I have always had a love/hate relationship with L.A. Who wouldn’t love the sunshine, beautiful people, inventive dining, and great beach scene? Yet the near-constant traffic on the city’s freeways, superficial L.A. conversations, and pop/Hollywood culture permeating every corner can leave you wanting. One of my friends described L.A. well by calling it “a funny place.” And indeed it is. Where else could you find a burger joint proclaiming its place in history with a sign that reads “since 1991"?
The first decision you’re faced with in L.A. is whether to stay at the beach (Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu) or in the city. If you prefer the beach, then head to Shutters (www.shuttersonthebeach.com), my favorite in Santa Monica and well worth the splurge. This time I chose the city, wanting the dining, bars, and clubs of the Sunset Strip. I stayed at the Chateau Marmont (www.chateaumarmont.com) on Sunset Boulevard – also known simply as “Le Chateau." A good value, the hotel is a charming, neo-Gothic property with a gorgeous garden perfect for outdoor dining.
It becomes obvious that Le Chateau is a very special place upon seeing the Bentleys and Jaguars in the car park and ascending the stairs to a dimly lit reception and lounge area that screams cool. I had heard it was a haunt for celebrities in the evenings and that a few even live in the quaint cottages around the pool, so I wasn’t surprised to spot Heath Ledger and Bruce Willis both dining (separately) in the garden. Sitting near me was a fascinating woman from London who regularly stays at Le Chateau for 6-month stints while helping Hollywood actors hone a proper English accent. Yes, only in L.A.
While the glamour quotient and food quality are high at Le Chateau, the rooms leave much to be desired. Some may enjoy the fact that these rooms look like they haven’t been updated in several decades (and that is their charm, as L.A. clings to its short history), but I would have preferred a more modern bathroom. And though the location of Le Chateau is great for exploring the city and hills, a nearby option is the Sunset Tower (www.sunsettowerhotel.com) which affords great views – it’s less hip than Le Chateau but it also has less attitude.
This trip was about exploring other parts of the city, like Beverly Hills (there’s an interesting trolley tour of celebrity homes) and local furniture stores. Check out the Pacific Design Center (www.pacificdesigncenter.com) where you can have lunch outside. And visit the many shops on Melrose. I also hiked through Laurel Canyon (beautiful vistas) and simply drove the town – a rented convertible is worth every penny on a sunny day. My favorite drives are up Laurel Canyon, down Sunset to the Pacific Ocean, and north on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to Malibu. For dinner, try Ago (Italian; www.agorestaurant.com) and Koi (Japanese; www.koisushi.com); both of these scene restaurants offer good food and better people-watching. Remember, you’re in L.A. – so valet the convertible, wear your most flattering couture, and order that peach martini.