“Swimmin’ pools, movie stars.” Those insightful lyrics from the Beverly Hillbillies theme song came to mind as I packed my Louis Vuitton weekender for a trip to the sunny Left Coast. I had been summoned by the divine Becca Cason Thrash for a series of parties and art tours she was hosting in Los Angeles to raise funding for and awareness of the American and International Friends of the Louvre. So why not extend that sojourn and share my go-tos for a whirlwind adventure — four days, which turns out to be 5,760 minutes in the land of swimmin’ pools and movie stars.
Having lived in L.A. in my 20s (a younger chapter with better, resilient skin), I’ll always feel like L.A. is in my blood. This is an en plein air city meant to be lived outdoors, with its omnipresent golden rays and temperate temperatures allowing for short hemlines during the day and a chic Cucinelli cashmere sweater in the evening. Glamour runs amok — thus, the reason it’s likely the epicenter for TikTok creators and “influencers.” Entire complexes — high-rises on Santa Monica Boulevard — house this crowd. You might call them TikTok think tanks.
Like those oft-photographed precarious case-study homes poised like a Jenga game, you must always be extremely careful when describing this city. It’s a fine line between lionizing and judging it. It’s a town of decadent excesses and a plethora of holier-than-thou tree-hugging Prius drivers. One could, however, wax poetic over the abundance of exceptional architecture and landscaping. Many hillside homes seem to dangle delicately on their stilts, as if a strong wind might blow them over at any moment. The whole city resembles a stage set for a glamorous and slightly dangerous place. Simply look to one of David Hockney’s famed swimming pool paintings, which could be a movie poster for a sexy murder-mystery film.
Like most major cities, L.A. has a multitude of neighborhoods, each with its distinct flavor, style, and denizens. Malibu’s gilded shoreline and hills are populated with lithe blondes slinking about in bikinis (hello, Malibu Barbie — or, rather, Pamela Anderson) and sun-kissed surfers. WeHo (West Hollywood) is filled with fabulous LGBTQers and a multitude of watering holes and gyms. And let’s not forget Holmby Hills, the wealthier section of Beverly Hills with its gargantuan homes (wink-wink, The Manor, the 50,000+ square foot sprawling mansion that Aaron Spelling built with his Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty money) behind imposing gates.
Where to Rest Your Weary Head in Los Angeles
Perhaps half the fun of visiting Los Angeles is securing a suite at a favorite hotel. And there are lots to choose from, with daily rates that echo the price of the most coveted luxury-house handbags. Like starlets, they’re continually getting facelifts, giving us a reason for a return stay to see what’s new. Hotels are vital to this town — celebrities decamp there for months on end — leaving with bills comparable to the cost of buying a home in Plano.
The Beverly Hills Hotel: Perhaps Fran Lebowitz put it best: “Los Angeles is a large city-like area surrounding the Beverly Hills Hotel.” This grand dame, known to many as the Pink Palace due to the abundance of that hue alongside green (banana leaves and palm fronds galore), is celebrating its 111th anniversary in 2023. It’s the epitome of old-school chic. The best reason to visit is a martini at the Polo Lounge. This storied room with its candy-striped ceiling has long been the epicenter of power dining in L.A. Our go-to item on the menu is the McCarthy Salad (iceberg, romaine, grilled chicken, egg, beets, tomatoes, cheddar, smoked bacon, avocado, balsamic vinaigrette), available at lunch and dinner. It’s been on the menu since the 1940s, when it was created for a regular, renowned local polo player Neil McCarthy. In celebration of the 110th anniversary, it could be upgraded to $1,912 to include gold-leaf flakes, lobster, caviar, and an engraved bottle of Dom Pérignon. 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills.
Pendry West Hollywood: Sleek cars and a sleeker crowd gather at the Pendry, starting at the glamorous driveway of this relatively new spot on the boutique-hotel scene, which takes up an entire block of the infamous Sunset Strip (the former site of House of Blues).
The Peninsula Beverly Hills: I feel like penning a love letter to this beyond-luxurious hotel nestled dangerously close to the shops along Rodeo Drive. My first time here, I squealed with delight to see that they had monogrammed my pillows in advance. Yes, The Peninsula maintains a closet with thousands of monogrammed pillowcases awaiting repeat guests. The rooftop pool has incomparable views of Century City and the Beverly Hills skyline with plush cabanas stocked with waiters at the ready to transport a cocktail or flute of champs.
Sunset Tower Hotel: Like many Hollywood landmarks, you’ll likely recognize the Sunset Tower’s façade or certain interiors from movies or photographs taken at the famed Vanity Fair Oscar Party (the hotel was the setting for this event from 2009 to 2013). On my recent trip, I scored a last-minute reservation at Tower Bar and Restaurant. Honestly, there’s a great high that accompanies such a coup, since many wait weeks to get in on a Saturday night at 8 pm when the scene is beyond glamorous. The Tower Bar, formerly Bugsy Siegel’s apartment on the ground floor of the hotel, is one of the chicest and most sumptuous rooms in town. Similar to a member’s-only club, they have a strict policy on photos in many public spaces to ensure the privacy of the dazzling celebrities who are as common here as John Deere salesmen at a West Texas Courtyard Marriott.
LA’s Must-Hit Private Clubs
The Britely: This relatively new spot on the members-only scene (opened April 2021) is housed within the Pendry West Hollywood building with interiors designed by Martin Brudnizki, who also designed Dallas’ late-great Bullion restaurant (which we hear is reopening in 2023). Here, the blush-pink lacquered walls are festooned with mirrors and ostrich feathers aplenty … and the chicest bowling alley in town.
Chateau Marmont: This hideaway off the Sunset Strip was once the go-to for the Hollywood crowd wishing to escape the paps. There was a time when walking through the lobby or bar, you could spot Leonardo or Lohan lounging before heading back to their extended-stay suites. Lohan famously left under cover of night (well, we don’t know exactly what time it was, but the evening seems more glamorous) with a major bill outstanding. The Chateau, like so many, closed shortly after the pandemic began. Celebrity hotelier André Balazs has been battling it out due to accusations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination ever since. But word on the streets is that it may re-emerge as a member’s-only club.
San Vicente Bungalows (SVB): This is likely the hottest spot right now to gain access. We’re certain the membership files are a veritable who’s who of A-list stars, talent agents, moguls, celebrity artists, and jet setters. The domain of Jeff Klein (who also owns the glamorous Sunset Tower Hotel around the corner) provides highly personalized, old-school service in its romantic dining room, courtyards, intimate bar that’s just begging for a clandestine rendezvous, airy pool house, and cozy living room. It’s the perfect spot for those who can’t even begin to put a price on their privacy — smartphone camera lenses are covered with stickers when guests of members arrive.
The Best Bars and Bites When Feeling Peckish in LA
The Ivy: This always-packed, relatively unassuming spot on Robertson perfected a formula when it opened in the heady early 1980s with an unfussy menu and colorfully floral homespun decor. Prepare to get a once-over from the swarm of paparazzi that hover on the adjacent sidewalk. But unless you’re repped by a power agent at CAA, don’t count on having your photo snapped. I was there recently with Dallas’ Brian Bolke, Christen and Derek Wilson, Nickki St. George, Zoe Bonnette, and Ceron for a perfect light lunch with cocktails before hitting the adjacent boutiques along Robertson Boulevard. Order the French rosé champagne sangria made with organic fruit. A couple of these, and you’ll give Bradley Cooper a flirty wink.
The Abbey: If you’re in the mood to gaze at a sea of gorgeous men, many of whom are tending bar between auditions, with megawatt smiles and Adonis-like bodies then look no further than this West Hollywood gay bar. The Abbey is a scene most hours of the day, from breakfast meetings over a cappuccino to lunches post-shopping on Melrose. And when the sun goes down, it really revs up with cocktailing and shirtless dancing. Known for decadent and debauchery-filled nights, plan on a morning-after hangover brunch with your compatriots for a recap.
Craig’s: Having celebrated its 10-plus-year anniversary during the pandemic, Craig’s proves its staying power in a relatively fickle restaurant scene — perhaps because owner Craig Susser was at another long-standing hot spot for the celebrity crowd, Dan Tana’s, before opening his namesake restaurant.
Mr. Chow: This Beverly Hills institution, which premiered in 1974, was Michael Chow’s second restaurant to open after London (1968). A NYC location followed, which quickly became the go-to for art-world superstars and glamorous fashion designers. The Bev Hills spot has always had a loyal clientele of industry types who like to dress for an evening. The famed Peking duck is a favorite of mine, particularly when I know someone else is putting the dinner bill on an expense account, given the price: upwards of $75 per person.
LA Restaurants Worthy of Securing a Res
The Palm: 1100 Flower St., Los Angeles, 213.763.4600.
Le Comptoir: 3606 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, 213.290.0750.
Perch LA: 448 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, 213.802.1770, perchla.com.
Gigi’s: 904 N. Sycamore Ave., Los Angeles.
Matsuhisa: 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310.659.9639.
République: 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 310.362.6115.
The Best Retail Therapy in LA
Decades: Cameron Silver’s vintage shop opened in 1997 and has been a go-to for stocking up on gently worn designer frocks with an intriguing provenance, such as a ’70s-era YSL smoking jacket or white jersey gown from the Tom Ford-era Gucci in the late ’90s. Some refer to it as the Holy Grail for pre-loved designer goods and neo-vintage. Devotees include celebrity stylists and the icons they dress, from Chloë Sevigny, Jennifer Lopez, and Nicole Kidman to the Kardashians.
Dover Street Market: The most avant-garde store in L.A., DSM on Sunset Boulevard is home to many designers — but the fantastically strange ones are what make it special. If you’re searching for a pair of Balenciaga Crocs or a Craig Green knit straight out of Wonderland, this is the place. The store itself is a maze of art installations and eye-popping fashion. 606-608 Imperial St., Los Angeles. Fred Segal: Two words: California cool. In 1961, Fred Segal opened his first store, inventing the denim bar and making the fashion world realize that American style had a home in the west. For 60 years, he helped shape the image of West Coast fashion as sexy, casual, easy, and Santa Ana breezy. His namesake store with its ivy-covered walls and palm trees has always been a must for fashion addicts, actors, and musicians.
Hoorsenbuhs: Made famous on Instagram by Lori Hirshleifer, this L.A.-based fine jewelry brand has gained a particularly influential clientele since its conception in 2005. Known for silver and gold pieces, Hoorsenbuhs’ low profile exudes a sense of mystery that many people want to figure out. If you find yourself at their boutique, don’t miss out on the coveted and extremely rare emerald jewelry (it’s Hirshleifer’s favorite).
Maxfield: Nirvana for edgy and avant-garde designers. Behind the imposing concrete walls on Melrose Avenue, you’ll find an assortment of Lucullan men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, and shoes with prices to match. A recent shopping trip to Maxfield with Brian Bolke and Ceron was like witnessing a gifted violinist with a Stradivarius.
Blackman Cruz: A mainstay in the design world, moody and magnificent. Stock ranges from vintage to artisan crafted.
JF Chen: A legendary source for 40 years for antiques, vintage and extraordinary furniture, lighting, and objects from the just unusual to masterworks of the 20th and 21st centuries, housed in 30,000 square feet.
Hammer & Spear: Founded by husband and wife Scott Jarrell and Kristan Cunningham, the showroom and design studio has engaged and collaborated with the craftspeople of the Arts District, with 5,000 square feet of furnishings, decorative objects, and much more.
Nickey Kehoe: Todd Nickey and Amy Kehoe’s design studio and boutique recreates their love of the hunt and discovery of uncanny beauty. Household objects of every distinction.
Let’s Not Forget Culture
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Film lovers, rejoice: A museum that was always meant to exist in Hollywood has finally premiered — this is the perfect way to get your fill of Tinseltown history. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano’s building alone justifies a visit. The museum is housed in the 250,000-square-foot former May Company department store, an acclaimed historic streamlined Moderne structure.
Getty Center: When you’re on the 405, look up and gaze at the splendor of this shining white monument to art envisioned by Richard Meier. The Getty Center, located in the tony Brentwood neighborhood, opened in 1997 but it requires some planning to visit. Admission is free, but parking is $20, and upon arrival, guests take a people mover up the hill to the impressive buildings and grounds. Be prepared to behold art from the Middle Ages to today.
LACMA: The largest encyclopedic art museum on the West Coast has everything you need to spend an entire day immersed in culture. I should know. I once worked there and fondly remember escaping from my desk to visit undiscovered galleries or to sit quietly with one of my favorite artworks from the permanent collection.
Ladies’ Room: This downtown gallery shows female and non-binary artists exclusively but enthusiastically reminds us on their website that “all genders are welcome to visit.” The program was launched after extensive research: When nearly 2 million different art-auction sales were studied, it was found that female artists earn an average of 47 percent of their male artist counterparts; only 31 percent of solo exhibitions in museums are female artists; and when more than 5,000 artists were tallied in the top contemporary art galleries worldwide, only 30 percent are female. The current group show, “Work” (through May 27), brings together artists including Beca Van K., Felice Grodin, Renata Daina, and Shiyuan Xu.
When Malibu Calls
The kids in the movie Spanglish joyfully squealing, “Mali-boo! Mali-boo!” came to mind when as I spent a few days in this alluring seaside enclave — or, shall I say, this hamlet of calculated casual glamour. I used to affectionately refer to this as “Malibu style” when I lived on the West Coast. Those studied outfits usually consisted of untucked John Varvatos button-up shirts paired with flip-flops for men, with the women sporting Dior sunglasses and Rachel Comey maxi dresses that they likely procured at Fred Segal (where everyone shops, including myself on my recent trip).
Consider booking a room at the Malibu Beach Inn. If this boutique hotel were a performer, it could simply come on stage, say, “Look at this view,” and drop the mic. It’s located on what many call Billionaire’s Beach, due to the sheer number from the moneyed class who have homes on the adjacent stretch of sand. And, yes, the view truly is that spectacular at the Inn, with only 34 steps to the ocean via the private stairway from the hotel. The intimate establishment has 47 guest rooms, all showcasing the proximity to the ocean from private balconies.
Another perk when staying at the Malibu Beach Inn is that everything you need is within walking distance. For dinner, lay down your Amex Black and celebrity ogle at Nobu Malibu. For a light lunch, visit Malibu Farm Café located on the famed pier visible from some of the inn’s rooms. A short distance from the hotel, you’ll find retail nirvana at Malibu Village and the adjacent Malibu Lumber Yard.