Los Angeles may be known as the City of Angels, but anyone who’s spent a moment there will know it better as the City Where Absolutely Everyone Drives.
The sprawling metropolis is connected by a massive tangle of freeways and everyone has a car. It’s not a very walkable city, which is a shame, as the weather is always perfect for a stroll and there’s so much to see and discover on foot. And unlike other major hubs like New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo, LA doesn’t have a world-class metro system to zip commuters across town. It’s your own four wheels or nothing.
This is why tourists ambitiously take on LA’s notorious traffic in rental cars, or rack up hundreds of dollars in taxi and Uber charges, during their stays. On my previous visits to LA, it’s been abundantly clear to me: you cannot enjoy LA without a car.
But then I heard about West Hollywood, and I quickly changed my mind.
West Hollywood, a trendy area known for shopping, eating, celebrities and night-life — everything you want from LA, really — sits roughly between Beverly Hills and Hollywood. As well as being LA’s most fashionable neighbourhood, it is also regarded as one of the most walkable places in California, which makes it a real anomaly. And as I recently found out, it also makes it the best possible area to stay.
I stayed at La Peer Hotel, in an unbeatable spot in West Hollywood’s Design District.
The boutique hotel, by Kimpton Hotels, is less than two years old and sits on a quiet street between iconic Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Ave, making it a quiet oasis from the buzz and bustle of the neighbourhood.
It’s clearly taken inspiration from its trendy neighbours. The 105-room hotel is stunningly designed: an elegant fusion of Art Deco and contemporary styling that’s effortlessly cool but warmly inviting.
The hotel has a heated outdoor pool, a courtyard bar that hosted fancy events during my stay, and an outdoor seating area with fire pits. There’s a restaurant (modern Italian, very delicious) and 24-hour in-room dining.
There’s a real focus on wellness here — it is LA, after all — with yoga mats in each room for the daily yoga sessions, and a 24-hour, fully-equipped gym, with a celebrity personal trainer on hand if required. Days begin with complimentary coffee, tea and kombucha in the lobby, and social hour is held from 5pm daily.
There is also a gallery space, which hosts rotating exhibitions including artwork by the hotel’s designer, Iceland-born, LA-based Gulla Jónsdóttir.
My room is lush: calming and comfortable in neutral tones with interesting, sculptural flourishes and art on the walls. Personal highlights included the seriously kitted-out minibar and the outrageously cloudlike bathrobe (which you can buy, for $US145!).
But my favourite part of the room was the sleek, deep bathtub, which had plenty of use during my stay, along with complimentary Atelier Bloem amenities. There are few things quite so glamorous as indulging in a bubble bath before, or indeed after, a night in West Hollywood.
My room, the bar, the pool and, of course, the bathtub and that robe are so comfortable I could spend all my time here, except that some of the city’s most exciting spots are literally footsteps away, and that’s the whole point of my visit.
La Peer pretty much shares a corner with Melrose Ave — one of the most famous shopping streets in the world. Across the road, on Melrose, is Craig’s, possibly LA’s most famous celebrity hangout. I don’t have the nerve to walk in, but I could see the exciting flashes from paparazzi cameras from my hotel window all night.
Mere metres from Craig’s is another celebrity hangout, Cecconi’s West Hollywood. This busy spot, concealed by a tall, manicured hedge, is a less intimidating place to have a meal while keeping eyes peeled for the rich and famous. The staff are very nice, even to mere normals like me, and even better, the prices for its modern Italian fare aren’t totally insane (I paid $US24, or $A36, for a big bowl of lamb ragu pasta, and it was fantastic).
Up and down Melrose Ave are galleries, spas, bars, cafes, restaurants. Shop after eclectic shop sell luxury clothes and accessories and designer homewares and furniture — not a terribly sensible holiday souvenir, but as with a lot of Melrose, it’s all about the aspirational window shopping.
If you need a break, cafes with al fresco dining are perfect spots to refresh, people-watch and soak up that Californian sun. I can recommend Urth Caffe on Melrose, where I went for brunch one lazy morning: it’s popular, but the wait isn’t too long, and it runs the gamut from fancy salad bowls to decadent comfort food like the warm milk-soaked bread pudding I devoured without shame (along with one of the better coffees I’ve had in America).
But the real headliner of the neighbourhood is the Sunset Strip — the weird, wild, messy, glamorous and legendary cultural epicentre of West Hollywood. It’s about a fifteen minute walk from La Peer Hotel to Sunset Boulevard, and then some of the most revered venues in LA are at your fingertips on the Sunset Strip: the Chateau Marmont, the Roxy, the Viper Room, Whisky a Go Go, the Comedy Store.
Whether you’re ticking off iconic spots on your first LA visit or seeking somewhere newer and hipper to eat, drink, shop or play, the best part about the Sunset Strip is it’s mere minutes from the sanctuary of wherever you’re laying your hat.
Users and cabs will take you to any essential LA destinations further afield, such as the tourist hubs of Hollywood, the Downtown area, or the beachfront areas of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. But it’s easy to never leave West Hollywood.
Except when you really do need to leave. La Peer is about a 40 minute drive from Los Angeles International Airport but I would suggest allocating a lot more time to get there — we made the mistake of allowing 45 minutes to get to the airport in the afternoon peak-hour rush, which pushed the travel time to more than an hour.
Ah, that LA cross-town traffic: the one drawback no visitor can avoid.
The writer stayed at La Peer as a guest of the hotel.