Ay carumba, birthday churros!
When I was offered a press trip to Manhattan Beach's sleek little Shade Hotel on the evening of my birthday, it seemed much better than trying to plan a party in the middle of holiday season. We heard that we would be viewing fireworks before dinner, but we had no idea that Manhattan Beach's holiday fireworks are massively attended and more extensive than most July 4 exhibitions. The streets of Manhattan Beach are closed off and the restaurants completely packed, and there's even a small snow park on the beach. We started off the evening with traditional Navy Grog and grilled artichoks at our host Michael Zislis's rollicking restaurant Rock 'n Fish near the beach. Another Rock 'n Fish opens at L.A. Live on Jan. 19.
Next up was drinks and hors d'oeuvres back at the hotel's Zinc Bar. The Shade Hotel is just a few blocks from the beach in the Metlox complex, which also houses the excellent Greek restaurant Petros and the Trilogy Spa where I had a soothing honey body wrap that put me in a relaxed mood for the rest of my stay. The hotel rooms are full of festive, romantic touches: there's an espresso maker instead of the usual coffeepot and a blender and cocktail shaker for impromptu room parties. A futuristic glass tube turns into a fireplace with the push of a button, and colored lights surrounding the spa bathtub provide chromatherapy, whatever that is, while you soak in the bath.
Zislis seems to own half of Manhattan Beach, so then we walked over to his Mexican restaurant Mucho for a chef's tasting menu that was much more ambitious than tacos and enchiladas. Our tasting ended with plates of crunchy, fresh churros with dulce de leche and chocolate sauce, which I couldn't stop nibbling on, even though we had been to three restaurants that evening!
I hardly ever get to the South Bay, and although it took only about 30 minutes to get there, it seemed like a real beach vacation. The hotel is surrounded by dozens of restaurants, lounges and boutiques, so there's no need to drive anywhere. The winter celebration was a great time to see the town, but this would make a perfect quick getaway pretty much any time of year.