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Weekend Escape: Redondo Beach

Shore Thing! : Summer without a beach is no summer at all

August 18, 1996|PAUL FELDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

REDONDO BEACH — I love the Pacific Ocean, particularly the sandy stretch bordering the South Bay beach cities where I lived in a couple of creaky ocean-view apartments after first moving to California. There is something exotic about a town like Hermosa Beach, where a former mayor I knew wore sandals to City Council meetings and described the region between The Strand and the surf in BVCWs--beach volleyball court widths.

The smell of salt air, the piercing cry of sea gulls and the pounding of the surf also bring back vivid memories of youthful days in seaside New England.

My wife, on the other hand, grew up in landlocked Queens and is terminally scarred by the memory of nights packing tuna sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs before getting up at 5 a.m. to fight the traffic to Jones Beach. In the South Bay, all she seems to focus on are the smokestacks of a handful of oil refineries and electric plants, which she claims loom over the landscape like scenery in a Fritz Lang film.

Years after getting married and moving inland, I still refuse to break my final ties to the tides. Every couple of months, I drive two dozen miles to Manhattan Beach for a haircut--an ongoing excuse for gazing at the surf rather than any overwhelming tonsorial imperative.

Yet even I agree with my wife that it's a full-blown hassle to transport our two young children to the sand for a couple of hours on a hot weekend afternoon. Instead, I persuaded her that at least once this summer we should spend a whole weekend as close to the water as possible.

We decided on the Portofino in Redondo Beach, where the ocean-side rooms ($155 and up) offer a sweeping 180-degree view of sailboats, kayaks and fishing boats passing through salty King Harbor.

The 163-room Portofino, remodeled since it was severely damaged in a fierce ocean storm eight years ago, has a fresh open feeling. Our second-story accommodations had more than adequate space, not to mention a balcony for boat watching, a sizable bathroom, a small refrigerator and an aluminum ironing board that our 3-year-old insisted was her very own surfboard.

When the housekeeper set up a portable crib for our baby, she artfully turned down the sheets. (We half-expected to find a mint on the pillow.) A final convenience was the Portofino's proximity to downtown Los Angeles--well under an hour's travel time via the Century Freeway and the new car-pool lanes on the Harbor Freeway.

We arrived just in time to catch a serene pink sunset from the balcony of our room. The vibrancy of the colors reminded me of the first glimpse each spring of the verdant green diamond at Dodger Stadium. Later, we dined about a mile north in Hermosa Beach at The Spot, founded in 1977 and billed as "L.A.'s Oldest Vegetarian Restaurant." My wife, a lapsed vegetarian, ordered whole wheat lasagna with Cheddar and ricotta cheese in marinara sauce ($7.95). I, despite being a confirmed carnivore, decided to go whole hog--sampling a savory pasta drenched in a tofu-based sauce and soy cheese ($7.95). It wasn't half bad, although the soy cheese smelled a little like the inside of a sneaker.

To make up for the health food foray, I snuck out of our room after my wife and kids had fallen asleep. Just past the Portofino's marina is a branch of the Cheesecake Factory. I brought back an expensive but tasty slice of strawberry cheesecake ($5.95 including tax) and downed it with a cup of in-room coffee in the misty night air on our balcony.

As I relaxed, a bell clanged on a nearby buoy, punctuated by the occasional bark of a far-off sea lion. Between was only silence.

*

The next morning, we had planned on pedaling our kids along The Strand, the beach-side walkway and bike path running through Hermosa and Manhattan beaches. However, the hotel's bike trailer for children was broken, so we drove instead.

In downtown Hermosa, we stuffed the parking meter with change and our stomachs with omelets, fruit and carrot juice at Good Stuff on the Strand, an old beach haunt. From an outdoor table, we had a clear view of bikini-clad bicyclists and laconic surfers heading for the water, where we rushed, ourselves, immediately after brunch. Our 7-month-old rolled on a blanket in the shadow of the pier while our older daughter frolicked along the relatively uncrowded shoreline.

"It does feel like a different place down here," my wife acknowledged, 15 hours into our trip. Asked for elaboration, she said I could take it as a positive comment.

Before returning to the Portofino, we went back to Good Stuff to drink our lunch--thick chocolate shakes (there's none we've ever found to compare) and scrumptious blueberry smoothies.

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