SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- In just 18 months, Hotel Casa Del Mar has established itself as one of the places to be seen at in this beachside community, where celebrity sightings are as common as the morning mist off the Pacific Ocean.

It's no wonder. The restoration of the historic 1920s building gives an ambeance of opulence that serves as a perfect backdrop for the beautiful and the famous.

Nearly $60 million was spent by the Edward Thomas Hospitality Corp. (ETHC) in a total renovation of the building, which opened in 1926 as a hotel but served for decades as a drug rehabilitation facility and later the Pritikin Longevity Center.

ETHC, which also owns Shutters on the Beach, next door to Casa Del Mar, can boast that its two properties are the only ones in the Los Angeles area that are literally on the sand.

The Santa Monica Pier is steps away, as is the walking, biking and roller-blading trail that wends its way along the beach from Venice through Santa Monica.

Hotel Casa del Mar.Even though the two share reservations and some marketing staff, the 129-room Casa Del Mar differs from its sister property in style and ambiance.

While Shutters on the Beach is more evocative of a casual American beach house, Casa Del Mar brings to mind a traditional European resort.

The architecture is Mediterranean, and much of the original handcrafted materials from the 1920s remain in the entrance rotunda, lobby and bar: tile, marble, mosaic, stained glass, wood beams with gold stenciling and an iron stair rail.

General Manager Klaus Mennekes, former general manager of Shutters On The Beach, said the hotel was fortunate to attract talented people, particularly to its restaurants, which have garnered excellent reviews.

Mennekes, who was director of food and beverage for The Peninsula Group's hotels in Hong Kong and Singapore earlier in his career, said chef Andrew DeGroot has been instrumental in positioning the hotel's Oceanfront restaurant as a destination in itself.

The hotel's occupancy has been strong, said Mennekes, and the property is sold-out during some of Los Angeles' premier entertainment industry events, such as the Academy Awards and the Grammys.

The rooms are sumptuous, their baths lined with white Italian marble. Above their whirlpool tubs is a window of frosted panes that opens onto the guest rooms.

The decor of the rooms is rich in shades of yellow and green; the furniture is of fruitwood and wicker. Room rates start at $335 for a room without an ocean view and $395 for a room with a partial ocean view.

Several suites include three two-story penthouses with fireplaces, formal dining areas and either one or two bedrooms.

The Presidential Suite offers three bedrooms, a living room and dining room, a full kitchen and an exercise studio with a sauna and a steam shower.

The hotel also features a swimming pool, a spa and a fitness room as well as 6,600 square feet of meetings space, including a 4,000-square-foot Colonnade Ballroom with Venetian glass chandeliers and a wall of glass overlooking the ocean.

Casa Del Mar is a member of Leading Hotels of the World. For information, call (310) 581-5533 or (800) 898-6999. The Web site address is www.hotelcasadelmar.com.

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