We heard the surf pounding the rocks in front of us, though we couldn’t see the waves in the inky blackness. Far out on the water’s surface, a flame flickered and glowered, illuminating the edges of a wooden pier. Festive white lights ran up and around the palm trees next to our table, and I read the menu by the dim light of the candle. It was too beautiful not to sit outside, though my dress-up skirt and cute jacket were obscured by layers of towels from the room and my fiancé’s extra jacket, a navy blue workman’s number with Loctite written in bright yellow letters. We were staying at The Cliff House Inn and Shoals Restaurant, a locale more reminiscent of a weathered bungalow in Maine than a beachfront hotel off the 101 in Ventura.
It’s probably the most romantic getaway we’ve found in such close proximity to Los Angeles. The Inn is set right on the edge of a low cliff, affording every room an up close and personal view of the ocean. We could even see the waves while lying down, if we reclined at forty-five degrees and kept the curtains open, and we heard them crashing along the shoreline all night long. The sound of the surf helped to keep out the noise of our elderly neighbors’ television, but fortunately they went to sleep early. The wood balcony leading to the rooms is a bit warped, and the rooms are desperately in need of some repainting, but I find the slightly dilapidated nature of the place charming.
Between the Inn and the ocean is a good-sized pool, though we’ve only been there when it was too cool to swim. Lounge chairs line the shoreline for a relaxing nap outside, especially nice in the early afternoon when the marine layer lifts. My favorite amenity is the Ping-Pong table, and a rousing game with my fiancé always puts me in a good mood, particularly when I win—which isn’t as often as I’d like. I used to play regularly with my brother when I was growing up. He usually won too.
Surfers and others wanting to explore the shoreline can make their way carefully down to the beach. The sandy area is not very wide, so those who don’t want to get their shoes or themselves wet should go during low tide. (High tide is more fun though.) Big boulders make nice seats to view the scenery, and little tide pools offer the chance to check out crabs and mussels. We don’t surf, so I don’t know how good the waves are for that, but we did see two or three guys in wetsuits heading out that way as we were leaving. For a place right off the freeway, it feels amazingly remote.
Shoals Restaurant is the perfect final touch. The inside is classically decorated, white tablecloths and candles, but we’ve always chosen to sit outside by the water. The food is wonderful, creative and tasty, and reasonably priced for such high quality. The scallops appetizer is our absolute favorite, and we’ve always enjoyed the menu entrees as well as the specials—particularly the fish. A room stay comes with complementary continental breakfast until 10 a.m.: boiled eggs, bagels, toast, cold cereal, and fruit. For those who wake up later or want to drive up from L.A. in the morning, they have a delicious brunch menu as well, though there were not as many breakfasty items as I had expected. The salmon was excellent.
Rooms run about $150–$200 a night, with frequent Internet specials, particularly for weekday stays. The Inn prefers Friday and Saturday stays, but they will release rooms for one night if they are still available on the preceding Thursday.
The Cliff House Inn and Shoals Restaurant, 6602 W. Pacific Coast Hwy, Mussel Shoals, CA 93001.