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Living it up in L.A.

by Elaine Sosa

Money. Glamour. Stars. Beaches. Yep, you're in L.A., where the aforementioned impulses and attractions seem to be taking place all at once. Wannabe moguls yammer incessantly on their cell phones. Unbelievably skinny women with legs to here stroll down the street in short, swishy dresses. Everyone's skin is taut and tan, an unending stream of disciples from the George Hamilton School of Beauty. Is this for real? Make that surreal, for L.A. is a boulevard of dreams which is tinkered with by dreammakers every day of the week.

If you're coming to L.A., you may as well play along with everyone else -- hey, it's more fun that way. Living it up in L.A. means splitting your time between the city (Beverly Hills) and the beach (Santa Monica). The following itinerary will make you feel like a star, even if you aren't. Yet.

Beverly Hills

The greenest lawns you will ever see are in Beverly Hills, and it hardly even rains in Southern California. The folks in this corner of the world believe that image is everything, which explains the lush landscaping around candy-colored houses with his and hers German sedans parked out front. Money and the good life are in ample evidence in Beverly Hills, a playground for the stars and anyone with a penchant for blessed excess. Majestic homes fill the streets between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards and up into the hills. At the heart of Beverly Hills is the "golden triangle," a shopping district bisected by world-famous Rodeo Drive where Gucci, Versace and Armani are cheek-to-cheek. Power lunch at Spago, but save a little time for a massage or a session with your personal trainer. Hobnobbing with the rich and famous has never been more fun than in Beverly Hills, where stargazing is the sport du jour. Ready, set, go!

Where to stay

At the nexus of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive stands the regal Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the place to stay for captains and kings since 1928. Elvis stayed here, too, and the Beverly Wilshire was also the setting for a sweet little tryst between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in "Pretty Woman." Alas, you might not snag Richard Gere while you're here, but you will bunk down in suitable splendor. The hotel's facade is an Italianate fantasy which is nearly surpassed in elegance by the high-columned, marble-draped grand lobby. Proceed to your room, an oversized slice of heaven with a sitting area, king-sized bed and bedroom-sized bath. The bed is noteworthy, covered as it is with a down-filled duvet and topped with four down pillows. You will get a perfect night's sleep in this hotel bed, reason enough to stay. But there's more. You are greeted upon arrival with a bowl of strawberries and cream courtesy of your floor steward. Lick your fingers and proceed to the bathroom, where you can have a soak in the ample tub while reading Buzz. Slip into the terrycloth robe and primp at your dressing table, or indulge in a nap. Eventually, you'll want to leave your room and pay a visit to the hotel's Mediterranean-style pool, followed by a quick sauna and steam. The hotel's health spa offers massage, facials, a body polish, private workout and yoga sessions, which might not leave much time for shopping. Decision-making time, which is made easier at the hotel's Lobby Bar where you can sip (what else?) a Pretty Woman while you ponder the options. Tea in the Lobby Lounge? Rodeo Drive across the street? Barney's next door? You can always take another nap.
Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel
9500 Wilshire Blvd.
(310) 275-5200
Rooms are $265-$420; suites are $495-$1,100; Presidential Suite is $4,500.

Where to eat

Newest resident in Beverly Hills is Wolfgang Puck, who has moved his highly-regarded Spago restaurant from Hollywood to Canon Drive in the golden triangle. Puck's wife, designer Barbara Lazaroff, has quite an eye, and her newest collaboration is light, elegant and accessible. Soft beige walls are covered with canvases of Botero-esque field hands having a ball. The skylight in the main room is inlaid with colorful glass tiles, while wall nooks are filled with equally-colorful pottery. Dark green booths line two walls and are the perfect spot for cozy deal-making. At the front of the restaurant is a patio brimming with umbrella-topped tables where moguls try not to sweat. Spago is clearly for the see-and-be-seen crowd, but even better news is the fact that your meal will be memorable. Chef de Cuisine Lee Hefter has a sure hand with some of Puck's favorites. Start your meal with the Chino Farms sweet corn soup, a creamy fantasy which is graced with a swirl of roasted pepper caponata. The heirloom tomato salad with red onions, roquefort and extra-virgin olive oil comes to you as an artistic tower of red and white -- deconstruct it and marvel at the fresh flavors. Puck's signature pan-seared calves liver with polenta, red wine shallots and a thyme balsamic glaze is perfection on the palate. Pastry chef Sherry Yard's chocolate and caramel bombe is a marvelous way to end your meal. Spago will surely provide you with the best meal in town, and you'll now get it in one of the prettiest settings.
Spago
176 N. Canon Drive
(310) 385-0880.

Fresh as a rose is the Polo Lounge, thanks in part to a $100 million renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel which was completed in the summer of 1995. You can play big-shot both indoors and out at the Polo Lounge, but I highly recommend out, since the patio here is pretty as a picture. Make that a pink picture, since the pink tablecloths match the hotel's pink walls. The umbrella over your table is lily white, while the green of the plentiful trees is a nice counterpoint to the pastel hues. Jacketed waiters flit about the patio, offering you a chilled glass of wine or water from a beautiful bottle. Lunch at the Polo Lounge can mean anything from beluga caviar with sourdough blinis to a Dutch apple pancake topped with dark maple syrup and sour cream. I suggest the McCarthy salad, which consists of chicken, bibb lettuce, tomato, bacon, chopped egg, beets and cheddar cheese chopped very fine. This salad was the brainchild of lawyer Neil McCarthy's wife. McCarthy, who played polo nearby in the 40s, would stop in with his wife after the games, and his wife knew exactly what she wanted. Her salad is both tasty and cute. The warm apple tart with caramel pecan sauce and cinnamon ice cream might melt in the L.A. heat, so you'd better eat fast.

If there are no rooms at the inn at the Beverly Wilshire, consider spending the night at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The legendary "pink palace," built amid lima bean fields in 1912, has been a staple of the hoi polloi ever since. Howard Hughes and Marilyn Monroe both lived (apparently not together) in the fabled bungalows spread throughout the property's twelve acres, which are lushly landscaped and lend a resort feel to this urban hostelry. The 200+ rooms are done in soft amber, taupe and peach tones and many of them come with fireplaces and large patios. The hotel's large pool is as legendary as the guest list and as good a place as any to feel a part of the scene. A visit to the Fountain Coffee Shop, replete with banana-leaf wallpaper, curvy counter and plump pink stools, is a blast from the past.
Beverly Hills Hotel
Sunset Blvd.
(310) 276-2251
Rooms are $275 to $350; suites are $625 to$3,000; bungalows are $350 to $3,050.

The lobby lounge, where you'll enjoy tea at the Peninsula Hotel, is called The Living Room. Make that The Living Room Of Your Dreams. A wall of windows in the back of the room overlooks a charming courtyard. Overstuffed couches and wing chairs are draped in soothing shades of yellow and beige. Fireplaces burn, lights are low and a harpist gently serenades. Sit back and you could easily fall asleep. Nah, better to stay awake and enjoy the treats offered by the solicitous staff. Your pot of Justin Lloyd tea is accompanied by a selection of tea sandwiches, freshly-baked scones with Devonshire cream and assorted tea cakes and pastries. Spring for the Royal Tea and you'll get a glass of champagne along with fresh strawberries and cream. Either way, you'll linger for an hour or two and enjoy every minute of it.
Peninsula Hotel
9882 Little Santa Monica Blvd.
(310) 551-2888.

A must-stop for breakfast or lunch in Beverly Hills is Nate 'n Al, a New York-style deli feeding homesick East-coasters and others since 1945. Brown vinyl booths fill the room and cozy up to shiny formica tables. Every third person here seems to be named Larry, and the cheerful waitresses never lose their composure as starlets change their order countless times ("I said nonfat, right?"). As with any true deli, the menu is a mile long and features endless permutations of the sandwich. Order a turkey sandwich with dark meat and you won't regret it. The pickles and cole slaw are divine, and the breakfast bagels are meant to be savored. Only the coffee is weak, so they'd probably understand if you walked in with a Starbucks double latte.
Nate 'n Als
414 N. Beverly Drive
(310) 274-0101.

What to do

"Shop till you drop" is a phrase which must have been coined in Beverly Hills. Yes, you must shop while you're here. The holy trinity of Saks, Neiman's and Barney's is all within a three-block stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. Rodeo Drive and the golden triangle are smack in the center of town and chockablock with Eurodesigners and baubles from Tiffany to Cartier. If Rodeo proves a bit rich for your pocketbook, the adjacent streets (N. Beverly, Canon, Brighton Way and Little Santa Monica Blvd.) are a more affordable carnival for shoppers. If you'd rather get funky, head over to Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, where galleries, hip boutiques and vintage clothing stores set the trends for the rest of us...Hollywood is certainly worth a visit, even if its star is fading a bit.

Start at Mann's Chinese Theater, where the hand and foot prints of stars from Marilyn Monroe to Mel Gibson are imbedded in cement. Pose next to the paw prints of your faves -- everyone else does. Most of the stars will be found along Hollywood's Walk of Fame, a multi-block stretch of sidewalk filled with shiny gold stars trumpeting well-known and barely-known "legends" of stage and screen. Frederick's of Hollywood offers up Madonna's bustier and Cher's lingerie in its Celebrity Lingerie Hall of Fame, while the Capitol Records building really does look like a stack of 45s. The Universal News Agency off Hollywood Boulevard has every read you'll ever need, and if you head up Beachwood Drive and look out to the hills, you'll get a bird's-eye view of the "Hollywood sign," its 50-foot-high letters the beneficiary of a recent facelift...from Hollywood, take a drive along Sunset Boulevard, heading westward down to the sea. Star maps are offered for sale every two to three blocks as you ride through Beverly Hills and Bel Air, but things take on a more casual tone as you ride through Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, ending up at Will Rogers State Beach. It's a beautiful ride...downtown L.A. is worth a visit, and not just to gawk at highrises. El Pueblo de Los Angeles and historic Olvera Street are a restored Mexican marketplace lined with shops and cafes. Across the way is historic Union Station, one of the country's last great passenger railway stations. Chinatown and Little Tokyo are worth a peek, as is the Bonaventure Hotel, where you should head straight to the Top of Five on the 35th floor for an unparalleled view.

Santa Monica

When L.A.'s uptown girls say "let's go to the beach," they're talking about Santa Monica, a beautiful stretch of sand which is nicely complemented by a cosmopolitan scene. Here you can get a tan, rollerblade, indulge in chi-chi shopping, lunch in Malibu up the road and have dinner at Arnold's later on (yes, that Arnold). Plenty of stargazing here, too, in addition to the shiny orbs which light up the nighttime sky. The Santa Monica Pier, redolent of popcorn and cotton candy and possessed of a swell penny arcade, is a window on Santa Monica's past as an easy-going day at the beach. Today, Santa Monica is more hipster enclave, but the waves are timeless.

Where to stay

Shutters on the Beach is exactly as advertised: walk out the back door, stroll a few paces and you'll touch sand. This beachfront hotel offers up the informal luxury of a grand beach house. Shades of Nantucket will flash before your eyes as you gaze upon the gray-shingled facade, but the procession of rollerbladers and muscled joggers will plant you firmly in L.A. Shutters aims to make your day at the beach a memorable one, and rest assured, it will be. Rooms are white and bright with a touch of blue echoing the sea's hue. And the sea you will see the minute you slide open the shuttered doors at your picture window. Getting a full-ocean-view room here is essential, regardless of cost: IT'S WORTH IT. Your bed will be covered with exquisite Frette linens, although you might prefer to sink into the striped wing chair and flip through the copy of "The Old Man And The Sea" which has been thoughtfully placed on your nightstand. The jacuzzi tub in the marble bathroom has a window with a sightline out to the sea. You and your rubber ducky (make that a spouting whale) will soak in bliss. Leave this sybaritic splendor and pay a visit to the lobby, a series of couches and chairs composing quiet conversation areas. Have your glass of wine by a warming fireplace or seated near the French doors at the back of the room which offer up an ocean view. The hotel's pool is just big enough, while the spa offers up a series of beachy treatments (self-tan body brushing, full back facial) to get you ready for sand and surf. Dinner at One Pico, Shutters' signature restaurant, is a festival of contemporary American cuisine thanks to executive chef Jeff Jackson, a CIA grad. His mushroom ravioli and applewood smoked salmon are the perfect ending to a pampered day. Shutters on the Beach, One Pico Blvd., (310) 458-0030. Rates start at $270 single or double occupancy; suites begin at $625; one or two bedroom Presidential suites range from $1,550 to $2,200.

If Shutters is fresh out of room, take refuge at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel down the street. The pink and aqua edifice is crowned by a five-story atrium with an ample lobby bar down below. The 340 rooms are fresh, floral and comfortable, but since you're at the beach, repart to the glass-domed, indoor-outdoor pool. While others make deals, you can work on your tan or have a helpful attendant bring you a tasty salad (how else to fit into that swimsuit?). Or visit the spa and fittness center which offers a full workout facility. Lavande, a restaurant offering California-Mediterranean cuisine, offers breakfast, Sunday brunch, lunch and dinner. The hotel recently redorated its building exterior, and completely remodeled the hotel entrance, lobby, lobby bar, Arcadia Ballroom and all guestrooms. Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, 1700 Ocean Avenue, (310) 458-6700. loewssantamonica@loews.com or www.loewshotels.com

Where to eat

Beautiful people may be making the rounds of JiRaffe, but I dare say it's for the food and not the scene. Young chef-owners Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta (hence the sort-of contraction "JiRaffe") are both French-trained and honed their skills at the hands of L.A. superchefs Joachim Splichal and Wolfgang Puck. These childhood pals are creating their own version of California-French cuisine through classically-infused dishes which are remarkable for their simplicity and clarity of flavors. Excellent starters are the roasted pear salad with mixed greens, hazelnuts and Fourme d'Ambert cheese (tres francais!) and the roasted rabbit with polenta gnocchi, oven-dried tomatoes and basil. The filet of beef with garlic mashed potatoes and a red wine shallot sauce is a marvelous entree with a sauce so rich it's sinful. Further sinning can be done via the warm chocolate truffle cake with vanilla ice cream. The simple decor at JiRaffe, a juxtaposition of white walls and dark wood wainscotting providing the background for unfussy tables and chairs, belies the quality of Citrin and Lunetta's food. JiRaffe, 502 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 917-6671.

The Buffalo Club is one of those places which flat-out tempts you to say "it CAN'T be THAT good!" The snob factor at this ultra-clubby restaurant owned by TV producer Anthony Yerkovich (remember "Miami Vice?") is way high, reservations are plenty hard to get and the waitstaff looks like it's on hiatus from "Baywatch" or "Melrose Place." If you do get in the door, however, you'll eat your words: chef Patrick Healy's food, a straight American menu tweaked here and there, is superb. It's easy to drive right by this restaurant (I did it three times) since the name isn't out front. Look for the old "Olympic Club" sign and you're there. Once inside, the decor is of the gentleman's club variety, with the yellow-orange walls filled with photos of manly men like Hemingway doing manly things (Shakespeare's photo provides a touch of civility). Mahogany is everywhere, while wall sconces cast a soft glow over dealmakers in the butter-leather booths. When you ask your waiter for a glass of water, he'll respond with "still or sparkling?" reminding you once again that you're in L.A. The menu is filled with winners, among them a sublime tomato tortilla soup and shrimp and lobster dumplings with spicy black bean sauce. Healy's signature pork chops are fit for Papa. End your meal with the perfect lemon meringue pie. The delicious and inventive food at the Buffalo Club will keep you coming back for more, despite the high prices. Buffalo Club, 1520 Olympic Blvd., (310) 450-8600.

What to do

For starters, there's the beach, and for many, it will end right there. The stretch of tan sand at Santa Monica beach is both long and wide, soft and clean. Sink your toes into it, or run along the pressed pack at water's edge. Swimming here is easy and fun in the cool waters of the Pacific. The beach also sports the multi-purpose South Bay Bicycle Trail. Don't let the name fool you: this 22-mile path, which runs from Santa Monica south to Torrance, is filled with joggers, bikers, bladers (rent the necessary gear at your hotel) and just plain strollers. Soak up some rays any way you like...the Third Street Promenade is a three-block stretch of shops, cafes, restaurants and movie theaters. Visit Noteworthy for cards, Anthropologie for hip clothing and home furnishings and Remi for a light Italian lunch. Several multiplexes let you catch up on the latest flicks...Montana Avenue is where the denizens of style shop in Santa Monica. Stop in at Peter Fox Shoes for New York style, Shabby Chic for slip-covered dreams (linens, too), Harari for romantic fashion and Weathervane for top area designers. Babalu serves Caribbean cuisine which would have made Ricky proud, and you can work off those plantains at Revolution, a fitness and yoga center with spinning classes galore. When you're ready to sit down and chill out, pop into the Aero Theatre, where double features of arthouse flicks are a mere six bucks...Bergamot Station is an art center housed in a former trolley car depot. Some of the area's top art dealers share gallery space within the confines...best chance for an Arnold sighting may be at Schatzi on Main, the Terminator's table. The cuisine can be described as international, featuring a few things from Arnold's youth (bratwurst) along with more Kennedy-esque fare (chicken pot pie). If hunger doesn't bite, have a sip at the bar and wait for the big man to waltz in.



Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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