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Living Large in LA

Published: 01/12/2015 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2015 » December 2015/January 2016 » Destinations » Home » Features »

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Touching down at LAX in the darkening night sky is almost like an extra-terrestrial event. Lights fan out in all directions, grid-like white luminescence against red streams, pulsing, beckoning as the land pulls westward toward the ocean.

Los Angeles, at times described as a great big freeway, is, oh, so much more. Look beyond the tail lights of the traffic buzzing from the beaches to the boutiques and bistros and find the spotlights that have made the city shine since the beginning of the last century. 

Los Angeles has always been the city of dreams – and dreamers, beginning with the likes of D.W. Griffith, C.B. DeMille and the brothers 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 to this day continue to shape the city.

Los Angeles was built on far more than movies, it’s true. But for travelers who land in LA for a day or a week or longer, living like a celebrity is part and parcel of the fantasy. Visitors can have their time in the spotlight as well, luxuriating in phenomenal hotel suites like no place else on the planet, and taking in restaurants, attractions and shopping ventures that positively ooze the celebrity lifestyle.

Suite Sensations 

It is not surprising that Beverly Hills would offer the top picks for travelers 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 tastefully returning Hollywood to its Golden Age.The Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows: “The Pink Palace,” now part of the Dorchester Collection and owned by the Sultan of Brunei, might be considered the Grand 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 for a week) – 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 it ever was, no worse for wear and still keeping its gloss within the buffed up pink and green interiors, palm shaded groves and starlet-studded swimming pools. A Cosmopolitan is still the cocktail to order at the Polo Lounge. 

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. Bungalow 5, the four-bedroom Presidential Bungalow, offers a private lap pool built in 1991 for frequent guest Walter Annenberg.

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, oft-tagged “White House West.” Robert Downey Jr.’s favorite room is 815 – 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 clever 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 Los Angeles, Pretty Woman Suite. Find it on the private, key-accessed 14th floor of the Beverly Wing. Officially the Penthouse Suite, this three-bedroom space on the top floor is among the largest in Beverly Hills at 5,000 square feet. It and Presidential Suites have beautiful wraparound terraces with spectacular views (you can see the Hollywood sign on a clear day).

Montage Beverly Hills: This magnificent property on Canon Drive offers three Presidential Suites, each presenting its own layout and design that can be combined toward a total of 5,000 square feet of staying power. Attractions are the cozy fireplace settings, terraces, views of the Hollywood hills, kitchenettes with valet entrances and large dining rooms, high tech electronics and baby grand piano. Pets are invited into these spreads with lavish pet amenities including doggie beds, bowls, treats and added services such as dog walking and babysitting.

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 “Specialty 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 (1,500 to 2,250 sq. ft.) feature fireplaces, advanced entertainment systems and sleek contemporary kitchens. They are classified by color: green, white, pink and blue, and maintain their marks as showpieces for the designers whose signatures they carry. 

L’Ermitage: The L’Ermitage, just east of the Beverly Hills hamlet and long a favorite with royals from the Gulf, just opened a precious series of residential suites this year. These expansive enclaves run 1,200 to 4,400 square feet 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 skillful 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. And for all its fame and camera-toting tourist crowds along the sidewalks, Beverly Hills is still the quarry of celebrities who spend their leisure time testing the latest looks and nursing a hot macchiato at their favorite 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 of Cartier.

Louis Vuitton and Gucci recently unveiled new renovated retail spaces on Rodeo Drive, while Burberry has staked out its first Rodeo Drive flagship there as well. Chic and sophisticated boutiques like Theory, AllSaints, Maje and COS spice up adjacent Beverly Drive with colorful approaches to style and design.

Star Sightings

Kitson: Camera-toting paparazzi routinely camp out at this a Robertson Blvd. store in West Hollywood. It’s a regular haunt of celebrities who like its eclectic mix of T-shirts, gifts and “it” bags and shoes. 

Barneys New York: The valet parking stand behind this tony store in Beverly Hills allows for gossip-quality picture-taking opportunities. Your grocery store check-out line celebrity magazines are full of close-ups of shopping starlets who want to be seen. 

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 open parking lot provides plenty of space for the paparazzi looking for money shots. 

The Grove: An odd film set-style backdrop of dancing fountains, a vintage trolley car and dozens of sculpted store and restaurant facades, 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 that love this funky quarter stuffed with counter cafes and fruit stands. But you may not recognize 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 mid-town location makes this an easy destination from both Downtown Los Angeles and the Beach. 

To Live and Dine in LA 

Eating out in Los Angeles can be an adventure in gourmet experiences that bring in all the senses: set, taste, cuisine that pushes the edges, brag-worthy mentions and, yes, likely a celebrity sighting mixed in. Some celebrities are not just there to dine, however; Los Angeles has several star-owned restaurants, these picks among them:

Beso: Owned by Eva Longeria who is also a frequent diner, Beso brings yummy appetizers and a fun vibe to the Latin-inspired cuisine that’s been fashioned by celebrity chef Todd English. 

Ago Restaurant: This corner restaurant bordering West Hollywood has the hand of Robert DeNiro, 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 and table set up in breads and oils that bring their own star power. Film and rock star sightings are common. 

Tagine: Co-owned by Ryan Gosling, this Moroccan restaurant in West Hollywood features a sumptuous setting of subtle colors and cozy cushions, with reasonably prix fixe meals to try.

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 percent 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”) with 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 between Malibu and Long Beach, hugging the coast line through most of it and passing some of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. 

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 savored. 

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 by the dozens will read for you; masseuses and aura tuners will heal you; rollerblading guitarists will strum for you; snake charmers and parrot tamers will pose for you; portrait artists will have you pose for them; political activists will talk to you; body painters will design for you; used book collectors will sell to you and if you’re lucky, the crowds will part for you.

For crowds, family, entertainment and colorful 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 street performers. Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is an ample car-free stroll that will lead you 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 northward along the well-kept bicycle paths bordering the ocean from Redondo Beach to Malibu.  

By Lark Gould

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