Of all the travel experiences we indulged in during 2014, none gave us more pleasure than our brief stays in Santa Monica at its two finest hotels, Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach. A visit to Shutters is like a weekend at the beach with the pier, sand, surf and fun surrounding you. There is no better party than cocktails in the lobby, usually with music, to watch the sun go down. Then, perhaps dinner at One Pico, where the hotel’s masterful chefs will do excellent modern American cuisine with dazzling ocean views. These delicious steak, fish, or pasta dishes are exquisite. The cottage-style rooms and suites are done with a light touch, just as you remember from your childhood at The Breakers in Palm Beach. Only better, cleaner and crisper. Expect appointments like 4-poster beds, LCD TVs, CD and DVD players, and wireless Internet access. Marble baths have jetted tubs with windows that open to rooms. Shutters is home to the renowned ONE spa, a very fine spot indeed for relaxing massages and treatments. Shutters on the Beach also provides an oceanfront pool and spa tub, and a health club with a steam room.  Casa del Mar tells another story but no less sensational. Grand yet informal, elegant but never stuffy, this L.A. beach hotel offers, literally, the best view in town. Its floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Pacific coastline will do wonders for your perspective. So will their top-rated Santa Monica seafood restaurant, Catch, with panoramic ocean views and all of the day’s fresh catches, all business conveniences, a wide selection of luxurious Santa Monica hotel rooms and suites, a dazzling lobby buzzing with activity, a wellness spa, a view of the Santa Monica Ferris Wheel, and the feeling of living extremely well. There’s energy here at Casa del Mar, alive and thriving. The Beach Club glamour of Hotel Casa del Mar proves that even luxury can take a break from formality. Whether you’re on a business trip or a weekend getaway, Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, California is a destination poised on the fine line between your imagination and reality.

The best of the best hotels we visited in 2014:  

Paris…Le Bristol, Plaza Athenee, Mandarin Oriental

Florence, Belmond Villa San Michele

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico…Hacienda San Angel

Santa Barbara…Belmond El Encanto

New York…The Pierre; The Lowell

London…The Milestone, The Chesterfield, Bulgari Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, Egerton House Hotel

Las Vegas….Mandarin Oriental

Oxford…Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

Marseille…Intercontinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu

Aix…La Villa Galicci

Uzes….La Maison d’Uzes

St. Tropez…Hotel Byblos

India…Taj Falaknuma Palace Hyderabad, Taj Bengal Kolkata, The Taj Mahal Hotel Delhi, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

Newport, CA…The Resort at Pelican Hill

Costa Rica…Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Jamaica… Half Moon, a RockResort

Tuscany… Relais Borgo Santo Pietro

And memorable restaurants we greatly enjoyed, never to be forgotten:

Portland…Imperial at Hotel Lucia

Catch at Casa del Mar, a stylish raw bar, crudo, sushi and simply grilled fish. Pair dishes with a great glass of wine, saki or just the sunset.

San Diego…Bijou

New York…Belmond “21”

Santa Barbara…Olio e Limone

London…Bellamy’s, Cheneston’s, bbar, Butler’s in The Chesterfield, Tamarind, CUT at 45 Park Lane, Nobu, the bar at the Egerton House Hotel

Oxford…Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

Las Vegas…Twist, Jaleo, Rose.Rabbit.Lie, Overlook Grill, Nobu

]Los Angeles Airport…Petrossian

And do not forget spas: Best spa by far visited in 2014…The Golden Door

Companies, people and products that provided remarkable quality and service: 

Estigo Tours, Puerto Vallarta…rent an ATV with a wonderful guide

The Parking Spot, 20 major airports with 32 parking lots

DMC Limousines in New York

Crown Limo L.A.

Glamour DMC, the Caribbean’s foremost destination management company, with decades of experience and a proven record of satisfying clients from all over the world.

Club Mobay…a truly Jamaican VIP airport experience Luggage…Briggs & Riley has no peer, engineered for reality, guaranteed for life

Best travel agent: Vivian Taylor International ~ Protravel International, A Virtuoso Company (302) 945-7255

Best overall travel decision for the year:  The Oxford Experience, a residential summer program designed for anyone who would enjoy a one-week course at Oxford.  This was our second year. The experience takes place at Christ Church, one of the most prestigious and beautiful of Oxford colleges. Anglophiles from all over the globe gather for a week of study and fun during the program’s six-week term, July 5 to August 15. There are no requirements, no exams and no papers to write. The brochure is available now at www.conted.ox.ac.uk/oxfordexperience.

Huzzahs and laurel wreaths for all the talented men and women who work so hard to elevate these hotels, restaurants and travel experiences to the highest levels.

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