The American mythologist and philosopher, Joseph Campbell, is famous for his teaching to “follow your bliss.”   Many have spent their entire lives trying to find this experience.  The truth is it’s as simple as booking a room at the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, California.

LA's Shan . . . gri — LA pool.

Close your eyes and say the word out loud . . . Shan....gri — LA.  Just the sound that emanates from your lips caresses you to a place of enchantment.  Is it the sound of “Ah” that entices the soul?  Does your imagination unfurl visions of luxury and beauty? Or is it the lingering pause in the “ - ”, that ignites the mysterious flames of passion?  The Hotel Shangri-La is living proof that bliss exists. It is all this, and more.

Ernest Hemingway stated,” That if you are going to bother writing at all, then by God, write the truest sentence you know.”  This is what I know.  The Hotel Shangri-La exudes Nirvana.

This secret hideaway to the stars, future presidents, artists, writers, and now you, is a home-away-from-home.  The past and the present blend in perfect harmony. Although the property was established in 1939, the modern twist to this art deco architecture is pristine.  It is a perfect representation of the secluded mystical valley of Shangri-La, depicted in the 1937 film, Lost Horizon, directed by Frank Capra.  In the film, a plane crashes into the Himalayas and its passengers are rescued and taken to the secluded mystical valley of Shangri-La. This seductive escape is protected by the surrounding mountains.  The movie creates a utopian community where everyone is compassionate and kind to each other. No one grows old.  It is a hidden paradise free from the afflictions of deadlines and daily stresses, a “seventh heaven.”  Art does mimic reality.   Although it was only two night stay, time did stand still as the Hotel Shangri-La cast her spell.

The Firepit Lounge in the Courtyard.

The hotel is located on the corner of Ocean and Arizona. It is steps away from the Santa Monica beach and walking distance from the Third Street Promenade shopping area.  Twice a week the famous Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is right outside their front door.

But it’s the exterior of the white art deco building with silver trim that glittered so splendidly in the Southern California sun, that sent sparks of anticipation up and down my spine.  The brightness of the exterior was gracefully subdued by the elegant, serene coolness of the modern lobby.

The shiny white marble foyer is the original 1937 design.  It holds the memories of Brook Shield, Diane Keaton, Natassia Kinsky, Bill Murray. Randy Neuman, and Tom Cruise’s foot steps.  That movie star mystique made my heart flutter.  A charisma and warmth in the hotel clerk’s demeanor made me feel welcomed. He handed me my room key with a secret pride. I held it gingerly in my hand.  It was official.  I would soon open the door to my Hotel Shangri-La experience.

Living room in a one bedroom suite.

The 70 rooms in this boutique hotel are all individually air-conditioned.  The suites range from 200-1,350 square feet of modern luxury.  The Rock and Roll Suite was named the “sexiest suite” in Los Angeles by California Home and Design Magazine.  Visions of Rock and Roll, power meetings, movie star magic began to spin summersaults in my imagination. The bell man deepened my curiosity when he invited us to enter their secret elevator that would take us to our room.   As he closed the metal gate of  this wooden paneled vintage elevator, I thought I felt the secret whispers of a clandestine love affair.  I was jolted to reality as the elevator landed on the third floor and the gate sprung open. The sweet scent of the Pacific Ocean filled my lungs.  I looked down at the private elevated pool deck, dotted with posh cabanas, black and white canvas lounges, sprinkled with flamingo pink beach towels.  (I was told that pink is the owner, Tamie Adaya’s favorite color).

Comfy creature comfort.

I couldn’t wait to get settled in my room and then take a dip in the pool and immerse myself in the heated bubbling Jacuzzi.  Perhaps, I’d order a drink from the patio bar and engage in a little pie scattering and vitamin C therapy.   I might even book a “happy hour” spa treatment at the Sybaris Rejuvenation Lounge that was just below my room. The bellman told me they specialized in holistic treatments from the Ancient Tibetan Ku Nye Body Treatment, to luxurious massages, to Reflexology and Reiki.  “I believe I will follow my bliss,”  I smiled.

In every moment, the Hotel Shangri-La is designed to surprise and delight.  The ambiance of our room left me with the quintessential  “AH...” feeling.  The only thing separating my view of the Pacific Ocean and the sandy beach were the 100 foot palm trees swaying their languid  green palm fronds in the carefree sea breeze.  Crisp, white Feta linens and bedding were the perfect backdrop for the view from our window of the white foamed sea-blue ocean waves, sandy beaches, and “California dreaming” sun speckled skies.

En-suite Cuisinette for longer stays.

The hardwood floors, double-paned windows that opened to fragrant scents of tropical flowers and ocean breezes, instantaneously grounded me into a relaxed state of beingness.  The raised platform bed with a grey padded cushioned vinyl back board was invitingly comfortable.  The  grey stone area carpet offered an embracing tickle to my toes.  The blue suede swivel chair and ottoman was my perfect respite to meditate and read.  But it was the open glassed shower and tub that looked out to my billion dollar view that took me over the moon!  This lavish marble tub with my private ocean view spelled N I R V A N A.    The Feta curtains offered a secluded relaxing spa experience when I desired privacy.  The rain shower head felt like an oasis waterfall cascading soft calming, healing, fun; purifying droplets of exuberant spa sensations.

Lather in luxury.

For those of you who need to mix business with pleasure the chrome leather desk chair offers the perfect work respite with all the technological amenities.  The light satin, see-thru curtains are the hue of the sea grey ocean foam.  They are matched with a heavy grey shantung black-out curtains for those of us who like to sleep late, or take a luxurious afternoon nap.

Although the hotel is centrally located in downtown Santa Monica, walking distance to the Santa Monica Pier, shopping, boutiques, and a short drive to the Getty Center and Villa, LACMA and LAX, the first day, my husband and I chose to luxuriate in our private paradise.  And we savored every second.

Suite 700 roof-top bar.

One of the most miraculous moments we experienced was at sunset.  The Hotel Shangri-La has the only open-air rooftop bar and lounge in Santa Monica.  We expected to have a quiet cocktail and begin my husband’s birthday celebration.  Who knew that the entire universe was planning an exorbitant birthday party for his day?  At approximately 4:48 pm the festivities began.  The bartender poured us two golden glasses of champagne.  We clinked a toast and then a passionate explosion of colors, started to cascade across the horizon.  

Prepare to party.

A quiet hush engulfed the patio as the sun began its epic descent into the Pacific Ocean.  Time stopped.  We held our breath as the perfectly round orange fiery disc glowed its golden flames upon the sea.  Would we be lucky and witness the legendary green flash?  Or would the sun silently slip into the ocean leaving only the quiet expression of lingering hues of soft mango, lavender, purples, and the smoky grey aftermath?  We watched with reverence and awe as the orange dipped disc quietly descended and disappeared into the sea.  The “—” or pause lingered.  The ocean engulfed the sphere and, YES, the green flash appeared.  “Happy Birthday, honey.” I sang.  This was truly Shangri-La.

True to her promise, the Shangri-La was prepared to deliver, “something more.”  Our 7 p.m. reservations were waiting at the Dining Room, the hotel’s signature restaurant.  We took the vintage elevator down to the lobby. The green flash magic swirled around us.   This time as the metal gates closed and the elevator made its descent my husband took my hand and the discreet whispers I heard were quiet caresses  thanking me for this clandestine birthday affair.  The spark of romance ignited a quiet flame.

The beachy vibe of the Dining Room.

The Dining Room overlooks the ocean.  The darkened night sky was dotted with white stars.  The room was intimate and inviting. A romantic glow from the tiny flames of the votive candles flickered and danced their reflections upon the highly polished dark mahogany tables. The fragrance of fresh flowers greeted our arrival.  Again, I was overwhelmed with the elegance and warmth that surrounded me.   Our server, Louise,  pulled out the elegant oak and leather chair for me. I gazed down at the beautiful herringbone designed wooden floor.  Large glittering crystal cut tumblers filled with sparkling water waited for our indulgence.  Time stopped.  A plethora of elegant, sumptuous culinary surprises appeared before us.

We sat in front of one of the most magnificent bars I’d ever seen.  A huge mural portrait of the owners, Ahmed Adaya and his daughter Tami Adaya, painted by  Alejandro Gehy, made the room come alive with vibrant colors and expressive bold brush strokes. Their imposing mural filled with famous Hollywood stars enticed us to enjoy and have a good time.

Tantalizing giant Tiger Prawns.

We graciously accepted their invitation.  The feast began with an artistic display of two oversized jumbo Tiger Prawn shrimp elegantly posed in a half moon presentation with their tails swooning gracefully in a backbend. The succulent meat of the shrimp rested on  pristine rectangular white serving dish with a wedge of lime nestled in its curve.  A visual contrast between the deep green of the lime and the pink of the shrimp was grand. The shrimp floated amongst an avocado salad cocktail, decorated with large jalapeños, graceful slithers of shallots and fresh limes.  Should we eat this artistic fare, or just sit back and admire the beauty of the presentation?  A reverent pause was given to the plating as we raised our forks. I can still close my eyes and savor the memory of this sweat luscious taste.

Baked Bliss

Their Maryland Lump Crab Cake was a treat from the sea.  Dressed in golden bread crumbs, the crispy outer layer only enhanced the fresh moist flavor of the crab meat. An apple Napa slaw with a garlic hoisin sauce scintillated my taste buds to a peak experience.

These two appetizers only set the stage for our appetites to want something more.  And more there was . .

The Shangri-La Heirloom salad with tomatoes, mixed greens. garlic cauliflower puree, pine nuts, golden beets, crumbled feta, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette was a colorful medley of tantalizing tastes.

Their Poached Pear salad with mixed greens, poached pear sprinkled with dried cranberries, goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette dressing sweetly set the stage to open my palate for the main course.

The Rib Eye and Filet Mignon created a crescendo of flavors for our evening repast.  The Rib Eye was the tenderest melt-in-your-mouth flavorful steak we’d ever tasted.  It was heaven!  Served with the garlic pureed cauliflower, chimichum, fingerling potatoes, and grilled asparagus, the gastronomic experience was complete.  The Filet Mignon was prime beef tenderloin and mouth watering juicy.  Each savory morsel was dipped  lovingly in their wild mushrooms cognac cream sauce.  The garlic mashed potatoes and spinach haricot vert enhanced the flavor perfectly.

The wine pairings were extraordinary.  The decadent chocolate lava cake served with home made vanilla ice cream was all that, and . . . more. The dining experience was a unique expression of artistic culinary bliss!  Truly a forever moment in time.

The sunny pool-side cabanas.

The Hotel Shangri-La exudes bliss.  The compassion and love for the guest experience is unparalleled.  Our housekeeper, Carla, in her crisp white apron and black uniform, makes everyone feel wonderful.  She greeted us by name and made it a priority to make sure we always had everything we needed.  This paradise is an artistic expression that indulges the senses for the whole being.  Whether it’s lounging by the pool, shopping at the boutiques ,(I did venture out the next day.), massage therapy, sunrise yoga, playing with your children at the beach, witnessing the passionate colors of sunset on the rooftop bar, basking in the benediction of a Zen experience overlooking the ocean, feeling the bliss of a romantic interlude in the sensual decor of their luxury suites, or savoring the Dining Room’s gastronomic delights, you will leave the Shangri-La, younger, more alive, and filled with a soulful “AH,” for the rest of your life.

A suite with a beach view.

Follow your bliss, and book your stay now.

Shangri-la Hotel
1301 Ocean Ave,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone:(310) 394-2791

— Feature by Janice Wilson, Jetsetters Magazine Hotel/Resort and Spa Editor; photos courtesy of the Shangri-la Hotel. (Editor's note: this hotel is not part of the worldwide Shangril-la chain, but is a member of The Small Luxury Hotels of the World network;