Turning 50
Marina del Rey to celebrate birthday in 2015
Believe it or not, one of L.A.'s landmarks is turning  150 this year. Marina del Rey, home to SoCal's biggest yachts and backdrop for numerous TV and film productions, is now the big five-oh.

Marina del Rey is now a fixture on the L.A. scene and pops up frequently in movies and television shows who use the marina to shoot anything involving a boat. It's also a destination unto itself, with top-rated hotels, water recreation and great restaurants, all within a square mile.

Marina del Rey also is close to other famous tourist destinations and playgrounds like Venice Beach and trendy Santa Monica. If you love one-of-a-kind shops and upscale boutiques, Santa Monica's definitely worth exploring.

Marina del Rey is about 14 miles west of L.A. It actually goes back more than 50 years because it was first conceived in 1887 when a real estate developer envisioned turning it into a major commercial harbor. But it took decades to create and after all manner of hassle with funding and government regulations, the marina finally opened in 1965.

Today weekend visitors and day-trippers stop by the marina to explore the shops and restaurants and parks and to just be around the water and the hundreds of pleasure boats on display in the marina. Marina del Rey is home to 6,000 boats.

On one visit to the L.A. area, we headquartered at Marina del Rey, stepping up to the Ritz-Carlton for one of those this-is-how-the-other-half-lives weekend adventures. We got a good dose of L.A. chic and had fun pretending we were bigshots who could actually afford to live at the marina. "On the water" for us didn´t mean chartering one of the 6,000 or so small boats and yachts in the harbor; it was paddling a couple of kayaks in and around the marina which, as it turned out, was probably just as much fun.

 1With its panoramic views of marina, the Ritz-Carlton was the perfect choice to soak up the flavor of the marina. The docks and marina waterways are just outside the hotel and it was convenient to park our vehicle at the hotel and see the marina area on foot. The Ritz-Carlton features amenities you find in the finest resort hotels including a resort-style swimming pool practically right next to the luxury yachts in the marina. An outdoor restaurant called the Wave is a great way to enjoy the nautical ambience, while we especially enjoyed dinner at the indoor-outdoor Jer-ne Restaurant under the direction of Chef Chad Minton, who serves prime meats free from hormones and locally caught seafood.

Our room on the sixth floor not only gave us picture-postcard views of the marina, but also of the neighborhoods to the west and north of the marina. Our standard room was over-sized, had two queen beds, and offered plenty of space for the three of us — two parents, one eight-year-old. The room´s stylish décor was done in beige, gold and blue tones and included a modest-size LCD TV. A mahogany desk gave us plenty of room to set up a laptop and handle a few business items. Marble floors and countertops highlighted the bath area, while a selection of Bvlgari products included soaps, shampoos, creams and, in general, the largest assortment of personal grooming aids we had seen outside of a department store.

The 1.5-square-mile marina is large enough that you will get some exercise walking the perimeter, not to mention the workout your arms will get if you follow in our footsteps and rent some kayaks from Marina del Rey Boat Rentals. They offer a wide variety of craft, including motorboats, but we chose to get a little bit of a workout by cruising the marina at water-level. No need to worry about falling in -- the rental company has a kayak launch area on its dock where you just get in your kayak while it´s still on the dock and they shove your boat into the water. Coming back, same story — they haul you right up on the dock before you even have to get out of your kayak.

This kayak trip proved to be a highlight of our day. With perfect 75-degree weather, blue skies and bright sunshine, paddling these kayaks through the channels of Marina del Rey was a great way to connect with the sights and sounds of the marina. The channels are wide and the boat traffic was light, so there was never a navigation issue. We got a water´s-eye view of some of the fanciest yachts on the West Coast while enjoying the seabirds, seals and other wildlife that pop up every now and then in these bright blue waters. And there´s plenty of marina to explore — you could spend all day paddling up and down each finger of the marina, although our two hours was just about right for arms and shoulders not used to a lot of paddling.

You can also avoid paddling altogether and still see the marina up close and personal. There are small tour boats that will take you through the many channels, tell you some Marina del Rey history and show you some boats owned by some very famous people.

A visit to Marina del Rey would not be complete without a side trip to Venice Beach, one of California´s most famous beach areas. It´s just a couple of miles from the marina to Venice, but the culture change is like going to a different continent — at least coming from the Ritz-Carlton. We were temporary members of the yachting class and then, 10 minutes later, we were seeing the first real group of hippies we´d seen since the early 1970´s.

Venice Beach, to be fair, is not all hippies and, in fact, has a crowd that is just about as diverse as you can find. From young people on skateboards to stylishly dressed young professionals to retirees to tattooed remnants of the Vietnam era, the boardwalk in Venice will show you life from every angle. Stroll the wide walkway and you´ll cruise by tee-shirt shops, pipe shops, bikini shops, body piercing shops. You´ll hear music all along the way as you journey through music history from the Beatles to Hendrix to Jamaican reggae.

The folks who come down to Venice are doing it for the ambience and/or exercise. They´re roller skating, bicycling, running, dog-walking or just strolling. They´re dressed in everything from business suits to bikinis. Some will stop and have a pizza, a burger or a hot dog, or do a little shopping in markets that offer handbags, luggage, jewelry, carvings, incense, oils and many items you can´t even imagine. And, of course, everyone loves the beach, which is about as wide and inviting as any in the area.

Venice Beach turned out to be the perfect complement to Marina del Rey. If you want to experience some real coastal energy, the waterfront area that includes Marina del Rey may be just the place to find everything you need.

For more information on Marina del Rey, contact the Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau at 310-305-9545 or go to www.visitmarinadelrey.com.
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