Living Local In LA

30th November 2012

Rowena Carr-Allinson takes her six-month-old on the road for the first time, hitting the bright lights of LA ‘en famille’.

When two become three life changes dramatically for most couples. But for a travel writer like me, keeping up with work meant taking my baby on the road with me – and that meant rethinking everything! Realising that hotel-hopping with six-month-old Lennox was really not an option, it soon became apparent that the family-friendly solution was to book self-catering accommodation and stay put, living like a local. It could be a whole new experience.

And it was.

In the course of a longer trip we paused for a few days in the vast playground that is LA. Our choice of neighbourhood? Santa Monica – that little piece of Californian paradise wedged between the Ocean, Malibu and Venice Beach.

Santa Monica is an 8-square mile city within what is loosely dubbed ‘Los Angeles’, although locals will tell you firmly that it’s its own city, with its own rules (plentiful) and its own vibe (pretty nice) and its own population (wealthy and friendly).

Trendy restaurants, bars and five star hotels compete for space in this tiny haven that many A-list stars call home. In fact, not a week goes by without Gwen Stefani being papped at the beach, Ben Affleck being spotted at the Farmer’s market or Halle Berry doing her jogging by the waves. If it’s good enough for them, surely it would suit us?

With new factors to take into consideration, like family friendly-ness and pram-ability, Santa Monica came top of our list. It ticked all the boxes: plenty of opportunities for walks along the cliffside parks, the beach or into town alongside quiet roads, manicured gardens and with essential supermarkets close at hand: all things I did not take into consideration pre-baby. Obviously.

Another big plus? Renting a house cut down on those extra hotel expenses which we always forget to budget for, such as outrageous valet charges or daily WIFI access and tips aplenty. It also gave us much needed independence, especially in terms of cooking and caring for the baby and offered us the ultimate gift: privacy.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, and the worldwide rentals site we found a charming cottage just yards from the beachside, with two bedrooms and all the mod cons a young family would need, including a high chair!

Our cute, cosy home-from-home had plenty of charm and lots of mid-century period features: funky light fittings, vintage cooker, a claw foot bathtub and a huge fireplace. We loved its unique style: a mix of soothing white and stylish details, like funky zebra skin poufs and colourful cushions in the living room.

Its location is perfect: a five minute walk to the ocean to the right, and to the left, towards Santa Monica, a nice half hour walk through the area nicknamed ‘the canyon’ by locals, taking you past some incredible properties; you can only wonder who lives beyond the high gates and enjoys the amazing views onto the sea and the coastline beyond.

Rowena & Lennox at the beach

Although fairly steep, the round trip, up to the Promenade which is packed with restaurants, cafes and shops, to the pier, and back down along the seaside became an almost daily walk for tiny and me. A nice surprise? The friendly smiles from other mummies walking, jogging or baby yoga-ing in the park. Who knew it would be so easy to make friends in LA?

Being based in Santa Monica gave us the perfect vantage point from which to explore the rest of the city of Angels: it was just a quick drive up to nearby Malibu (as long as you avoided peak traffic hours of course), a short hop over to Beverly Hills and a mere skip to the delights of West Hollywood, Melrose and Sunset Boulevard.

Another great perk we’d not expected? The cottage owners’ local tips and connections. Frank and Diane, having a little boy of their own, were able to recommend their sitter and, lo and behold, we had our first night out on the town together since our son’s arrival, something only achievable thanks to such a strong personal recommendation. As a very special treat we indulged in sushi with a view at Ocean & Vine at the Lowes Hotel, trying the delicious ‘Caterpillar roll’ (eel roll topped with avocado and toasted sesame) and the ‘Santa Monica Fog’ (tuna and shrimp with a ginger sauce).

Aside from the celebrity-spotting potential on the beach, there’s shopping galore and plenty of entertainment. It’s just like it is in the movies… the body builders work out there while passers by stare in awe, botox-ed blondes roller blade with teeny tiny dogs, and surfers in wet suits re-enact scenes from Point Break: it’s the true Californian dream.

A good insider’s tip for the seaside is to avoid the busy Pier with its amusement arcades and huge Ferris Wheel, and head to the gem that is the Annenberg House. Right on the beach, the historic building is open to the public for visits, but even better – you can dip in its fantastic 20’s style pool and it has some great picnicking areas. Otherwise, the vast expanse of golden sand is the perfect playground and goes as far as the eye can see, so even if it’s busy, it’s not really!

Shoppers will find their heart’s desire in the few blocks that constitute ‘downtown’ Santa Monica – from the usual US favourites like Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch on the Promenade to the more ‘chichi’ celeb haven that is Fred Segal. The ivy-covered building where Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts are often spotted is a fantastic labyrinth of goodies from the hippest shoes to designer clothes and ‘do it yourself’ jewellery.

Santa Monica Place, the outdoor mall at the end of the Promenade, was recently revamped and is now one of the finest in America. Department stores like Nordstrom stock LA favourite brands from Paige Denim to James Perse and Citizens of Humanity and their personal shoppers often tend to celebrity mothers such as Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. Shame my wallet isn’t quite as large as theirs…

Home to stores like Kitson, BCBG MaxAzria and Michael Kors, Santa Monica Place also the place to eat. Aside from the obvious fast food ‘foodcourt’ (which comes with its own rooftop terrace) you’ll find fantastic restaurants like True Kitchen where they make a mean ‘bison burger’ (the epitomy of eco-food gone good) and Zengo, a hip fusion eaterie perfect for romantic rooftop dining.

By staying in a family home, we definitely got a real taste of what it would be like to live here full time. Being left to our own devices (aside from Diane’s tips) made being in LA a very different experience from our last stay in hotels, and all of a sudden I’m thinking perhaps we should move here! It’s hard not to be charmed by the easy American lifestyle, the balmy temperatures, eternal sunshine and that laid back Californian vibe…

Get There…


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British Airways flies to LAX daily. To book call 0844 4930 787 or see

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Rent a place in Santa Monica with from £134 per night for a four night stay in mid-March 2013. Rowena and her family stayed at the ‘In The Canyon Chic Beach House’:

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