Now that the holidays are over, you may need a mini-vacation to de-stress from all the festivities, guests, cooking, gift giving/wrapping, etc. Give yourself a gift and take a little time for a relaxing staycation in Santa Monica.
WHERE TO STAY: Fairmont Miramar
Situated atop the scenic bluffs overlooking Santa Monica Beach, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is the perfect “getaway” to begin your retreat. The historic hotel combines luxury, ambiance and excellent service, making it a perfect base for your stay. Give your car a break as well and find everything you need on-site or just a short walk away, including a magnificent view of the ocean.
Iconic Fig Tree
The hotel was originally a private mansion owned by Senator John P. Jones, who founded Santa Monica in 1885 and built his home on the property in 1889, naming it “miramar,” which means “view of the sea” in Spanish. The magnificent Moreton Bay Fig Tree also has historic roots, originally planted as a sapling by Jones’ gardener in 1890, it was brought from Australia by an unknown sailor who used it to pay for his drinks at the local watering hole. The bartender then gave it to Mrs. Jones and today the towering tree stands at 80-feet tall with a 120-foot network of branches, making it the second largest fig tree in California.
The Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows has always served as a haven for celebrities and politicians, including Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, among many others. For your own Hollywood hideaway, be sure and book a signature bungalow, set in the lush gardens and recently renovated with upgraded amenities, including marble bathrooms and heavenly deep soaking tubs.
WHAT TO DO
You’ll find plenty to do in downtown Santa Monica, a premiere shopping and dining destination. Take a walk along the cliffs at Palisades Park, or stroll through the lively Third Street Promenade, with plenty of stores, restaurants, and movies to entertain you. The south end of the Promenade intersects with the recently renovated Santa Monica Place, a modern “mall” featuring fine retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Tory Burch, Michael Kors and Kitson, along with high-end department stores – Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.
Santa Monica Place is not your typical shopping destination. The open concept and architectural design elements create a fresh, contemporary vibe. Be sure and check out the ocean view from the third floor dining deck with plenty of seating and an outdoor fireplace. Several chef-driven restaurants offer some great happy hour deals, and a variety of gourmet goodies can be found at The Market, a foodie haven filled with high quality organic purveyors. Some of the best coffee in Los Angeles is served at Groundwork Coffee Company, which sources and roasts 100% organic, fairly traded coffee. Indulge in hand-made artisan chocolates at L’Artisan du Chocolat or learn to make your own from chocolatier Ruth Kennison at Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories.
Kids will love exploring the new SAMO the Whale play area, featuring a 46-foot long humpback whale clubhouse, with steel ribs, wood decking and rope netting. This fun and educational play area incorporates multiple climbing elements, a balance beam, an inclined tight rope, a 4-foot high slide, and several interactive areas including talk tubes, telescopes and periscopes.
For a slice of winter by the beach, glide on over to ICE, an outdoor ice skating rink on the corner of 5th Street and Arizona Avenue. Festive lights and decorations hang over the rink creating a lively atmosphere. Hurry on over as this season ends on January 16, 2012.
Admission and skate rental: $12.00 per person
Monday – Thursday: 2:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Friday: 2:00 PM – midnight
Saturday: 10:00 AM midnight
Sunday: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM
To completely relax and de-stress, a visit to Exhale spa at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows is just what the doctor ordered. Besides offering plenty of pampering spa treatments, Exhale specializes in an active and multi-disciplinary approach, combining fitness and movement classes with healing spa therapies. Guests can take a Core Fusion toning class, indulge in a therapeutic deep tissue massage and further relax in the steam room, sauna and relaxation lounge. The massage therapists at Exhale are top-notch and really know how to loosen all those knots of tension. Ahhhhh….. just breathe.
WHERE TO EAT
After working up an appetite skating (or shopping on Third Street Promenade), reward yourself with dinner at JiRaffe, one of the top restaurants in town. Proudly in its 15th year, JiRaffe serves rustic French/American cuisine using fresh local ingredients and a big dose of creativity and talent. Here you’ll find sophisticated comfort food, without the fussy attitude. Chef Raphael Lunetta is highly regarded for both his passion in the kitchen and on a surfboard (aka “the surfing chef”). Appointments can be made for a day of surfing with Chef Lunetta, followed by a trip to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market and dinner at JiRaffe from the day’s bounty. Call (310) 574-7870 for more information and to check availability.
The food at JiRaffe is truly outstanding. Be sure and order the signature Roasted Beet Salad, which is the best I’ve ever had. This layered creation is beautifully presented, and reminiscent of dessert with its fluffy white topping of goat cheese cream. The combination of organic beets, candied walnuts and dried cherries tossed in a banyuls-ginger vinaigrette (French dessert wine) and topped with the goat cheese cream is perfect. For real dessert, order the Lemon Souffle – a light and airy citrus dream.
The menu at FIG is built upon what’s in peak season, emphasizing organically grown and locally sourced produce. Chef Ray Garcia is well-known for taking these fresh seasonal ingredients and turning them into scrumptious culinary delights. The Kegs and Eggs Brunch at FIG is popular among locals and visitors alike. I decide to go green instead and order the Frittata Verde with market green vegetables and avocado-tomatillo salsa, along with a sparkling blood orange and beet mimosa.
Don’t leave FIG without dessert. I recommend the Beignets, puffed pillows of goodness dusted in powdered sugar and served with an espresso-chocolate dipping sauce. A colorful trio of homemade sorbet complements the beignets perfectly and refreshes your palate. A sweet stay at the Fairmont Miramar ends on this blissful note.
Liz Laing is a writer, web designer and photographer who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest projects may be followed on Liz Laing.