Santa Monica is my favourite Los Angeles city. Yes city, because LA actually encompasses over 80 cities!
I have stayed here in beachfront West LA, more than a dozen times at various boutique hotels dotted along the coast and here are my thoughts on a few of them to help you decide where the best place to stay in Santa Monica.
If you haven’t been to Santa Monica before, it has everything a stopover in Los Angeles requires: it’s not too far from LAX airport, has really great shopping on the pedestrianised 3rd Street Promenade (and more in the surrounding streets).
Its food scene is also delicious and if you fancy a cocktail at a groovy bar, preferably with sea views have a read of my 16 favourite bars here>
You’ll recognise Santa Monica by its iconic pier with a Ferris Wheel, a Bubba Gump restaurant (the end of Santa Monica Pier is the official end of Route 66 – for you Forrest Gump fans) and lots of fun activities with touristy shops all the way along as it stretches over the wide sandy beach and into the mighty Pacific Ocean.
It’s a bit of a must-do actually: to promenade oneself along the pier, and even hire a bike or walk down onto the beach and stroll the 2km stretch along to Venice Beach, via all the buff bodies strutting their stuff on Muscle Beach!
If you only have 1 day in Santa Monica, I’ve got a great little itinerary here in my new site Day Tripping USA.
Here are the best boutique Santa Monica hotels, that I have stayed in and LOVED:
If you’re looking for a premium Santa Monica Beach hotel, you can’t get any more beach front than Shutters on the Beach!
The sand is literally out the front door and because the hotel is U-shaped most of the rooms afford views across the pool to the sweeping Santa Monica Beach and the Pier, which is about 200m away.
It’s designed like I imagine a Cape Cod holiday home would be. Wooden shutters (nice touch) on your windows, white wooden furniture in your room, comfy chairs and beds that are so high you may need the stool from the closet to climb in (I did!) and a bathroom that opens onto the bedroom for romantic moments. A bath with a view!
You’re also within easy walking distance of the shopping and entertainment on Third Street Promenade.
This hotel is up on Ocean Drive with only the road between you and the clifftop above sandy Santa Monica beach below.
It’s all glass and sleek design. Very styly and a pool is smack in front but it’s hidden behind discrete frosted glass from the road. It also lights up blue at night.
This hotel location is fabulous for shopping as you’re literally around the corner from Nordstrom and only two blocks from Third Street Promenade with its pedestrianised shopping street.
The place to eat here is the Mexican Blue Plate Taco right in front of the hotel on the street. The perfect spot to plonk yourself with a margarita and bowl of tortilla chips and just people watch.
In a 1960’s former office building, which from the road is blocked by high hedges that seem to want to hide the box-shape hotel behind them, this is the most understated building in town.
The Viceroy Hotel looks dead boring, but step into the Kelly Wearstler designed lobby with its shabby-chic antiqued mirrors lining the wall behind reception that leads your eyes through to the pool and cabanas and you’ll say wow at this boutique hotel.
Even if you’re not staying here, come for a poolside drink or book for dinner. If you are staying here, you’ll adore the little extra touches in the rooms and the epic views.
It’s a bit further away from Third Street for shopping than the other hotels, but nothing a brisk walk won’t fix!
One of the closest hotels to the wide Santa Monica beach as you can get, Loews is located just beside the famous Santa Monica Pier.
I stayed here with my parents and had a fantastic veranda room which I reckon was quite possibly the best room in the house!
You enter the hotel into the lobby with ceilings as high as the sky and trees soaring up to meet it and your eye is immediately led to the beach through enormous windows in the front.
One of the best places for a drink in Santa Monica is in this hotel just below the pool, sitting around one of the fire pits and watching the sun set over the mighty Pacific Ocean.
Behind the 100-year old fig tree, rumoured to have been planted in lieu of paying for the hotel room, is the elegant Fairmont Hotel.
There are two very different accommodation offerings here: the garden villas which you get to through the lobby and by walking around the pool and garden, and the hotel suites in the main building. I’ve stayed in both and the level of luxury is opulent.
The former boardroom, housed in the bungalow (on the left in my pic), has been transformed into one of the most popular bars in town, the Bungalow. See my post on my favourite bars in Santa Monica.
This historic Santa Monica hotel sits right on Ocean Ave and is a very short stroll from the shops. It’s one of the closest hotels you can get to the buzz of Santa Monica’s heart with fabulous views of the beach, the pier and the stunning sunsets.
But step inside and the Art Deco decor will cause 1930 fans to have wide, shiny eyes and twirl in circles.
We stayed here for a couple nights on our honeymoon and really loved the roadside veranda for breakfast or a glass of wine. A great people-watching location – when we weren’t staring into each other’s eyes, that is!
Formerly Shangri La, this art deco hotel (actually Streamline Moderne), has been recently taken over by Sander and renamed. Painted blazing white and situated enviably on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. It conjures up the feel of an ocean liner from the street.
Inside, the original 1939 features have been respectfully redecorated and the rooms provide amazing views of the ocean.
I’m not sure of the rooftop bar, Onyx where the furniture is handmade from leather and gentlemen’s suit fabric, is open under the new management. But if not, pop down to the ground floor pool and grab a cabana with the beautiful people and just stare at them!
Read my top 16 picks for the Best Bars in Santa Monica featuring a couple of these hotels and some fabulous bars with views, fireplaces, craft beer…
If you have the time, pick one of these quick road trips from this list of 12 marvelous day trips from LA!