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Like home, but better, in Hermosa

Surf, sand and entertainment are just steps away from an upscale hotel in the down- to-earth South Bay town.

November 17, 2002|Craig Nakano | Times Staff Writer

Hermosa Beach — 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 Cafe. 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.

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