Editor’s Note: CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the Western world. But Los Angeles is also among the world’s most diverse metropolitan areas and is the United States’ second-most populous city, with roughly 80 interconnected neighborhoods.
Los Angeles County has almost 10 million residents. Or, as Dorothy Parker once called it, “72 suburbs in search of a city.” From the cool-casual vibe of Santa Monica’s Main Street to the Mid-City meccas of excess spanning Beverly Hills and the Sunset Strip, to the hipster’s paradise of the East Side, Angelenos have a wide range of tastes and options.
The catch? Unless you like sitting in five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, you’ve got to pick your best of Los Angeles priorities and plan accordingly. Here’s how to enjoy star treatment in the City of Angels – with or without the celebrity checkbook:
Shutters on the Beach
The hotel describes the vibe at Shutters as high style but low-key, an appropriate mindset for experiencing Los Angeles. With its proximity overlooking the Pacific Ocean and room appointments like John Robshaw comforters, in-room libraries and whirlpool tubs, however, L.A. will have to work double time to lure you out of your room.
Breezing through the double doors at Shutters feels like joining Oprah (and all of her favorite things) at her estate in Montecito. There’s usually a roaring fire in the lobby lounge. Good thing, too: with the exception of the high summer months (July through September), it’s surprisingly chilly at the beach.
Opened as apartments during the Great Depression, the Chateau had to convert to a hotel after two years in business. Rumor has it The Eagles Grammy Award-winning “Hotel California” was inspired by this iconic chateau at the eastern edge of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.
Dennis Hopper hosted wilder-than-wild parties here. Comedian John Belushi succumbed to a heroin overdose in Bungalow 3.
“Touched with scandal and commemorated in literature,” is how the Los Angeles Times put it. Whatever. You’ll feel like a celeb yourself as you ride the elevator straight from the garage to your room, avoiding the front desk staff and the paparazzi.
The mojito at the always-fashionable Bar Marmont (where executive chef Carolynn Spence’s menu includes pork cracklins and pumpkin ketchup) might just be the best in Los Angeles.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills
The Peninsula’s 193 rooms and suites were renovated in 2011. If regular old five-star luxury doesn’t cut it, there’s always the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Just don’t expect a raucous party.
Discretion is the order of the day here. Quiet elegance abounds, with conveniences including complimentary around-the clock-check in. The Peninsula is so fancy, this writer once ordered a glass of Champagne at teatime and the waiter automatically served Dom Pérignon.
There’s barely enough time in the day to explain why the Viceroy Santa Monica rocks. It’s a block from the ocean (and the above-mentioned Shutters on the Beach, at half the price).
Its modern, art-deco style channels everything sexy about the 1960s and 1970s with none of the kitsch. The rooms, which are decent in size, use plates as decor and somehow pull it off. Basically, you get cooler just by being here.
Smack in the middle of a pedestrian strip of Wilshire Boulevard, adjacent to Beverly Hills, sits the newly opened Hotel Wilshire. The block isn’t the sexiest, but the glass facade of this environmentally sustainable boutique property goes a long way toward classing up the area.
Staff are friendly and accommodating. For convenience, the location is unbeatable – you really can get almost anywhere from here in 20 minutes.
Book a higher floor if you’re in search of peace; The Redbury sits right next to Avalon nightclub.
So you want a record player in your room to go with your “in-flat” service from famed L.A. sushi den Katsuya? Sounds about right at The Redbury, a 2011 boutique addition to the revitalized Hollywood and Vine.
While the lobby is reminiscent of the black lodge in Twin Peaks, the sizable rooms themselves are more bohemian than Lynchian, with homey appointments like in-room washers and dryers, four-poster beds and vintage turntables with furnished records. And with all the trappings of quirky-cool sophistication in such a famed location, no wonder it’s become a trend-seekers’ mecca.
The prices at this downtown home-away-from-home could qualify as budget in L.A., but the atmosphere is pure luxury. Located directly across the street from the Staples Center, even the most die-hard Lakers fans will forget what’s outside once they enter this place.
The Marrakech Suite in particular feels like a hip, young sultan’s boudoir. Odds are you’ll see a famous face or 10, but nobody cares. Thankfully, everyone’s too engrossed in the libido-lifting atmosphere to stargaze.
Even on a budget, you can still lounge like an Angeleno. Convenient and trendy with 52 rooms and a great downstairs diner (the Swinger burger is fabulous), The Beverly Laurel is walking distance to art, shopping and drinking. It even has a lounge-able pool.
Rooms are basic, but with a retro style that’s admirable at this price point in this area. Once you get past the people with handlebar moustaches and ironic T-shirts, that is. (Unless you’re one of them. In which case, you’ll be right at home.)
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Duplex on Third
Opened in July 2012, Duplex serves Anglenos something they’ve longed for since Le Colonial closed a decade ago: a quality restaurant with an equally fabulous bar in Mid-City.
Fans go apoplectic over the grilled peaches with di stefano burrata, grilled baguette pine nuts and salsa verde ($12). The $14 Queen Bee (a fruity little concoction of Ketel One vodka, elderflower liqueur, prosecco, pineapple juice, lemon juice and agave) could put a smile on even the sourest puss.
The staff couldn’t be nicer, making the scene upscale, but not pretentious. If you can score a table in the sometimes-open upstairs lounge, you’ll never want to leave. Unfortunately, sleeping on the Duplex’s insanely comfy couches is not an option.
At the tender age of 17, Chef Jordan Kahn was the youngest man ever to have worked in Thomas Keller’s famed kitchen at The French Laundry. Whatever he learned there (or in his many ventures since), the results are almost indescribable. But let’s give it a shot:
The Heirloom Rice Porridge with eggyolk, hazelnuts, ginseng and Échiré butter ($17) is a life-changer. The Coconut Bavarois with coffee, condensed milk, Thai basil and peanut croquant ($9) is hands-down the best dessert this writer has ever tasted.
You can’t go wrong at Gjelina – unless you’re seated next to one of Venice’s many trustafarian dilettante “artists.” Then again, he (or she) will probably be with a model. If not, you can always get the take-out.
Seasonal veggies and small plates are great for sampling a broad section of locally sourced ingredients. The late-night menu sates munchies with sophistication – even if you do go with the pizza. As hip as its name and industrial-chic decor suggest, Gjelina has proven staying power, which is more than can be said for that dilettante’s date.
Singapore’s Banana Leaf
Consistently good, but often great, the fish curry and mee goreng special at this walk-up in the middle of the historic Farmer’s Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue offers a satisfying way to spend 10 bucks. You might even get away for less.
More importantly, it’s the only restaurant of its kind in all of Los Angeles. While the stand doesn’t serve alcohol, you can grab a beer or a glass of crisp white from one of the Farmer’s Market bars. On weekends from May through September there’s live music.
The Grilled Cheese Truck
Triple Cream Brie with fresh peaches and thyme and a Prosciutto crust. From tacos to lobster rolls to ice cream sandwiches and even Korean-Mexican fusion, adventurous Angelenos can whet their taste buds at any of a number of mobile restaurants that trawl the city.
Still, for many, The Grilled Cheese Truck stands alone. With limitless variations on the childhood favorite – each taken to its highest form – there’s even a macaroni-and-cheese grilled cheese. (Drop microphone.)
The Grilled Cheese Truck, scheduled locations online
Part throwback to the art deco 1930s, part modern marvel of industrial chic, The Edison was once home to L.A.’s first private power plant (hence the name).
Rooms vary in theme, but most boast dark corners that inspire salacious thoughts. Leather club chairs, lush draperies and dramatic iron candelabras combine with factory steel in this sexy, steampunk alternate reality. For cocktails try The Mistress ($14). Reservations recommended.
Walk through a wooden wardrobe and down a spiral metal staircase for a night of rum cocktails and salsa music. Just dispense with the high heels, else you may do the splits before you can hit the dance floor.
This Cuban-themed lounge is a cigar bar, but smokers are confined to one area near the rum-only bar in back, so you won’t leave smelling like a trash fire. Meanwhile, burlesque dancers on the balcony will whisk you away to bygone Havana. Reservations recommended. Jacket required.
The Surly Goat
Like most anywhere these days, craft beer is hot in Los Angeles, and the Surly Goat gets props for its 27 taps, central location and playful feel. Maybe it’s the accepting WeHo (West Hollywood) vibe, but everyone seems welcome here. Happy hour from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday dissolves workday worries, so it probably soothes jet lag, too.
Bar Centro at the SLS Hotel
Everyone in L.A. knows about The Bazaar by José Andrés. The trouble is getting a table.
Skip the stress and get a taste of Andrés (arguably the most celebrated chef in Los Angeles of late) in the lobby bar adjacent to Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. The people watching is extraordinary, the whimsical Phillipe Starck decor wows and the liquid nitrogen caipirinha stuns at $20. It’s worth every dollar.
Prepared tableside, a cloud of freezing gas engulfs your server as he or she stirs. When it dissipates, you’re left with what amounts to a deceptively strong and smooth frozen caipirinhia, complete with fresh herbs and a little wooden spoon. One does the trick.
A very different California city – San Francisco
Melrose Avenue used to be the place to go for cheap and trendy fashion. While you can still score some of that on the eastern flank of this two-mile stretch of Melrose (between La Brea and Fairfax avenues), once you get closer to La Cienega Boulevard, look out! Everything comes at a premium.
A few highlights from both sides: Golden Apple Comics (7018 Melrose Ave.; +1 323 658 6047) is the place to feed your inner geek or amuse your 12-year-old. Lingerie shop Agent Provocateur (7961 Melrose Ave.; +1 323 653 0229) serves up saucy numbers to unleash that inner pinup girl.
Decades (8214 Melrose Ave.; +1 323 655 1960) puts couture on consignment, making the unattainable (somewhat more) affordable.
Much of this area was once crisscrossed by canals in developer Abbot Kinney’s grand plan to make it the “Venice of America.” Earlier this year, GQ selected Abbot Kinney (named after the visionary developer and conservationist) in Venice as the coolest block in America. It’s definitely where culture meets commerce. And it’s steps from the beach. Unlike other hot shopping strips, many of the stores along Abbot Kinney emphasize variety over specialization.
For instance, according to owner Nilou Ghodsi, Undiscovered (1104 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1 310 450 6431) carries anything you could want in a home. And, per Venice standard, occasionally exhibits photography.
Meanwhile, when there is a singular offering, stores like Strange Invisible Perfumes (1138 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1 310 314 1505), which bottles certified organic fragrances in-house, take perfection to new heights. Shop end of season (spring or fall) to hit sales.
While well-heeled Westsiders may lack the patience, L.A.’s designers, hipsters and bargain-hunters know downtown’s outdoor shopping district, Santee Alley. Comprised of more than 150 stalls, this Fashion District market forces buyers to wade through some garbage to find the gold.
But there is gold, if you take the time to find it. Otherwise, just have a taco, and take in a Los Angeles that few tourists ever see.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Glare from the Hall reportedly warmed nearby condos by more than 48 degrees Farenheit until its surface was dulled. Whether or not you’re into the L.A. Philharmonic, head downtown and check out the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Not only is it otherworldly to behold, its design makes it one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls on the planet. Children under 6 are not admitted to performances.
The Hollywood Bowl is the largest naturally formed outdoor theater in the United States. hether you’re in a box at the front or up in the benches of the nosebleed section, when the sun sets, there’s something magical about the Hollywood Bowl.
Parking is a test of conviction, but if you spring for a lot down on Hollywood Boulevard and walk to and from the venue, you’ll save time in traffic and log an interesting stroll. ost seats allow you to bring your own food and beverages, including wine and beer, so call to check.
Unlike the vast sands of Zuma or Santa Monica’s popular Will Rogers State Historic Park, the beach at Paradise Cove feels private and small. Like a little slice of the Mediterranean in Malibu, complete with chairs and wait staff courtesy of the Paradise Cove Café.
There, dishes are big enough to split and mimosas are made with Perrier Jouet. Get four hours of parking for $3 with restaurant validation. Otherwise, it’s $30. Ouch.
The Good Life
Aside from the weather, one of the best things about living in L.A. is the ability to access celebrity-level amenities on a regular schmo’s budget. What does that mean?
Angelenos know how to feel fabulous at affordable prices. t all comes down to how you look and your mode of transportation. (Sort of.)
Start your transformation by visiting a style consultant. Michele Liberman (aka The Shopping Friend) helps locals and tourists achieve a personal, flattering signature look at affordable prices. You can even take her shopping with you.
Michele Liberman, The Shopping Friend, +1 917 297 3875
Meanwhile, hair to rival any Kardashian can be yours for a pittance at one of L.A.’s blow-dry bars.
Can’t get in to the perennially popular DryBar? Stylists at local secret JM Blowdry (whose services Time magazine rated one of the eight most opulent in this year’s Academy Awards gift bags) transform tresses and do makeup.
JM Blowdry, 9410 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills; +1 310 860 1880
London style comes to Tinseltown. Likewise, for a shave, haircut, facial and whiskey on the rocks, The Shave Beverly Hills is a stateside take on London’s gentlemen’s emporiums. Get the latest sports scores or read the business section while you relax in upscale grandeur.
Now that you look like a local, why not get around like one? Luxury transportation is readily available whether you want to travel by land, sea or air. Rent your car of choice from Imagine Lifestyles. A Range Rover Sport will set you back $375 per day, while there are four types of Ferrari, starting at $1,495.
Imagine Lifestyles, 7510 Sunset Blvd., Suite 1438, Hollywood; +1 323 310 3365
Don’t expect to get her into top gear on L.A.’s roads.
Across town, Captain Alex at Paradise Bound Yacht Charters run sunset cruises from the Ritz-Carlton Maria del Rey.
Paradise Bound Yacht, 4375 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey; +1 310 578 7963
Not romantic enough? A relaxing, private gondola tour of the Venice canals (get it, Venice?) can be yours courtesy of Gondolas Amore.
Finally, if you’re feeling flush, Blue Star Jets of Beverly Hills runs round-trip VLJ (very light jet) transportation between L.A., Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Pushing it? Perhaps. Unless you get “discovered” while in town.
Blue Star Jets, 400 S. Beverly Drive, Suite 412, Beverly Hills; +1 310 277 7827