Photo Girl Travels

Taking the Road Less Traveled

The Beach House, Exquisite Waterfront Hotel in Hermosa Beach, CA

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I have a special love for this hotel where I’ve stayed many times. I actually never knew there was a beach front hotel in the Manhattan / Hermosa Beach area until my Mom and I happened upon it about 20 years ago. We were out for a walk along the Strand and there it was.

Since then, it’s my go-to place when I want to escape since it’s a 5-6 hour drive along the coast from where I live in Northern California. About two weeks ago, I was heading to Long Beach to meet my Mom and sister to visit Catalina Island. On my way home I pulled over and stayed the night at the Beach House Hotel in Hermosa Beach. Let me tell you a little bit about this special hotel and the area that surrounds it.

I lived in Manhattan Beach years ago and loved it. There are a bunch of small ocean-front towns that string along the cost…Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Long Beach and on and on. The coolest part of a lot of these beaches is that they have a walkway that allows you to easily walk or ride your bike – listening to the waves, dodging the seagulls, viewing elegant yards of the massive homes and of course stopping at top notch restaurants and bar. Voyeurism at it’s greatest! Before we get to the strand, let’s visit the hotel, The Beach House in Hermosa Beach.

This is a view from my room so you can see that you are right on the water. There are no roads with crazy traffic that you have to look over to see the ocean. No, you’re just there with only The Strand to cross before you can put your feet in the sand. When you enter the hotel you’ll find a beautiful lobby. I can remember my sister waiting on one of the couches on one visit and that was so special. And my Mom and even my childhood friend Anne. At night you’ll find the fireplace burning which is always nice on chilly coastal evenings.

The rooms are wonderful and are actually small suites with kitchenettes, a fireplace (gas now, but I can remember when you could burn a duraflame log!) Not all rooms face the ocean but some have partial views. If you’re in a full ocean front you can open the sliding doors, pour yourself a glass of champagne and watch the volleyball players, bike riders and people strolling along the strand while relaxing on your deck.

Here are some of the images of the hotel room. I always ask for a corner room if possible so you get a window in the bathroom. They can’t guarantee it but they always try.

Once you’ve dropped your luggage off and put on your walking shoes, you’re ready to explore! Let’s take a walk along The Strand…

Manhattan Beach Home along The Strand

If you go, make sure to take good walking shoes. Once you park you can get everywhere on foot or by bike. Let me know if you go! If you’d like to see more of my blogs on that area they are listed below. Cheers! Photogirl

Taking Flight: Manhattan/Hermosa Beach CA: https://photogirltravels.com/category/california/manhattanhermosa-beach-ca/

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Photographing Reflections in Windows

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Reflections in a Window Photography

“Reflections in a Window” Photography

Here’s another type of photography that I absolutely love (and I hope you’ll try): Photographing reflections in windows. A couple months ago I was in Manhattan Beach, California. One of my favorite things to do is walk along The Strand, which is a bike/foot path that runs along the ocean. On one side you have beautiful homes, the opposite side, the beach. The reflections in the windows are quite amazing and when I see a really cool one, I always take a quick pic. Larger windows with panels make the image even more interesting (Like you see in the photo below – that’s me on right, donning a baseball cap which is how I look most mornings). If you find some fabulous refections let me know!  Cheers!

PS – if you missed my blog on Manhattan Beach, I hope you’ll check it out: https://photogirltravels.com/category/manhattanhermosa-beach-ca/

That's me on the right ;)

That’s me on the right 😉

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Let Your Stress Float Away – It’s Time for a Catalina Island Adventure

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When I was a little girl, we’d travel to Michigan where we stayed in a cottage built by Great Grandpa Spray. Summer days were spent sailing, fishing and eating loads of homemade ice cream. We also had an old speed boat. I remember riding in the back, watching the wake spread out behind me. I loved watching that wake –it was if all my stresses were floating away into the smoky white mist.  It also meant I was moving forward, no longer standing still – And if I was moving, then I knew I was sure to discover something new.

I felt the same way this past week as I was watching another wake spread out like white champagne bubbles, my hair blowing frantically in the wind. I was in for a treat as I was heading toward the beautiful, relaxing Island of Catalina.

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I had been to Catalina Island about 20 years ago and actually couldn’t remember a lot about it. Last Friday I was getting the urge to hit the road and somehow got onto a Catalina Island website. One day later my reservations were set and next day I hit the road.

Catalina Island is a place for romance, families and yes, the solo traveler. The town of Avalon surrounds a beautiful harbor dotted with sailboats. At sunset the lights seem to melt into the water, extending the glow from the depths of the ocean. In the early morning, you can watch the sun rise over the water, something that is unique in California.

Here’s a little bit about this charming island. Located 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach, Catalina is 21 miles long and eight miles wide (at it widest point). Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina Island for 18 months while married to her first husband. When you visit it’s easy to imagine her strolling along the European-like streets. For you sports fans, the Chicago Cubs used the island as a training camp site from 1931 -1951. Also, from what I hear, the wait list to bring a car over if you are a local is 14 years, keeping the car count below 1000. Hence you’ll feel like saying “FORE!” when crossing in front of a myriad of golf carts on the road.

Often thought of as a summer destination, I’m going to try to change that and get you to think about visiting the island in late November / December. Decked for the holidays, the harbor twinkles with multicolored lights, many wrapped around tall palm trees. In addition, you can bring in the New Year in the world-famous Casino Ballroom while enjoying a 17-piece “big band”.

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Getting there: First, it’s not difficult. If you can get to Long Beach, Dana Point and / or Newport Beach California, you’re almost there. A number of boats will take you over but I jumped on the Catalina Express. Located in a safe area, it’s easy to park and walk over to the check-in desk. I recommend buying / reserving your ticket in advance. Once you’re on board it’s an hour ride. Sit back, read a book, get a drink and watch that wake! Even the water splashing against the window is beautiful. Note – You can also fly, take a helicopter (15 minute ride), or private boat to the island. Or take the Catalina Flyer out of Newport Beach, CA.

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Once you arrive: As you pull into the harbor you’ll feel like you’re visiting a quaint, European island. It’s an easy walk to most hotels as many overlook the harbor (if you walk you won’t be the only one dragging your luggage behind you). Check with your hotel in advance as you may want to take a quick taxi ride.

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What to Do: This small island packs a punch with things to do. First, you can just relax in the town of Avalon, weave in and out of the quaint shops; Eat in one of the many restaurants. If you want to explore outside the city rent a golf cart (The dog in the cart is Koda but if you really want to impress her bring a few treats…and call her Princess). There are restrictions on where you can drive but they will provide a map to help. If you’re feeling more adventurous, get a hiking or biking permit and explore the interior of the island.

There is a 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina Trail if you’re super adventurous. You can also take a Safari Bus and see the island’s interior. Another option is to rent a paddle boat or kayak and get your arms “buff”. The golf carts aren’t just for driving around town, there is also a golf course if you want to play a round. Also, you can walk to the Botanical Garden from the center of town. If you do, make sure you stop at the Catalina Island Conservancy which is on the way. They are dedicated to the preservation of the island and have some interesting information and displays – stop in and say “thank you”! http://www.catalinaconservancy.org/

Make sure you find the secret stairs which will give you a beautiful view of the harbor (Michelle, you’d be proud, I finally did find them). Head toward the Casino, pass Ristorante Villa Portofino on Crescent Ave and the stairs will be directly in front of you. Finally, you can pay a nominal entry fee to get on Descanso Beach which is privately owned. You can lounge in a cabana and sip a drink while you exfoliate your feet in the sand.

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About the Casino: This is an icon on the island. If you’re thinking you’ll put your last pay check on lucky 13 it’s just not going to happen. The Catalina Casino gets its name from the Italian language and means “meeting place”. The Casino houses a spectacular ballroom, five tiffany chandeliers and a dance floor. In fact, if you’re looking for a place to celebrate New Year’s Eve this could be just what you’re looking for.

Where to eat: There are a number of places! First, you must try The Lobster Trap www.catalinalobstertrap.com This is where you’ll find the locals and once you eat there you’ll know why. The service is excellent and the food is even better. When I was there in November it was Catalina lobster season so in my mind there was only one thing to order.  I was not disappointed!  I felt like I had gone to heaven when I took my first bite.

The other place I would recommend is CC Gallagherwww.ccgallagher.com. This is a very unique shop which you could spend hours in. There, you’ll also find tables where you can enjoy a glass of wine and some incredible sushi, a salad or sandwich. It overlooks the harbor so you can also enjoy a beautiful view. Also, you can sit outside on the pier and eat at Eric’s. If you have any more recommendations let me know!

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Where to Stay: I stayed at two hotels when I was there. I enjoyed both and will tell you a little bit about each one and then list a few others that I thought looked nice when I was walking around.

The first night I stayed at the Aurora Hotel (www.auroracatalina.com) The Aurora Hotel has been recently renovated and the attention to detail is impressive. From the Tempur-Pedic mattress (the first time I’ve ever found one in a hotel) to the fixtures in the bathroom, and furnishings it’s quite beautiful. They also have an impressive roof-top area where you can take a glass of wine and watch the sunset. The staff was also very friendly. This hotel is located on one of the side streets – just a 2 minute walk from the Harbor. If you are looking for a quiet hotel (away from the hustle / bustle of the shops and restaurants) this would be a great option.  They also have a sister property called the Avalon Hotel which would be another hotel option to look into. (www.theavalonhotel.com)

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The next night I stayed at the Snug Harbor Inn (www.snugharbor-inn.com) I really loved this quaint hotel which is located on the harbor. The rooms were wonderful and I was very impressed by the attention to detail. From the custom note welcoming me to the hotel, slippers by the bed, breakfast served in the room and wine/cheese offered at night it was 100% first class. I would highly recommend this hotel. There are only 6 rooms so call early. You won’t be disappointed. Also, their sister property is the Hotel Vista Del Mar. I didn’t stay there but did walk over and would recommend it as another option too.

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Quick Reference Links: More information on the island or for New Year’s Eve reservations: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce (310) 510-1520, or visit www.CatalinaChamber.com

Boat Tickets: www.catalinaexpress.com Here’s a fun fact – you can ride for Free on Your Birthday – a promotion that has officially been extended for another year starting May 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013

When you get on board, make sure to watch that wake…and I’m sure you’ll feel your stresses drift away as you set off on your next adventure.

If you’d like to purchase a print to remind you of this beautiful area, please click on “Contact”. My photography is printed on aluminum. Utilizing an advanced process which infuses dyes directly into the metal, the colors and saturation are really amazing. In addition, your print will be displayed using mount blocks which float the image ½ inch off the wall.

©2012 Shelley D Spray – No content on this site (including all photography) may be reused in any fashion without written permission from the author.

Taking Flight: Manhattan/Hermosa Beach CA

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You’re looking out over a beach and see a gathering of sea gulls nestled, deep in meditation. Suddenly, you have this urge to run through them, wild and free, feeling their wings flap around you as they take flight.

This morning I was in that exact situation and before I knew it I was sprinting toward those gulls, zero to 1mph in less than 5 seconds. Legs flying around like extra-long egg beaters, I scrambled across the sand. (In my mind I was moving fast – but running in sand is a lot like running in water. I’m sure I wasn’t setting any records.)

Regardless of the speed, those poor birds scattered. Think of the calories they shed not only from being forced into a frantic take-off. But through the shear stress of seeing me coming toward them. How about you? Have you ever scared a few ounces off a bunch of gulls? If not, then maybe it’s time to be a little spontaneous. Let your hair down and “take flight“.

So where do you find that perfect spot where the ocean breeze ruffles your hair and the sand is dotted with sea gulls? There are a lot of places but the one that I’m going to recommend is Hermosa / Manhattan Beach in Southern California. I actually lived in Manhattan Beach for about 5 years so this part of the country is special to me. The energy is palpable and everywhere you look you see healthy people. Granted, everyone looks better with a tan but how can you not be ripped pounding a volleyball around all day in your favorite kini. A trip to Hermosa / Manhattan Beach isn’t just for the summer. If you are looking for a trip in December this is one to consider. The towns drape the shops with holiday lights. Even the palm trees don a little lighted bling. And this year the city of Manhattan Beach has not only strung holiday lights along the pier, they have lined Christmas trees in bright red containers along the entire pier.

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A trip to Hermosa / Manhattan Beach isn’t just for the summer. If you are looking for a trip in December this is one to consider. The towns drape the shops with holiday lights. Even the palm trees don a little lighted bling. And this year the city of Manhattan Beach has not only strung holiday lights along the pier, they have lined Christmas trees in bright red containers along the entire pier.

Things to Do: First, my favorite. Take a walk on The Strand. This is a path that hugs the beach and takes you from town to town. The houses are beautiful, everyone unique. In Hermosa Beach you share The Strand with the bikers, skateboarders and joggers. In Manhattan Beach The Strand splits and the bikers coast along the sand and the walkers are up high, looking over the beach. (Make sure you walk under the Manhattan Beach pier and out to the water’s edge. It is spectacular standing under the huge pillars, watching the wave crash.)

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Look for the green flash! When I was here I saw multiple green flashes each night. Green flashes are an optical phenomena that occur during sunset, just as the sun disappears behind the water. As the sun sets, keep your eye on it and as it dips and disappears in the water you may be lucky enough to see the flash. If you do, make a wish, I’m sure it will come true…

You can rent a bike and ride from Hermosa to Venice beach if you want. Or, get a beach chair and book and just chill.

Shop – Both towns have a quaint downtown with tons of shops. I absolutely love Tabula Rasa in downtown Manhattan Beach. www.tabularasaessentials.com/ If you need a new kini – Manhattan Beach is your town. Also, Riley Arts has some lovely local artwork. www.rileyartsgallery.com

Eat in one of the fabulous restaurants. I had breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. You can sit outside with a view of the water. www.unclebillspancakehouse.com (photo of eggs and bacon was taken there) When I lived here we’d go to the Local Yolk, another placed were the locals hang out. www.localyolk.com. There is a new place that looked really cool when I walked by – Main Street Cafe www.marinestreetcafe.com. Finally, there is El Tarasco where you can get inexpensive Mexican food. I’ve been eating here for years. (Every local in town has eaten here at least once.) I looked for their website but didn’t find one. Their address is 316 Rosecrans Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA. If you have any other places you’d recommend let me know! I’ll pass them on. PS – the Starbucks in downtown Manhattan Beach by the water has the nicest people who work there! And, they open at 4:30am which is great if you want a joe for your beach walk.

What should you pack? Sneakers, flip-flops and at least a sweater. Although the days can be warm, the nights do cool off. You can bring something sassy too; there are some great bars in both towns. Did I miss anything?

Best way to get there? Get a flight into LAX or drive. I drove down from Los Gatos and took highway 101 along the coast. If you’re not a driver then it’s an easy flight in.

Where to stay? I’ve listed a few below that I would recommend. If you go in December it’s off season so easier to find a room. I love the Beach House, it is the only hotel that is right on the water. The rooms have fireplaces and are absolutely lovely. www.beach-house.com Another place you may try is the Sea View Inn. They have beautiful rooms, some with fireplaces and full ocean views. www.seaview-inn.com) Any other places you’d recommend?

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I hope you take flight soon! As my Dad says, “Life if not a dress rehearsal.”

If you’d like to purchase a print to remind you of this beautiful area, please click on “Contact”. My photography is printed on aluminum. Utilizing an advanced process which infuses dyes directly into the metal, the colors and saturation are really amazing. In addition, your print will be displayed using mount blocks which float the image ½ inch off the wall.

©2012 Shelley D Spray – No content on this site (including all photography) may be reused in any fashion without written permission from the author.

This gallery contains 103 photos