The Beach House 4 stars
This relaxed sober-living manse is a great next step for rehab grads who’ve become enamored with the Southern-California recovery lifestyle—so long as you don’t mind just a touch of obligatory “bunch of strangers living together” drama.
Built into a cliff along a rugged stretch of Pacific-Coast sand you’ll find Malibu Beach Sober Living’s Beach House, a halfway house like none other. Standing five stories tall, this idyllic sober-living home is all big windows and light, surrounded by palm trees and with four beachfront decks—the better to foster a sense of serenity and ease, as its primarily upper-class residents transition from rehab back into real life.
The main drawback? Beach House residents may get too attached to this California sober-living center, and to the luxurious private or semi-private suites they’ll call home for varying amounts of time; former residents told The Fix that they lived here for anywhere from three months to more than a year. Owner and executive director Kimberly James—who’s also worked at Cliffside Malibu, Cirque Lodge and Passages—has a way of making potential residents feel comfortable about choosing the Beach House as the place to continue their recovery. One alumnus said, “Kimberly gave me a tour of the house, and it seemed like a great place to get sober with such a beautiful environment.”
Once they move in, the max of nine residents, who range widely in age, from 18 to 55, get along—for the most part. “There was drama, obviously, but drama will occur anytime you have a bunch of strangers living together,” said one Beach House denizen who’s apparently well acquainted with MTV’s The Real World. Another cited his annoyance at one roommate in particular, who he didn’t think should have ever been admitted to the sober house. “Her apathy got on my nerves,” he said, adding, “Maybe I was jealous of how little a crap she seemed to give about anything.”
But more importantly, a survey of former residents suggests that a majority of those who come here are serious about staying sober, and encourage their roommates to do the same. Describing what may be the best kind of peer pressure, one Beach House alumni noted, “I was resistant at first to attend 12-step meetings, but eventually I got [so] sick of being at the house all by myself that I started going as a social thing—and then I really started liking it.”
Another thing that people really seem to like here are the healthy and varied meals—and if you don’t like what’s on the menu, you can add items to the shopping list and cook for yourself in the house’s open, modern kitchen. Weekend brunch includes eggs, pancakes, hash browns, bacon and the like, while at dinnertime residents dig into stuffed chicken (a chef specialty), fish, steak and more. A nearby roadside stand keeps the kitchen stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables—and every once in a while, there’s an all-vegan dinner, “which were very few, thank god,” said one resident. On Thursday evenings, Beach House chefs fire up the barbecue to grill steaks, hamburgers, chicken and other outdoor favorites, followed by an in-house, semi-open AA meeting.
Beach House staff are generally well-liked by their clientele, who reportedly enjoy shooting the breeze with them just as much as they do their roommates. Of course, that could have something to do with staff not having a whole lot to crack the whip about, given that the daily schedule is much more low-impact than a full-on treatment center. Residents are required to engage in two hours of “recovery work” daily, whether therapy or a 12-step meeting or something along those lines—but besides that, your time is your own. Household chores are limited to the very basics, such as cleaning up after yourself and putting things away. “There were housekeepers who took care of the dirty stuff,” said one former resident.
The focus at the Beach House is on providing a supportive environment where clients can strengthen the foundation of their recovery—not on restrictions or deprivation. As such, using one’s cell phone, surfing the web or watching TV is allowed at any time—in fact, the place has 17 flat-screen HD TVs with premium cable. Such a policy can be good for a sober-living house, said one resident, because “there is nobody in my life back home who will restrict me, so to say that I had to have the lights off at 10 pm or something like that would be really stupid.” House rules are similarly low-impact, although some basic things like no smoking indoors, no blasting the TV or stereo at odd hours and so on are enforced pretty rigorously.
Fitness-minded residents can avail themselves of either the small on-site gym, or a larger one three miles away, to which everyone in the house gets free membership. You can also splash around in the small, infinity-edge house swimming pool, chill out in the hot tub or just hang out on the beach with your roommates. In fact, one of the best parts of living at the Beach House are the parties—for Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl Sunday and so on—wherein lots of sober people from neighboring facilities as well as Beach House alumni, family and friends, get together for music, food, pool volleyball and more. “Just general good times,” said one alumnus.
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