In Los Angeles, the Westside Is the Best Side
In Los Angeles, the Westside is the best side. The beachiest portion of the city, it runs up the coast from Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica and the Pacific Palisades, all the way up to Malibu. The cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are also part of the Westside. Yet hard-core Westsiders pride themselves on never going east of Lincoln Boulevard, a lengthy commercial strip that roughly parallels the Pacific about a half mile from the beach. So, if you’re going to visit L.A., why not do what the Westsiders do and stay, with just a few exceptions, on the sunny side of the city?
You’ll want to stay where you can look out your hotel window at the Pacific but still be able to walk or grab a quick Uber to many of the destinations that Westsiders favor. The Fairmont Miramar, at Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, offers a commanding view of the beach, and, if you’re high up enough, the entire Westside.
Santa Monica is home to vast numbers of the creatives who make the entertainment and technology industries work. The Miramar is home base for Santa Monica’s creative community, as well as a cherished hotel for generations of visitors including JFK, Elvis and the Beatles, ocean views and easy beach access. Throughout the month of December, the hotel is the subject of a new series of celebratory Art Deco-inspired posters by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, available online to support local grassroots arts organizations.
The Miramar’s showcase restaurant, FIG, has the outstanding variety and quality that one would expect of a five-star hotel restaurant. Equally important for our purposes, FIG offers the wonderful sense of having chosen the right place to dine. You’ll see yourself surrounded by the young and attractive creatives for whom FIG is a mainstay, and you’ll know that you’re at the center of the action in the world’s most creative city.
You’ll eat so well that, of course, you’ll want to work off your meal. Do what Westsiders do: Take the stairs. A short drive or Uber ride from the Miramar can be found the famous Santa Monica Stairs, two side-by-side outdoor staircases where the fittest Westsiders get their daily exercise. You can walk them, you can run them or if you’re really fit, you can take them two at a time. The best time of day to do the steps is just before sunrise, because then you can partake in an awesome view of the first rays of light dappling the Pacific.
If you’re up for more of a full-body workout, as is pretty much everybody in L.A., then head on over to Gold’s Gym, the mothership of weightlifting. Located at 360 Hampton Drive in nearby Venice, you’ll pay a day use fee, but consider it the price of admission for a floor show like you’ve never seen in any gym, anywhere. You’ll work out harder when you see all of those hardbodies making it all look so easy.
You’ll be hungry after your workout, no doubt, whether outdoors at the steps or indoors at Gold’s, so the smart play is to head over to The Firehouse, at 213 Rose Avenue in Venice, bodybuilders’ breakfast spot of choice. You can load up on healthy proteins like turkey sausage while enjoying the afterglow of your excellent workout. Or you can just come and gawk. You can’t go wrong either way.
You might be a bit tuckered out from all that exertion, so it’s time to get your chill on at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades. This soothing Buddhist/Christian nature spot is free, serene and well worth a 45-minute stroll. Reservations are required for visits from Wednesday to Sunday, but you can attend Sunday services without reserving a place. Meditate your troubles away!
Or you can head up further toward Malibu at the Serra Retreat, a hilltop Franciscan retreat center open by reservation on weekdays to the public. Serra is nestled high on a hilltop between mountains and the Pacific. Be sure to sign the guestbook in the living room-like area. The Serra Retreat is off the beaten path, up a windy road through a super high-end gated community and unknown to a lot of locals. The air is clean, the views are inspiring and you’ll feel rejuvenated.
On your way back from Serra, stop off for lunch at The Reel Inn, an old-fashioned L.A. roadhouse with extraordinarily fresh and delicious seafood. You’ll share a table with some soon-to-be new friends. And when you’re done, look both ways before crossing the speedy Pacific Coast Highway, and you’ll find a staircase that will take you onto a small, sandy beach that even most locals don’t know about.
If you’re more of a burger person than a fish lover, then cross Lincoln Boulevard (we won’t tell anyone) and grab a swivel chair at The Apple Pan, a classic L.A. lunch and dinner spot that hearkens back to the 1940s. Indeed, the menu hasn’t changed at The Apple Pan since movies were made in black and white. You’ll feel as if you’ve slipped into a time warp when you grab a seat and let the staff fire up burgers, fries and coffee. And if you come back to The Apple Pan 25 years from now, chances are the staff will be exactly the same.
If you’re still craving cardio, even after your Santa Monica Stairs experience or your morning at Gold’s, then take the 10 Freeway down to Santa Monica Beach, where you’ll find plenty of public parking lots which are usually fairly empty during weekdays, especially in winter months. You can rent a bike in a variety of places along the beach or you can just grab a run on the 26-mile paved biking/running path that will take you north to Malibu and south to Palos Verdes. Plenty of Vitamin D, and who doesn’t love to go to the beach, right?
When evening falls, I’m going to suggest that you do the unthinkable and head not just past Lincoln Boulevard but all the way on the clogged I-10 Freeway to Philippe’s, another classic L.A. eatery. Philippe’s will also take you back into the early 20th century—the place was founded back in 1908. On a rainy winter night, you’ll feel as if you have stepped into a Raymond Chandler novel. It’s a unique restaurant experience, with the sawdust on the floor and the long, high communal tables where you will enjoy your classic French dip roast beef sandwich. Come for the roast beef; stay for the pie.
And as long as you’ve veered so far from the beach, round your evening out at the Magic Castle, a true clubhouse for magicians, where you will find magic shows and table magic going on all evening. You can also dine at the magic castle, or you can just go there for an after-dinner drink and some sleight of hand after you’ve wrapped up at Philippe’s.
At the end of the evening, you can always pay a visit to Shutters on the Beach. Grab a couple of comfy chairs in the spacious and attractive lobby and order the insidious and aptly named Death by Chocolate, while gazing at your fellow in-the-know visitors and Westsiders.
There you have it. A full day in L.A., where you’ve clung mostly, but not entirely, to the coast, making judicious inroads as appropriate. You can always do the touristy things—Grauman’s Chinese, Universal or a day trip down to Disneyland. But these off the beaten path, locals-only adventures will make your trip unique. And keep you, mostly, on the sunnier side of Lincoln Boulevard.