Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Sunset Strip
West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip
If you want to experience the glamour and glitz of Los Angeles, you need to see Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Sunset Strip. (Although be prepared — you will surely see the decidedly unglamorous too!) The first time we went to L.A., we used Hyatt points to stay at the Andaz on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. That was a fun introduction and a good, although expensive, location to use as a base. We left the airport, passed the downtown, and as we approached Sunset, suddenly the pollution cleared up and we saw the giant billboards, lights, and beautiful people that we were expecting. The rooms at the Andaz are pretty standard, but the hotel has excellent service and the rooftop pool has great views and very comfortable covered lounges.The area around the Andaz is pretty safe and clean, but if you keep walking you’ll run into strip clubs, and the later it gets you’ll hear more noise, sirens, etc.
West Hollywood has lots of restaurants, comedy clubs, music clubs, and shopping and is famous for being LGBT-friendly—especially the section of Santa Monica Blvd. between La Cienega and Doheny, known as Boys Town. You’ll know you’re there from the rainbow crosswalk. From the Andaz we walked to restaurants on the Sunset Strip. We had breakfast at Mel’s Drive-In when we didn’t eat the crazy-expensive Andaz breakfast … good Italian food at Cafe Med, and a super-expensive, rooftop Hollywood-style dinner with a fantastic view at the restaurant in the Mondrian Hotel (the menu has since changed, but I’d bet it’s still good). Everywhere we went, people looked us over to see if we were anyone important, and we did the same, but honestly, everyone looked like a movie star. This is not the place to skip your makeup or dress like a slob — you have to bring your A-game! We enjoyed drinks and food at other restaurants on the strip and also walked to Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Urth Caffé (farther down Melrose — you may need a car) is a favorite lunch spot, and also quite the scene. You can hit all the exclusive shops in the area before or after lunch. We could easily drive to Hollywood, downtown, Beverly Hills, and Silver Lake from the Andaz. We were able to get to Santa Monica quickly, but, alas, couldn’t get back quickly. Lyft and Uber are readily available.
We bought tickets to see stand-up comedy at The Comedy Store, but we regretted it. Tickets were pretty cheap, and we were looking forward to laughing the night away. Once you’re in, there’s a two-drink minimum for each person. Drinks are expensive, so the price went up fast. We saw 12 comedians who were working on their routines. One was hilarious, one was kind of funny, and ten were absolutely awful. It was pure torture. I guess it’s possible to have a good night there, but don’t expect it.
One morning as we were waiting for our car in front of the Andaz, we saw a woman casually strolling down Sunset. It took a moment for our minds to process the situation, but she wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. People were taking pictures and whistling, but she just kept strolling as though she were in a dream. I suspect Ambien… We watched her disappear into the Sunset (ha ha!), but I wish I knew how that ended, and I hope she’s OK.
Besides the Andaz, other hotels nearby include the famous Chateau Marmont. This building is gorgeous on the outside and is a favorite of celebrities, but if you read the reviews, it sounds like it has not been renovated ever. (Chipped grungy bath tiles, old beat-up furniture, etc.) There’s a restaurant and a bar, but the reviews have turned me off from wanting to stay there. If you’ve stayed, please let me know how you liked it. Normally I don’t get excited about a Best Western, but the one on the Sunset Strip looks very nice. It’s actually kind of pricey, as are most hotels in this area, and it has a lot of good reviews. There are many options for vacation rentals on Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and other sites. Just google “vacation rentals West Hollywood.” Check the location carefully to make sure you get what you want — a quiet, charming neighborhood or a noisy party scene.
I don’t recommend staying in the touristy part of Hollywood, near Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. You have to go there to see it, but don’t stay there. It’s seedy, crowded, noisy, and dirty, and gets sketchy at night. This is where you’ll find the old Chinese theatre (you can still catch a movie here!), celebrity handprints, photo ops with people dressed as Spider Man, Jack Sparrow, etc., and people selling tours to drive by celebrity homes and famous Hollywood sites. It’s very unlikely that you’d find an actual celebrity here unless there was a red carpet event, but seeing the handprints and footprints is fun.
Speaking of red carpets, it’s kind of weird to see one in person. It looks so glamorous on TV, but in actuality they roll a red carpet over a piece of dirty sidewalk, put a background up, and fence it off. The celebrities are standing in this tiny area in the middle of a sidewalk with dozens of cameras flashing in their faces and reporters yelling out questions. It’s cool to see, but the difference between reality and what it looks like on TV is fascinating.
You can see the Hollywood sign from various points in the Hollywood and Highland Center (go up the escalator), and you can walk along Hollywood toward Vine to see the Walk of Fame and the famous Capital Records building.
If you want accommodations in Hollywood, I suggest going farther out along Franklin, near the Upright Citizen’s Brigade improv theater. That area is nicer, but still busy. It’s mostly a young crowd there. Catching an improv show is very interesting and a real Hollywood thing to do, but you need to buy tickets in advance. We once stayed at a bed & breakfast called the Hollywood Pensione on N. Wilton, not far from there. Our room was very nice and we really liked the owners. We were able to walk to the improv theater and the restaurants nearby. There was a steady stream of traffic at night, but a sound machine in the room helped to drown out the noise. Pimai Thai was very good on several visits, although I was disappointed on my last trip. Go for coffee at the Bourgeois Pig at 5931 Franklin. At first you think you’re in a normal coffee shop, but if you walk into the back room you’ll find a dark, cozy place with a tree inside and some hobbit-like hideouts. Very cool! If you need groceries, Gelson’s is an upscale market similar to Whole Foods.
You can also easily get to Hollywood from West Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, or Silver Lake. Although Santa Monica is only 30 minutes away on the map, in reality it can be 1 – 2 hours of intense traffic, so going back and forth from there is not something you want to do every day of your vacation. Below are more details of several of L.A. neighborhoods:
We stayed in a vacation rental in the Hollywood Hills, and the neighborhood is quiet, lovely, hilly, and full of beautiful trees and flowers. We enjoyed walking around the neighborhood and looking at the homes and gardens — both big and small — although it really isn’t a place where it’s easy to walk to restaurants and shops. You’ll need a car or Lyft, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, we are crazy walkers. We walked to the 101 Coffee Shop every morning. (I’ll walk pretty far for good coffee, but you can drive and park in the back.) This is a great retro-feel diner with good food and coffee. Every time I’ve been there, I felt like I was on a movie set, because everyone in there looked like a movie star. From there we walked about 10 minutes to Hollywood and Vine. This is a residential neighborhood, so you won’t find hotels here — just vacation rentals.
Mid Wilshire / Korea Town
This area is not Hollywood, but it’s located pretty close by. There are lots of big, beautiful mansions that you can imagine once housed glamorous movie stars, but are now broken down into apartments, short-term rentals, and cheap hotels. As a tourist, you really don’t want to stay here. It’s just not a vacation kind of place. A lot of people moving to L.A. choose this area for its lower rents and convenience, plus the cool but affordable food scene, but you won’t really be happy in a hotel here. Paramount Studios is in the area, and taking a tour is a fun Hollywood activity. Across the street from the studio is the Larchmont, on Melrose and Larchmont. I’ve had so many delicious lunches here, and I’ve seen a few celebrities, too, but I was really disappointed after a major menu overhaul and haven’t been back. However, it looks like there’s a new menu, so it may be worth a try again. But they didn’t bring back the best lobster mac & cheese I ever had. Boo!
Larchmont Village and Hancock Park
We left off at the Larchmont restaurant on Melrose and Larchmont Blvd. From here, if you drive down historic Larchmont Blvd. you’ll see a tidy street of 1920s Spanish-style bungalows. Eventually you’ll run into Larchmont Village, a few blocks of shopping and restaurants between Beverly and 3rd street that serve the surrounding homes. Spend a little time driving around the area and enjoy the beautiful mansions in Hancock Park. This is as close as I’ve ever come to giving driving directions. I don’t give directions because I’m terrible at it, and it’s almost certain that I’d get you lost. Use GPS to find any places that I recommend!
If you’re roaming around Larchmont and 3rd, you might as well go to The Grove! This is L.A.’s beautiful town center where you can shop, eat, see a movie, or just hang out and people-watch. The Grove has swanky public bathrooms, and they even have mats that you can borrow to sit down and relax on the lawn when you need a break from shopping. You’ll find trendy shops like Elizabeth and James, classics like Barneys and Coach, and the usual U.S. mall staples, plus a dancing fountain and free outdoor concerts.
When I think of Beverly Hills, my first thought is that old show, The Beverly Hillbillies. I thought it was hilarious, and every word of that theme song is still imprinted in my mind. But I think we’re supposed to think of riches and glamour, so let’s get back to that. If you drive through Beverly Hills you’ll notice a big difference between this neighborhood and some of the others. Like, it’s very clean and neat. The streets have long rows of palm trees, grand estates (many hidden behind gates and hedges) with large, manicured lawns. (Hopefully that is changing with the drought.) The place to go is Rodeo Drive, where the rich and famous do their shopping. You’ll likely see Ferraris and Bentleys and cars that you don’t see often on the east side. I had a wonderful dinner in Beverly Hills at Tagine, which is a Moroccan-themed restaurant owned by Ryan Gosling. (It’s usually only open for dinner.) It’s a great place for a romantic meal, as it’s small, dark, cozy, and exotic. The food is good for sharing, and everything we had was absolutely delicious. For a casual lunch that offers great people-watching opportunities, I recommend the Urth Caffe on Beverly Drive. You just can’t go wrong with Urth.
Last but not least is North Hollywood. If you’re a theater buff, this is where you’ll find lots of small theaters, often with original productions. You might discover the next big actor here before he or she gets their big break. This is a recently renovated area, with new apartments, shops, and restaurants. I don’t know of any vacation housing or hotels here, but it’s a more affordable option for those moving to the area.
Well, this should give you a good start. If you have any questions or want to share your favorite spots, please leave them in the comments section. Happy Travels!