Thirty-two years ago, Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, who was a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was teasing a friend. The friend had just signed up to serve in the U.S. Army.
Cowboy was mimicking the rhythm of marching soldiers by scat singing “hip hop hip hop.”
He later used the phrase in a performance. Then the name began to be used by disco musicians in a derogatory way to identify a new type of music being performed by MCs and DJs. But before long, its negative connotation wore off and the name stuck.
Let’s break down the word. Hip-hop combines two slang terms. Hip, which means “in the know,” has been a part of African American vernacular since the late nineteenth century. Hop represents the hopping movement exhibited by hip-hop performers.
The key individuals and groups credited with popularizing the term in the late seventies and early eighties include The Sugarhill Gang, Lovebug Starski, DJ Hollywood, and Afrika Bambaataa.
Seductive City By the Sea; In Santa Monica, Fun & Food In a Romantic Setting
The Washington Post June 12, 1994 | James T. Yenckel The single most important thing to know about Santa Monica before you go is that it is not Los Angeles. You can walk almost anywhere you want to go in Santa Monica. Sea breezes routinely sweep away the smog here. And Disneyland is so far away, there’s no need to feel guilty at all about not going there. For these reasons, and more, I took an immediate liking to this pretty little cliff-top city by the beach, just 15 miles west of central L.A.
To a frequent L.A. visitor, as I am, Santa Monica proved on a recent visit to be a seductive oasis in an encircling desert of urban sprawl – a politically independent entity with odd quirks and lots of charm. A bit old-fashioned, it sports a downtown fishing pier thrusting into the Pacific with a boardwalk Ferris wheel and carnival rides like many a bygone beach resort. And yet it also is home to some of the trendiest – and best – restaurants in the country.
As I sampled the local menus for three days, I became convinced Santa Monica is well on its way to becoming one of America’s capitals of fine dining. By this, I mean original menus that are filled with strange but very tempting dishes that I don’t see anywhere else. I savor new and unusual ingredients and taste combinations, and for me meals in Santa Monica became an exciting adventure. Prices ranged from moderate to very expensive, and the dishes were uniformly good.
The abundance of fine restaurants reflects the city’s role as the increasingly fashionable new residence for the rich and famous of Southern California. And yet Santa Monica, with a population of about 90,000, still retains an easy-going, hometown quality befitting its humbler working and middle-class past.
The clash of cultures results in some odd compromises. On each Saturday morning, two blocks of downtown Arizona Avenue are blocked off for a traditional farmer’s market, where fresh produce of all kinds is sold. But, as a sign of trendy times, the heaping mounds of fruit and veggies on display are all certified as organically grown.
Santa Monica took some hard blows in the Jan. 17 earthquake, and several older apartment buildings were damaged. But the city’s hotels, restaurants, museums and other visitor attractions escaped serious harm and are all fully in operation. The toppled portion of the Santa Monica Freeway serving the city was reopened last month.
Perhaps because the sunsets are so gorgeous, I came to think of Santa Monica as very much a city for romance – a place more appealing to visiting couples than to families because of the sophisticated nature of its attractions. By day, my wife and I toured Santa Monica’s wide array of unusual shops and its contemporary to avant-garde museums and galleries; explored the communities of Malibu to the north and Venice to the south; and enjoyed a succession of superb and very leisurely lunches. And in the evening, we watched those unfailingly beautiful sunsets, and then we strolled to a nearby restaurant for yet another long and splendid meal.
Certainly, the city’s setting is conducive to romance. It is perched atop a high, yellow-rock bluff overlooking a three-mile-long sweep of beach on Santa Monica Bay. Palm-shaded Palisades Park, a slender, beautifully landscaped garden, stretches along the cliff’s edge for a mile and a half. Here is where we took wake-up walks before breakfast, enjoying the view of the turquoise sea, and returned in the evening to catch the ruby red sunsets. Had the weather been just a bit warmer, we would have taken the stairway down to the beach just below.
For, of course, Santa Monica is a summer beach resort that – by reputation, anyway – attracts lots of young and beautiful bodies of both sexes. I can’t verify this personally, however, because we flew to Santa Monica during the winter to escape the East Coast’s ice storms. As a winter resort, Santa Monica does just fine too. Every day brought sunny skies and temperatures that were pleasant enough for comfortable outdoor dining if not for swimming. here santa monica zip code
The reason I mention eating so often is that this became the focus of my visit once I had discovered what pleasures awaited. My days were planned carefully so that I was never in any danger of missing a meal. Indeed, our first stop after checking into an ocean-view hotel, the art deco Shangri-La, was lunch at a nearby restaurant called Zenzero. Sleek, even stark in decor, it features a blend of Californian and Asian cuisines. We opted for an outdoor table, and I ordered grilled chicken nicely seasoned with lemon and pepper. It was served with a heap of fresh-made, bright orange yam chips. My visit was off to a good start.
A stroll on Santa Monica’s historic pier is nearly obligatory, and fun. Built in 1908, it is the oldest pleasure pier on the West Coast. It attracts ordinary folks in the form of numerous fishermen napping beside their tackle boxes and also the curious. In one spot, a sleekly muscular couple dressed only in his and hers sequined bikinis warbled rock tunes for coins. Nearby a flutist garbed as Davy Crockett also serenaded but with a classical repertoire. We caught a ride on the pier’s 1922 carousel, which was featured in the Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie “The Sting.” Each of its 44 horses is hand-carved, and no two are alike.
The liveliest place in town, especially in the evening, is the three-block-long Third Street Promenade. Once a decaying shopping street, it has been transformed into a pedestrian-only plaza lined with offbeat crafts and clothing shops, sidewalk cafes, bookstores, some of Santa Monica’s top restaurants and – by my count – 17 movie theaters. At night the scene becomes a good-natured street party drawing lots of sidewalk performers. One night we watched a man standing on his head while yodeling and playing a guitar. Just down the way, an eight-member men’s vocal group sang Broadway melodies.
No sooner had we stepped onto the street when a jovial vendor with a fancy cart filled with body massage devices attracted our attention. He was waving a small rolling pin-like object while he loudly described its benefits. When we stopped, he proceeded to give each of us a 60-second shoulder massage with it. The brief workover was surprisingly refreshing, and now I regret I didn’t buy one of his items.
The promenade is pleasantly landscaped with potted trees and bushes, which are illuminated at night with tiny white lights. Huge topiary dinosaurs towering above the street add a touch of fantasy, and the festive look is further enhanced by colorful banners draping from overhead. We dined at Remi’s on the promenade, where I ordered roasted veal loin rolled with arugula and oven-dried tomatoes and served with a roasted shallot sauce. I sipped espresso at Congo Market, a ’50s-style beatnik coffeehouse down the street.
We spent much of one day exploring more shops, galleries and the Santa Monica Museum of Art on Main Street, another offbeat commercial strip about a half mile south of the promenade. Ah, but first we headed for lunch on Main Street at celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main restaurant, where the menu is a blend of Asian and French cuisines with California flair and the ambiance is casual, crowded and noisy. The Asian-themed decor features bold splashes of black, green and fuchsia, a backdrop for two life-size porcelain peacocks. As for the food, yummy. I chose barbecued salmon with black and gold noodles served with a mint vinaigrette. And I eagerly succumbed to dessert when I saw this item listed on the menu: “cashew and banana tart with green tea ice cream.” I loathe driving the traffic-clogged freeways of Los Angeles, and one of the reasons Santa Monica appealed so much to me was that during much of our stay I could leave our car parked in the Shangri-La lot. But a car was a convenience on two excursions I considered essential to my visit – a 15-minute drive north to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, the Hollywood beach colony, and a 10-minute drive south to funky little Venice. go to web site santa monica zip code
The Getty Museum is renowned for its great collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, which range in period from 3000 B.C. to 300 A.D. But the building and its gardens, set high on a bluff above the Pacific Coast Highway, are in themselves well worth a visit. They are a re-creation of an ancient country house that once stood outside the Roman city of Herculaneum, which was buried along with Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. The trees, flowers and other plant life duplicate the vegetation that might have been found in a Roman villa of that era.
When the museum opened in 1974, the building drew sharp criticism as Getty’s “folly” because it represented an architectural style of the past rather than being something fresh and creative. But a Roman villa with its splashing fountains, courtyards, colonnades and terra-cotta tile roof seems exactly the right place to display the ancient world’s vases and statuary. Indeed, the villa also fits perfectly well into the present-day Southern California landscape, which in many ways has the look of southern Italy. In one graceful garden is a bronze statue of Hermes, the messenger god, which shows him seated on a rock. He seems completely at home there.
After our museum visit, we sought out Geoffrey’s in Malibu, a hillside restaurant with an ocean view and outdoor seating. Sailboats skittered across the bay like ghostly waterbugs, and we settled back to enjoy the panorama with a leisurely glass of wine and lunch. This time I opted for a salad of asparagus and shrimp with blue cheese dressing.
The beach which Santa Monica faces stretches for about 26 miles along the Santa Monica Bay shoreline from Malibu in the north to Palos Verdes in the south. Much of it is a part of the state park system, and parking and restrooms are available. The Pacific Coast Highway edges the beach from Santa Monica north to Malibu, and the drive is pleasantly scenic. Above the highway are the dry, rumpled hills dotted with lavish homes that were swept by the savage Malibu fires last year.
South of Santa Monica, the Pacific Coast Highway turns inland, so you have to find your way to Venice through neighborhood streets. It is a raffish little resort and residential community with a fine beach. Behind the beach runs Ocean Front Walk, a zany, Coney Island-type boardwalk that attracts hordes of sightseers and more than enough curious sights. Roller skaters zip by in near undress, muscle builders in tight shirts flex mountainous biceps, fortune tellers shuffle their tarot cards, toddlers drip melting ice cream, proselytizers seek converts to their causes – “Legalize marijuana” read one sign at a makeshift stand – and everybody gawks at everybody else. It is an ongoing show, and anybody can star.
Later we drove back to Santa Monica anticipating one more sunset and, of course, one more great meal. I always know a trip has been fun when I’m reluctant to leave, and I sure hated to say goodbye to Santa Monica. After all, I still held a lengthy list of restaurants I wanted to try. If you like good food in a romantic setting, Santa Monica is the place for you. And remember, take along a pair of walking shoes.
James T. Yenckel
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