Santa Monica’s Best Hotel: A Hidden Gem

Being a local resident in one of the most famous beach towns in the world is quite a special position. I know a LOT about Santa Monica and have a lot of advice and recommendations for those coming to visit. I have been on almost every street in Santa Monica, dined at the top spots, seen its most stunning sunsets (and its foggiest of mornings) and have run up and down almost every inch of the beach. I frequent street fairs, farmer’s markets, beach concerts, pier events and promenade parties. I am a very active part of this community because I love it here!

Now as a mom, I am at the playgrounds, parks, public libraries, splash pads with Aurora–and generally out and about all day.

Since so many friends, family and followers visit Santa Monica, I’ve made it my duty to be well equipped to answer that most important question:

“So…where should I stay?”

Some of my favorites are Fairmont Miramar, The Huntley, Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Palihouse, The Proper, Shutters on the Beach and Viceroy Santa Monica. Each have unique qualities and advantages, depending on the type of stay that you are after and your budget. I’ve stayed and/or dined at all so I can point you in the right direction if you need. 

However, there’s one that I think is truly a cut above the rest right now. It’s not actually new as it’s been a fixture for decades, but  Oceana feels brand new. It has recently undergone a 30 million dollar renovation (!) elevating it from very good to absolutely OUTSTANDING.

During my parents’ week stay in one of their oceanfront suites, I was able to experience (and analyze) all aspects of this hotel and here’s what I found. 

 

AMBIANCE

The ivy clad exteriors makes it feel like Oceana is a living and breathing part of this ocean front avenue, yet after entering it’s hard to remember that there was ever a world outside. The vivid, modern coastal aesthetic was surprising–in a good way. I appreciated the nautical touches and also appreciated that they were subtle. 

Throughout the property there’s a touch of whimsy, from the rope swing seats in front of interior facing suites to the vivid cloud blue onyx that adorns the fireplace and bar in the restaurants. And there’s always a fireplace nearby to remind guests that they can relax because they are home. 

 

ROOMS

Oceana has 70 suites, and I experienced the Ocean View Suite on the top floor. I wasn’t prepared for what was behind that white door. A lapis and tan sitting area with ample seating, bar armoire, dining table and floor to ceiling windows. The bed faced the ocean, and though there was a large flat screen, I’d prefer the view of the waves and swaying palms. 

The tiled bathroom was fresh and polished. An oversized walk in shower is always a nice touch and the bathroom was tucked out of the way to be discreet. 

Nightly chocolates by the pillow and speedy room service were other bonuses. 

 

POOL

There’s no doubt that the pool is the focal point of the hotel. Low cushioned loungers encircle this deep pool (8 ft on one end) and the banana palm pillows transported me to the tropics. Though it’s not heated, we still swam almost daily even on overcast November days, and we enjoyed the poolside dining and drinks. Note: the pool was especially great for our little girl!

GYM

Though small, the gym packs a punch! Rarely would I call a gym “beautiful” but this one is definitely attractive. Peloton machinery, Technogym equipment and the coolest wood clad weights that I’ve ever seen. 

DINING

The color palette of the Dining Room was delicious. The coral hues and blue tones set an elegant stage for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I found their breakfast to be delicious (order the benedict!) and their burger was a winner for lunch. 

We had poolside hummus and guacamole, both of which I’d order again. 

 

Drinks can be enjoyed inside or out, alongside of the pool. The elevated seating area with fireplace is the perfect place for a sunset cocktail.

 

LOCATION

Possibly the best location in all of Santa Monica, Oceana has access to all the highlights but is not in the thick of it. Just removed enough from the hustle and bustle of the Pier and Promenade, yet walking distance to both. Oceana is also a few blocks from the locally loved shops and dining of Montana Avenue and directly across from the Palisades Park (best sunset viewing spot in the city). There’s also a beach path located right in front for easy access to and from the beach. 

 

TRAVELER TYPE

I’d recommend Oceana for couples, solo travelers and families alike, but specifically for those individuals that appreciate a calm homebase with very high quality rooms. You will want to spend time in the rooms here because these suites are expertly designed. This hotel isn’t for a “scene” or for meeting clients or for the budget conscious. Oceana is decidedly built for the discerning luxury traveler that wants to be in the heart of this beach town, but not in the thick of the crowds. I truly think if you stay here, you will be more than impressed.

 

 

BONUS: SUNSET TERRACE COMING SOON! 

Winter in Vermont at the Woodstock Inn and Resort

Each time I go back to my little Vermont hometown, I am reminded that I basically grew up in a storybook. Woodstock, Vermont is a bucolic little village nestled amidst rolling hills, hugging a charming center green and a briskly flowing river.  Stone, brick and cape houses line the ambling streets that make up this 3000 person town, every bend of it steeped in time.

The Woodstock Covered Bridge

The Woodstock Covered Bridge

It’s no surprise that my fellow New Englanders know of Woodstock, VT. I’d even say, many beyond the Northeast are aware of this popular weekend hideaway. For such a small town, its reputation precedes itself — and for good reason.

The hectic, digital day-to-day stresses are buried beneath the quiet splendor of village strolls, breathtaking hikes up Mount Tom or afternoons spent skipping rocks along the river.

Though you do get cell service here now (we didn’t when I was growing up), you just might want to turn off your phone and enjoy the rare and simple pleasures of this place.

When asked about Woodstock, the one word that usually comes to my mind is “quaint.” But don’t get my wrong,  that doesn’t mean it is boring! There’s a lot of energy in this 350 year old town, and every time I return, I see that energy increasing. I’d attribute a lot of that forward progress to the town’s centerpiece, the Woodstock Inn and Resort. (My father runs his jewelry shop in the heart of town, and has for the last 30 years, and he definitely agrees that the Inn is a huge factor in keeping Woodstock so relevant.)

Gillingham’s, the town general store

Some iteration of the Woodstock Inn & Resort has been welcoming guests for 225 years.That is crazy! I’ve traveled all over the world, filming some of the world’s best hotels, and that type of hotel history very is RARE, especially in the USA.

The Inn started out as a small bed & breakfast, and over the centuries continued to expand and gain more and more popularity. In the mid 1900s, Laurance Rockefeller, a former resident of Woodstock, bought the hotel and it was under his leadership for 50 years. He definitely helped to put it on the luxury hotel map, in a big way.

I am very fortunate to have had such a legendary resort in my hometown backyard. It has been part of my family’s story forever, playing host to special dinners, celebratory breakfasts, parties and even prom!

Woodstock Inn during Christmas

It was such a treat to return to the Inn just after Christmas and share this special hotel with my daughter, Aurora. I look for different things in hotels now that I am a mom and I have to say, the Woodstock Inn & Resort surprised me with being exceptionally family friendly. They had undergone expansive improvements when I filmed the property in 2013 for my Get Lost in Woodstock series but now, they’ve added even more luxurious detail to all the public areas and the guest rooms in particular. 

 

Fireside Ambiance

Fireplace at the Woodstock Inn

Fireplace at the Woodstock Inn

Ever since I was a little kid, I was drawn to the oversized fireplace that greets you as walk through the Inn’s entrance. The cozy feeling with the couches and sitting areas, beautiful wall color and attention to detail, makes the entire main area of the Inn so welcoming. I wanted to sit in on each sofa and relax with a cup of tea (you can actually do that during their daily afternoon tea time). We of course didn’t have spare moments for that with a 6 month old, but it was fun to daydream about as I hurriedly walked past these lovely areas with my tired/hungry/active baby. 

 

Legacy Suites

Having a little one with a strict bedtime of 7pm complicates hotel life a bit for us parents. After 7pm, it is lights out (and complete silence) so having an additional room is more than necessary. We absolutely loved the newly renovated Legacy Suite. Ours in particular was the Frederick Billings Suite, the legendary local that was a pioneer in the farm industry and a famous face in Woodstock. It was situated in the main part of the inn and had tasteful decor that highlighted Vermont’s farm history. 

Woodstock Inn & Resort

As you enter, there’s a long tiled hallway to the bedroom and adjoining sitting room. (You can see a walkthrough on my Instagram stories here) I loved how the suite was situated far from the door, with the bedroom set back against a lovely view of the Inn’s snowy backyard. This distance made the whole suite feel more private and like our own apartment as opposed to a hotel room.

Frederick Billings Legacy Suite

The stone bathroom and rain shower with Zents products was modern and chic. The separate sitting room was decorated in rich hues and woods, making it feel like a cozy study. Though it had a wet bar, TV and pull out couch, this room became our daughter, Aurora’s room. The Inn provided a crib and we set up her changing area and toys in here. It was perfect! She happily napped here throughout the day and fell asleep at 7pm each night, and mom & dad could close the door and relax.

We were even able to order room service and hang out for a few more hours with my parents while Aurora happily dozed next door. This is a parents’ dream! We had the best of the Inn’s dining and didn’t have to disrupt our daughter’s sleep. 

Room Service dinner with the parents!

 

Red Rooster

Breakfast at the Red Rooster

What a delicious way to start the day! My parents met us here at The Red Rooster for breakfast and we all followed our noses to the two rooms filled with a sumptuous breakfast buffet. Fresh fruits, made-to-order omelets, a variety of homemade pastries and specially crafted breakfast treats awaited our empty plates. I was especially excited to see the giant, serve yourself maple syrup stand! (As a Vermonter, it runs in my veins of course 😉 

VT SYRUP! YES PLEASE!


Happiest Hour

A favorite of my parents’ for decades, Richardson’s Tavern has not lost any of its signature warm ambiance. The dimly lit room is where you want to be to unwind fireside after a wintery day, holding a drink and enjoying pub style bite.

Red Rooster Cocktail Bar

Red Rooster Cocktail Bar

I also was impressed by the newer bar at the Red Rooster. A brighter version of the tavern, the bartender makes excellent cocktails here and I loved the elegant style of this space and its marble bar.

 

Retro Game Room

Game Room at the Woodstock Inn

Retro Game Room at the Woodstock Inn

Even in the game room, the Inn retains its personality here. This classy area showcased working vintage pinball machines and a long wooden shuffleboard table. There was a pool table, a fireplace and more–no wonder it was packed! These games might have been out of Aurora’s age range, but hey, they sure entertained her competitive parents very well.

 

Woodstock Athletic Club

I am very familiar with the Woodstock Inn’s Athletic Club as I used to be a part of the Woodstock’s high school tennis team and these were our home courts. All guests of the Inn have free access to the pool, gym, tennis courts and workout classes. We opted to take a dip in the pool as Aurora finds pool time SUPER exciting. I think she thinks we are all taking a big bath with her. We splashed around and enjoyed ourselves for a morning.

 

Suicide Six Ski Area

We left Aurora with her grandma and myself, my husband and my dad hit the slopes of Suicide Six! My first time of skis was on this bunny hill and I spent too many afternoons and weekends skiing all these trails with my dad and friends throughout the years.

Located just 15 minutes from the Inn, this mountain is perfect for those that are into a fun, laidback day on the slopes. A brand new quad eliminated any lines for us and their snowmaking and grooming made for excellent conditions on the trails that were open.

Skiing with my dad at Suicide Six, like I did as kid!

By no means is this a large mountain, but its trails are beautifully cut through the forest (I even saw animal tracks as I skiied down). The classic lodge makes you feel like you are back in time and reminded me that this is one of the oldest ski areas in the country.

 

Billings Farm & Museum

Aurora did join us for a tour of Woodstock’s signature Billings Farm & Museum. It was so nice that the Woodstock Inn provides all guests with free entry to this unique local historical site and working dairy farm.

We did a self guided tour of the stables, the goat shed, chicken coop and cow barn. DO NOT MISS THE BABY COW NURSERY. It might be one of the cutest, up close experiences I’ve ever had baby animals. The baby cows were unbelievably friendly and social–they kept licking Aurora and nibbling on my clothes. She (and I) was shrieking with delight!

We were fortunate to make the talk about cows with a farmer in the dairy barn. Aurora’s eyes widened as she viewed her first full grown cow. The farmer on site gave us a lot of amazing information about these cows, how Billings Farm cares for them, their breeding, and their personalities! Aurora and I even got to brush one! 

It was with a heavy heart that we checked out and had to bid farewell to Woodstock. However, just like it has been throughout my life, the Woodstock Inn & Resort was the perfect backdrop to so many special memories with my parents, my husband and especially, our daughter.

I still cannot speak more highly of this resort’s appreciation for its out-of-towners as well as its locals. 

There’s something about the energy of this hotel that just brings about the most joyful times, no matter what time of year.

On our next visit, Aurora will be walking (!) and I am sure that we will have a whole different story to tell! Hopefully, more baby cows and maple syrup will be included. 

 

 

A Sky High Dinner Party at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown

It’s not difficult to find the brand new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. All you have to do is look up. Soaring 73 floors high, in the tallest building west of Chicago, this sky scraping hotel has a bird’s-eye view over Los Angeles. And in a city where buildings are usually shorter than the palm trees, the InterContinental LA Downtown literally stands out above the rest. The backdrop of the the 70th floor lobby, the open air Spire 73 bar, and each individual room, is naturally , the panoramic views of this expansive city. And each window has it’s own display of LA’s starlets: the Hollywood sign, the Staples Center, LA Live, Echo Park, and the San Gabriel mountains. Of course at night, all these stars twinkle across the skyline.

Spire 73 InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

I’ve been lucky enough to check out some of the brands within the IHG family of hotels, staying at the brand new Holiday Inn Express in Waikiki and covering an event last year at the business focused Crowne Plaza near LAX. This time I was eager to see what the posh InterContinental brand was bringing to the table. I knew that InterContinental has been a leader international luxury brand for over a century, and this DTLA opening puts the property count at 190 InterCons worldwide. As you might have guessed, my expectations were almost as high at this 1100 foot building. Not only was the architecture notable, but the impressive listing of dining and drink options within hotel has had LA buzzing about it since its opening in June of this year.

Spire 73 InterContinental Downtown LA IHG

Last week, I was finally able to experience the dizzying heights for myself as a guest at the IHG Rewards Club and Mastercard #PricelessExperiences dinner. My ears popped as the high tech elevators transported us up 70 floors in the air, in just under 40 seconds. As the doors opened, we stepped out into the chic lobby, with reservationists standing in front of floor to ceiling windows. Up 3 more floors and we were standing under the stars at Spire 73, the highest open-air bar in the entire Western Hemisphere! Its no wonder every seat was taken with all the classy cocktails, tantalizing appetizers and DIY s’mores plates I spied passing by. The twinkling lights of LA wrapped around glass walls, hugging the bar with the most impressive backdrop. I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking down on all the skyscrapers and helipads of downtown.

InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

Just opposite Spire 73, the other half of the rooftop was reserved just for our IHG Rewards Club and MasterCard Priceless Table event. An al fresco party with 180 degree views all to ourselves–my excitement levels continued to rocket up.

Alex Ott alchemist InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

The evening began with the probably the most creative libations I’ve ever seen firsthand, courtesy of “sensory ringmaster,” Alex Ott. Alex started off by introducing us to a special elixir, pure Spilanthes flower extract, which claims to be a miracle food, aiding in everything from hangovers to cancer.

Spilanthes Flower Alex Ott alchemist InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

At $800 per drop, we were careful not to spill as Alex placed just a few milligrams of this golden liquid on our fingertips. But one drop was plenty to feel an unusual tingling on my tongue, which apparently was the stimulation of my salivary glands. I half expected to turn into Wonder Woman and fly off the rooftop, but I’ll settle with having our palates cleansed. Tastebuds prepped, we now were able to fully appreciate the complex flavors in Alex’s curated list of signature cocktails. Ingredients like kava kava tea, levigated pearl and R-Lipoic Acid infused each cocktail with beneficial properties that ranged from improved memory, increased energy and calming relaxation. Benefits aside, the ones we tried were perfectly balanced, not too sweet and thoroughly enjoyable.

 Alex Ott cocktails InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

Appetites whetted, we still had a dreamy, 4 course dinner awaiting us, courtesy of Chef Ray Garcia. As this year’s Esquire chef of the year, I was familiar with Chef Garcia but had never tasted his cooking. I was impressed that IHG had not only secured such a notable “chef of the moment,” but they also selected someone who is such a big part of the burgeoning local scene. Downtown LA has quickly grown to be a foodie hotspot, with new openings and star chefs, like Ray Garcia.

Chef Ray Garcia

I couldn’t resist snapping many photos of the two long tables, perfectly set for our dinner. They were meticulously adorned with a collection of exotic flowers, hued in graduating colors from vibrant reds to vivid corals, then on to bright oranges and popping yellows. The elegance of the tables was only elevated when the masterful string quartet began by playing familiar pop songs in a soft, classical style.

Priceless Tables IHG Rewards Club InterContinental LA

With the full moon beaming down on this truly #Priceless scene, I grasped how moments like these were what the IHG brand was all about. This evening’s magic could not be recreated, and that was precisely the point. The ambiance, the quality and setting was all carefully crafted in order for each member attending to experience an exceptional night. The same way that the InterContinental focuses on the highest level of luxury, tonight was all about pampering, surprising and delighting. Overwhelmed with the breathtaking scene, I felt grateful to have a seat at this table and be part of something so special–and I hadn’t even tasted the food!

As I mentioned, my hopes for dinner with as high as our tables and Chef Garcia’s menu went ever further above and beyond. A vegetarian ceviche, using cauliflower, was a surprising and flavorful start. It was very delicate in preparation and I didn’t even miss the fish!

Cauliflower Ceviche Chef Ray Garcia

The second dish that followed, ended up being my personal favorite of the whole night. We enjoyed a giant scallop with molé blanco, sunchokes and hazelnuts. Each bite of the seared, locally caught scallop, literally melted in my mouth. Chef Garcia paired it so beautifully with the earthy flavors of the nuts and sunchokes. And though you think one scallop might not be enough, think again. This was easily the largest scallop I’ve ever seen, or eaten.

Scallop Chef Ray Garcia

For the main, Chef Garcia played on typical “carnitas” with a meaty combination of prime beef short rib, foie gras, truffle and bone marrows. Does it get any more carnivorously decadent than that? I enjoyed this dish but did find myself overwhelmed by the richness of it all.

Carnitas with Truffle Foie Gras Chef Ray Garcia

We ended with a not-too-sweet profiterol, topped with unique pale green, fig leaf ice cream. I’d never thought about tasting fig leaves but in ice cream form, it was delicious! Each bite of this dessert was an adventure of different flavors, like brown butter, stoneground chocolate and juicy raisin.

profiterol Chef Ray Garcia

As we toasted to new friends, delicious food, healthy cocktails and a stunning hotel, one word came to mind: hospitality. Strangers sitting next to me felt like friends. A top chef and a famed alchemist engaged in open conversations with the guests. The staff anticipated all our needs before we even realized them, including bringing me a blanket as the evening temperatures started to cool.

InterContinental Downtown LA IHG

Of course, IHG is a diverse family of hotel brands, each with it’s own traveler type and personality. The Holiday Inn Express brand has modern efficiency, the Crowne Plazas offer upscale convenience, and the InterContinental hotels celebrate their location through luxury. But as much as they are different, all the hotels share an intense feeling of hospitality. This goes beyond the requisite greetings and smiles that you find in the “hospitality industry.” There’s a genuine sincerity in every interaction, an actual desire to make your stay as welcoming as possible. That is not easy to find at most hotels around the world. With the IHG Brands, you are more than just honored guests, you are family.

Firepits on the roof of InterContinental Downtown LA

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). The opinions and text are all mine.

If any of my musings has made you want to experience an IHG hotel for yourself, I encourage you to enter their trip giveaway! Share a #TravelFirsts on Instagram or Twitter to be entered to win a trip to NYC, Las Vegas, New Orleans, or here to LA. Let me know if you enter and I’ll cross my fingers for you! Link to learn about the contest is here.

More photos from the evening below:

Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Hotel Snob: Four Seasons Chiang Mai

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Cool Lodges of Papua New Guinea

The lodges in PNG are more than just hotels–they are your basis for experiencing the country and interacting with the locals. Sustainable and true to their environments, each one that I stayed on my experience with Swain Destinations had a unique personality and shaped my journey.

Sponsors: United States Tour Operators Association

Custom tour itinerary provided by Swain Destinations.