SANTA MONICA, Calif. – It’s so nice to wake up at the Channel Road Inn as the early morning sun peeks through the white shutters of our room.
The next best thing, of course, is the breakfast, which we discover in the intimate first-floor dining room. It’s a very generous buffet- style repast: a tasty quiche, apricot sea salt oat bars, hard-boiled eggs, different breads, fruit, orange juice and plenty of coffee and tea.
Those sea salt oat bars – we like them so much that Heather Suskin, the inn’s manager, gladly emails us the recipe.
This enchanting three-story inn, part of the Four Sisters collection of inns in California, is a prime example of West Coast shingle-clad architecture, built in 1910 as the home of Thomas McCall and his family on 2nd Street.
In 1977, the house was moved to its present location on West Channel Road near the beach and restored. It was opened as a bedand- breakfast in 1989 with lovely antique furnishings.
On arriving, we ring the doorbell next to the original oak front door, where the innkeeper greets us very warmly.
Inside we find the inn’s spacious living room and the adjacent library, whose big windows let in the warm afternoon sunlight. Settling in with a good book and a cup of always-ready coffee is perfect on the large sofa by the living room fireplace, which still has the original tilework.
Rooms at the inn come in different sizes and color schemes. Many have a fireplace, jetted spa or balcony.
Feel like relaxing outside? You can do that on the spacious front terrace or behind the inn, where several brightly-colored towels are available for guests venturing down to the beach. Bikes are also available.
Every day at 3 p.m., the inn puts out complimentary fresh-baked cookies near the lobby area, and there is a very generous afternoon wine-and-cheese tasting, too. Four Sisters shares more than 100 recipes from its various inns in a book called The Kitchen, on display at breakfast.
While the Channel Road Inn lends itself to escaping the everyday, it is conveniently located not far from attractions in Santa Monica and the Westside of LA, including The Milky Way restaurant at the corner of Pico and Doheny in a very Jewish Westside neighborhood.
The well-known kosher dairy restaurant is owned by Leah Spielberg, the mother of director Steven Spielberg. It’s across the street from a big Chabad Center and about a 10-mile drive from the inn. Fairly modest in size, it has 12 comfortable booths.
Just off the lobby I spot a plethora of Spielberg memorabilia and a large poster of “Above and Beyond,” the documentary film about the dramatic beginnings of the Israel Air Force produced by the director’s sister, Nancy Spielberg.
A collection of posters of Steven Spielberg’s movies lines a nearby hallway.
Lunch is simply wonderful, kind of like home cooking. I have the lasagna, which comes amply layered with mozzarella and cottage cheese in a marinara sauce, along with toasted garlic bread and steamed vegetables.
But the pièce de résistance is the hearty cilantro-flavored noodle soup, loaded with noodles, broccoli, cabbage, celery, potatoes, onions, scallions, cauliflower, zucchini and herbs in a juice broth. My wife chooses the equally ample eggplant served in a zesty marinara sauce, baked with mozzarella and served with garlic bread. For dessert, we shared the chocolate mousse pie.
The service is warm and informal, and I have the feeling that many of the people having lunch are regulars on a first-name basis with the waiter-and-waitress team.
In the middle of our meal Leah Spielberg walks into the dining room and makes the rounds of the tables, including our own. She greets us warmly and asks where we’re from.
Later in the day, we make the two-mile drive from the inn down Ocean Avenue to the Santa Monica Pier, which is packed with people of all ages and filled with vendors, restaurants and fast-food outlets.
The pier’s signature trademark, the giant Ferris wheel I’ve seen in so many photographs over the years, stands out above the pier, and by the time the sun goes down, it lights up the beach city’s skyline in a dramatic light show.
As surprising as it may seem, the pier was never intended as an amusement attraction. Opened in 1909, the idea was to connect it to a pipeline underneath that would dump treated sewage into the sea – a process thankfully eliminated a little over a decade later.
The pier also has a roller coaster ride, a trapeze school, the 1916 Looff Hippodrome building, classified as a National Historic Landmark, with a carousel. The pier also has an aquarium.
A short walk from the pier, Santa Monica’s palm-lined Third Street Promenade offers shopping galore, street performers, restaurants and charming sidewalk cafés. All of this feeds into the multi-level Santa Monica Place Mall, itself a myriad of shops and eateries.
From the mall’s top-floor food court, I catch a bird’s-eye view of the ocean, and from the opposite side there’s an unobstructed view of the long Promenade, which has a cool Southern California feel with sidewalk cafés serving everything from French crepes to gelato to croissants.
August 26 is the next date for “Cinema on the Street,” the Promenade’s free movie night at 8 p.m.
There will be a showing of Jaws, and moviegoers are encouraged to bring beach chairs.
Not to be missed when you’re in Santa Monica is the open-air downtown farmers’ market on Arizona Avenue between 2nd and 4th Streets. It’s held from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and on Saturday (with a specialty on organic produce) from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
We love checking out the fresh fruit and tasting all the samples at this market, known as the largest, grower-only California Certified Farmers’ Market in America.
As we’re about to leave for the ride back to the inn, we get a reminder of the area’s Jewish presence when a young woman with two children in tow hands my wife a pair of candles with the greeting: “Here’s two Shabbat candles. Are you Jewish?” We want to find out who she is and what group she’s representing, but before we have a chance to ask, she rushes off to engage another passerby, who replies that she herself isn’t Jewish, “but my friend is.”
And so it goes this sunny Santa Monica day.