Santa Monica Travel Notes: Seaview Hotel and Cora’s Coffee Shop

I don’t think it would have been difficult to impress me with almost any hotel room after staying at the 500 West Hotel in San Diego.  No piss stains, a really clean bathroom, that’s pretty much all I was asking for when I got to the Seaview Hotel.  It has a kind of rickety look.  The office is definitely not an uptown kind of place and, to be completely candid, the first thought I had when checking in was that it’s the kind of place where the hotel manager keeps a Luger in the desk drawer, loaded.  When I was handed my old-school key (and actual metal key) with the big diamond shaped disc with the room number engraved on it I thought I’d possibly stepped back in time to the nineties.  (I recently heard that young people think that was a LONG time ago.)

They have rooms for under $100 a night but when I booked my room all that was left was a King room for $100.  That’s a serious bargain in Santa Monica but as I discovered in San Diego – sometimes the bargain is unsavory.  I wasn’t expecting much.  My room was right next to the office with the loaded Luger.  (I amuse myself with my mental fiction)  I need not have spent any of my abundant anxieties on what I would find in the room.

First of all: it was big.  I mean, it was so roomy and airy and clean I let out a big sigh of happiness.  Wait, that wasn’t because of the spacious room so much as it was the sight of the enormous sleek television monitor.  The king sized bed was made up entirely in white which added to the airy factor though it did make me uneasy.  I make white things dirty just by looking at them.

Second of all: it was clean.  It felt completely clean.  The floor was tiled in stone rather than carpeted and I absolutely loved it.  I hate carpet.  All carpet.  (All carpet except the fancey low pile Victorian style pink carpet in my office.  Though if I thought there was hardwood underneath it I would rip it out in a second.)  Carpet houses dust, dirt, grime, body fluids, disease…

Here’s the most surprising thing: real sized towels.  Yeah- sized for actual human beings.  Fluffy large towels.  Heaven.

There wasn’t any air conditioning.  That was a bummer.  However, to make up for this sad fact, the room was equipped with two fans, one of which was a gigantic wind machine.  It did a pretty good job of cooling me off.

This hotel is stationed right on a main street with tons of traffic squished between tall imposing EXPENSIVE hotels like the Viceroy (across the street), Marriot, and Loewe’s.  However, if you walk through the charming planted shady courtyard to the pathway on the right side you can walk down to the beach in about 120 seconds.  It’s two blocks.  Or a block and a giant parking lot away.  There’s even a deck at Seaview from which guests may drink beverages and admire the view of the sea.  I did not take advantage of this thrill because unlike most people visiting southern California I didn’t come to bask in the sunshine but rather came in spite of it.  So when you read in their copy that they’re close to the beach, they really mean it.

Across the street from Seaview Hotel is Cora’s Coffee Shop.  Don’t be fooled by that low-key name.  Coffee shop it is NOT.  Maybe at one time it was.  Not now.  It is a restaurant with a fairly fancy menu.  I was going to accuse it of being expensive but once you try eating at several restaurants in Santa Monica it becomes very clear that $13 for an omelet is pretty standard.  The coffee is fantastic.  (A happy fact since they call attention to their coffee with their sign.)  At home I always drink my coffee black with no sugar but I find out in the world much coffee cannot be trusted to be good on it’s own (being either much too weak or much too strong and gritty) and so when I drink coffee on the road I’m usually ordering lattes or, in this case, cafe au laits.

The thing about Cora’s is that it’s very busy.  People love it.  There are lines to get tables because they have only two tables inside and in their bouganvilla covered outdoor eating area (quite cool and charming) there are maybe 8 more tables.  Don’t be a single person looking for a table while it’s busy.  They don’t like seating one person at a table.  Still, when you put the thumbscrews on and don’t go away, they pretend immediately that you are just as important as all the tables of tanned groups of five.  I found the staff was constantly rushing around but the service was pretty good.  The bustling energy of the wait-staff reminded me of the Brasserie Philip and I ate at in Paris every day.  The clientelle, however, were 100% laid back Los Angeles people.  Even the people from elsewhere were affecting the Southern California casual tanned enui that comes with too much sun and leisure time.

The food intimidated me.  I am not a “foodie” and I hate that word.  I do not like fancy arty food.  I don’t want brie foam on my toast.  If brie is involved I want BRIE.  I wouldn’t call the menu at Cora’s pretentious at all, just out of my comfort zone.  I like peasant food.  I should have written down some of the names of the dishes.  The food was good.  It was better tasting when, on my second day, I managed to get there at just the right time and didn’t have to wait 25 minutes in the blaring sun for a table.  the first day I got a plain omelet.  It was okay.  The second day I was going to force myself to try something more daring and only managed to try the artichoke with tarragon omelet.  the artichokes were little hard nubbins of mostly leaf but they did taste good and the tarragon with the eggs was fantastic.  They also served me a tiny grilled toast sandwich with goat cheese in it.  I ate it.  I was hungry.  It was delightful.  Except for the barnyard aftertaste which is why I hate goat cheese.  I quickly washed the two bites of baby sandwich down with the excellent cafe au lait.  Aftertaste problem solved!

Here’s a note from my journal that I was writing while dining:

“Being here makes me wish I’d shaved my legs.”

Under the bouganvilla, at my wobbly table, I had a view of all the other diners.  Of particular interest (when I wasn’t transfixed by the sweet tiny birds peeking out of the foliage) was a family lounging at their table, all of them obviously spend a great deal on their hair, all tanned, unhappy looking (fake boredom I suspect), the young girl in provocatively short shorts (though thankfully not letting any of her meagre moons hang out), the teen boy in aviator sunglasses the whole time they ate their breakfast even though he clearly didn’t need them, the mother not talking to anyone, wearing customary yoga-attire, and the husband leaning away from his family wearing a sourly dissatisfied expression and glaring at anyone (such as myself) who dared to look at him.  He looked familiar, like many people in LA do.

But what amused me the most, as the gentle breeze cooled me off in my dining grotto, was the table next to me where three hungry looking young fashionable seriously groomed men discussed the plot of a screenplay.  They had that hustler style conversation going that you expect of people who want to be too busy to sit still for more than forty five minutes.  Apparently, two of them had been up since five.  They had only this working lunch to discuss a multitude of issues and I could tell they loved feeling very important and busy.  I remembered feeling like that when I was in my early twenties.  One of the men asked on of the others if he wanted to split a bagel and a salad.  It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.  No real man I know would ever split a bagel and salad with another man.  The men I know don’t eat like birds.  I’m not saying I admire a “manly” appetite, but it did strike me as ridiculous.

I thought how wonderful it would be if someday three writers sat down to a meager lunch in a fancy cafe to discuss a screenplay for one of my books.  It felt like a pleasant flash of dream, like a glittering sliver tip of fish tail emerging from the dark waters of a lake that you want to dive after.

It was a lovely lovely breakfast even if the food wasn’t excellent.  I leave you with these quickly jotted notes from my journal:

“Wobbly table.  Dry potato.  Great cafe au lait.  Potato had great flavor though.  Rosemary.  Omelet was good.  Slice of toast was dry and cold.  Also flavorless.  But I am loving the coffee.  Going to ask for a decaf au lait to go.  Then I go and work.  This spot is so L.A.  Men (trim men) in white pants, sunglasses in the shade.  Groomed.  Women in yoga pants, large sunglasses, tanned, not friendly.  Try to manage the staff’s seating plan (imperial!), lots of long gently poofed hair.  There’s just a look they have.  Damn.  Forgot to ask for decaf.  Oy.  It will be fine, I’m sure.  I’m going to just say this and I know it’s really typical of me – I’m much more comfortable in San Francisco.  Oh crap.  I’ve seen more worked faces on this trip than I’ve seen in years.  They do not look pretty or nice.”



  1. Ann says:

    I wish I could send you the goat cheese we get here. It’s local, Amish, and no barnyard aftertaste AT ALL! It’s actually super fantastic.

    I enjoy your posts about your trip. It’s almost like reading science fiction about alien beings. Fascinating.

  2. Ann says:

    It does make me sad for yoga though… and I had to think about what “worked” faces were. Ha, I’m so provincial.

  3. Aimee says:

    When my sister was visiting last month, we took her along to Nicky’s first swim meet. After about twenty minutes, she observed that all the parents there were “real people.” She said it was refreshing; the parenting scene in L.A., as she’s noticed it (being not a parent, after all) tends to be more hands-off. L.A. is such a different world in so many ways. I bet there are pockets of normalcy, though, just like there are pockets of other-wolrdliness here. I’d be interested to see where they are.

  4. Karmyn R says:

    Awesome! I love when you get it better than you expected. When my family took a Disneyland vacation this year we stayed in a REALLY cheap hotel (figured we’d only be sleeping there so how good did it have to be?) After reading all the comments and reviews on the place, I was expecting a total dive – it was clean, close to the craziness, and we were happy with the place. Do you need to spend $200 a night when you vacation? Obviously, not!!!

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