she first opened her doors in 1939.
Hotel Shangri-La is a living example of the golden age of Hollywood. When stars really looked the part. Elizabeth Taylor. Grace Kelly. Cary Grant. I really am in good company. Just walking up the front steps, I feel I’m stepping into Hollywood history, rather apt as it’s Oscars week.
This really is quite an extraordinary building. Shaped like an ocean liner pointing out to the Pacific Ocean lapping literally just across the road, it’s rounded edges and long terraces have been a Santa Monica landmark ever since oil billionaire Frank Gillespie built it in 1939. Back then, Santa Monica was a small leafy sea-side community but close enough to the newly arrived millionaires of Beverly Hills to warrant investment in property development. The rest is history. Santa Monica became a retreat for movie stars and the Shangri-La became an A list residence.
The Front Desk Manager’s whisper is still in my head as the ornate elevator trundles me skyward “You have a 6th floor terrace suite Andy. Great view by the way.”
And he’s not wrong. I’ve got a proper bird’s eye view of the hotel pool and cabanas on one side and from inside my room, the majestic beach and swaying palms of Santa Monica on the other. It’s an Art Deco suite fit for Hollywood royalty and I feel a right regal moment coming on.
In my lounge area, an impressive kitchen lines one wall, where a very welcome Nespresso machine sits proudly on the work top, while a deep, very retro leather couch adorns the centre of the room. In the bedroom, a mirrored wall with a leaded light effect hides the bathroom, a study in Carerra marble, L’Occitane toiletries and Frette bathrobes complement a deep soaking tub and rain forest shower.
The exterior doors to the outside gold flecked terrace are a little creaky, the wooden lounge floor a little scratched, but the thing is, it all feels so authentic. It’s a guest experience from an era which simply cannot be replicated in a Hilton or a Four Seasons and I’m loving every minute of it.
Back downstairs and I’m just in time for the 5pm Wednesday night meet and greet. A two hour wine and cheese soiree to watch the sunset and listen to a lady with great pipes taking us through everything from blues to opera.
As evening draws in, I take a short stroll across to the Santa Monica pier and walk the boardwalk down to the end. On the way I pass by the Route 66 sign, marking the end of the iconic 2,500 mile long drive. The old pier has featured in many movies, but I will always remember it as Paul Newman’s headquarters in The Sting. Particularly the old indoor carousel which is still here on the pier inside the 100 year old Loof Hippodrome.
Morning and a new day dawns. After breakfast, Head Concierge Adrienne has arranged a morning guided bike tour for me with Pedal..or Not electric bikes. With tour guide Barbara showing me the way, her tour takes in a good part of the new 35k bike path running from the northern end of Santa Monica all the way south past Venice to Redondo Beach. These electric bikes are fun; you don’t even have to pedal if you don’t want to. Barbara offers up some fascinating local history, not to mention one or two hidden treasures in Venice Beach’s canal district.
I’m back in time to catch some afternoon sun on a comfy bed in the hotel’s outdoor pool courtyard. As the Shangri-La rises up silently all around me I can’t help feeling a little tingle, willing the walls to speak to me. I wonder what stories they could tell.
Dinner in the Dining Room brings two pleasant surprises; another stunning character- oozing Art Deco room and a culinary adventure to go with it. Classic red leather tub chairs, chunky checkerboard pillars, a glorious long wooden bar and a stunning ocean view. I’m drawn to two handed-painted ceiling murals above the bar; one of owner Tamie Adaya, the other, her late father Ahmad, who bought the property in 1983.
The glass of smooth De Loach cabernet is the prelude to a tasty appetizer of garlic and chilli hummus dips with kalamata olives, tomatoes and feta. ($16). I’m almost seduced into ordering the fish and chips as my main; white fish, tempura batter, crispy herbed fries, mushed peas and malt vinegar ($24). Clearly this is a reflection of Tamie’s love affair with everything English. But as a Brit, I’ve had more than my fair share of that, so instead, decide on a perfectly prepared Filet Mignon served with heirloom potatoes, and bordelaise sauce. ($24).
As night falls, the hotel takes on an even more glamorous sheen, proudly lighting the way along Ocean Avenue. I take advantage and visit Santa Monica’s famous pedestrian-only 3rd Street Promenade, just a few minutes’ walk away. Street performers, stores and eateries make for a lively town hang out spot.
My time at Hotel Shangri-La has been epic, one that will live long in the memory. I could have gone to great lengths listing all the famous names who have made this their temporary home, but to what purpose. This elegant building speaks for herself. She manages to hold hands with her past yet at the same time, feel perfectly at home with her contemporary neighbours.
Credit to Tamie Adaya for pulling that one off.
For now though, I’m just going to sit back on my perch up here on the 7th floor, sip my cocktail and enjoy the view.
Sunset and pool images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Hotel Shangri-La
Hotel Shangri-La, 1301 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 394-2791
7 nights in Los Angeles from £1637pp
Seven nights in Los Angeles with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow direct to Los Angeles, room only accommodation at the Shangri-LA Santa Monica with car hire included. Price is per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a City View King room and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on 10th May 2017. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0344 557 3859 or visit one of our 110 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
Virgin Atlantic flies twice daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles (3 times daily from 1st May – 28th October.) and is offering return fares from £527 per person. For further information contact www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 209 7777. This fare is available for selected departures during 2017. Prices given are correct as of today and are subject to change.
Upper Class passengers get access to Virgin’s Clubhouse facilities at London Heathrow offering complimentary food and drinks and a spa area where pre-flight showers and certain spa treatments are available.
$68 per rider for a 3 hour tour.
Tel: 310 917 1111