By Hillary Latos
Santa Monica is one of those places that has the best of all worlds- the convenience of an egalitarian city with direct access to the beach and its cool ocean breezes without the smog, congestion or pretension of its Westside counterparts. Though Baywatch created a stereotype of Santa Monica as a beachside town with ripped lifeguards and buxom blondes saving the world one swimmer at a time, this former resort town has a rich history from the landmarked turn of the century historic pier, the Third Street Promenade, and a thriving art district, proving that there's more to Southern California than Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
The best way to explore the coastline is along the beachside bike path that meanders through a backdrop seen in hundreds of films and tv shows stretching from the Palisades to the flashy Marina del Rey. Pass by multi million dollar beach cottages and admire the colorful characters of Venice's Muscle Beach , explore the quaint Venice canals, and stroll on the uber cool Abbott Kinney Blvd dotted with art galleries, specialty clothing shops, and outdoor cafes that embraces the boho attitude of the area.
To admire the architectural wonders created by a billionaire phlianthropist, visit the resplendent Getty Villa in the Palisades. Modeled after an ancient first century Roman country house, the Villa deiPapiri in Herculaneum, Italy the palatial architectural details and landscaping have been meticulously recreated to make visitors feel transported to another time and place of grandeur. Spend the day admiring the Greek and Roman art collection spanning 7,000 years from the end of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire, enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds and explore the aromatic manicured romantic gardens with forever views of the majestic Pacific Ocean.
A hotel that embodies the architectural history of Santa Monica is the luxurious Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, which sits conveniently at Wilshire and Ocean offering a variety of unique accommodations to suit different tastes and has been a playground for the who's who of Hollywood royalty since the roaring 20s. The rooms in the ten story Ocean Towers offer stunning ocean views with private balconies and celebrate the post modern architecture that resonates throughout South California. For New York loft style living, celebrity designer Lynda Murray renovated the oversized suites in the landmarked Palisades building as well as rooms in the Ocean Towers that fuse classic design with the contemporary feel of Santa Monica. Nestled amongst the lush gardens are the poolside bi level and multi bedroom bungalows. Bungalow One is a three bedroom unit designed by Michael Berman to create a plush residential experience with the glamour of Old Hollywood mixed with the easy spirit of Southern California living with a soft beachy palette of pale greys, blues, and beige.
The Fairmont Miramar is more than a hotel but an oasis in the city. Reinvigorate the body and soul at exhale Mind Body Spa, get in shape with an Exhale Core Class, or simply relax by the pool in the manicured gardens. For contemporary Southern California cuisine dine at their critically acclaimed FIG Restaurant that offers a seasonal menu based on ingredients sourced from the Farmers Market. Whether enjoying a sunset cocktail or grabbing a nightcap, The Bungalow is one of the area's hottest spots with lines around the block, created by nightlife wunderkid Brent Bolthouse. This hideaway captures the charm of a Baja inspired casita surrounded by a charming candlelit outdoor garden overlooking the sea that has the feel of a movie mogul's lair especially when it's filled with the usual bevy of beautiful people Southern California is known for.
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