Last year, as the doldrums of another cold, grey winter set in and the holiday cheer faded into the distance, I made a pact to escape our fair shore of Lake Michigan for the bright and shining lights of Hollywood, not to mention palm trees and temperatures in the upper 70s.
I had been told that one of the best times to visit Los Angeles was during the month of February, or more specifically, during Academy Award week. And so, as the temperature at home dipped precariously low, my friends and I booked tickets to the City of Angels faster than you could say, “And the Oscar goes to…”
Boasting a population of roughly 4 million residents, Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the country and offers a rather extensive number of attractions for tourists. To make the trip effortless and to allow for an abundance of celebrity sightings, we would need to map out the neighborhoods of L.A. into a coherent succession, which is easier said than done.
Along with Hollywood’s abundance of notorious residents are its infamous highways. Some consider navigating L.A. as arduous as following the plot to a Stanley Kubrick film. Thus, we boarded our flight armed with the essentials: a map and every celebrity gossip magazine the American terminal at O’Hare offered. With public transit few and far between, it became clear that the best and easiest way to see L.A. would be by car; the rumors are true, everyone does drive in L.A. This also meant we couldn’t accept just any old rental sedan. Instead, we opted for a bright red 2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible. The car turned out to be well worth the splurge—there is no better way to see L.A. than in a convertible!
Parched from the flight, our first stop was Pressed Juicery (pressedjuicery.com), for a quintessential Californian refreshment. Located in the understated-yet-upscale neighborhood of Brentwood, Pressed Juicery offers fresh, raw juices from a cute Mister Ed-style door located in iconic Brentwood Country Mart (brentwoodcountrymart.com). Aside from organic juices, the historic mart boasts fantastic shopping and celebrated California establishments. A favorite of ours was Turpan, a unique gift shop with everything from luxurious candles to intricately designed glassware.
We loved the “down-to-earth” vibe we got from Brentwood and all that the neighborhood had to offer. Possibly one of the less “touristy” parts of Los Angeles, the tree-lined town offers great shopping and quaint cafés and bakeries that could easily fill a day’s worth of activities. I guess we aren’t alone in loving Brentwood; on our way back to the car, we spotted Jennifer Garner and hubby Ben Affleck toting what looked like finds from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Situated just north of Brentwood, Bel Air is probably one of the more famous Los Angeles neighborhoods—thanks in large part to former “Fresh Prince” Will Smith—however, the Los Angeles suburb lives up to its reputation. Bel Air screams “Old Hollywood.” From the secluded houses, lined with more trees and security features than the White House, Bel Air is home to many Hollywood hitters such as Steve Martin, Burt Reynolds, and Hugh Hefner.
Nestled in the middle of the swanky town is Hotel Bel-Air (hotelbelair.com). The newly renovated property boasts a Spanish mission style esthetic and offers private entrances from the garden or courtyard for each of its guest rooms. One of the main attractions to the five-star hotel is Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air (hotelbelair.com/wolfgang-puck-bel-air). The famous chef manages the restaurant, and his California cuisine with Mediterranean and European influences attracts Hollywood stars and hotel guests alike. It was hard to believe such an elite restaurant could be found in the lobby of our hotel!
Beverly Hills is famous for its ZIP code (90210) and high-profile residents, but also for its fantastic and luxurious shopping, available on both Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard. With stores such as Gucci, Prada, Chanel, and many, many more, it is difficult not to want something from every store.
Although you can’t go wrong with any of the cafes and restaurants that line the streets in Beverly Hills, we decided to check out Bouchon Bistro (bouchonbistro.com). A known hot spot for A-List celebrities and incredible cuisines, we were not disappointed by either the steak frites or the Charlize Theron sighting at the table across from us.
While a trip to Los Angeles is not complete without a full tour of Hollywood, it has become more of an attraction than an actual place of residence. One of the first things on our list of “touristy things to do” was to see the Hollywood sign. And there is no better way to see the sign than with a traditional California hike. A perfect antidote to the delicious vanilla lattes and scones we indulged in earlier in the day at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (coffeebean.com)—the West Coast’s answer to Starbucks, a celeb favorite and well worth the calories.
Runyon Canyon is known not only for its views of the infamous Hollywood sign, but also for many celebrity sightings. Situated in, you guessed it, the Hollywood Hills, the 190-acre park and hiking trail system has been known to host more than a few famous hikers. Our hike, while starless, garnered some great shots of the sign and made us feel like true Californians, crunchy granola bars and all.
In need of a quick shower, we checked in at our next destination, Chateau Marmont (chateaumarmont.com). Immediately upon entering the famous property, you wish that the elegantly designed walls could talk. (Chateau Marmont has been called home for many a celebrity, most recently Lindsay Lohan, and is the site of a number of infamous incidents.) Designed after a countryside castle in France, the hotel property towers over West Hollywood’s infamous Sunset Strip, which makes the “chateau” a magnet for A-List starlets (and, let’s face it, B-List as well) along with other bigwigs in the movie industry.
Bar Marmont, located in the hotel’s lobby, also has a huge draw to the Hollywood elite. The darkly lit bar has a definite Old Hollywood vibe—walking in feels a little like entering a movie set, but the bar turned out to be approachable and charming nonetheless. It probably helped that we caught a glimpse of David Beckham in the far corner enjoying a few drinks with pals. Sadly, Posh was nowhere to be found.
After conquering Marmont, it was determined that there was no other way to see West Hollywood than lunch at The Ivy (theivyrestaurant.com). Practically a celebrity in its own right, the outdoor
restaurant reigns supreme on WeHo’s (West Hollywood) Robertson Boulevard. To sit behind the coveted white picket fence patio takes a bit of planning. We called a few days in advance to make a reservation and were able to secure a coveted table outside. Another SoCal draw to Robertson Boulevard is Kitson Boutique (shopkitson.com). The eclectic store, which has everything from Kate Middleton’s iconic Issa brand to moderately priced jewelry and cheeky California souvenirs is a favorite among celebs like Britney Spears and Lauren Conrad.
After four whirlwind days in metropolitan Los Angeles, it was time to say good-bye and say hello to the beach. First stop, Santa Monica. The Oceanside town has quite a different feel from the overwhelming nature of Los Angeles and Hollywood. Before we had booked our flights to Los Angeles, we had already known where we would stay in Santa Monica: Shutters on the Beach (shuttersonthebeach.com). The seaside hotel has a reputation of having one of the most comfortable beds a hotel can offer, and we could not disagree. But aside from the luxurious linens, Shutters is a truly unique experience. From the interesting (and unique) books stocked on every shelf to the silly remarks on the “Do Not Disturb” signs, our room felt more like a private luxe guest room than an impersonal hotel room. Shutters has a friendly attitude with first-class service, making it feel as if you’re visiting an old friend (who happens to have a gorgeous beach home).
Beverly Hills might have Rodeo Drive, but Santa Monica has Montana Avenue (montanaave.com). The shopping street boasts more than 150 boutiques and cafés, ranging from smaller chain stores to unique, one-of-a-kind clothing and gift shops. It’s a nice escape from the touristy Third Street Promenade, which only seems to offer stores we already have back home, but is worth a stroll nonetheless. If you’re looking for an even more authentic “California” shopping experience, then head over to the artsy Abbot Kinney Boulevard. While this street is technically in Venice, and not Santa Monica, it’s worth a visit, if only to get a taste of the quirky side of Los Angeles.
Even though we made shopping one of our main priorities on this trip, the last day-and-a-half were completely devoted to the beach. With Shutters’ convenient location, we only had to cross the boardwalk to hit sand. With the Santa Monica Pier (santamonicapier.org) mere steps from our hotel, we spent the day lounging on the beach and rode the Ferris wheel at night.
Our last day was spent driving up Pacific Coast Highway With the top down, we watched the surfers shimmy into the water along the coast and the gated houses grow bigger and bigger. Thirty minutes later, we arrived in Malibu. After spending just a few hours in the beach town, it becomes incredibly obvious why Mattel gave one of its Barbies the “Malibu” moniker. We decided on a quick seafood brunch on the ocean, and Geoffrey’s Malibu (geoffreysmalibu.com), located directly on the Malibu shore, was the perfect pick.
The conclusion to our trip was bittersweet. After six busy days, we still felt as if there was more to see and do, but alas, that just meant we’ll have to return again this winter. And, although we didn’t win an Oscar, we left Los Angeles exclaiming, “We like you! We really like you!”
The 85th annual Academy Awards: And the party goes to . . .
On Sunday, February 24, 2013, host Seth McFarlane will present the 85th annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre). Unless you’re an Academy member, chances of getting a seat inside the theater are virtually zero—tickets are not transferable. Snagging a ticket to a coveted after or viewing party, however, is simply a matter of what you’re able to pay. Last year, a pair of tickets to both the Weinstein brothers’ Oscar bash and the star-studded Vanity Fair party were available on the website charitybuzz.com (for around $8,000 and $15,000, respectively). But tickets to the Night of 100 Stars Oscar Viewing Party, a celebrity-packed dinner that celebrates Old Hollywood, are a relative steal at $1,000 a piece (nightof100stars.com) and a ticket for Elton John’s annual Oscar viewing party can be had for $3,500 (ejaf.org/events). Unless you’re an A-Lister, it might be close to impossible to get a ticket to Madonna’s Oscar party, which is currently threatening to upstage rival Sir Elton’s soiree. Last year’s guests, who included Britney Spears, Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Jennifer Lopez, were treated to personalized Gucci luggage. Now that’s a swag bag!