Since the 1920s, the L.A. enigma of wealth, fame, and pretention has lured celebrity hopefuls and aspiring anybodies to enter a vortex of the fake and fabulous, in a desperate attempt to become “somebody.” While this conundrum has placed L.A. at the top of global “must see” bucket lists for tourists and fledgling starlets, the very Hollywood hoopla the world gawks at and the glamorous, revered lifestyles of the rich and famous are indeed everyday life for Angelenos.
The city’s superficiality and stereotypes are best appreciated in prestigious Beverly Hills, the perfect square mile to flaunt labels, the latest House of Bijan couture, freshly absorbed Botox, or glimmering veneers. In this maze of residential opulence and world class shopping, Ryan Seacrest smiles, Centurion American Express cards and eye-catching Bentleys, reality rides on an unapologetic fine line between fiction and fact.
Adjacent to Beverly Hills, West Hollywood (WeHo) is L.A.’s most progressive enclave and arguably the epicenter of America’s gay universe. On a day-to-day basis, the streets of WeHo teem with gorgeous people and edgy fashions, making the true attraction of visiting here a bit of recreation time on the eye-candy playground and the ever so delightful judgment carousel. Beyond fabulous nightlife and bulging biceps, WeHo is the city’s hotspot for trendy restaurants and celebrity sightings.
Meanwhile, across town, downtown Los Angeles is experiencing a revolution. Formerly the city’s Achilles Heel - an urban wasteland riddled with crime and grime - downtown is now in the process of an Extreme Makeover, emerging as a rejuvenated princess in the land of glitz and glamour, ready to take on the world with a new attitude. The anchor of this redux? The Staples Center (home of the L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers) and the surrounding L.A. LIVE area, which has attracted the likes of the Ritz-Carlton, loft developers, and restaurateurs looking to create a new type of L.A. experience.
There’s way too many reasons to visit and re-visit L.A. and its sub-cities in 2011. Below are the places – new and old - not to miss on this year’s west coast pilgrimage.
Andaz West Hollywood (323.656.1234) - Hyatt’s much awaited youthful re-invention of the former Sunset Strip “Riot Hyatt,” a hotbed of 70s and 80s rock n roll angst and the long-haired rocker appetite for hotel destruction. The hotel is fresh, funky, fun, and full of freebees, offering a strategically conceptualized product that bridges gaps between generations. The contemporary design of common spaces is highly detailed while rooms are simple and understated. Guest rooms boast spacious sunrooms with floor to ceiling windows, peering over the Sunset Strip and vaster Hollywood panoramas (from floors 6 and up). Free Illy espresso, wine, and rotating snacks lure guests at all hours to the lobby, while the complimentary (nonalcoholic) mini bar gives new meaning to raiding the fridge.
Montage Beverly Hills (310.860-7800) - Whether drooling with envy or simply living the good life, Beverly Hills is the place to feed aspirations of the multi-millionaire lifestyle or, more often, enjoy its sumptuous reality. There is no better place to do either than the Montage Beverly Hills, 90210’s newest kid on the block. From the driveway drowning in Rolls Royces to the welcome champagne bottle in the mini-bar and the palatial rooms you never want to leave, this is Beverly Hills at its finest. The hotel is downright awesome and continues to prove its versatility and evolution with a growing appeal to diverse demographics.
The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles (213.743.8800). Like some of Tokyo and Shanghai’s greatest hotels, Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles houses the upper floors of a striking sky scraper, offering only the best city views at every turn. The rooms parlay a remarkable evolution of the Ritz-Carlton brand, with a contemporary yet refined interior design. The exceptionally well-appointed furnishings boast clean symmetries, channeling attention towards the wall-to-wall panoramic window, lined with a sumptuous day bed, peering over the Hollywood Hills and greater Los Angeles. The mega bathrooms are separated into three sections, most notably a wet area where a rain shower and oversized jacuzzi sit side by side, encased in glass, again with perfect views of L.A.
BALEEN Los Angeles (877.BaleenLA) - Nationally renown for its seafood-centric menu and its mesmerizing waterfront views, BALEEN attracts sizeable crowds from the greater L.A. area for an evening of seaside escapism. The “Cane Sugar-Seared Ahi Tuna” with coconut rice, spicy papaya salad, avocado/wasabi mousse, is the must-try!
The Belvedere (310.788.2306) – Experience eclectic, innovative, and flavorful cuisine at one of L.A.’s most revered addresses – the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Given its long list of accolades - from its 16-time AAA Five Diamond Award to its annual Mobil Four Star rating - the restaurant has become an institution in Beverly Hills. Career waiters and waitresses provide only the best service, and the cuisine is arguably the best in L.A.. Be sure to try the “Slow Roasted Scottish Loch Duart River Salmon” under Sun-dried Tomato-Yogurt Glaze with Chick Pea Fritter, Fiddlehead Ferns and Espelette Pepper Broth.
Cecconi’s West Hollywood (310.432.2000) - Mingle among the svelte, calorie conscious clientele and then rebelliously feast on the decadent pizza showered in freshly shaved Italian white truffle (or black, depending on the season). If you aren’t heading to the west coast soon, Cecconi’s now has a South Florida outpost at the SoHo Beach House, Miami.
Fresh East (310.859.9989) - Everything at Fresh East screams sustainable, from the utensils made of recycled fibers, to the plates made of palm leaves, to the water-saving urinals. As the name suggests the restaurant’s Pan-Asian delights deliver the ultimate in freshness with its organic, healthy fast food eats. Try the “5 Spice Glazed Salmon-“ organic Salmon, brown rice, asparagus, 5 spice glaze - and wash it down with fresh coconut water.
L.A. Market Restaurant (213.743.8800) - Kerry Simon’s highly acclaimed garden-fresh comfort creations, like the “LA market green salad” with crispy shallots, shaved asparagus, poached organic egg, and topped with rosemary grilled shrimp, epitomize the farm to table trends of modern American cooking.
Villa Blanca (310.859.7600) – You don’t need deep pockets to enjoy this “see and be seen” hotspot in the heart of Beverly Hills. The restaurant is owned by Lisa Vanderpump - the divine-raspy voiced Brit from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It may be 90210, but Lisa offers $10 menu items for lunch and brunch as a way of paying respect to recessionary times. Recession or not - who doesn’t love a bargain? (Note: I didn’t see Lisa, but her husband and dog, Giggy the Pom, were indeed present)
Art, Fashion, and Design District - The crossroads of Melrose Avenue and Robertson and Beverly Boulevards in West Hollywood are home to hundreds of design showrooms and big name fashion houses like Christian Louboutin, Stella McCartney, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Balenciaga, Alberta Ferretti, as well as eclectic boutiques like Alpha and Kitson Men. Retail therapy, anyone?
The Bunker (310.860.0909)- Trainer Adam Ernster may be easy on the eyes but he’s relentless when it comes to his tailored workouts and helping his A to D list clients achieve their goals. Adam’s private, “paparazzi-proof” clandestine studio in heart of Beverly Hills makes him a favorite for celebs training for intense roles – like Ben Affleck in The Town, Bruce Willis for Die Hard 4, Sylvester Stallone for Rambo 4. And the equipment is amazing.
House of Bijan(310.273.644) - On a street that defines exclusivity, Bijan stands out as ultra-exclusive. This internationally recognized, by-appointment-only store offers the latest menswear designs for the most discerning shoppers. The color coordinated upstairs private collection is displayed a like masterpiece of contemporary art – even the fresh flowers of these hyper-organized thematic closets match the intended color palate. Throughout his store and window displays, the late Mr. Bijan pays homage to the myriad countries and world leaders who have shopped at the House of Bijan. Outside the “House”, in general the Pretty Woman days are over; and mere denizens are welcome to taste the posh life of 90210 and Rodeo Drive with minimal doses of snobbery.
Spa Montage (310.860.7840) – I have banked over 850 spa treatments in my travel career, and Spa Montage’s signature “Surrender Experience” is well in the Top 5. A highly trained "Surrender Therapist" creates a bespoke treatment based on you personal preferences – in my case super deep tissue. My therapist, Rachel, worked magic on my body. Arrived early for the full spa experience and to relax in the co-ed mineral pool and enjoy a bit of time in the steam room.