I first visited Los Angeles in the Spring of 2007 when my father and I embarked on an epic road trip in celebration of my university graduation. Our California adventure would have us coasting from San Diego to San Francisco with a detour spent in Palm Desert for the Coachella Music Festival. We spent three days living out of a motel on Santa Monica Boulevard and made sure to tick off each of the city’s top attractions, fond memories spent at Venice Beach, The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive and Warner Brothers studio.
I’ve revisited the city several times since my first introduction but am always trapped by the confines of LAX airport. Each year millions of Canadians and Americans find themselves connecting through LA en route to Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Asia and beyond. On my most recent visit, I was keen to discover what one could easily enjoy if stopping in town for a short 48 hour layover. In order to make life on the layover easy I avoided renting a car (yes it is possible, I’m here to prove that to you today) and situated myself in the city so that attractions were but a hop, skip and a jump away.
I was joined by my good friend Jonathan Morton Schuster, a Hollywood gossip fanatic indulging in his first visit to Tinseltown. West Hollywood was our home base, a perfectly situated neighbourhood nestled between Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Our home away from home would be The Chamberlain Hotel, a design-driven urban oasis. The boutique property is ideally situated on a tree-lined residential street which remains convenient to the excitement of Sunset Strip and Santa Monica Boulevard. The hotel features 114 spacious suites, an exclusive bistro, fitness centre and rooftop offering pretty panoramic views of the city best enjoyed at sunset.
After checkin in and skipping through our suite we jolted up the elevator and spent the afternoon enjoying The Chamberlain’s rooftop while wolfing down a late lunch. Guests lounge on lux beds and plush lawn chairs which sit perched around a heated outdoor swimming pool. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to slip behind the Hollywood Hills. A Nirvana ballad chirped in the breeze as we quenched our thirst on mojito and margarita duo. We nibbled through juicy beef burger, crunchy cobb and a sweet pineapple mango slaw squished sandwich stuffed with seared ahi tuna.
Sips and Nibbles: West Hollywood is one of LA’s most sought after culinary hotspots offering top notch restaurants which are always but a whisper away. Japanese favourites are served up with a spin at Yellowtail Sunset, seafood fans find finger-licking-good happiness at Connie & Ted’s homage to the traditions of New England and those looking for hip meets haute swoon at the creme de la creme via The Church Key.
We started our morning at the fantastic Hollywood Costume Exhibit, a collaboration between the Victoria & Alberta Museum in London and Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences. The groundbreaking multimedia exhibit was staged in the historic Wilshire May Company Building, the future location of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The exhibition explores the central role of costume design – from the glamorous to the very subtle – an essential tool of cinematic storytelling. It brings together the world’s most iconic costumes from the Golden Age of cinema (Wizard of Oz, Ben-Hur, Mary Poppins) to present (Dallas Buyers Club, Django Unchained, American Hustle). It’s hard not to ooooh and ahhhh while strolling past over 150 original costumes, giddy with glee while gawking at Glen Close as Cruella De Vil and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.
Next door at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) one could spend hours revelling in thought provoking works which range from contemporary installation, classic painterly portraiture and indigenous artifacts from the Polynesian islands. Since its inception in 1965, LACMA has been devoted to collecting works of art that span both history and geography. Today LACMA is the largest museum in the western United States, with a collection that includes over 120,000 objects dating from antiquity to present, encompassing the geographic world and nearly the entire history of art. Among the museum’s strengths are its holdings of Asian art, Latin American art, ranging from pre-Columbian masterpieces to works by leading modern and contemporary artists; and Islamic art, of which LACMA hosts one of the most significant collections in the world.
For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of LA tap into West Hollywoods hidden little secret, Voda Spa. The treatments and saunas here reflect cultures from across the globe and include traditional Russian banya, Swedish/Finnish cedar dry sauna and a Turkish wet steam bath. It’s the sort of spot you can easily spend all afternoon, offering the perfect cure when fighting off a hangover or jet lag. We arrived two hours before our treatment, time well spent sipping lemon water while hopping around in swimming pool, cold bath and bubbling hot tub. Be sure to sign up for the signature platza treatment, a rigorous massage performed with venik: a leafy, fragrant bundle of oak, birch and eucalyptus which soaks in warm water and is applied using rhythmic taps and strokes.
No visit to LA is complete without a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We enjoyed pre-dinner stroll along the star studded sidewalk where Jonathan came face to face with his mentors Joan Rivers and Meryl Streep (giddy with glee). The laying of the stars began in 1960, instigated by the local Chamber of Commerce, which thought that by enshrining the big names in radio, television, music and theatre, it could somehow restore the boulevard’s past glamour and boost tourism. Continue you’re stroll to Hollywood and Highland and you’ll find the Hollywood Roosevelt, movieland’s first luxury hotel which opened the same years as the Chinese Theatre across the street. An odd version of a Chinese temple, replete with dubious Chinese motifs and upturned dragontail flanks; the lobby’s art deco splendour and the grand chinoiserie of the auditorium make for interesting viewing. Opened in 1927 as a lavish setting for premieres of swanky new productions, today the main draw is the array of cement handprints and footprints embedded in the theatre’s forecourt. The idea came about when actress Norma Talmadge “accidentally” stepped in wet cement while visiting the construction site with owner Sid Grauman. Tourists swarm here on the daily, fighting through a crowd of impersonators from Marilyn Monroe to Batman who for a pretty penny will pose with you for a picture.
If you’re looking for a post dinner attraction head to DBA Hollywood where film fans pack to the brim for an evening filled with song and dance. The team at For The Record have now put on four shows, each offering a tip of the hat to the works of acclaimed Hollywood directors. The crowd is entirely camp, many belting out the words to familiar ballads as the crooning cast mix and mingle on stage and amongst the audience. After hearing about the company’s past hits (Scorsese, John Hughes, Tarantino) we were thrilled to check out Baz Luhrmann, a 3 hour extravaganza inspired by the Australian directors cinematic hits Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. The show is best enjoyed while sipping on champagne from plush leather booth. Jonathan’s keen eye spotted Rumer Willis (daughter to Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) who sat directly across the room from us mouthing the words to her favourite songs while twirling her hair and sipping a vintage bottle of Coke.
West Hollywood is perhaps best known as LA’s queer capital and at night the streets fill with glamorous drag queens, tiny twinks and perfectly tanned and toned Muscle Mary’s. If you only have one night to paint the town gay be sure to enjoy a twirl on the dance floor at The Abbey. The city’s most famous gay watering hole is a two-time winner of the MTV Logo Best Gay Bar in the World Award and a favourite for celebrities, locals and tourists alike. The Abbey is undeniably a West Hollywood institution, serving up boozy cocktails for over 25 years. On a Saturday night the 14,000 square foot space features speedo strapped go-go dancers and beautiful bartenders. If you’re keen on dropping cash for a touch of the luxury life grab a booth for bottle service under the disco ball. The Abbey’s most redeeming feature is perhaps its pretty patio where folks take a break from the beats and enjoy a breath of fresh air under the stars.
My visit to LA was a press trip coordinated by Visit West Hollywood. Flights, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.