From Bel Air to Beverly Hills, indulge in the city of the stars
We live in a world where it often seems like anything can happen – in Los Angeles, anything does. It truly is the land of limitless possibilities. The gritty, bustling streets of Hollywood are home to actors dreaming of fame and fortune, while multimillionaires are buying second homes in Malibu. Fortune 500 employees in skyscrapers are just a short drive from laid-back surfers who dot the waves of the sparkling Pacific Ocean. On Venice’s Muscle Beach, tanned bodybuilders pump their forms to a crowd of tourists, while college students in Westwood drink $5 coffees and line up for midnight showings at the Bruin Theater. The arid desert air of Palm Springs is two hours away; the breathtaking craggy landscape of Mammoth Mountain is four. It’s even possible to go wine tasting in Santa Barbara in the morning and dine on fresh seafood from San Diego’s Coronado Harbor in the evening. Couple this with the fact that LA residents seem to be in a perennial hurry, as evidenced on the city’s traffic-congested streets, and you’ve got a dynamic, fast-paced and often overwhelming place. Tucked away in a cozy enclave, just out of reach of the chaos of Hollywood and the barefoot beach bunnies of Santa Monica, is arguably the city’s most exclusive, prestigious community – the palm tree-lined streets declare you’ve arrived: Beverly Hills. To truly get a local’s day-in-the-life, however, one really should cross the span of the city – drinking in the contrast of manmade luxury and natural beauty that can’t always be seen on the often maddeningly superficial surface.
On your first day, check into the opulent Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel. Hidden behind leafy trees and set back behind a circular paved entrance, the Peninsula is just a stone’s throw from Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive. Make your way past the gleaming Ferraris and Lamborghinis into the hotel’s airy, grand lobby. It’s easy to see why this posh oasis is a favorite among LA’s elite. Agents and managers power lunch with their famous clients at the Belvedere restaurant while visiting world leaders and businessmen mingle in the regal lounge. Service is second to none at the Peninsula, which prides itself on convenience and luxury – room temperatures are adjusted electronically and manicures and pedi-cures are offered in private poolside cabanas.
After a long journey, check into your suite (the front desk is open 24 hours a day) and make your way to the hotel’s Spa and Fitness Center. Enjoy a Beverly Hills workout in the gym’s 800-square-foot space, where treadmills equipped with TV monitors and weight station amenities like balance balls and tension bands make an hour pass by quickly. In the mood for a little instruction? The fitness center also offers personal training sessions, as well as private yoga classes. After your invigorating workout, it’s time for a little relaxation. Head to the aptly named Spa and ditch your gym clothes for a plush terrycloth robe and slippers. (The robe is so popular in fact, that it’s available for purchase in the hotel’s boutique). The Spa itself has an inspired menu, destined to fulfill the tired traveler’s every whim. The Jet Lag Recovery is a rejuvenating facial and eye treatment followed by a neck and shoulders massage and reflexology for the legs and feet. For total body satisfaction, choose from one of the Peninsula’s signature wraps, ranging from the Moroccan Espresso Mud Wrap to the Bamboo Lemongrass Body Scrub. The spa even features acupuncture and the truly indulgent Gem Treatments, where authentic gems are incorporated into relaxing massages – sapphires for tranquility, rubies for vitality and diamonds for harmony. A diamond massage? Only in Beverly Hills.
Now that you feel good on the inside, head back west for some retail therapy on Rodeo Drive, LA’s fashion and shopping mecca. Gaze as leggy supermodels walk their tiny pooches on the cobbled street of Via Rodeo, and admire the grandeur of design power-houses Versace, Valentino, Armani and Prada, all of which lay claim to part of the revered street. Browse the sparkling eye candy at Harry Winston, Tiffany and Cartier, and give your feet a treat at Stuart Weitzman and Salvatore Ferragamo. Indulge in the finer things at Fendi and Bottega Veneta and in the silky unmentionables at La Perla. Weighted down with purchases from your Rodeo Drive shopping spree (very Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), head back to the Peninsula for a quick drop off before lunch.
After shopping in Beverly Hills, there’s no better spot to lunch and recharge than at the brick-paved, white picket fence-lined Ivy restaurant, perhaps the most recognizable of all Beverly Hills spots and a favorite of Hollywood’s A-list. As you await your table on the patio, the most desirable spot for people-watching, notice the band of paparazzi camped across the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ivy regulars such as Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan and Tom Cruise. (Jennifer Lopez had her last meal with famous ex Ben Affleck here; the spot also has been a backdrop for notable scenes in movies such as The Bodyguard and Get Shorty). Once seated, make sure to order the Ivy’s house cocktail, the Ivy Gimlet, a favorite among the restaurant’s regulars. The Californian-Italian inspired menu comes with a hefty price tag, but after a tasty meal of fresh seafood linguini and house-made apple pie, all is soon forgiven.
After lunch the urge to splurge hits again, and it’s time to rack up some more purchases – this time east of Beverly Hills, on famed Melrose Avenue. The trendy street that once was best known for its secondhand boutiques and multiple thrift stores has expanded in recent years, emerging into a go-to spot for hipsters and fashionistas alike. However, the lively, crowded quarter has managed to retain its reputation for edgy, unique patrons so it’s not unusual to spot a mohawked twentysomething wearing tight jeans and rhinestone belts perusing the racks next to a stylish Brentwood beauty with three kids and a designer bag. Between La Brea and Fairfax, vintage reigns. Scour staples like Decades and The Way We Wore for chic hats, bags, sunglasses and jewelry. Pop into Wasteland, which surged in popularity after Angelina Jolie wore one of its $26 velvet frocks to a film premiere, proving that even celebrities have an eye for bargains. Just blocks away, Melrose becomes less grunge, more glamour as hip Hollywood designers Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and Monique Lhuillier have found their niche on the famous street and its neighboring annex, Melrose Place.
After you’ve had your fill of boutiques for the day, it’s back to the Peninsula, change for dinner and head 12 blocks west to Mastro’s Steakhouse, a Beverly Hills mainstay and a favorite of the residents who have become weekly regulars. Step inside past the aqua blue waterfall and you’re transported into the era of Frank Sinatra, jazz and the 5 o’clock cocktail hour. A piano plays Rat Pack favorites upstairs, and the dim lighting and rich velvet curtains provide a hip, old-world ambiance. Order a martini or a bottle from the steakhouse’s extensive wine list, and try not to overindulge in the house bread basket – steaming hot pretzel bread and Parmesan crisps are tempting, but dinner is worth the wait. Order the “seafood tower” to start – this multi-tiered fantasy of crab legs, shrimp and oysters isn’t even on the menu, but it’s a favorite with in-the-know diners. Although the fish at Mastro’s is exceptional, the steak is truly the reason you’re there, so pick from the wide selection – the filets and New York strips are especially delicious. Side dishes like the gorgonzola macaroni and cheese and the wasabi mashed potatoes might just fill you up, but leave room for the decadent Chocolate Sin Cake for dessert. Swaying to the tunes of Ol’ Blue Eyes, bid good night to Mastro’s and your first day in Beverly Hills and head back to the Peninsula for some much-needed rest.
In the morning, head west on Sunset Boulevard to the stately gates marking the entrance to Bel Air. One of the oldest communities in Los Angeles, the affluent, ritzy neighborhood is home to some of Southern California’s wealthiest residents. Continue driving the expansive tree-lined streets until you reach your next destination – the Bel Air Hotel. If the Peninsula is glamour and glitz, the Bel Air is a respite of pure elegance and beauty. The lobby is accessed by crossing an arbor bridge above the front lawn’s gazebo and pond, where serene swans swim year round. The Bel Air Hotel is the epitome of privacy – many a Hollywood celebrity has escaped into one of the private villas to get away from a not-so-flattering story or two. After check-in, choose a table on the Terrace, the hotel’s sunny outdoor dining area, for an omelet or pancakes and coffee. And don’t look too shocked to see anyone from Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor to former first lady Nancy Reagan sitting nearby.
After breakfast, take a drive 30 miles south to the port town of San Pedro, where you can hop on a chartered helicopter to Catalina Island. After a short, 15-minute flight, you arrive on the quaint shores, home to a textured history (it was once the drop-off point for smugglers in the early 1800s). Now, Catalina is a favorite of tourists and LA locals alike – visitors can snorkel, dive, fish and tour the surrounding sea in a glass-bottomed boat. Sightseeing on dry land more your style? Rent a golf cart and visit the island’s multiple art galleries and Mexican boutiques, remnants of a time when Catalina was part of a Mexican land grant, four years before California became a state. Stop for lunch at one of Catalina’s four seafood restaurants and enjoy a scrumptious meal as you gaze at the boats dappling the harbor. Wave goodbye to the peaceful isle as you head back to Los Angeles and the Bel Air Hotel.
Once you return, take a moment to relax and enjoy Bel Air’s signature afternoon tea, which has become an institution with Chanel-clad society mavens. Sip on Earl Grey and enjoy a variety of delectable munchies from the savory (finger sandwiches include smoked salmon and cucumber) to the sweet (fruit tarts and scones with Devonshire cream). After tea, retreat to your villa just in time for a relaxing in-room massage.
Dinner is at the Wilshire in Santa Monica, LA’s premier seaside community that hugs the Pacific shore and has been attracting tourists for more than 100 years. Beachgoers still flock to the expansive coast and its adjoining Pier, teeming with nostalgic games, snacks and a prominent 130-foot Ferris wheel. In recent years, Santa Monica has continued its transformation into a bustling business, fashion and restaurant center: Google and MTV have offices here; Fred Segal and the tony boutiques of Montana Avenue draw shoppers from across the city. Foodies enticed by Santa Monica’s Michelin-starred Melisse, La Botte and Valentino are further indication that the neighborhood has become a preferred Westside destination.
At the Wilshire, a California-inspired menu focuses on organic fruits and vegetables and fresh ingredients. The elegant atmosphere is complemented by two bars – a wraparound inside where leather banquettes and candles abound, and a more casual outdoor version where specialty cocktails like the Wilshire Wonderland (a white chocolate raspberry martini) can be sipped al fresco. Dinner is served indoors or out, with heat lamps on standby for that rare brisk LA evening. The artisanal Charcuterie Plate is a crowd-pleasing starter, while the entrees often feature a play on standard favorites, including wild mushroom duck pot pie and grilled kurobuta pork chop with apple sausage ragu. For dessert, “coffee and donuts” (house-made donuts with coffee and vanilla ice cream) and the brown butter banana cream cake (with coconut ice cream) will surely sate your sweet palate.
After dinner, head back to Beverly Hills for a night of jazz and cocktails at Nic’s Martini Lounge. True to its name, Nic’s features a dazzling selection of more than 20 martinis with new recipes added daily, such as the Windex (a shocking blue concoction) and the Japanese-inspired Sake it to Me. Pay your respects at the Dean Martin shrine – one corner of the lounge has a burning candle and a freshly poured martini on display every evening in honor of the Hollywood legend. And make sure to visit the Vodbox, a walk-in freezer displaying hundreds of types of vodka available for tastings. Sumptuous leopard-print coats and hats are provided for protection against the 29-degree air. The lights of the city are twinkling as you tap your feet to the live music and sample various libations. Soon it’s time to head back to the Bel Air Hotel where your Italian linen-adorned bed and a good night’s sleep await.
In two days, you’ve indulged in a diamond massage, set foot on a former smuggler’s beach, dined on seafood, steaks and chocolate, shopped at the most famous boutiques in the world and even consumed vodka in a freezing cooler. It hardly all seems possible. As you depart, take some of the city’s shimmering glitz with you. Relish in its vivaciousness, energy and elegance and realize that in Los Angeles, it is true what they say: Anything is possible.