Just 10 miles north of LAX airport, Santa Monica is situated in prime territory between the mountains and sea. Check into Shutters on the Beach, then step out the door and right onto the city's 3.5-mile sandy strip. From here, you can walk the South Bay Bicycle Trail a mile south to Venice Beach, where roller-skating chain-saw jugglers commingle with sidewalk comedians, or head north for a bluff-top run toward Malibu in Palisades Park. But the beach isn't the only way to get outside in Los Angeles.
The 12-mile Sullivan Canyon-West Ridge loop through the nearby Santa Monica Mountains delivers a challenging but doable ride – grab a bike at nearby Bicycle Ambulance – that peaks with a wide-open view of the San Fernando Valley. For an up-close look at Hollywood's mansion-specked hills, drive to Runyon Canyon, a 130-acre park just blocks from Hollywood Boulevard. You'll find a web of trails from which you can see major landmarks such as the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building.
The surfing is good in Malibu (Laird Hamilton has a house there), but the locals tend to be protective of their turf. Huntington Beach (a.k.a. Surf City USA) still wins for the best – and friendliest – breaks around. Paddle out just north of the pier to ride 6- to 10-footers. If you're looking for a mellower break, head to nearby Bolsa Chica State Beach, where a shallow shelf breeds gentle rollers.
For first-timers, a tour of L.A. isn't complete without a dose of Hollywood Boulevard. Grab lunch at the birthplace of the Oscars, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (323-466-7000, hollywoodroosevelt.com), whose 25 Degrees burger bar welcomes a carnivorous day crowd. Then follow the Walk of Fame's sidewalk stars east along the boulevard to the Frolic Room, L.A.'s most famous dive bar. End your night at Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge, a 15-minute walk south to Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine Street. There's a backroom with live, no-cover rock and roll and a great dance floor.
More Information: The well-appointed beachfront rooms at Shutters on the Beach start at $450 a night. To rent a board, head to Zack's Pier Plaza. Wear sunscreen and, if you burn off enough calories to earn it, head to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles for, well, Roscoe's excellent chicken and waffles.