Stylish practicality: The renovated Hilton Santa Monica Hotel & Suites
The Hilton Santa Monica Hotel & Suites reopened in April 2021 after an extensive two-year renovation and redesign. Previously a DoubleTree Suites-branded property, the hotel now caters to both business and leisure travelers, as it offers a combination of style, service and practicality.
I visited over a recent spring weekend to experience it from a beach vacationer's perspective, but also paid close attention to its suitability for short and extended work trips for anyone doing business in Los Angeles. The hotel turned out to be a good fit for either type of traveler.
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I paid $458 per night for a king bed suite (plus $70 nightly in taxes), and I reserved my stay about 10 days before I arrived. Another hotel guest, business executive Jeff Platt, told me he had booked two months in advance and paid $379 per night for his room — it also included parking, which normally costs $42. Looking ahead in 2022, this Hilton's room prices start around $280 per night, peaking at $661 over the Fourth of July weekend and on select weekends in August. While these prices seem expensive for a standard hotel and suites property, other luxury Santa Monica beachside hotels currently charge about twice as much per night.
If you want to book using points, this Hilton currently charges 70,000 for a standard guest room (in all configurations) and 165,000 to 216,000 points for a suite on most dates in the upcoming months. Prior to booking my stay, I made sure to sign up for the latest Hilton bonus points offer. I booked using my AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard, which doesn't have any bonus for hotel bookings. So, if I planned to make Hilton a regular stop on my travels, I would probably apply for one of the Amex Hilton credit cards to get a substantial welcome offer and earn bonus points on my Hilton purchases.
The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you
Given the hassle of LA traffic, it's nice to be able to drive to a hotel that's directly adjacent to highway entrance and exit ramps. Obviously, this detracts from the vacation-on-the-beach feel that leisure travelers are looking for in a trip to Santa Monica, but in terms of quick vehicular access, the Hilton's location just off of Highway 10 can't be beat.
Although "nobody walks in LA," as the saying goes, I strolled for just 10 minutes to reach tourist hotspots such as the Santa Monica Pier and the 3rd Street Promenade, with its many shops, restaurants and street performers. If you're planning for a day of fun at the pier, the hotel front desk offers guests $35 unlimited ride wristbands for the pier attractions (a $10 discount). It might be a little far to walk from the hotel to the beach while hauling a day's worth of gear for the whole family, but the beach is quite accessible for a casual walk or jog.
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While the Hilton borders Highway 10 like an eight-story, angular concrete monolith, the hotel is surprisingly warm and welcoming from the time you pull into its circular driveway.
Fast and friendly valet parking ($42 per night) attendants greet guests and shuffle through arriving cars, hustling in and out of the hotel's underground parking area. The valets offered to help me with my luggage, but I declined, leaving them to work with a family of four unloading an SUV full of beach gear. During my frequent excursions throughout the weekend trip, attendants always retrieved my car quickly, and there was only a brief backup of driveway traffic during the busy Sunday checkout. It should be noted that Uber and Lyft rides from this destination were completely unavailable during my trip, which may have been a temporary citywide issue, but could be a consideration for visitors planning area excursions.
The Hilton had a fully staffed check-in desk on Friday afternoon with four agents quickly cycling through guests. My reception agent began by double-checking that they had my Hilton Honors rewards number on file (the points were correctly deposited in my account within days). The agent then detailed the hotel's amenities, locations, and the hours for the pool and fitness center; then the agent pointed me toward the bank of four frosted-glass elevators (which always arrived with lightning speed during my trip).
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Adjacent to the check-in desk, a small shop called Monica's Pantry offered guests a convenient place to buy travel essentials including sunscreen, laundry detergent, snacks, beer, wine, and a few freshly made salads and parfaits.
Related: Hilton expects to return to pre-pandemic hotel performance
The Hilton's 286 rooms and suites, also fully refurbished, have the bright airy color scheme, smooth lines and modern furnishings of the lobby. My west-facing suite, one of many configurations, felt a little dark upon entry and had scarce natural light in the sitting area. The furniture — including a firm couch with two ottomans and a circular desk with two chairs — looked fresh and stylish with a midcentury modern style.
The room provided a comfortable, convenient area to sit and get some work done, or gather with a friend or two and watch TV. The full-length mirror in the sitting room helped distribute a little natural light coming from the bedroom window, and the beachy art helped; still, even at midday with all the lights and TV turned on, the space felt a little dark. Given the many sizes and layouts of the hotel's 211 suites, it may be worth your while to ask the front desk for a change in room if you're looking for something brighter (though with the hotel's tight availability, instant changes may be difficult.)
The bedroom itself felt much brighter and welcoming than the sitting area, and a king bed filled much of the room. Still, the bed didn't overwhelm the space, so there was plenty of space to maneuver around it and leave a roller bag open on the floor (for those of us too lazy to unpack.)
The firm mattress, by Envirosleep, was very comfortable and had a soft pillow top. The four pillows — some of which were thick and firm while the others were thin and soft — made for a comfortable sleep. Bedside outlets and USB plugs made it easy to charge a phone or plug in a laptop for late night work sessions.
From my fourth-floor bedroom, a small triangular balcony overlooking Santa Monica's Fourth Street allowed me to get some fresh air. My view included the hotel's dining terrace and a few palm trees, but it was dominated by a parking garage. The desk clerk told me the eighth floor was the only level that offered "partial ocean views," which sounded from her description like you'd have to stand on top of your bed to see water. The opposite side of the hotel advertises "city view" rooms, but you'll be lucky to see downtown LA, given the air quality.
Traffic sounds weren't too bad, even from my street-facing room. When I asked the desk staff about the possibility of changing my room to a higher floor, or away from the street, they immediately checked availability. A more desirable room was not available during my weekend stay, but it felt like the Hilton tried to be flexible in terms of room location requests.
The bathroom was very clean and well-lit, with accessory mirror, hair dryer, shower with rain shower head, and small tubes of Crabtree & Evelyn soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.
The suite's other features pointed to the needs of a longer-term business guest, with deep drawers, multiple cubby-style shelf systems and a mid-sized closet as well as an ironing board, an iron, a safe and a refrigerator. The coffee maker was functional, but basic, with Coffee Bean-branded tea and coffee packets.
I could easily keep the ice container and extra glasses filled thanks to the convenient hallway ice machine. The suite's two TVs (one in the sitting room, one in the bedroom) offered access to eight channels of HBO, in addition to the usual cable offerings (and some pay-per-view films). The suite had no hard copy guides to the hotel or a room service menu and instead had a small plastic widget with a QR code to scan. Rather than full room service, the hotel only offered "Room Delivery" of select breakfast and dinner menu items brought to the room in a to-go bag. However, full room service is in the plans as pandemic-era restrictions continue to ease, according to hotel staff.
Housekeeping service was available upon request by contacting the front desk for either a room cleaning or delivery of extra towels and amenities. The hotel has six accessible rooms, two with roll-in bathtubs and five with features for the hearing-impaired (like a visual doorbell indicator).
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Upon entering the Hilton's lobby area in the central atrium, you can really appreciate the results of the extensive remodel. LA's Avenue Interior Design led the redesign efforts, with a focus on clean lines and open spaces which could be configured to any potential pandemic restrictions. A color scheme of light tans, grays, yellows and blues attempt to create a seaside atmosphere, which guests can enjoy while sipping a morning coffee. The atrium looks up eight stories to a skylight-covered roof with abstract design elements, vaguely resembling a giant set of abacus beads and rods.
The lobby borders an open bar area and the well-lit Monica's restaurant (which leads to the outdoor dining and events terrace). The modular design and distributed seating in the lobby make it conducive for both business collaboration meetings and lounging between events. A long tabletop with eight raised barstool chairs offers plenty of outlets and USB ports just below the counter.
Tucked behind the elevator wall, the business conference center portion of the hotel is easily accessible through the lobby (with a couple additional meeting rooms on the third floor).
The hotel includes 7,700 square feet of event space, including seven meeting rooms; the largest combined setup comprises nearly 3,200 square feet. During my stay, one small business event set up a check-in table in the business area with moderate traffic that didn't detract from the weekend holiday vibe.
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The Hilton's third-floor pool provides a basic outdoor retreat, with an array of deck chairs, chaise lounges and five first-come-first-serve cabanas. A well-stocked towel station sits poolside. The shallow pool isn't large enough to swim laps, but it's good for a dip on a hot day or for kids to splash around. While a concrete patio overlooking the street and parking garage certainly doesn't conjure images of a tropical beach vacation (or inspire an LA pool party scene), the space provides a convenient and pleasant sunny escape for hotel guests. You can bring your own food and drink to the deck (aside from glassware), but there is no food ordering or delivery for the pool area.
The hotel fitness center, next to the pool, is fairly small (for a 286-room hotel). However, it's a clean and welcoming space with large windows (albeit facing the parking garage), half a dozen cardio equipment stations, a full array of dumbbells and a weight machine. Towels and a water station add to the fitness center's utility.
There were only a handful of people using it during a sunny weekend (when most fitness aficionados were probably at the beach), but I imagine the room may fill up with people during more busy pre- and post-workday times during the week.
A small laundry room near the gym offers two pay-per-use washers ($4) and dryers ($3.50) that are useful for guests on longer term stays or for those drying beach wear. Laundry detergent is available in the lobby store.
The Hilton's business center near the conference room area provides printers, multiple AV hookups, some workspace, and chairs and tables for post-meeting work sessions.
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Food and drink
Monica's restaurant and lounge area, both of which open up directly into the lobby, serve food and drink in attractive, bright spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the patio and banks of frosted glass street side. The soft color palate, with blues, yellows and light wood textures mimic the lobby. About 15 high-top chairs line three sides of the bar area (open for dining and drinking), while approximately twenty dining tables with about 80 seats are spread out with plenty of room to spare in the dining area.
Large TV sets hang on walls on either side of the bar, typically showing business news in the morning, and sports events during the day and evenings. The bar and restaurant both have attentive staff members and small (but tasty) food and drink menus. The restaurant currently only serves breakfast and dinner, but there are plans to reintroduce lunch soon, according to hotel staff. My breakfasts included a salty-and-sweet cayenne chicken and waffles dish ($26) and the LA burrito ($24), made all the more savory with the addition of chipotle aioli and salsa verde. The orange juice ($5) was fresh and cold, and the coffee decent and readily refilled.
Prices are high, but not extraordinary for the Santa Monica beach area. Plus, the food is good enough to merit some of the cost. Cheaper kids' meals are available on the menus. Happy hour shrimp tacos ($19) and chicken wings ($17) are again pricey, but the quality is far above standard pub grub. The dinner menu features items including braised short ribs with butternut squash ($36) and Gold River salmon ($36), which are certainly good enough to merit staying at the hotel for one meal during your visit if you don't want to deal with traffic.
Monica's lounge area offers local microbrews, a small wine list and signature cocktails, including a sweet blueberry mojito and refreshing watermelon cooler with vodka ($18 each). Most of the menu is available for room service delivery, from 6-11 a.m. for breakfast and 5-10 p.m. for dinner.
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Staff members at the Santa Monica Hilton were prompt and polite, from the hustling valets in front of the hotel, to the well-staffed check-in desk, and servers at the restaurant and bar. Calls with questions to the front desk were promptly answered by actual people (not recordings) who were knowledgeable about hotel amenities as well as the local area.
Towels at the fitness center and pool were plentiful, and the lobby store had the full inventory of goods advertised on the menu. Food ordering and delivery was fast at the restaurant, and servers gave informed recommendations on menu items. The desk staff instantly offered to accommodate my room change request (to the degree they had available space). I had no complaints on quality or speed of service at the Hilton.
As a former management consultant, I'd be comfortable making the Hilton Santa Monica my standard Monday through Thursday base for long-term LA work projects. Visiting, as I was, for a weekend get together with friends in Santa Monica, the hotel was acceptable, more for its central location than anything else. Frequent business traveler Jeff Platt approved of his stay there as well. "It was a nice upgrade of a Doubletree Suites to a full Hilton hotel. The hotel had more of a modern, upscale feel that is similar to other mainline Hilton hotels," he said. "It was a bit of a walk to the beach but had a good location right off the I-10 so it was an easy trip to and from LAX."
I would have rather stayed at lodging right on the beach but would have had to pay nearly twice the price — so evaluate your location goals with your budget. I was happy with the hotel's rooms and amenities, was impressed with the renovated lobby and common area spaces, and would recommend it for a stay — just don't expect to visit a beach resort.