Courtesy Photo

How to spice up a lazy Santa Barbara summer? Try a quick trip to Venice Beach. Thanks to a booming real estate market and the arrival of such tech heavyweights as Google and Snapchat, there are more cool things to do and better places to stay in Venice than ever before. Intense demand and constant creative ferment have made it one of the most satisfying waterfront urban escapes to be found anywhere, and, depending of course on traffic, it’s a relatively easy drive.

Hotel Erwin, a landmark feature of the Windward Circle neighborhood, is perhaps best known these days for High, its spectacular — and spectacularly popular — rooftop bar and restaurant. Enticed by the news that the hotel’s guest rooms were undergoing a facelift, I hopped in the Prius and hit the 101 with nothing more planned than an evening get-together with some Venice-dwelling friends, a good night’s sleep, and a rousing pot of artisanal coffee to send me home. What I found was that, by mining the bohemian eclecticism of the neighborhood for style notes while adhering to current best practices in the urban boutique hotel category, the Erwin has achieved a seemingly effortless cool. You can relax there in luxury just a block from the beach and still get to the red-hot dining and shopping scene on Abbot Kinney without even summoning an Uber.

If you are lucky enough to nab a sixth-floor room, the first things you will notice as you get off the elevator are rectangular clerestory windows along the hallway that let in daylight while affording glimpses of those making the trek upstairs to the roof. Once inside my south-facing room, I fixated on the incredible view, achieving maximum impact by sliding the glass panels between the inside seating area and the cozy balcony wide open. In this configuration, three or four people can sit comfortably on either side of the threshold, thus lending the room the feeling of a larger suite.

The room’s king bed backs up to an eggshell-blue molding that ends at chest height to reveal a white wall covered in black-and-white tracings of hands. They are all human, as far as the eye can tell, and most of them are signed. Upon careful scrutiny, it becomes apparent that they form a pattern, with the individual figures repeating horizontally in arrays of seven. Created by the artists and Venice Beach locals who are friends with the hotel’s longtime owner, Erwin Sokol, these funky handprints suggest a community self-portrait. They’re a great metaphor for the spirit that the hotel projects, which is a carefully crafted illusion of bohemian spontaneity. The Venice Beach of today certainly qualifies as the work of many hands, and at its best, as in this funky wall decor, it retains the vibrant appeal of street art.

Room service responded quickly to my call, and within a half hour a friendly server delivered fries and a lobster roll, perfect faux-boardwalk sustenance for an evening spent observing the sunset sky as it threw off endless multihued effects. A late-night visit to High with some friends turned up lots of cozy nooks made cozier still by space heaters and, if you ask, blankets. In the morning, the rising sun burst unceremoniously through my room’s lone east-facing window, encouraging me to take a lap of the neighborhood, first stopping at Eggslut Venice, which is right next door, and then at Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney, which remains a grand temple to exotic, and pricy, pour-over coffee. This could become a habit.

Hotel Erwin is at 1697 Pacific Avenue in Venice Beach. Call (310) 452-1111 or visit for more information, or call (800) 786-7789 to make a reservation.


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