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The 8 Best Santa Monica Hotels for a Truly Local Stay

By Kathryn Romeyn

May 19, 2021

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Palihouse Santa Monica interiors are a compelling blend of quirk—think taxidermy busts and offbeat wallpaper—and beach-appropriate breeziness.

Courtesy of Palihouse Santa Monica

Palihouse Santa Monica interiors are a compelling blend of quirk—think taxidermy busts and offbeat wallpaper—and beach-appropriate breeziness.

Whether you’re after a boutique retreat right on the sand or a historic hotel for sunset cocktails, these spots will give you a true sense of Santa Monica.

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Sandwiched between Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, and Venice, the coastal city of Santa Monica has many sides to it. Parts are iconic—see the classic Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade—yet much of it maintains a delightfully homey vibe, too. There are decidedly hip see-and-be-seen spots alongside places that are all about those authentically laid-back and slightly preppy beach vibes.

The same goes for its hotels. The beautiful thing about Santa Monica is that it truly has something for every personality and aesthetic. Here, a collection of our eight favorite hotels—all beloved staycation havens for locals—diverse in style but united in one aspect: hospitality that makes you feel at home.

Kelly Wearstler designs turn Proper Santa Monica guest rooms into small sanctuaries.

Proper Santa Monica

Book Now: From $500 per night, expedia.com

Design buffs will find dreamy sanctuary in this luxurious Kelly Wearstler–designed escape. Her refined mark is on every aspect of the sand- and earth-hued hotel, while activities from Westside-based director of culture and programming Eva Nineuil include journaling workshops, podcast recordings, yoga, sound baths, and sunset music sessions.

The hotel partners with Heal the Bay and keeps it green by exclusively using bamboo straws at the rooftop restaurant Calabra and making guest rooms plastic free. Guests can walk the ’hood, borrow bikes or surfboards, peruse Santa Monica’s famous Wednesday Farmers’ Market, and explore local small businesses such as Santa Monica Picnic Co., which sets up gourmet beach picnics with options for add-ons like acoustic guitar accompaniment, Pilates or yin yoga, photography, and surf lessons. Proper’s new Ayurvedic Surya Spa was the city’s most anticipated wellness opening in years when it debuted in spring 2021—Angelenos clamor for appointments.

The Ambrose Hotel

Book Now: From $269 per night, expedia.com

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Think of the Ambrose as your ticket to the true Santa Monica lifestyle. Twenty blocks from the beach in a quiet neighborhood, the warm and lush craftsman-style boutique hotel of 77 rooms and suites was the first LEED-certified hotel in the United States when it opened in 2007. Ecoconsciousness is at the core of all the Ambrose’s thoughtful offerings, from beach cruisers (there are 17 miles of bike paths in Santa Monica) to the Tesla house car, which is used to drive guests anywhere in a three-mile radius. The nightly Santa Monica Sips tastings feature locally brewed beer and California vinos and are a beloved amenity for guests, many of whom book long stays and find it hard to leave (lots are local, enticed in part by a Santa Monica resident discount).

A Mediterranean facade gives way to contemporary interiors at Palihouse Santa Monica.

Palihouse Santa Monica

Book Now: From $295 per night, expedia.com

Upon check-in, guests at this 38-room boutique beach lodge behind a Mediterranean revival facade are treated to a curated neighborhood guide featuring recommendations from locals and local staff, enhancing the Santa Monica immersion. As a hospitality brand, Palisociety, and its local founder Avi Brosh, emphasize blending into the surrounding community with a residential feel and locations on unassuming streets. And while the historic structure definitely stands out, the interiors are a compelling blend of quirk—think taxidermy busts and offbeat wallpaper—and beach-appropriate breeziness. Participation in the Clean the World program—which redistributes amenity bottles, used soaps, and more to those in need around the globe—makes everyone feel good. Palihouse is a respite full of personality, just blocks from bustle of the promenade.

Shutters on the Beach has a Cape Cod-gone-California vibe.

Shutters on the Beach

Book Now: From $595 per night, expedia.com 

For its miles of sand, Santa Monica has surprisingly few oceanfront hotels, which makes Shutters on the Beach even more special. Its charming cottage-y appearance feels like Cape Cod gone California, a vibe that continues at the pool and on shuttered balconies. Despite its high-end atmosphere, that makes it feel acceptable to walk onto the beach barefoot. The Courtyard at 1 Pico is a local mainstay not only for its prime location but also for its food—it cooks halibut impeccably—and the One Spa. And for those visitors who wish to feel like in-the-know locals, senior concierge William DeGues is on hand to call in hard-to-obtain reservation favors with Santa Monica’s top chefs and restaurateurs.

Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is among the most classic Santa Monica hotels.

Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows

Book Now: From $439 per night, expedia.com

It doesn’t get more classic Santa Monica than the Fairmont Miramar, with its landmark 80-foot-tall Moreton Bay fig tree greeting all who drive in. Celebrating its centennial anniversary recently, the resort sprawls across five acres, with ocean-view hotel rooms and 31 homey beach house–like bungalows—and a spa, fitness center, and shops. Community involvement runs deep—the pet-friendly hotel actively works with Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, Meals on Wheels West, and Santa Monica Symphony among others. In January 2021, the Fairmont was the first hotel in town to begin a zero-waste program using a compostable refuse bin—the rich compost is given to Santa Monica residents. Visitors can’t miss the FIG @ FIVE happy hour at Fig, with 50 percent off many dishes and drinks, drawing locals (reservations are advised) who also come for Poolside Cinema nights and holidays throughout the year.

Meet friends for cocktails at Casa Del Mar’s Terrazza patio.

Hotel Casa del Mar

Book Now: From $525 per night, expedia.com

With a ritzy history that dates to 1928, this Shutters neighbor (they share an owner, too) has been a touchpoint in the community for almost 100 years. The Italian Renaissance style is completely unlike other architecture around it and makes for an elegant environment to meet friends for cocktails or dine at its beachside patio, Terrazza, while the sun sets. A new gourmet beach picnic experience is an attractive proposition, too. When it comes to sustainability, Casa del Mar is cutting edge: Orca is waste reduction and diversion tech used by the culinary team to minimize greenhouse gases, while staff earn points (converted into rewards) for walking, biking, or carpooling to work.

Oceana Santa Monica, LXR Hotels & Resorts

Book Now: From $575 per night, expedia.com

All blue and white and ivy clad, Oceana is a guest-exclusive hotel with such fantastic amenities—think heavenly spa, Peloton-studded gym, restaurants, complimentary beach cruisers, rooftop lounge, and swimming pool—that it draws lots of locals for staycations. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood within easy walking distance to the beach, and with only suites on offer, it allows out-of-towners to feel at home, too. The boutique hotel’s ethos is aligned with local values: The staff are encouraged to run in 5K and 10K races to support grassroots charities, and there are packages that support a food bank.

Viceroy Santa Monica  recently upped its art game, collaborating with artists from the area.

Viceroy Santa Monica

Book Now: From $355 per night, expedia.com

A late summer 2020 reimagining of this Santa Monica hotel’s chic public spaces—midcentury modern furnishings and a fresh color scheme balancing serene neutrals with vibrant pops in the lobby, lounge, and patio—has cemented it as a top pick for both locals and out-of-towners in the market for an escape just a 10-minute walk from the Santa Monica Pier and beach. The heart of the Viceroy is undoubtedly its pair of glistening swimming pools and brand-new, well-appointed cabanas. To help celebrate 20 years, the property, whose facade features an eight-story mural, has recently upped its art game, collaborating with artists from the area, including Erin Miller Wray and Monica Perez, to create murals, site-specific artworks, and digitally augmented paintings that nod to Santa Monica’s vibrant creative culture.

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