Checking In and Checking Out

Inside Santa Monica's Show-Stopping New Hotel

by Daniel Schwartz
Palma, A nook in the lobby at Palma. Photo by The Ingalls.

Covid-19 Editor's Note: We visited this awesome new hotel in 2019, before it was forced to close for Covid-19. The hotel has since reopened, though, in compliance with California laws, the restaurants are temporarily closed. Mask are required for all guests and staff (hooray!) and here are all their updated health and safety protocols

LOS ANGELES — Santa Monica has always been about a certain type of balance, a mix of laid-back and luxurious, beach-chic and bohemian, indulgent yet wellness-obsessed. Santa Monica Proper, the latest in the line of superb, location-specific boutique hotels from Proper Hospitality, strikes this balance perfectly. It’s the first new luxury hotel to open in Santa Monica in recent time, and, really, the only place you should stay when you come to town — if you can snag a room, that is.

I visited shortly after the hotel’s opening in the middle of 2019 (remember that innocent time?) and, already, the place was packed with all manner of stylish travelers, from influencers sipping on breakfast cocktails in athleisure wear to sun-tanned suits answering emails with green juices in hand (this is technically still Silicon Beach, folks). That this place draws a wide crowd — of a certain aesthetic and means (rooms here aren’t necessarily cheap) — isn’t a surprise. There’s so much to love.

Palma restaurant. Photo by The Ingalls.
Palma restaurant and bar inside the hotel lobby.Photo by The Ingalls.

West Coast design icon Kelly Wearstler did the interiors, which recall a sophisticated cabana on the beach or a palatial tent in the Moroccan desert. It’s hard to tell: Wearstler’s influences (and furnishings) come from all around the world. The culinary program here (which is temporarily closed per the state's Covid regulations) is another eye-catching mashup, headlined by Gabriela Cámara of Mexico City’s Contramar (and Cala in San Francisco) and Jessica Koslow of LA cult-favorite Sqirl. Their restaurant, Onda (Spanish for "wave"), is Koslow’s first serious dinner spot and Cámara’s latest effort to bring her seafood-centric cuisine closer to the oceanfront. It’s a collaboration the city has been eagerly anticipating since the deal was struck in 2018. Crowning it all is a fantastic rooftop, which has the only outdoor pool, bar, and restaurant on the West Side.

On paper, it’s all a bit flashy: The star designer, the star chefs, the occasional stars (Hollywood, internet, or otherwise) that walk through the doors. But in person, the hotel is quite welcoming, easy-going, almost Zen-inducing. It’s a great place to kick back and unwind without having to sacrifice just about anything. There’s no shortage of hotels that manage to deliver luxury without a hint of pretension, but it’s nice to see one pull it off with such effortless style.

BOOK IT

Rates change seasonally and start at $450. Click here for reservations. Or contact the Fathom Concierge and we can book your trip for you.

Santa Monica Proper exteriors. Photos by Daniel Schwartz.
Santa Monica Proper interiors. Photos by The Ingalls.

CHECKING IN

Style: The hotel is split among two buildings: a modern, wave-like glass complex designed by Howard Laks, and the old Santa Monica Professional Building, a refurbished 1920s landmark. The former is brighter, more open, and more contemporary than the latter (no surprise there) and is where you’ll spend most of your time (it’s home to check-in, the lobby lounge, the rooftop). Of particular note is the extensive collection of chairs sourced by Wearstler, including a gold-crusted one in the lobby that came from her own home (see if you can spot it).

Standout Detail: The rooftop is a gem. What with morning yoga, a beautiful pool, healthy, delicious food, refreshing drinks on offer, and a killer view over the city and the seaside, one could spend an entire day up here and not miss a thing. (I’m talking from experience here.) If you don’t have all that time to kill, come just before sunset, when the vibes are SoCal at its best.

This Place Is Perfect For: Travelers (singles, couples, families, or otherwise) who appreciate laid-back luxury, great food, and just the right amount of a scene.

A guest room (and bathroom) in the landmarked building. Photos by The Ingalls.
A suite in the main building. Photo by The Ingalls.

Rooms: 271 rooms, many with terraces, are split across the two buildings. The ones in the landmarked building are a tad moodier and more classically inspired, while those in the modern building shine bright with natural light. All are decked out in wallpaper (the whole no-painted-wall thing is a Wearstler signature) and curvy furnishings. Very comfy beds are equipped with sunset-inspired headboards, and marble-decked bathrooms are stocked with Aesop products.

On Site: There’s yoga and an outdoor pool surrounded by loungers on the roof, a state-of-the-art gym with Peloton bikes (they’ll even deliver ones of these to your room if you ask nicely), complementary beach cruisers by the entrance, and an Ayurvedic spa offering therapeutic treatments and consultations based on the age-old Indian practice.

Food + Drink: For now, the hotel is only offering in-room dining. But when things get back to normal, Palma does healthy, delicious California cuisine (think breakfast bowls, toasts, pastas, juices, and aromatic cocktails) all day in the lobby. It’s full of cute nooks and is overflowing with art and palm trees. It’s is a sight for sore eyes. (Cameras larger than a smartphone aren’t allowed, which definitely keeps things here low-key). Calabra on the roof has a similar menu — chef Kaleo Adams, who runs both Palma and Calabra, crafts his dishes on what him and his team can find at the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Onda, the Koslow-Cámara collab, wasn’t yet open when I visited, though I was the first journalist inside the restaurant, which occupies a bright, airy, minimalist space on the ground floor of the hotel’s Spanish Colonial building. The menu, an interpretation of Mexican flavors through a trendy LA filter, seems to be a hit (look up the trout tostada and inside-out turkey pastor quesadilla on Instagram to make your mouth water), and is certainly a reason to return.

Scenes from inside Onda. Photos by DYLAN + JENI.

Scenes from the rooftop. Photos by Daniel Schwartz.
Santa Monica views from Calabra on the rooftop. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

CHECKING OUT

The hotel is located on 7th Street and Wilshire Boulevard, about a ten-minute walk to the beach. No, you’re not immediately on the ocean, but considering the throngs of tourists the pier and beach usually attract, this turns out to be a blessing. The area surrounding the hotel is fairly pedestrian, but a short walk (yes, you can actually walk this part of town) or a ride on one of the hotel’s complimentary cruisers gets you to the action — Montana Avenue for high-end shopping, 3rd Street Promenade for food and family-friendly fun, and Palisades Park for ocean views without the fuss.

Bookmark Sidecar Doughnuts, just down the street from the hotel, for arguably the best donuts in LA; Huckleberry for a mean brunch (get one of their hearty bowls if you’re feeling healthy or the turkey meatball sandwich and a pastry if you’re not); and Cassia, one of the best (and most charming) restaurants in Santa Monica, for a French-Asian flavor explosion. When it doubt, go with any of the Rustic Canyon Family of restaurants — the home-grown group has the best spots in town.

Keep Exploring Los Angeles

Fathom's Guide to Los Angeles
Behind the Scenes at Culver City's Coolest Hotel
Find Sunshine, Rock 'n' Roll, and Late-Night Eats in LA