Santa Monica

Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
Trip End Dec 17, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, December 14, 2009

December 14
Watched the Michael Douglas film Beyond a Reasonable Doubt on the plane, which was about a journalist trying to prove that the local DA was faking DNA evidence to win cases. As it turns out the journalist was using the whole thing to cover up a murder he had committed himself not bad. Read my new book – A Kiss Before the Apocalypse – about an angelic PI trying to find the angel of death who has mysteriously gone missing.

Arrived in LA about 9.30 pm, but spent the next 45 minutes trying to find my bag. After being bounced between the 1st and 3rd floors as nobody seemed to know what was going on (LAX is undergoing renovations and the whole place is a shambles) one of the ladies at Information walked me to the Qantas check in desks at arrivals where someone had dumped it. A $50 taxi ride got me to my hotel - The Georgian on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica - at about 11pm.

Things started to improve as soon as I arrived. The concierge grabbed my bag and led me to the front desk where Gene, the world’s friendliest receptionist, checked me in, provided me with a map along with a brief explanation of the local area, and gave me a note from Helen, who had checked in the previous day. The level of service compared to New York is quite amazing – the staff at the Beacon may be described in many ways, but overtly friendly and laid back are not amongst them.

The Georgian Hotel is a lovely old 1930's building right across the road from the Pacifc Ocean and Santa Monica Pier. During the Prohibition the Georgian’s basement restaurant with its wall-to-wall red leather banquettes and red-flocked wallpaper served as a speakeasy that used to attract the Hollywood in crowd, including Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. The gangster Bugsy Segal was also a regular apparently.

The rooms are big and the beds huge. There’s also free wifi in the room which I took advantage of immediately to check my emails. We had opted for rooms at the back of the hotel, as the reviews said the ocean view rooms at the front are very noisy as a result of the traffic on Ocean Avenue. Called Helen from the room and arranged to meet in the foyer at 9.30am.

December 15
I woke up at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep so took an early morning walk along Palisades Park and up Broadway to 4th Street, then returned to hotel to meet Helen on the veranda for breakfast. I had the Georgian's signature dish - French Toast Soufflé - which tasted like bread and butter pudding. 

After breakfast we took the walking track to the Venice Beach tourist strip which consists of shops selling T-Shirts, tattoos, massages and clocks in the shape of miniature surf boards. Turning left, away from the ocean, we continued on to Main Street and stopped for a juice at a place called World Cafe where an extremely nice waiter let us in even though they weren’t quite open yet.

Had a juice then walked back to the beach strip where I bought a couple of Ts – one with the caption “My Indian name is Crawling Drunk” ($16) and another with a picture of some American Indians that says “Homeland Security - Fighting terrorism since 1492” ($24). Also bought a carry-on bag to hold all my holiday purchases for $24.

Perfect day – blue skies and about 20C. Apparently it was pouring the day before I arrived so the good weather continues to follow me. Walked back along the beach to the Georgian and had one of the staff show us around the Speakeasy underneath the reception area, then headed up to 3rd Street Promenade and had lunch at a restaurant called Monsoon – prawn satay (great sauce), sang choy bow and gyoza. Also ordered a couple of glasses of Piper Sonoma sparkling.

Crossed the street to Barnes and Noble, then after a little window shopping stopped at Anisette Brassiere in Santa Monica Boulevard for a glass of red (Chateau Aney Haut-Merdoc) before walking to Marisols at the end of Santa Monica Pier to watch the sunset over natchos and two rounds of Cadillac Margaritas.

Stopped at a bottle shop near the hotel and bought a bottle of E&J brandy and Canada Dry and had a couple of rounds of margaritas on the balcony at the Georgian before retiring to my room to update journal and write postcards. I’m really enjoying Santa Monica – I haven’t felt this relaxed since I started my holidays.

December 16

Woke up at 6am – practically a sleep in compared to recent sleeping patterns. Met Helen on the veranda and had a coffee, then we caught the 534 bus from the stop across the road to the Getty Villa in Malibu. You can only get tickets if you visit the Getty Museum first, which luckily Helen had done before I arrived. You need to get these punched by the bus driver before he drops you off but as this is a public bus, not one that drives specifically to the villa, I don’t understand why this is necessary. Once you enter the main gates a pair of security guards 50 yards up the drive tell you to stop then walk down and check your tickets. After that they told us to push a button on a lectern near the entrance to call the shuttle which arrived 5 minutes later abd drove us to the top of the hill and the entrance to the complex.

The Getty Villa is a replica of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum which was buried during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. J Paul Getty purchased the 67 acre Malibu property on a hill over the ocean in the early 70’s and built the villa to serve as a museum to house his collection of antiquities. I’ve never seen a reconstructed Roman villa before and found this really interesting. The peristyle garden with its long central pool and views of the Pacific is quite beautiful - the original would have looked over the Bay of Naples I presume. The museum holds a great collection of antiquities – Roman, Greek and Etruscan along with with some Egyptian pieces.

The security guard who drove us back to the main gate (we weren’t allowed to walk down by ourselves) told us the security measures were due to the threat of terrorist attack. I offered him a $2 tip for his help, but he told me that staff weren’t allowed to take them – this is a first in the States!

The bus stop to catch the bus home was right across the street from the main gate and the three benches by the side of the road were gradually filled up by middle aged Mexican woman, who we assumed were maids for some of the rich families who lived in the wealthy houses on the heights above the road. The buses were supposed to arrive every 15 minutes, but we waited an hour for the next one and as a result didn’t get back to Santa Monica until 1.30.

Had lunch at Sushi Roku the Japanese place on the corner of Santa Monica and Ocean a couple of doors down from the Georgian. I had tempura (the vegetables were sliced a little too thick for my taste but still OK) and two flasks of warm saki, then Helen went back to Barnes and Noble to buy some last minute presents and I walked down to the pier to check out Cirque de Soleil  tickets – still available but I decided to spend my last night having a quiet couple of drinks and a bite to eat locally.

Met Helen on the veranda of the Georgian at 3.45pm and drank a couple of margaritas before saying bon voyage – great spot with marvellous views across Pallisades Park, the Pier and the ocean beyond.

Walked for awhile before having a drink at the Fairmont Miramar, a Santa Monica landmark. Marlene Dietrich lived here for the first three years she was in Hollywood and Olivia Newton-John spent her honeymoon here. Sat in the little lounge area where there were a couple of guys playing backgammon – and read my Kindle, then stopped at Pintxo Bar in Santa Monica Boulevard and had a glass of red and a tapas tasting plate which included manchego cheese, jamon, boiled egg and mushroom.

Crossed the road to a bar called Pourtal. This is really interesting concept. They have carousels of wine around the room and you can buy “credit cards” that allow you to purchase 1 oz of wine for the digitally displayed price above each wine. I bought a $20 card and a cheese plate with some Groevenbroecker blue (German), Epoisses and Brillate-Savarin for $12. Very good – the Brillate-Savarin was exceptional; earthy and musty and turned to liquid as soon as it hit my mouth.

Back to the room and finished last night’s brandy and updated journal. Opened the Faust Cab Sav and drank that as well listening to ultra right wing US TV (Bill O’Reilly).

December 17
Had breakfast at a diner on Broadway – eggs, bacon and hash brown with toast and grapefruit juice – and read the paper, then caught the Hop On Hop Off bus. There are four routes – Santa Monica/Westwood/Beverley Hills, Hollywood, Universal City and downtown.

Most of the good stuff on the Santa Monica leg is around where we were staying so I stayed on the bus until it got to the Old Beverly Hills Post Office which is where the Santa Monica and Hollywood loops intersect. It’s close to the Beverly Hills City Hall which was used as the police station in the Beverly Hills Cop movies.

Got straight on the Hollywood loop bus and drove past the Four Seasons and Le Brea Tar pits, making my first Hop Off at The Farmer’s Market and the Grove, a very up market shopping mall. The two are close together but still linked by a cable car.

Also got another $100 out from a flexi teller and had a couple of tacos at a place called Frank’s which supposedly makes the best ones in LA (this is a lie as I make better tacos than Frank). Caught the next bus and rode all the way to Grauman’s Chinese which was crawling with people in Darth Vader, Batman and Michael Jackson costumes who charge the tourists to have their photograph taken with them. Madame Toussard’s is right next door.

I had 20 minutes to kill before the Universal Studio bus left so I walked up to the Magic Castle and browsed in some of the souvenir stores in Hollywood Boulevard. I was the only person on this leg of the tour, the reason for which soon became apparent – it’s actually quite dull. You just drive up to Universal City – basically a very tacky shopping mall – where you get 15 minutes to walk around.

Visited Madame Toussard’s when I got back to Hollywood Boulevard, which was actually quite fun - got some good shots of me with various celebrities, including Lawrence of Arabia.

Caught the bus back to Santa Monica, arriving around 5pm, then as I had over 2 hours to kill before the airport shuttle pick me up I walked to 3rd Street Promenade and saw Ninja Assassins at the movies, feasting on two hotdogs and a monster sized coke.

At the airport lounge now and it’s almost 10pm – another hour or so before I board and start the horror trip home (via Brisbane which makes it even worse). The bar works on a voucher system – you get two when you enter – and I’ve already used mine on beers. The guy at the bar said that QANTAS customers get unlimited vouchers – I just have to go back to the desk and ask for some more. I’m about to put this theory to the test.

Can’t believe it’s been three weeks since I was sitting in the QANTAS lounge in Melbourne waiting to fly to Singapore, but looking back I’ve squeezed a lot of holiday into that reasonably short period of time. Although I liked everywhere, I think the last few days have been the most fun and relaxing. Santa Monica, together with Venice Beach, is one of those places that I felt immediately at home in and in fact is somewhere I could picture myself living given the opportunity. I think I’ll be back, and when I do I will definitely be staying at the Georgian and watching the sunset once again over Ocean Avenue and the pier while sipping one of their delicious margaritas.
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