The real star turn in LA is the beach
What's new on the shores of this west coast city? Kate Simon finds out
Sunday 17 August 2008
I have a vision of a Los Angeles beach. Blonde beauties taking baby for a power stroll; dudes on skateboards with jeans at half-mast; aged roller-bladers skating through the golden years. And, down at the water's edge, isn't that David Hasselhoff jogging by?
The cliché appears to be true. The whole cast of characters – well, minus The Hoff – is passing before my very eyes on Santa Monica's boardwalk. Bronzed, toned, pearlescent-toothed, they're living the good life, California-style.
But along the sands on Venice Beach, there's a crowd gathering that doesn't look quite so healthy. They're here for a meeting of Cocaine Anonymous (it's Sunday, so these must be the devout – their number is threefold when I pass by on Monday morning).
At least, that's what my yoga teacher, Vanda Mikoloski, tells me. She's waiting to start her class just out of earshot: the recovering addicts are uninhibited enough about their predicament to use a megaphone for their testimonials.
When Vanda isn't teaching yoga (including to the Dixie Chicks), she's performing stand-up comedy. Today, she's going to try something new on us – yoga and comedy. Her friend, Erik Passoja, will be joining us to try out a few jokes, too. My toes curl in anticipation.
But they're funny, and the yoga is good. "Yoga is all made up," she says. "People get so damned significant about it. Basically, it's bending." This is "Spiritually Incorrect Comedy" and Vanda's motto is "Enlighten Up!". It would take the P out of California if there were one. I'm soon in hysterics, as is fellow student Marsha – a septuagenarian originally from the UK, now long-time resident of California. But the couple at the back from New York haven't cracked a smile yet. Vanda's yoga isn't for everyone.
After class, I walk barefoot back across the city limits into Santa Monica (a lifeguard tower marks the fragile boundary) and call by Perry's beach café for refreshment. They don't just do ice cream here, there's a very virtuous menu featuring fresh fruit and smoothies, all served to a soundtrack of classical music.
Perry's is an institution in Santa Monica and Venice, yet even it is trying out new tricks. This shoreside mini empire, stationed at convenient intervals along the boardwalk, has just added a Beach Butler service to its skate and bike hire.
And while the "butlers" dress in T-shirts, they're still at your command and will set up a beach chair, table and umbrella where and when you want, supply you with beach toys and other essential paraphernalia, and keep the suntan lotion, snacks and drinks coming. You'll only need to leave your towel to take a dip in the ocean.
But it's not all about topping up your tan on LA's beaches. Over at the original Muscle Beach in the shadow of Santa Monica's Pacific Wheel (now solar powered), they're more concerned about pumping iron. The original place to show off your biceps, it opened in the 1930s, though in recent years it has been eclipsed by the outdoor gym on Venice Beach. But it has been refurbished and is enjoying a renaissance.
And in Malibu, the buzz is all about the reopening of the pier. The 103-year-old structure welcomed back visitors on to its weathered boards this June. The winter storms shut it down in 1995 then legal wrangles between the state and private interests kept it closed for 13 years. Now it has new restaurants (Alice's, made famous by the Woody Guthrie song, has become The Beachcomber), a surf museum and a fishing tackle shop.
Fishing has been popular with Malibu's superstar residents since Buster Crabbe's time. But today you're more likely to meet the stars in the surf. Don't be too nosey. The weekend I visit, a fight breaks out on Little Dume between the paparazzi and surfers trying to protect the film star Matthew McConaughey from over-attentive snappers.
It all sounds a bit fraught, so I head back to my hotel, Shutters on the Beach, for a pedicure.
Shutters and its neighbouring sister property, Casa Del Mar, claim to be the only hotels truly on the beach in LA. We may be talking about a yard or so here though, because I spy a few more along the strip not so far from the sands.
My therapist at the hotel's spa, Traci, does a great job on my feet. But then her clientele would expect nothing less – Whoopi Goldberg was here just yesterday having the same treatment, she tells me. Me and Whoopi sharing the same pedicurist. Only in America? Only in LA.
How to get there
Virgin Atlantic (08705 747747; virginatlantic.com) offers return fares to Los Angeles from £409.
Shutters On The Beach (001 800 334 9000; shuttersonthebeach.com) offers double rooms from $520 per night.
Yoga with Vanda (001 360 789 1466; vanda.us) takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9am-10.15am, no fee, donations welcome ($1-$20).
The Malibu Pier (malibupier.com).
Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau
(001 310 319 6263; santamonica.com).
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