Tag: southern California

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.”


Twentieth Century Girl in Southern California

I start this post with Grace’s shoes because all posts about Southern California should start with a fine pair of strappy sandals.  Everyone knows I don’t do strappy sandals but I think Grace wears them very well.  I absolutely love the toenail polish!  If you want to see more of Grace’s style you should hop over to her blog What If No One’s Watching? (and she’s doing a giveaway right now too!).  Grace is everything I wished I was going to grow up to be: six feet tall (okay, I was aiming for 6’3″ and stopped a little shy of it at 5’7″), stylish, smart, funny, and completely down to earth.  Plus she has the best laugh EVER.

The panels I went to this year were great, as I expected them to be, especially the one about writing book pitches.  I have one tiny complaint and this goes out to all panel speakers: I would like to see your face when you’re talking to me please!  The whole time this panelist talked this was my view (though often I saw even less than this).  I do understand that sometimes they need their laptops to do their presentations but pushing it to the side would be helpful.  It has been suggested to me by more than one person that I am perhaps not appreciating the 21st century lifestyle that includes live-blogging, being connected online even while trying to connect with actual live people… I accept the criticism.  I think it’s true.  My expectations are very 20th century.  I’m not dissing anyone who hid behind their laptop, I’m not saying they didn’t still give plenty of value, but I’m sticking with my wish that when I go to see people talk I actually get to see them.  I traveled 900 miles to hear what all of them had to say.  I still think the quality of information and discussions was very high so please don’t hate me for having that one little complaint.

This picture is for Skye because she asked for it even though I told her it was not a good one.  Skye took a ride down the sidewalk in Liz’s wheelchair sitting on Liz’s lap.  If I’d known they were going to pull this very funny stunt I would have run to the bottom of the hill and got a much better snap of it.  Or caught it on video.  It was so funny!  Alas, once I saw what they were going to do it was all I could do to search my capacious bag for my camera and get this one.  So this is for you Skye!

When there are hundreds of people swarming all around you for two or three days and then suddenly they’re all gone it’s eerie.  I like ghostly spaces like empty theatres and empty stadiums.  Think of all the asses that sat on those seats.  Do asses have their own ghosts?

The Amtrack train station in San Diego is in this gorgeous old building.  I would like to live here.  The windows reminded me of the living room window of my old stucco early thirties house.  Which always gives me a little stab of pain but then I remind myself that everywhere beautiful I’ve been allowed to live is an experience to be celebrated.  I’ve been lucky in that way.

As is my usual habit I couldn’t help but watch the sides of the tracks for dead bodies.  I always do that on trains.  I was slightly distracted by the ticket-taker from hell who was mean to a little kid, sharp, impatient, and basically accused me of lying about moving seats at one point (I hadn’t).  It was a tense ride from San Diego to Los Angeles with all the passengers (adults) terrified of the blond terror, but I forgot all about her when we stopped for passengers in San Juan Capistrano.  This was my view out the window and it is eloquent of everything that is good in California.  The old mission style architecture, the bouganvilla spilling itself all over the state, and the light which, when it’s not making me angry, is beautiful.


My Glamorous Life and Friends

Croce’s restaurant.  Grace took us out and they showed a great deal of care in serving a table with severe allergies.  The food was great and I had such a great time eating with Grace, Skye, and Laura.  I had potato “lasagna” with heirloom tomatoes, ricotta, a wee bit of goat cheese (!!!), and a little tomato “coulis” which is fancy talk for a smooth tomato sauce.  I also had their Greek salad and both were excellent.

I love this picture of Skye and Grace.  She just arrived at our meeting corner (not doing tricks) and we were enjoying Grace’s glamor.  Plus there was fun talk about the obvious details Angelina doesn’t notice.

I kept trying to get a great shot of them walking because Grace, Skye, and Laura were all looking gorgeous and I wanted to catch star quality shots.  Sadly, my camera doesn’t catch action shots that well.  Still, don’t they look like movie stars?  Or very important people?  Or at the very least: people you want to know?

Can you believe that fabulous dress Grace is wearing?!  Best dress I saw at the whole conference.

Please observe Skye’s cute shoes!

The San Diego Convention Center is huge.  Colossal.  Very corporate feeling but I totally appreciated its design when looking out at this view.

Skye and Liz both have fantastic smiles.  If I had a fortune they could probably peel it from my fingers with those smiles.  I didn’t do them half justice.

Those glasses are so chic I couldn’t stop staring.  Luckily Grace knows me or she might have been tempted to clock me for being a creep.  Her whole style is enviable.

Laura is the lady that got me my job with Blogher but this week was the first time I’ve ever met her in person.  We’ve known each other through our blogs for about five years.  It was such a pleasure to finally meet her and get to hang out and eat amazing food with her.

I have more pictures and I will load more up as I process them.  Tonight is my last night of vacation so I’m going to sign off and watch some cable while I have a chance.  Time to come home to my regular life!

Room 555

This is not room 555.  It’s the cafe that is connected to the 500 West Hotel which is the Hostel/Hotel hybrid I stayed in.  I had a private room but shared bathrooms.  Very European.  When I did the shared bathroom thing at The Pod Hotel in Manhattan I was amazingly impressed with the cleanliness of the bathrooms and the rooms.  This was not my experience at 500 West.

The omelet I had at this cafe was alright but that comforting looking cup of coffee you see there is THE WORST BROWN WATER IN THE WORLD.

This is the Hallway of Doom.  One wrong direction given by the Hotel clerk and you could be wandering these halls until your reservations are forfeited.  The doors are sometimes in numerical order but will suddenly change things up and skip around until two hallways over.  This is not encouraging to the tired traveler.

This is room 555 where there was obviously a drunken pissing contest in the past.  This room is right around the corner from a bank of bathrooms so I can only imagine that a) pissing on the floor was more fun or b) the person who left this stain was just as afraid as I was to use the toilets in the middle of the night.

Other delightful features of this hotel are:

  • The tiniest television I’ve ever seen.
  • A luxuriously frail plastic chair for your convenience writing letters and such useful occupations as most travelers indulge in.
  • No air conditioning.  (Not to worry- there’s a barbie sized ceiling fan and if you stand on the bed you get almost close enough to be cooled off!)
  • Saturday nights are bustling so you needn’t worry about making too much noise yourself until after 4am when most of the party action, shouting down the hallway, constant clunking of the creaky elevator and the violent banging noises all die down to a peaceful Sunday morning style reverent quiet.
  • You don’t have to worry about getting the bathrooms too dirty because they’re so shabby you can’t really tell if they’re clean or not in the first place.

When you have a small budget you don’t have a lot of options and I will say that there are many Motels I wouldn’t have preferred to this hotel.  As bad as it sounds it was at least the clientele is not sleazy.  It’s mostly young Europeans and not prostitutes or drug addicts.

I am now in Santa Monica in a much better hotel called Seaview Hotel.  Still no air conditioning but so much more comfortable.

I’ve got more to report but right now I must prepare to go out with my sister.  I hope you all have a great night!