Santa Monica is famous for it’s “Baywatch” beaches- acres of golden sand, dotted with pale blue lifeguard towers and volleyball nets. Given the almost year-round sunshine, the beach is now synonymous with fitness – you take your life into your hands trying to cross the concrete track that’s been designated for cyclists and bladers, and which runs from Will Rogers State Beach all the way past Venice to Long Beach. Although I live only 5 miles from Santa Monica, I often forget what a fantastic vacation spot it is.
My husband and I took off for a weekend “staycation” and wound up at the only real “green” hotel down there. You’d think there would be more eco-options being in So Cal and all that – but there really wasn’t. The Fairmont Miramar Hotel, overlooking the metallic blue Pacific Ocean, is not only green, but is a really impressive resort.
The hotel takes up an entire city block and in 1888 was Senator Jones’ famous “Miramar” mansion. As you drive up to the hotel’s entrance, you’ll be greeted by a gargantuan and quite magnificent tree, which is a Moreton Bay Fig tree with an interesting history: It’s the largest tree of its kind in California and dates back one hundred years when an unknown sailor from Australia carried the sapling off his ship and into a local watering hole. Unable to pay for drinks, he gave the sapling to the bar tender, who gave it to Senator Jones’s wife. Their gardener planted it amongst some rare, exotic plants, which still thrive today.
Fairmont Hotels are industry-leaders with their green partnership program. Every Fairmont Hotel I’ve visited takes their green commitment to the next level, which makes deluxe green travel so very easy. Eco-touches include: biodegradable containers in the restaurants, and a herb garden is on the property – all the rooms employ waterless or low-flow fixtures and the hotels partnership with the City makes sure that every bit of waste is recycled. I also love that despite the consistency of the Fairmont Chain in their commitment to green, and their outstanding luxury, each hotel has it’s own unique character, unlike most deluxe chains.
The accommodations are unusual in that you get to choose between three entirely different experiences: You can either go for the Ocean Tower, where you will enjoy a stunning view of the Ocean with a furnished balcony, or you can take an elegant room/suite in the Historical “Palisades” building. If you want something a little more traditional/rustic, you could reserve one of the bungalows around the pool, which is almost like having your own cozy cabin.
My husband and I chose small a bungalow, which felt like we’d gone back to 1940′s Hollywood – so romantic. We were in agreement that the bed and pillows were the most comfortable of any hotel we’ve stayed at – and that really is saying something because I have a Goldilocks of a husband when it comes to beds. The large pool is in the center of everything, and I was relieved to see steam rising off it in the early hours of the morning – it is December! You can lounge in the hot tub with a cocktail or laze on a sun lounger with a good book.
The excellent Exhale Spa is housed in the hotel and provides both Core Fusion classes and treatments. If you ever go there, book a massage with someone called Emily – she is utterly brilliant at dissolving every bit of muscular tension. My husband also had an amazing massage. I love a spa, which employs therapists who are highly experienced and/or healers – and this is one of them. You might also indulge in a facial with my favorite Tata Harper Organic products.
The crowning glory of the Miramar experience is the restaurant, Fig, which happens to be located in the Hotel. Presided over by chef, Ray Garcia, you’d be hard pushed to find a better dinner in town. Fig is right up my street as it’s truly sustainable. Chef Garcia doesn’t just pay lip service to “sustainable” cuisine, which is now the buzz word in hundreds of restaurants in town, he lives it, and can often be seen trawling the local farmer’s markets for the freshest foods. You will only find exactly what is in season now in his kitchen, and at the bottom of the menu, he clearly states the actual produce items that are in season now, and those that will be in season shortly. It’s actually surprising what is in season because down in Santa Monica, where the weather is so temperate, many farmers are still growing beautiful heirloom tomatoes in December. I enjoyed the best salad I’ve ever eaten, which was a cornucopia of veggies from the market – the full spectrum of colors- from pale pickled turnips and paper thin slices of cauliflower, to magenta beets and golden persimmons. I also loved, and plan to cook myself, a grilled baby gem lettuce (like a mini and very sweet Romaine,) draped with white anchovies. My husband and I often judge a restaurant on their bread basket – silly you may think, but pay attention – a poor bread basket with hard, dry bread almost always precedes a second-rate meal. We were given mini warm baguettes in tiny paper bags with arugula butter – which I practically inhaled and had to rein myself in from begging for another. Don’t even get me started on the desserts – but suffice that chef Garcia’s version of a fig newton with homemade greek yogurt ice cream was to die for.
So how to deal with the extra pounds gained from Chef Garcia’s cuisine? Easy peasy in Santa Monica. The thing we loved most is that once you park your car, you’ll never have to see it again The hotel will provide you with a BMW bicycle to take you anywhere you want – a great ride is down to the beach, where you can go for miles, either North towards the mountains or South past the bizarre sights of Venice Beach. You can also hire bicycles, roller blades etc from one of the many rental shacks along the beach. If you feel like a little pick-me-up en route, there’s a wonderful beach cafe called Back On The Beach, where you can enjoy a veggie omelet, a latte or buttery, homemade scone. Down on the beach you can also take a surf lesson, a paddle board lesson, or you can even arrange to paraglide.
Staying at The Mirimar, you are right next to the fun outdoor Third St Promonade and the excellent new outdoor mall, Santa Monica Place – both offer every kind of store imaginable.
Eating green is easy in Santa Monica. There is an amazing raw food restaurant called Planet Raw, which is a must if healthy food is your thing. You can also eat at a great vegan restaurant and a personal fave of mine, called Real Food Daily.
If you fancy a short drive up Pacific Coast Highway towards Malibu, I recommend dropping in for some delicious fried fish at The Reel Inn – where you line up, pick your fish and go find a booth while your food gets grilled. You can drive a little further North to Point Dume – a perfect spot for whale watching and enjoying the magnificent sunsets.
So whether you’re passing through, or intend to pick Santa Monica as a vacation spot, you’ll have everything your heart could desire in one place. Even if you’re bringing the kids to a theme park, staying by the beach is definitely the way to go. Just remember to bring your pashmina and a couple of fleeces because despite the almost year-round good weather, it can get really chilly early morning and at night when the marine layer moves in – but layer up – I was in a winter coat for dinner and a bikini top in the afternoon.
For deluxe eco-responsible travel, check out the Fairmont Chain, as they have spectacular hotels in vacation spots and cities across the globe.