Marina del Rey
L.A. marina ideal spot for activity-filled getaway

Whether you want to get in the water or on it, a good place to visit next time you´re in Los Angeles would be Marina del Rey. In fact, the marina area would be an excellent base of operations if you like top-rated hotels, nearby water recreation and more restaurants in one square mile than you would even find in New York City.

Marina del Rey also happens to be located just minutes from such popular L.A. tourist areas as Venice Beach and trendy Santa Monica, a kind of nirvana for shoppers who love perusing the upscale boutiques and one-of-a-kind shops while never going further than a couple of blocks from the sea.

On our latest trip to the 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.

Marina del Rey is situated about 14 miles west of Los Angeles, a fairly quick freeway drive west on the 10 freeway, which intersects with both I-405 and I-5. But be careful not to arrive during rush hour — the 10 seizes up with traffic to the point you´ll feel like you´re crawling that last 14 miles.

The marina was first conceived as far back as 1887 when real estate developer M. C. Wicks envisioned turning the Playa del Rey estuary into a major commercial harbor. But Marina del Rey wasn´t completed until 1965 following decades of problems with funding, storm damage and other issues.

Today, the marina is not only home to the L.A. boating crowd, but it´s also a popular destination for day-trippers, weekend visitors and a steady clientele of business travelers. The marina is surrounded by high-rise condos, hotels, apartments, shops, and restaurants. The area´s waterfront parks make ideal picnic spots.

With 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.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Marina del Rey is about 14 miles southwest of Los Angeles city center, and less than a mile from Los Angeles International Airport. It´s adjacent to Venice Beach, and Santa Monica also is close by.

WHAT: Marina del Rey is home to 6,000 boats and is surrounded by high-rise condos, hotels, apartments, shops, and restaurants.

WHEN: Any time of year. The coastal breezes keep the area temperate even when the hottest part of summer arrives, and the sun shines even in winter.

WHY: Location, location, location. Marina del Rey not only has its own nautical charm, but nearby beach communities offer plenty of shopping and people-watching.

HOW: 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. For information on the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, phone 800-241-3333 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

Photos, from top: kayaking in Marina del Rey; Marina has 6,000 boat slips; Famous Venice BEach is next door to Marina del Rey; Ritz-Carlton is ideal base of operations

Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other California vacation ideas, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Yosemite National Park, Idyllwild, Julian and Sequoia National Park.

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