Touching down at Los Angeles International Airport in the darkening night sky is almost like an extraterrestrial event. Lights fan out in all directions, grid-like white luminescence against pulsing red streams that beckon as you approach from the open ocean.
Los Angeles (LA) has always been the city of dreams – and dreamers, beginning at the start of the last century with the likes of DW Griffith, Cecil B DeMille and brothers Sam and Jack Warner shooting on primitive backlots in the Hollywood hills. Since then it has been all about the silver screen, and the careers made and shattered upon it in earthshaking celebrity rumbles that continue to shape the city today.
LA may have been built on more than movies, but it still seems to revolve around the concept of fame. For travellers who land in LA for a day, a week or longer, living like a celebrity is part and parcel of the fantasy. Visitors can have their time in the spotlight, luxuriating in phenomenal hotel suites, and taking in restaurants, attractions and shopping ventures that positively ooze the celebrity lifestyle.
It’s not surprising that Beverly Hills would offer the top picks for travellers in search of a luxury experience. Its hotels are the kind of places where guests care less about high-tech gadgets and more about design, which in this renowned district tastefully returns Hollywood to its Golden Age.
The Beverly Hills Hotel AND Bungalows: “The Pink Palace”, now part of the Dorchester Collection and owned by the Sultan of Brunei, might be considered the grande dame of this rarefied list if only for its tenure as the home of Marilyn Monroe. Although in its 103 years it has housed the very top of the A-List – Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and Marlene Dietrich among them (even John Lennon and Yoko hid out here) – it was Marilyn and her amour of the moment, Yves Montand, who kept the hotel’s Polo Lounge abuzz when they lived here during the filming of Let’s Make Love.
Today, the Beverly Hills Hotel remains as grand as ever, still keeping its gloss within the buffed-up pink and green interiors, palm-shaded groves and starlet-studded swimming pools. The 23 bungalows here unfold like individual homes, each with separate entrances, living room, dining room, wood-burning fireplace, and a distinct configuration and décor. A Cosmopolitan is still the cocktail to order at the Polo Lounge.
The Beverly Hilton: While the Beverly Hills Hotel may be known for its celebrity guests, the Beverly Hilton has always been the hotel of presidents. Conrad Hilton opened the property in 1955, and every commander-in-chief since has stayed in The Beverly Hilton Presidential Suite, often referred to as “White House West”. Robert Downey Jr’s favourite room is 815 – the Governor’s Suite.
Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel: This property, at the seductive edge of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, is known as the “Pretty Woman” hotel – referring to the romantic comedy that lit sparks between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in 1990.
The suite where the fictional financial tycoon and simple streetwalker fell in love is still available with few changes – known as the Los Angeles, Pretty Woman Suite, you can find it on the private, key-accessed 14th floor of the Beverly Wing. Officially the Penthouse Suite, this top-floor, three-bedroom space is among the largest in Beverly Hills at 465 sqm, and includes a beautiful wraparound terrace with spectacular views (you can see the Hollywood sign on a clear day).
The Peninsula: Tucked into a corner of Beverly Hills, the Peninsula is as famous for its Belvedere Room, where movie deal-making and breakfast go hand in hand, as it is for its five-star hospitality. The boutique layout (only 193 rooms, suites and villas) hides under shadings of palm, ficus and oak that shroud suites with that extra sliver of privacy.
Four “speciality suites” are on hand for those special guests. Three of the four grandest suites were designed by Forchielli Glynn (Exclusive Resorts, Four Seasons Prague and Vancouver). The fourth was designed by American interior design icon Nancy Corzine, who is known for her contemporary luxe style and signature line of furnishings, textiles and lighting designs.
All four of these spacious spots (140-210 sqm) feature fireplaces, advanced entertainment systems and sleek kitchens. They are classified by colour: green, white, pink and blue, and maintain their marks as showpieces for the designers whose signatures they carry.
Montage Beverly Hills: This magnificent property on Canon Drive offers three presidential suites – the Montage, California and Hollywood – each presenting its own layout and design. Attractions are the cosy fireplace settings, terraces, great views of the Hollywood hills, kitchenettes with valet entrances and large dining rooms, and high-tech electronics. Pets are welcome and lavished with pet amenities including doggie beds, bowls, treats and added services such as dog walking
L’Ermitage:The L’Ermitage, just east of the Beverly Hills hamlet and long a favourite with royals from the Gulf, opened a precious series of residential suites last year. These expansive enclaves range from 111 sqm to 410 sqm, with sleek fireplaces, elegant kitchenettes, and modern living and dining spaces with conferencing capabilities. Guests are enveloped by curated artwork and private balconies with French doors that open onto golden Beverly Hills mornings.
Shop among the stars
Shopping in Los Angeles is not a pastime, it’s a blood sport where celebrities don the next thing and fashionistas fight to be first to follow them. Everyone wants to get noticed in Los Angeles and skilful shopping can put you on the path. But you have to shop where the stars do.
Few street names define a city as perfectly as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (rodeodrive-bh.com). For all its fame and camera-toting tourist crowds along the sidewalks, Beverly Hills is still the natural habitat of celebrities who spend their leisure time testing the latest looks and nursing a hot macchiato at their favourite sidewalk cafés.
From Tiffany to Prada, Gucci to Valentino, the names on Rodeo Drive are the stuff of fashion aristocracy. The street also includes the classic tailoring of Brooks Brothers, Coach leather goods and the opulent sparkle and shimmer
Louis Vuitton and Gucci recently unveiled new renovated retail spaces on Rodeo Drive, while Burberry opened its first Rodeo Drive flagship there as well. Chic and sophisticated boutiques like Theory, AllSaints, Maje and Cos spice up adjacent Beverly Drive (lovebeverlyhills.com/shopping) with colourful approaches to style and design.
Kitson: Snap-happy travellers and paparazzi are routinely camped out in front of Kitson, a Robertson Boulevard store in West Hollywood that’s a regular haunt of celebrities who like its eclectic assortment of T-shirts, gifts, “it” bags and shoes.
Fred Segal: For more than 40 years, the ivy-covered building at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Crescent Heights Boulevard has been destination shopping for the trend-obsessed. The venue plays out like a deconstructed department store, and the cluster of individual boutiques inside provides one-stop star shopping for sunglasses, beauty products, lingerie and wildly original home décor.
The Grove: An odd film set-style backdrop of dancing fountains, a vintage trolley car and dozens of sculpted store and restaurant façades, the Grove is fantasy entertainment rolled into one posh, outdoor promenade. The concierge service attracts stars to the outdoor mall where they are given VIP treatment to fit their wish list.
The Original Farmers Market that connects to the Grove puts on no airs. It’s been around for more than 80 years and it’s the best place for spotting celebs who love this funky quarter stuffed with counter cafés and fruit stands. But you may not recognise them without the make-up and stilettos. They will be in torn jeans, floppy hats and flip-flops, and wiping food off the faces of their fidgety kids. The convenient midtown location makes this an easy destination from both downtown LA and the beach.
To live and dine
Eating out in LA can be an adventure in gourmet experiences that employs all the senses, with cuisine that pushes the envelope and, yes, likely a celebrity sighting mixed in. Some stars are not just there to dine, however – LA has several celeb-owned restaurants, these picks among them:
Beso: Owned by Eva Longeria who is also a frequent diner, Beso brings yummy appetisers and a fun vibe to Latin-inspired cuisine created by celebrity chef Todd English.
Ago Restaurant: This corner restaurant bordering West Hollywood has the hand of Robert De Niro, who backed this very popular LA venue with movie moguls Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and directors Tony and Ridley Scott, among others. Its well-known chef, Agostino Sciadri, brings some Italian classics to a sun-kissed Tuscan villa setting. Film and rock star sightings are common.
Tagine: Co-owned by Ryan Gosling, this Moroccan restaurant in West Hollywood features a sumptuous setting of colours and cushions, and reasonably prix fixe meals to tempt the taste buds.
Ketchup: Part of the Dolce group’s Los Angeles collection of restaurants, this spot is partially owned by celebrity investor Ashton Kutcher. Find upscale comfort food – and deals. Diners get 50 per cent off on all food on Sundays.
Mulberry Street: When you have to have pizza, head to Mulberry Street, owned by actress Cathy Moriarty (Vicki LaMotta in Raging Bull) – there are locations in Beverly Hills and around the city.
Best of the beach
LA may be a great big freeway, but if you gotta ride, do it on the PCH. The legendary Pacific Coast Highway runs 74 miles (119km) between Malibu and Long Beach, hugging the coastline through most of it and passing some of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods.
But if you really want to see the beach, you have to get off the road. When you are ready to take a break from your urban explorations, the cool waters and aggressive surf of the Pacific Ocean in these parts are there to be savoured.
Whether star, student, VIP or very impatient person, you will want to take in the Venice Boardwalk. This is where circus fantasy meets California reality. Mimes will follow and mimic you; fortune-tellers will read for you; rollerblading guitarists will strum for you; snake charmers will pose for you; portrait artists will have you pose for them; political activists will harangue you; used book collectors will sell to you and, if you are lucky enough, the crowds will part for you.
For crowds, family, entertainment and colourful scenes head to Santa Monica. Find the funky shops selling soaps and hemp clothes, the cool coffee bars owned by rock stars (Bob Dylan owns the 18th Street café) and some top-tier buskers. Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is an ample car-free stroll that leads to the legendary Santa Monica Pier for rides on the historic carousel and mini-roller coaster over the Pacific.
Further north find the star-studded enclaves of Malibu and the quiet public beaches they overlook. A top-down drive on the Pacific Coast Highway is one way to go, or you can bike or blade your way north along well-kept bicycle paths that border the ocean from Redondo Beach to Malibu.