Ah. Home, sweet home.
I grabbed a drink from the fridge, put my feet up on the coffee table and kicked back to Coldplay and Peter Gabriel alternating on the CD changer. Had I stepped outside onto my deck, I would have heard the Pacific playing its own song, waves landing on sand like soft strikes on a cymbal.
But I was content on the couch. I could contemplate my four phones (all obligingly silent), my two TVs (both off) and my fireplace (calmly flickering). In the morning my kitchen staff would have breakfast waiting. My maid would tidy the room. My driver would bring the car.
Yup, it was a good life. Until it was time to leave. For my real home.
Unless I win the lottery or polar icecaps suddenly melt and submerge West L.A., my home is nowhere near the ocean. So two weeks ago, I did the next best thing to buying a house at the beach: I bought two nights at the Beach House.
The upscale Beach House hotel sits on a decidedly downscale stretch of Los Angeles County coast. "Downscale" is a relative term, of course, used only in comparison with the millionaire mansions of Malibu or the exclusive resorts to the south in Orange County.
Here in Hermosa, "downscale" just means a little more down-to-earth. Flip-flops, not leather sandals. French fries, not pommes frites.
Local bars such as Brewski's and Aloha Sharkeez (specializing in "Hawaiian-Mex" food) draw throngs of partygoers in a sort of endless post-college spring break. But my partner, Todd, and I were more interested in biking along the coastal path known simply as the Strand and holing up in a Beach House we could call ours, if only for a couple of days.
We left Saturday morning, not returning until early Monday, in hopes of three benefits. First, we could relax Friday with dinner out and a movie instead of fast food and a SigAlert. Second, we could sleep in Saturday at home, rather than wake up in a hotel with checkout already looming a day away. Third, we could save money on our second night because the Beach House, like many coastal hotels, offers lower rates Sunday through Thursday.
All three wishes came true, though with a glitch on No. 3. (More on that later.) Come Saturday, we blitzed down the 405 midday and had lunch in Hermosa at the Downtown Bakery Café. The chicken panini and turkey on baguette were fine, but we were more interested in dessert: for Todd, a strawberry tart; for me, three layers of dark chocolate cake interspersed with a not-too-sweet chocolate mousse.
From there we walked a block to our 4-year-old hotel, which really has the breezy look of a beach house, albeit one with three stories and 96 bedrooms, most with a full or partial ocean view.
Last year the Beach House listed rates from $264 to $339 per night. But the terrorist attacks, the recession and the addition of 45 new rooms tipped the supply-demand scale. The Beach House's Web site this fall showed that standard off-season rates (good through April) for nonview rooms had dropped as low as $224 per night Fridays and Saturdays, $199 other nights. Recently announced holiday specials, based on availability from now through Dec. 30, are even better: Two- to four-night stays average $150 to $165 per night for nonview rooms, $180 to $205 for an ocean view.
Unfortunately, these holiday deals weren't in effect when I made reservations. Which brings me to my only criticism of an otherwise fine operation: When I booked my room by phone, a reservations agent said we would pay $224 for Saturday and $199 less 10% (an auto club discount valid Sunday through Thursday) for our second night. But at check-in, a different clerk informed me that the hotel offers no such discount. The price discrepancy wasn't resolved until checkout two days later, when the general manager, who was unaware I'm a journalist, graciously offered to charge $199 each night in lieu of the auto club discount on one night.
All these minutiae about prices were irrelevant because the hotel, whether $150 or $199 or $224 a night, is worth its full price. The attention to detail -- often practical, occasionally whimsical -- goes a long way toward convincing guests that they're buying more than a prime beachfront location.
Exhibit A, the bed: It induced sleep with a mountain of down pillows and a billowy, cloud-white duvet.
Exhibit B, the sunken sitting area and wet bar: The chair and sleeper sofa faced a wood-burning fireplace already prepped with a Duraflame log. Stove, microwave, coffeemaker, plates and utensils, and a mini refrigerator (free bottled water inside) were unobtrusively woven into the room design.
Exhibit C, the granite bathroom: Here lay a rubber ducky for the oversize tub, a separate shower, Aveda bath products, the suite's fourth phone (though it didn't seem connected) and washcloth origami: towels folded into the improbable forms of a seashell, a starfish and a sailboat.
Guests seeking fine china or enough space to cartwheel across the living room may be disappointed. I peeked into half a dozen rooms, and all had virtually the same cozy layout -- even the pricier oceanfront units. We thought our third-floor room overlooking a side street was fine. When we wanted to see the beach, we went to the beach, which took all of 52 seconds.
And that's truly the draw: location, location, location. So Saturday afternoon we rented one-speed cruisers from Hermosa Cyclery, next door to the hotel, and pedaled north along the Strand into Manhattan Beach. Along the way we passed the nutty amalgamation that is beach city architecture: Southwestern adobes, Northwest lodges, Cape Cods, Victorians that look lifted from San Francisco's Alamo Square.
We saw other reminders of what makes this place unique. A 30ish blond surfer dude skateboarded by with a blond baby cradled in his arms. A leftover Halloween jack-o'-lantern was carved to depict a surfer under a killer wave's curl.
We returned the bikes, checked out the view from Hermosa's 409-yard pier, then walked to the foot of Pier Avenue. The pedestrian plaza here was renovated in 1997, much to the consternation of some locals, who feared an invasion of high-end boutiques and bistros would change the town's low-key character. Downtown has been prettified but retains enough of a scruffy, everyman spirit.
We settled for a late, leisurely Italian dinner at the Bottle Inn, where we each gained 3 pounds just reading the menu.
We started with wine and the house specialty appetizer, toasted focaccia topped with prosciutto and zucchini sautéed in sherry and béchamel, then draped in melted fontina and mozzarella. The chicken entrees that followed were fine. For Todd, fesa di pollo Trastevere, a breast pounded thin, breaded and sautéed with lemon and garlic. For me, pollo imbottito, a breast stuffed with prosciutto, porcini mushrooms and cheese.
The past, the present, the park
Sunday morning I made myself at home on our deck, complimentary Tazo tea in one hand and a complimentary Sunday paper in the other. Later we walked down to the hotel's complimentary breakfast in a room facing the Strand.
With our stomachs full, we walked into the past at the Hermosa Beach Historical Society's makeshift museum behind the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. The trip through time started with the vote to incorporate on Dec. 24, 1906 (24 yes, 23 no). Then came a parade of historical photographs and news clippings. We saw the grand Surf & Sand Club (later the Hermosa Biltmore Hotel), built in the 1920s near where the Beach House and a small park now sit, and the 1926 Bijou Theater, a space that now seats customers of Cold Stone Creamery and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Good Stuff, a burger joint next to the hotel, served up a lunch of two teriyakis -- one chicken sandwich, one hamburger. Both were adequate. Better were the fries and chocolate shake. Best was the beachfront view. We moved on to the eclectic shops along upper Pier Avenue. Depending on your interests, you can browse mid-century-modern furniture, hipster clothing, hand-blown art-glass bongs or organic soap.
Avante Card and 2 Doors Down, a couple of adjoining gift shops, kept shoppers entertained with items like the Jesus action figure ("with posable arms"). More respectable fare was packed inside the Stars Antique Market. We didn't stay long. As soon as Todd saw that his childhood Uncle Sam piggy bank was old enough for an antiques and collectibles store, we split.
Dessert at the pleasant Java Man coffeehouse didn't make us feel any younger, and neither did the walk along the sliver of parkway that runs through the center of town. But we still loved the park, which follows the corridor where the Pacific Electric rail tracks once lay. The wide, mulched path is shaded by trees and lined with wildflowers.
We followed the tranquil walk with a soak in the Beach House's spa. By the time dinner rolled around, we were feeling too indolent to go far, so we walked a block to Cantina Real. Two margaritas, one great enchiladas plate and one not-so-great carnitas platter later, we headed back "home."
Monday morning would mean returning to reality. But before leaving our Beach House, I joined the dog walkers and the in-line skaters, the sea gull feeders and the lucky locals who simply hop over their patio wall to reach the beach. It was the best Monday morning in a long, long time.
Craig Nakano is an assistant editor in the Travel section.