Palihouse Santa Monica is one of my favourite hotels in California and I’ve stayed there a couple of times. What it lacks in the swimming pool/gym/spa stakes, it makes up for with buckets of character and charm.
This is a unique residence, not a shiny chain hotel. (Although, saying that, this place has proven so popular a concept that a mini-chain is emerging. There are now five Palihouses in the LA area and a few new ones opening up in places like San Fran and Portland.)
The Santa Monica incarnation has been designated a Historic Landmark. It’s been a hotel since 1927 (when it was known as The Embassy Hotel Apartments) and its Mediterranean revival style has been beautifully maintained and updated.
Palihouse Santa Monica gets 10/10 for location. It’s only a couple of blocks away from the beach, within walking distance of Santa Monica downtown and a 25 minute drive from Los Angeles airport.
A few of the most famous Santa Monica landmarks, including the Third Street Promenade, the Farmer’s Market and Santa Monica Pier, are just minutes away.
And if you fancy venturing a little further afield, it’s an easy drive (traffic permitting) up the coast on California’s famous Route 1 to Malibu.
Palihouse Santa Monica occupies a prime corner plot. And you can tell just pulling up at the place, that it’s something out of the ordinary. A grand old mansion, it’s both stately and homely, traditional and quirky, with a quiet swagger all of its own.
In fact, walking in through the lobby, I felt like I’d stepped onto a Wes Anderson film set. Splashes of colour. Vintage touches. It was like going back in time. But also forward, into some sort of hip, technicolour future.
The lobby / bar area has a high, wooden beamed ceiling, a marble fireplace and cosy leather and velvet armchairs. There’s colourful Mediterranean tilework. And outside, there’s a lush garden befitting the grandeur of the whole place.
Needless to say, it’s very Instagram-friendly, which always ticks a box for this happy snapper.
Every inch of Palihouse Santa Monica has been made to feel residential rather than commercial. And the rooms are no exception. Staying here feels like you’re being put up in someone’s (very luxurious) garden annexe. I felt like a house guest rather than a customer, which I really loved.
There are 38 rooms, suites and apartments and all of them have room to swing a cat and then some. Classic rooms are huge (300 – 500 sqft) but this is as small as it gets.
Bigger rooms are pretty much apartments. From studios to a penthouse with two bedrooms, a kitchen and living room. Super swish and comfortable. And perfect if you’re planning a longish Santa Monica residency.
Quirky design, cosy bathrobes and fancy snacks come as standard.
The hotel serves up a decent breakfast and lunch menu. Pastries, pancakes and healthy juices in the morning. Sandwiches, burgers and salads in the afternoon. The menu is updated with the seasons and lots of the produce is sourced from Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Evening room service, which they order in from a nearby restaurant, is also available.
I ate breakfast at the hotel a couple of times. But hotel prices being what they are and Santa Monica downtown so close by, it seemed criminal not to skip the hotel offering and head out to discover cheaper and more varied eating options in town.
I have to mention one tiny negative for anyone travelling by car. And really, when we’re talking about California and LA, who isn’t going to be travelling by car?
Palihouse Santa Monica doesn’t have a car park. It does have valet parking but prices are make-you-wince expensive. You can head to a nearby multi-storey where you can leave your car overnight. But you’ll have to go and move it early in the morning because you only get a maximum of 12 hours parking. Uber boring. Especially if you’ve had a heavy one the night before.
So brace yourself. Parking will be expensive, whichever option you choose.
Service is great. There’s free Wi-Fi. You can play a game of boules out in the garden. And if you need some top Santa Monica tips, the guys at the reception are always happy to share their insider info.
The hotel also has bicycles to rent on a first come, first served basis. I picked one up a couple of times to head down to the beach. The 22 mile running and cycle track you’ll find there takes you a decent way down the coast. And makes you feel like a true Californian, even if your tan and your physique don’t quite measure up.
Palihouse Santa Monica isn’t your everyday hotel for sure. I can’t remember ever staying anywhere quite like this unique, quirky place. And in 2019, after doing a hell of a lot of travelling, that’s quite a thing to be able to say.
Even if you don’t opt to stay at Palihouse for a visit to Santa Monica, it’s definitely worthwhile popping into their lobby for a little wander and picking up that Wes Anderson vibe.
And if you do stay there, you know you can count on great service and design, spacious rooms and a little oasis of chill in Santa Monica.