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Why, what and how to tip in LA
Posts, Visiting LA

How, why and what should I tip in LA?

How do I tip in LA? I know, I know, I know.  You get to America and you’re like why do I need to tip? It costs me a fortune in tips. You might not like it but there is a logic behind tipping here in the US. I saw a great article written by a fellow Aussie who lives in San Francisco, Kat, so I asked her if she could write one for me and my readers (that’s you). She’s going to give you the low-down on the how, why and what should I tip in LA.

 

Over to you Kat!

Aussies have a terrible reputation in Europe and the US when it comes to tipping. I can say it because I am part of the problem. Social awkward at the best of times, I can never work out who expects to be tipped, who would see it as an affront and how much (or little) to give.

 

Us Aussies go on holiday or move to another country without giving much thought to the mathematical intricacies that will take up our daily life. Tipping means always having cash in your wallet – a habit that I’d long grown out of by the time I moved here.

 

I’ve suffered through many an embarrassing tipping moment in the past 18 months. From trying to work out 20% in my head in front of the Chinese takeaway (never going to happen) while smiling and talking to the hostess to staring at the tipping bowl at the checkout in the hardware wondering what I’d be tipping for exactly.

 

In the hopes of recovering our Aussie pride and becoming great tippers, here’s a list of things you need to know–who expects a tip (why) and who you should tip:

 

Parking attendant

Do you like your car? Did you invest a significant portion of your income in it? So you probably want it to be treated nicely. Round the parking fee up to the dollar and then add another couple of bucks for good measure.

 

Hairdresser

You sit inside the salon for what seems like an age. Washing, cutting, colouring, highlighting and/or blow drying. Probably talking a lot too. Those things don’t come cheap.
I wasn’t happy with the thought of adding a tip to that. But if they do a good job and you love your new do it’s customary to fork over an extra 20%.
Don’t forget the shampooist either. Tip them between $3 and $5 depending on whether they also apply your colour or toner.

 

Bathroom Attendant

(Seriously… You’ve seen Ferris Bueller, they’re there and they’re looking for a tip! -Gwen)

If you frequent the types of places that have attendants handing you towels and breath mints in the bathrooms, you probably don’t need to be reading this article. You can afford to part with a dollar or two. Don’t be stingy.

 

Uber/Lyft

Before I owned a car here I relied on Uber a fair bit and I never tipped once. It just never occurred to me to tip the driver. Even though the official Uber line is that you don’t need to tip, it’s good manners to hand over 20%, especially considering how cheap the fares are.

(Ooops–I wish I didn’t read this now Kat! –Gwen)

 

Movers

No one likes moving and I’m guessing that you’ve hired movers because you couldn’t rope your mates in with the promise of a slab of beer. It seems you have to tip every member of the moving crew between $25 and $50 each. I know, it hurts.

 

Hotel Maids

When you leave the bed in a rumpled mess, duvet and towels on the floor and junk everywhere, it’s a good idea to tip the maid between $2 and $5 each day. Maybe the price difference is dependent on the mess you make?

 

Home Delivery

The person who sat in traffic, braved the cold, wind, rain or heat to bring you food because you were too lazy to go out and get it yourself, deserves a tip. Stop being such a tightarse and hand over 20% online while you’re ordering or have some cash ready for when they make it to your door.

 

Bartender

I don’t understand this one. Seriously, you stand behind a bar and take the twist top off a bottle or pull a beer for me. Does that really require a tip? Yes. Give the bartender some loose change or a $1 bill. A cocktail’s going to set you back a little more though.

 

Waiter/Waitress

Sure they get paid minimum wage, which means $10.50 in LA. Imagine trying to pay your rent and bills on $10.50 an hour? That’s why they have to live off tips. So if you don’t like the food from the kitchen but the service was great, don’t penalise the waiter/waitress by withholding the tip. Give them the customary 20% and thank your lucky stars that you’re not in their shoes.

 

(I researched this one day, actually.  And, to make it worse, they don’t actually get that whole 20%.  First they have to “tip out” the runners and the maître d’.  So, if you’re short-changing them their 18-20% then they’re the ones that get screwed. It’s a hard way to make a living so cut them a little slack. –Gwen)

 

Car Wash

Not that it’s been necessary with all the rain we’ve been having, but sometimes it’s worth getting your car washed by someone else. Sling between $2 and $5 their way, depending on the kind of wash you’ve asked for.

Personal Care

Things like waxing, facials, manicures and pedicures fall under this category. Don’t just sit there and switch off, only to realise an hour later that they’ve done something you don’t actually like. Pay attention! Tipping between 15% and 20% is plenty.

 

(I went to the Hotel Bel Air for a facial not so long ago and they automatically added 20% so don’t be surprised when big hotels do that–they’re probably more than familiar with those of us not used to tipping. And yes, it does bring the price of that treatment right up there!–Gwen)

 

Those are my tips on tipping. Now give me your opinions or tell me if I’ve missed someone. 

 

Thanks Kat. If you like Kat’s work hop on over to her Blog and have a good read.

You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

I hope you understand a little more about why you actually should tip rather than bury your head in the sand!  It’s not the person’s fault, it’s the system!

xxIt Started in LAxx

 

When you're in LA you simply must visit The Broad; get the low-down here | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Reviews, Visiting LA

You simply MUST visit The Broad

You simply MUST visit the The Broad.

 

I know, I can hear you asking me: What’s the Broad?

 

Well, The Broad is a contemporary art museum in Downtown LA.

 

I know, I can still hear you: Contemporary art museum in LA?  Isn’t LA all about entertainment (celebrities), fitness (hiking and kale salad) and amusement parks (no need to explain them)?

 

Absolutely not! There is more to LA than good looks, expensive cars and getting an acting/producing gig.

 

Whether you’re planning your first trip to LA or you’re a seasoned veteran you simply must visit the Broad.

 

The Broad

(pronounced like it rhymes with road—not as in Broad beans)

 

Like I said, The Broad is a contemporary art museum in Downtown LA in a fabulous purpose-built building. The Broad opened its doors to the public on September 20, 2105. And it’s been gang-busters ever since.  According to a recent press release it attracted more than 820,000 visitors in its inaugural year–nearly triple its pre-opening projections and the largest first-year attendance of a new art institution in the US in recent years. Take that New York.

 

The Broad: the low-down

1. The collection is private—Eli & Edythe Broad’s own collection.

As an Australian (or anyone for that matter!), this is incredible on so many levels.

 

Clearly massive art lovers they’ve taken art appreciation to a whole new level.  It’s not all “theirs,” but rather they set up a foundation so the public can have access to and appreciate art as well.

 

Known as the Broad Art Foundation, the Broad is made up of a combination of the Foundation’s and their own personal collection.  Since they started collecting art some five decades ago they’ve amassed more than 2,000 pieces.  And it’s growing weekly.  They have a borrowing system where they lend art to galleries all over the world so they can share their collection with others.  What great people.

 

I wonder if they ever dreamed they’d amass such a collection?  And the collection is amazing.  I studied art at school and–don’t get me wrong–I really like it–but I’m not one of those people who can name famous artists—especially contemporary ones—like I’m naming rock bands or fashion houses. Mention Andy Warhol and, of course, I’ll know him.  Doesn’t everybody?  And don’t his paintings belong in some fandangled New York gallery rather than part of a private collection?  (I guess they do now!)

 

 

2. They funded (and built) the building.

To house art that they’ve collected that they’re sharing with us, they built a funky purpose-built building.  And the building is incredible.  The photos look incredible enough but up close—and when you’re inside it—it’s jaw-dropping.  The building itself is worth going to see.  Full credit to architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and executive architect Gensler.  (I actually think this has now passed the Guggenheim—and architectural wonder—as my favourite museum).

 

 

3.   Check out the special installation on the ground floor.

Infinity Mirrored Room, a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. A 45-second visit is enough to blow your senses out of the water.  It’s so unique as you’re the only one in the room. This installation finishes in October 2017.  At the same time a broader exhibition featuring Yayoi Kusama’s work is planned.

 

 

4.  Next door is the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

It’s in amazing company.  For some philanthropic and art loving trivia, Eli Broad was the founding chairman and is a life trustee of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (which is across the road), he was a visionary behind the development of Grand Avenue (where The Broad is based), and he spearheaded the fundraising campaign to build the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall). Talk about an art over-achiever!

 

 

Pop in next door for a free tour while you’re in the area.

 

5.  The food is amazing

The food options in Downtown LA are varied and offers great choices for any budget.

 

Where to eat

My number one choice is for sure the signature restaurant as part of The Broad, The Otium. Even now as I type (and I’ve eaten, I’m not hungry) I am salivating. The menu is so fresh and the food so innovative, light but filling and totally satisfying. It’s designed to share and you are going to want to try as much as you can on the menu.

 

But, best of all the ambience is warm, inviting and homely–with a twist of funk courtesy of the decor and building.  And the service echoes the warm feeling: the staff is nothing but friendly, knowledgeable and everyone we spoke to were happy campers.

 

Just fabulous #otium #interiors #design #broad #dtla #downtownla #foodie #decor

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

A short walk from The Broad is the Grand Central Market, filled with hipsters and a solid selection of great food.

 

 

The food is good and varied. Try Horse Thief Barbecue or Eggslut and you can’t go wrong.

 

Address

Google Map: The Broad

Where is the Broad?

The Broad is on 221 S Grand Avenue in Downtown LA.

 

General admission is free but hop online and reserve timed admission tickets before you go. It doesn’t cost anything and saves you waiting in a queue. That general admission queue also doesn’t guarantee you get in and it’s still painfully long so just hop online.

 

How to get there

If you don’t have a car The Metro stops nearby. For more information on routes and fares click here.

 

If you’re like most Los Angelinos and public transport isn’t your thing there’s always Uber.  Or if you have a car because driving is more your thing (God knows why with this LA traffic) there’s parking right next door.  Be sure to validate your parking for discounted fees.  For more info on parking click here.

 

Where to stay

There are some great hotels in Downtown LA but I recommend staying in the more traditional LA hotspots, for example West Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica.  For more information on Beverly Hills Hotels see my series of articles.

 

People forget about art when they visit LA and Downtown often gets left off most people’s agendas.  But both are well worth including in your LA bucketlist.

 

For more pics of The Broad, visit my Facebook page and album.

 

This article was repurposed from an original I wrote on Cosmos Mariners Blog site a year ago. You can find the original story here. Thanks again Natalie for featuring me!  While you’re there check out Natalie’s other stories–she’s covered some amazing ground.
Universal Studios
Posts, Visiting LA

Harry Potter brings another dimension to Universal Studios

Five tips to navigate Universal Studios Hollywood without a Fast Pass

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings another dimension to Universal Studios Hollywood.  For us locals who have had a couple of Annual Passes (previously the best value for money Annual Pass in SoCal) it is bittersweet.  Yes, you get two more rides and there’s so much more to see and do but with that comes the increased park fees, less attractive Annual Pass options and bigger crowds.  All in the name of progress it seems.

When it comes to Universal Studios one of the most frequent questions I get asked is “Do I need to buy a Front of Line Fast Pass?” or “Should I get VIP Tickets?”  The answer is no … and yes.

VIP tickets essentially get you a special Studio Tour, VIP access to the Shows and front of line to all the rides so it’s a good package.  But that good package comes at a pretty hefty price tag so it doesn’t always work with people’s budgets.

Front of Line gets you front of line to all the rides and Shows but also comes at a pretty hefty price tag.  And once again doesn’t always work with people’s budgets.

The correct answer is Universal Studios is achievable at all budgets and here are my tricks-of-the-trade to help get you around the Park with minimum wait times.

Five tips to navigate Universal Studios Hollywood without a Fast Pass.

1. Buy tickets online before you go

It will save so much time at the gates and so much effort.  Be sure you’re able to print your tickets before you go too.  Most hotels have printing facilities.  It pays to decide what date you’re going and book it well in advance.  Universal is now selling a limited number of tickets per day at the discounted rate so the earlier you do it, the more savings you can maximise.  If you don’t know what day you are going to go it will cost you up to $16 more.  (Yes, I found this out the hard way!).

Click here to buy tickets.

2. Get there early

I can’t stress enough how it will change your experience—the earlier you get there the better.  If you are driving get there half an hour (30 minutes) before the Park opens, this gives you time to wait in the queue to pay for parking, park and walk to the Park.

Yes, it can take that long—especially if you’ve got little ones.

3. Go during the week (if you can)

Three reasons to go during the week:

  1. It’s cheaper
  2. It’s less busy
  3. You get to see more in the backlot.

The backlot is active all the time but it is most often in actual use (you know? For actual shoots—ad, TV or movies) during the week.  That could mean that you are diverted from seeing certain parts of the Backlot but it’s kinda cool that they’re shooting something—it feels more like you’re in Hollywood.

4. Do the rides first

If you’re reading this (and not just scanning the sub-heads) then you’re being rewarded.  Do the rides in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter World first.  (See how I did that?)  Being the newest attraction in Universal Studios Hollywood Harry Potter world is the most busy—and with reason.  My advice is to make a beeline there first and try to beat the crowds.

After that I would double back just a little and experience the Minions.  This ride is also pretty new and gets crazy busy.  (If you don’t want to double back and you have arrived right on opening it is pretty safe to start here).

Once you’ve done Harry Potter then head for the bottom lot, it’s got three rides, The Mummy, Transformers and Jurassic Park.  Do Transformers first.

Once you’ve done that then The Simpsons ride is right at the top of the escalators.  Don’t do it on the way down, do it on the way back.  The queue for the Transformers ride can get long.

Then you’re safe to head to the Backlot tour (check wait times as they vary through the day) and pick a couple of the shows to see.  If you had to pick one Show I’d go to Waterworld, it’s fun, entertaining and keeps everyone amused.

The only other ride I haven’t mentioned is Shrek.  We only did it the first time we went.  Don’t get me wrong we enjoyed it but it can be quite a wait.  The upside is the attraction fits a lot of people so a lot of people get in at once.  The drawback is the number of Front of Line pass holders that jump the queue and get in before you.  If you miss out because there are a number of them then the wait for the next time around seems like an eternity.  It’s not always the case. Fingers crossed it’s OK for you.

5.  Eat early

Come 12:00 everyone’s body clocks are telling them it’s time to start thinking about food, but they hold off because they’re having so much fun.  But …  come 1:00 everyone is eating, or trying to get food and trying to find somewhere to sit.  So eat before the masses eat and avoid the queues (not to mention get a table) then ride the rides when the masses are eating.

 

Universal Studios is a lot of fun.  You’ll notice after about 1:00 that the sea of people grows and it becomes harder to walk around.  That’s your cue to exit stage left.  Not really but if you’ve done most of the attractions and you don’t need to battle it out and stand in lines then it’s a much, much better experience.  Have fun, I’m jealous, I still love going.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: I’d love to hear about how you went. Was I right? Can you offer some advice? Chime in.

Halloween in LA
My LA story, Posts, Visiting LA

Halloween time in LA

It’s the week before Halloween and it’s gripping LA.

For most of October shops have been selling Halloween “cookies”, decorating kits to make-your-own cookies, decorations, purple-orange-and-black themed stuff, eyeballs and everything you could possibly imagine in between.

Halloween

With Fall comes Halloween | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com

 

Then there’s the transformation of the theme parks.

What to do in LA during Halloween

Disneyland decorates the park in Halloween orange and the Haunted House at California Adventure takes on a different dimension.  Knott’s Berry Farm turns into Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studios does Halloween Horror Nights where they turn the park into an episode of your worst nightmare.  Universal Studios does it the best–as it should, it’s a movie studio.  Unfortunately you’ll have to experience this one yourself because I don’t think there’s any way this LA Blogger is going to be able to endure a night of horror.  Despite knowing it’s not real the combination of the dark and the real live actors walking around actually scaring you (it’s their job!) makes it all too real.  And then Six Flags (Magic Mountain) does Fright Fest.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios turns into a fright fest at Halloween | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com

 

I’m not quite sure how Halloween became so big here but it is bigger than big and despite all the spooky stuff it’s fun and festive.  Many houses go all out.  It’s a great pre-cursor to Christmas–there are some houses who don’t do anything, some with a touch of spook and others who go all out they put the Griswalds to shame.  I just learnt of one house not far from us that has its own website, Facebook page and Twitter account.  Yep, that’s what I thought.

I love Halloween here.  I fell in love with the concept of Halloween when I was in Shanghai and one of my son’s friends’ family invited us for a Halloween party in their compound.  Still relatively new and looking for more friends we were so thankful to be invited I just went into full-blown Halloween mode.  I rushed off to the Fabric Markets and got a costume made for Mr H and I.  He was Fred Flinstone and I was Wilma.  Fun.  Until we got there and realised the adults weren’t dressing up it was just the kids!  Didn’t think to ask that question did I?  We still laugh about that night to this day and they’re now good friends of ours despite rarely catching up in person.

On the Facebook page of the Griswald house (well not actually the Griswald house but Boney Island) one lady commented, “I miss Halloween in America, no one does Halloween like America”.  Well duh.  Halloween is actually an American “holiday”.  Sure, it exists in other countries in different forms, but Halloween as the concept we know it today started here.

Haunted House

Halloween in 90210~Love the reference to Star Maps | It Started in LA

 

Certainly in more recent years in Australia we’ve been dressing up and trick or treating.  I can recall a time not that long ago when the kids were still young when a note was put in our letterbox by a neighbourhood mum with a balloon attached.  The note said that they were planning on trick or treating in the neighbourhood and if we as a house were participating we could blow up the balloon, tie it to our letterbox and we would be visited.  No balloon=no visit.  This year there will be more Australian kids in the neighbourhood and more houses being decorated so I guess the Americanisation of the world continues to a degree.  (Some people in Australia hate Halloween for this exact reason).

But America is without question home to the Halloween tradition.  Here people come to work dressed up.  Mr H was gobsmacked when he got to work last year to see so many people dressed up (he didn’t get the memo).  The kids go to school dressed up and local businesses like my hairdresser come dressed up.  No wonder it’s many people’s favourite “holiday”.

Vegemite

Of course for our first Halloween I had to dress up as a Vegemite jar | It Started in LA

 

We had our first American Halloween last year.  We were very green, still finding our way around and still (quite frankly) shell-shocked.  In the week leading up to Halloween everyone was asking where we were trick or treating.  Wait, what.  What do you mean?  I just assumed that everyone trick or treats in their neighbourhood.  Apparently not.  Kids congregate in friendship groups and visit neighbourhoods who do a “good trick or treat”.  Others (like in my daughter’s year) have parties where we get together for pizza and wine then visit their neighbourhood to trick or treat because it’s a good area for it.  We went on the kids school street last year.  There were hundreds there.  The street even gets closed off they anticipate that many people.  That’s a lot of lollies, ahem, candy.

Halloween night

People everywhere all congregating in well-known trick or treating neighbourhoods with the houses dutifully decorated for Halloween rather than in their own neighbourhoods | It Started in LA

 

The atmosphere is so festive, it’s like a giant street party it’s so fun.  We were blown away but the sheer number of people, the extent people went to for Halloween and the distances people travelled to get to the “good trick or treat spots”.  We spoke to a few people who said they travelled for miles to get there and all go by bus.  There are websites that rate and suggest areas for people to go.  My first thought was I wonder if they tell people when they buy the house that that’s what they’re up for.

But it’s not just about Halloween, it’s also about pumpkins.  People go to pumpkin farms (which are all over the place) to find their pumpkin and carve it to make Jack O’ Lanterns.  And make a day of it because it’s evolved over the years to include farm-type activities like hay-rack rides and corn mazes.

Pumpkin Farm

This is a Pumpkin Farm in the Valley not far from us, I believe they’re “bigger & better” further out in the suburbs | It Started in LA

 

Jack O’ Lanterns date back to Celtic days and it’s believed the Irish took the tradition over here when they came to America.  But the Irish carved turnips to make their lanterns; they found pumpkins when they came here and deemed them perfect for carving and the rest, as they say, is history.  I’d never heard of them really carving pumpkins in the UK so I asked a few friends.  In Wales, like the Irish, they would carve suedes (another type of vegetable) and as pumpkins have become more mainstream and affordable they too have started carving pumpkins.  My English friends also say they’re starting to do it more now but don’t recall doing it when they grew up.  I guess like Australia their Halloween is being Americanised too.

It seems these pumpkin farms then turned into a family day out–mazes, horse & cart rides, fresh produce and of course family photos.

I got my pumpkins at the supermarket–with no fanfare–and haven’t carved it.  Many people don’t carve theirs these days and that’s ok too.

Supermarket Pumpkins

Quite the booming business in pumpkins | It Started in LA

 

I’ve never seen so many pumpkins as I have here.  They’re everywhere.  What’s even stranger–to us when you think about it–is that these pumpkins are grown to carve and display and not to eat.  Can you tell I find this whole pumpkin thing very intriguing?  I’m sure if you left America, though, you’d find it completely strange that there are no pumpkin farms let alone pumpkins available en mass.  That’s what makes us all different.

Probably my favourite thing about this time of the year though is the “smell” of Fall.  This smell is an invented smell; it’s not like the smell of jasmine to signal spring and summer are on their way it’s the smell of spices like cloves and cinnamon and apple pie (“holiday” smells).  You can buy these smells in the form of pre-mixed spices to simmer away on your stove, or in the form of candles or plug-ins.  Whatever emotion it’s touched in me it makes me feel at peace and at home.  (I hope this Americanisation takes off at home by the time we move back).

Another thing that surprised me although now that I think of it I don’t know why has got to do with lollies.  I might have mentioned at Easter (or maybe I wasn’t being very specific) that “candy” comes out that you’ve never seen before–because lollies here tend to be seasonal.  There’s no better example than candy corn.  It makes an appearance for Halloween and it’s pretty hard to get hold of at other times in the year.  There are also the obvious things like pumpkin flavoured everything lollies but our carpool kids were telling us they associate other lollies like America’s version of Malteaser’s, Whoppers, with Halloween because they mainly tend to come out then.  (This is probably due to the 50 kilo bags of mixed chocolates you get at Costco or Target for trick or treating.)

Candy

Lollies lollies everywhere. And then they disappear | It Started in LA

 

So that’s Halloween in a nutshell.  Happy trick or treating wherever you are!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: I keep putting speech marks around the world “holiday”.  See I can’t help myself.  That’s because a “holiday” is an event (like Halloween or Valentine’s Day).  When I first heard my friend say Halloween was her favourite holiday I thought they got the day off in America.  I thought that was so cool but alas no, no day off.  Vacation is the American word for holiday and, well, there’s no Australian version of the word “holiday” because all our holidays are days off!

yummy
Posts, Reviews, Visiting LA

B Candy Newport Beach

Ice-cream anyone? On a recent roadtrip back to LA from San Diego (via the Orange County beach suburbs) we got that ice-cream craving you get when it’s hot and you see water.  (OK, you can get an ice-cream craving any time of the day and night).

We found the most enticing “candy” shop with lots of parking.  Bullseye!

You know the saying “like a kid in a candy shop?”   Well that candy shop was B Candy.  A feast for the eyes and the cravings it’s the perfect destination for all things lollies.  And candy.  And chocolate.  And–of course–ice cream.

But we were here for the ice-cream.  I had that “Only in America” moment when I saw the chocolate-covered potato chips and caramel ice cream:  Get out of town.  Gross.

Chocolate covered potato chips and caramel ice cream. Heaven.

Chocolate covered potato chips and caramel ice cream. Heaven.

 

I love that in America you get to sample first.  Dare you.  You’re on.

Oh. My. God.  The result is the saltiness from the chips, the crunch and the oozing caramel and hit of chocolate.  Nothing short of a taste sensation.  No friends, the reason there’s no photo of me devouring this ice-cream sensation is that there simply wasn’t an opportunity.  I still dream of that to this day and can’t wait to go back and have more.  Next time I’ll bring a tub back.  Can you do that?

I had a lovely chat with the owner, Brandy and all-in-all this is such a warm, lovely environment.  So much so that I decided to share it with you.

Pop in and pay them a visit and tell them I sent you.  But save me some of the ice-cream.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  Like what you read? Want to stay in touch with me? It’s easy, really.  Just subscribe to my Blog and each time I post it will be delivered straight to your Inbox.  It’s as easy as that.  And while you’re at it, share me with your mates.

LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

What to do in LA: in a day, weekend, week or month

We had friends in town over the weekend (yes again!) and the whole family loved being out and about showing them “our LA”.

Like me when I first came to LA many people who holiday here are a little nonchalant about it.  LA is where most of us fly into as a gateway to US and with its theme parks and Hollywood it’s on the “must-however-reluctantly-do” bucket list.  As a tourist you come in, may or may not rent a car, do the tourist stuff then go again.  If you stay at Disneyland or Hollywood it’s hard to get a sense of what LA is really all about.  When I first came to LA we stayed in Westwood on Wilshire Boulevard.  It was central but without a car it was useless and definitely impossible to get a vibe read on LA.

I hopped on that plane, looked at my boyfriend at the time (who actually was Mr H!) and said in all seriousness, “Been there, done that, never coming back.”

Never say never.

On Sunday my friend’s 16-year-old daughter announces, “I love LA”.  Sure, what’s not to love?  We’re sitting in the uber trendy Urth Cafe (in the stifling heat might I add–only in LA are you complaining about a heat wave in mid September), had a great dinner the night before at one of my favourite West Hollywood restaurants, mixed it up with the groovy people in Venice and hung out with the trendy beach crowd in Malibu.

Oh, and at dinner we saw Joel Madden, Rebel Wilson, Emmy Rossini and Andrew Dice Clay.  All walked in and out separately.  We even witnessed a couple of back-door exits.  How very Hollywood.

The gorgeous Emmy Rossum

The gorgeous Emmy Rossum

 

It’s true of any city but especially in LA it’s pretty bloody cool to do it with someone who knows their way around.

Each time people come we (obviously) tailor their visit and do the things that interest them.  So, I got to thinking about the different agendas and thought I’d share them with you.

Here is LA in a day, a weekend, a week or a month.

LA in a Day

God no, don’t do it to yourself.  There is too much to do in LA to limit your time to a day but if you absolutely have to, here goes.

Shopping

Get in, check into your hotel then get the flock out and about.  If it’s shopping you’re after head to Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, The Grove or Century City Mall–depending on where you’re staying.  They are all close to the action and you’ll use your time wisely.  Plus there are good eating options so you can stay safely in the one spot.

For more in shopping in LA check out my post on that very subject.

Bring your purchases home, freshen up and get ready for drinks and dinner.  Don’t waste your time at American chain restaurants, plan in advance (ie book before you get here) and dine at a nice LA restaurant.  If you’re after ideas check out my Pinterest board on LA Dining.  It needn’t be over-the-top expensive but it can be a good experience.

For drinks try Cecconi’s on Melrose.  It has a 4-7 menu where from 4:00 to 7:00 they serve nibbles that cost between $4 and $7 each; match it with drinks, take in the ambiance and you’ve got a great afternoon unwinding.

 

Sightseeing close to LAX

I’ve decided to update this post as I had a friend that I used to work with come into town wanting to know what to do with his 24 hours in LA.  The “brief” was he wanted to stay close to LAX and be able to walk around.

There are very few areas where you can walk around LA and even when you can walk you don’t.  It’s also hard when you’re lugging luggage around to get around town.  Anyway, here are two approaches as to what to do in LA in a day.

Venice/Santa Monica

Whatever you do don’t make the mistake my mate made and stay on the Boardwalk at Venice and get in late at night.  And expect to feel safe.  Venice is as grungy as it is groovy and as scary as it is a place to be seen.  You want to stay in neighbouring Santa Monica and explore Venice by day.

Start with brunch in either Santa Monica or Venice.  I’d opt for brunch at Gjelina on Abbot-Kinney in Venice.  It’s great people watching, has good food and most importantly (for Australians) good coffee.

 

Now it’s time to walk off that yummy food and check out Venice.  I’d do a spot of shopping in Abbot-Kinney then head over to check out the canals.  It’s not Venice Venice but it’s serene and not something you’d expect to see in LA.

Great. Done. Tick.  Now for what Venice is renowned for: the Boardwalk and Muscle Beach.  You’ve got to do it.  My daughter hates it and my son is used to it.  There’s a lot happening, it smells of weed but it is interesting.  Epitomising LA, it’s like a show put on for the benefit of the tourists.  Except these people are entertaining you for the sport it.

There’s always something crazy that happens.  One time we were there we saw a woman chase her (I guess) sometime boyfriend all the way down the boardwalk hitting him one minute and yelling at him the next.  She would chase him a few metres down the boardwalk, hit him then yell at him to leave her alone.  The repeat it.  She even went to the policemen begging them to get him to leave her alone all the while yelling so everyone around her could hear her.  In this case I had to feel sorry for the guy who really was trying to stay away from her. Ahhh Venice …

Walk towards Santa Monica and watch the boardwalk change.  Here you can soak in the pier, take some pics, see the end of Route 66 and grab a churro (if you haven’t already).

If you’ve got a bit of shopping to do, head inland and check out Third Street Promenade.

After all that walking and shopping you’re probably ready for a drink or a bite to eat.  There are lots of places to eat in Santa Monica, ever-changing and too many to mention here.  That’s where my Pinterest board comes in handy.  Check it out.

When I’ve got friends here I like to go to Shutters–on the boardwalk and always open to take you.   If it’s dinner you’re after I love Chinois on Main Street.  You’ll need to book and don’t forget they eat early in LA so if you’re going at 5:30 or 6:00 thinking you’re beating the rush think again–that is rush time.

Santa Monica Beach. The gorgeous Shutters. #santamonica #la #itstartedinla

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

If you’re like my friend, and you’ve got a 10:00(ish) flight then it’s time to scoot back, pick up your bags and head to the airport.  There’s so much more to do but after that you should have a better feel for LA and, unlike me when I first came to visit, will actually like it.

WeHo/Beverly Hills

If West Hollywood is more your thing I highly recommend it–there are heaps of cool hotels, bars, restaurants and uber cool shopping.

Start your day with brunch at Urth Caffe.  Like I said before, it’s a good place to people watch and, if you’re lucky, spot a celeb or two.  For more people watching, window shopping and real shopping keep heading down Melrose and watch it change landscape and vibe as you travel down–from upmarket to designer funk to grunge.

If you’re a Kardashian fan stop in at Dash at 8420 Melrose Ave. And for uber cool and a little taste of LA stop in at Fred Segal at 8100 Melrose Ave (be sure to look out for the paparazzi stalking the carpark).  There are lots of boutiques inside and be sure to check out Ron Robinson–just love it.

If you’re into shopping, head into Hollywood and pre-book yourself a tour of the Paramount lot.  I love the Paramount lot.  It’s one of the oldest in Hollywood and also one of the few major studios actually in Hollywood.  Personal tours run all day.

 

I’ve already suggested drinks at Cecconi’s and I reckon it’s a must do.  By now it might be time to head back to the hotel, grab your bags and hot-foot it to the airport.

If you want to create your own itinerary you should check out my Pinterest board: 24 Hours in LA for more inspiration.

LA in a weekend

It really depends where your priorities lie.  My advice to you is to mix it up as much as you can: a spot of shopping, out at a funky restaurant, a stroll in West Hollywood and take in a Studio tour.

If you’ve got a car cruise down Rodeo Drive–mainly to check out the Bugatti Veyron.  I prefer Beverly Drive (parallel) or Robertson and Melrose (but that’s also to avoid the tourists!).  Also be sure to cruise Mulholland.

If you have kids (frankly even if you don’t) and you’re only here for the weekend I’d go to Universal Studios.  It has the backlot tour plus rides and is a lot of fun.  If you go when the park opens you can be out of there mid afternoon and still have time to do other stuff.  We’ve got an annual pass, have been so many times we’ve run out of fingers and toes to count but still love it.

Here was our most recent three-day weekend with our friends:

  • Century City Mall
  • Beverly Hills cruise around
  • Drinks at home & dinner at our “local” in Beverly Glen, its position means you could see locals like Gene Simmons, Jon Voight, Mark Wahlberg, Eddie Murphy, Harry Hamlin & Lisa Rimma or Paris Hilton going about their normal lives
  • Gjelina at Venice for brunch
  • Malibu
  • West Hollywood for dinner
  • Boys to Universal Studios
  • Girls to Melrose and Hollywood to get our shop on
  • Bel Air & Beverly Hills cruise around ogling the houses.

Bearing in mind they’d done LA before so it was great not to “have” to do all the tourist stuff.  We’d also never done the boys one way girls the other thing but it meant each of us got to do something we enjoyed and made for the whole LA experience.

LA in a week

That’s more like it: you can hang out, take it down to a cruise speed instead of full throttle.

Check out my must-do things in LA, that’ll give you a great variety of things to see and do.  Here’s seven things for seven days.

  1. Shop.  LA is shopping.  It’s pretty hard to come to LA and resist shopping.  So don’t.  And because you’re here for a week you can head out to the outlets or one of the Malls where you can knock yourself out with the choices available to you.
  2. Tour Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills.  Snoop/ gork/spy/have a sticky/check it out–say it how you like but if there’s one thing that many of my guests have in common (especially the girlies) and that’s checking out all the houses.  There are some beauties.  And if you really want a good snoop buy one of the Star Maps sold around the place.  There’s a fat chance you’ll see anyone but it’s fun to see where they live/lived.  Disclaimer: it’s pretty hard to see inside any if not all of the houses.
  3. Do something cultural.  There are actually plenty of cultural activities here in LA.  One of the favourite places is to head is to the Getty.  We’ve also got a great museums and galleries.  We’re not all just about beaches and shopping you know.
  4. Head down to Orange County.  Try Newport Beach, Laguna or Huntington Beach.  If you’re staying at Disneyland it’s not far to venture out for a while for a change of scenery.  If you’re heading to Newport Beach be sure to grab an ice-cream from B Candy.  Try the chocolate-covered potato chips and caramel ice-cream.  Heaven.
  5. Brave Disneyland.  It depends on what sort of person you are but the first time we went we were dreading it but embraced it for all it is and had fun.  You can do it in one day but to make it more enjoyable–rather than a race around the world so to speak–take two or even three days.
  6. Spend a day in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.  And I don’t just mean the boardwalks and pier.  Venture up Main Street Santa Monica or the Third Street Promenade.  Better still head up to the Montana Avenue area.
    Venice Beach is a great spot.  For far too long we thought of Venice as the boardwalk and muscle beach.  Head to Abbot-Kinney and grab brunch, have a shop and soak in the atmosphere.
  7. Head downtown.  And I don’t just mean to the Staples Centre to see the Kings or Clippers/Lakers.  In recent times LA has worked hard to lift the image of Downtown.  There are great walking tours, groovy bars and cool things to do–none of which I have done.  So, having told you to head downtown I’m going to too.

These are on top of the other suggestions so don’t forget Universal Studios or a Studio Tour–Paramount runs great tours in small groups.

When you’re eating out for a week you’re going to want some healthy options.  Sushi in LA is great (once you know where to go) so take advantage of it.  Also check out Lemonade and Urth Cafe for great food and healthy options.  Four Seasons Beverly Hills also has healthy options at its Cabana Restaurant and Culina Restaurant.

If you’re looking for fast food you know California is renowned for In-N-Out Burger.  Ask for the Carb-free version if you’re like many other LA-ers and watching your weight.  Frankly if I’m going to have a burger splurge I like it the traditional way ;-).  When you’re here for a week you’ve got time to try it.

LA in a month

OK, now we’re talking.  I’m guessing if you’re spending a month in LA you’re here as a backpacker or maybe you’re here to sus out whether you can make the move to Hollywood and get discovered.  Either way you’re going to want to hang out.

My top five places to hang out:

  1. Venice Beach–anywhere on Abbot-Kinney
  2. Malibu–because you can
  3. Santa Monica–anywhere
  4. Joan’s on Third or a well-situated Starbucks–you never know who’s going in and out or having a coffee.
  5. West Hollywood (WeHo)–because you can.

One of my favourite sights is hunky spunky boys jogging along Sunset in WeHo (in the stifling heat) with no tops on.  Think they’re looking for someone to discover them.  In the meantime it’s a great perve.

When my friends were here for a few weeks (just short of a month) here was our bucket list.  We got most of them done.

  • Hollywood
  • Walk of Fame
  • Malibu
  • Venice
  • Santa Monica boardwalk & pier
  • Robertson
  • Dash (on melrose)
  • Vintage shops & markets
  • West Hollywood
  • Topanga Mall
  • La Brea Tar Pits
  • Griffith Observatory
  • The Getty

We never spend much time in Hollywood or the Walk of Fame.  Some people are really into it but it’s hot and crowded and hassly.  Get in, get some pics and get out again–there’s much more to LA than that!

Hope that helps.  We’ve managed to turnaround all of our LA doubters into LA lovers.  I hope you will love LA too by the time you leave.  There’s really not much to hate after all!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Let me know how you go, what you enjoyed and could have given a miss.  Would love to hear from you.

updated September 12, 2015 @ 5:00 LA time with more to do in LA in one day

Hotel Bel Air
My LA story, Posts, Visiting LA

The debonnaire Hotel Bel-Air

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Beverly Hills Hotels

 

 

 

 

Timeless elegance with a modern twist; serene yet “happening” the Hotel Bel-Air is  a secret oasis in the heart of anything-but-modest Bel-Air. If you want to feel like a movie star (or a rock star for that matter) who just wants to be left alone stay at Hotel Bel-Air.

It Started in LA rating: 3 ticks √√√ (just needs to sort out this retched boycott mess to bring it up to 4.5.)

A Resort crossed between a boutique Hotel crossed between a Health Retreat (or how I imagine a Health Retreat to be) is how I can best sum up Hotel Bel-Air.

As I walked through the reception foyer, past the firepit and onto the grounds of the Hotel Bel-Air I immediately felt like I was a movie star.  Or was that rock star? I’m not sure.  I did see a couple of people who looked like movie stars on my visit.  Perhaps that was all I needed to make me feel special.  (I did feel like all eyes were on me as I walked past the breakfasting guests but I think it was the clunking of my boots rather than the wonder at “who” I was!)

Also part of the Dorchester Collection it bears little resemblance to its sister hotel the Beverly Hills Hotel yet they both reek of class and that “je ne sais quoi” that makes you want to soak it all up hoping it will wear off on you.

Surrounded by 12 acres of lush gardens Hotel Bel-Air has 58 guestrooms and 45 suites, including 7 one of a kind specialty suites.  It’s small, it’s intimate, it’s quiet and it’s very LA.

I love that LA is casual, polo shirts yet classy all at the same time.  This is the feeling you get at Hotel Bel-Air.  You feel like you should be in your best, most crisp but casual clothes and I felt out of place (and decidedly overdressed) with my vivid blue high-heeled boots, linen shorts & matching blue pleather jacket.

I have yet to eat here but the menu looks divine (after all it’s one of Wolfgang Puck’s signature restaurants).

So what about the rooms?

The rooms take on a more modern feel leaning towards great use of outdoor spaces through terraces and outdoor balconies, which is easy to do given the setting.

Many rooms have fireplaces (they come standard in the Grand Deluxe) and offers a technology bent with complimentary iPads (no, you have to leave them in the room when you go but you get to use them while you’re there) and a nifty app where you can order everything you need through the iPad.

The Junior suites are bungalow style by the pool and while I didn’t get to check one out myself the pics look nice.  They are also in the far end of the property making them a little more secluded.

Where should you stay?

The Canyon section consists of 12 rooms each well appointed and it’s quite popular.  The Grand Deluxe rooms are really nice with an indoor wood-burning fire, private entry and outdoor courtyard.  My favourite was the upstairs suite complete with its own jacuzzi.

Hotel Bel-Air balcony

What’s there not to like about the balcony of this suite? It Started in LA

 

Really it’s all nice here.  It was shut down for a complete refurbishment in September and reopened in grand style two years later on October 2011.  The rooms are designed in such a way that you don’t feel “ripped off” if you didn’t book the best room in the house which is always a good feeling.

People go to the Beverly Hills Hotel to do deals and be seen.  People come to Hotel Bel-Air to get away from it all, have some downtime (while still being seen).

Picnic at Hotel Bel Air

Hotel Bel Air can arrange a picnic on its grounds

 

The Hotel Bel-Air, while much quieter than I usually like, definitely requires more exploring. While I’m here I’m keen to book a picnic on the tranquil grounds enjoying fine food and Champagne.  All old-world English style.  With a dash of LA.

The Bel-Air Hotel is steeped in LA history. Bel-Air–as you might know from my fact or fiction section is not an actual suburb rather a 600-acre estate  acquired by Alphonso E. Bell to be known as “Bel-Air.” Determined that the estates would become an exclusive and upscale neighborhood, he enhanced the surrounding area with new roads, utilities, a country club and lush, exotic vegetation.

According to its own website, “For the next few decades Bell’s dream flourished. In 1946 Joseph Drown, a hotel entrepreneur from Texas, purchased 18 acres, and the land offices, and began plans to create an elegant pastoral hotel hideaway encompassing most of the land. Drown immediately hired architect Burton Schutt to convert the buildings and construct the 62 rooms of what was to become Hotel Bel-Air. Drown transformed the grounds into lush, beautiful gardens, adding Swan Lake to the picturesque front lawn. He had a vision of creating a natural California oasis, planting palms, ficus trees and perennial blooms. Drown also closed the Stone Canyon stables and built the sparkling oval-shaped pool at the site of the original riding ring. The hotel opened on August 24, 1946.”

Oooozing Hollywood style taken in 1951 | It Started in LA

Oooozing Hollywood style taken in 1951 | It Started in LA

 

Over the years many films have been shot at the hotel and its charm continues to grow.  Recently it has been a little scarred by its owner Brunei leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, instituting Islamic Shariah criminal law in his home country.  Most of the focus remains on its sister hotel, the Beverly Hills Hotel however.

It’s unclear how long the boycott may last but some people are changing their perspective or opinions.  Here’s an article (dated July 4) that might give you a different perspective. Either way I’d like to share the hotel with you and you decide whether or not you’d like to stay there.

Stay at the Hotel Bel-Air if:

  • you want a bit of seclusion yet are still close to Beverly Hills and other shopping districts
  • you want to see and be seen–don’t mistake its quiet ambiance for not happening but stay cool this is a place to go to get away from it all
  • you’re prepared to embrace the LA thing and drive everywhere (there are shuttles to nearby shopping districts and direct to the Beverly Hills Hotel)
  • you can afford it–if you’re going to do, do it properly; and enjoy it.

Don’t stay at the Hotel Bel-Air if you’re looking for a party atmosphere, this definitely errs more on the side of retreat than hotel.

Enjoy and do share with me how you enjoyed your stay.  And who you saw ;-).

xx It Started in LA xx

Special offers can be found at the hotel’s website and there are some pretty attractive ones there.  More about the hotel’s history can also be found on its website.

All pictures with thanks to Hotel Bel-Air, Dorchester Collection.

LA
LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

Shopping in LA

Did you say Shopping in LA? Let’s face it, if you’re in LA you’re going to want to shop.  The shopping here is pretty amazing and you can pretty much spend your whole time shopping if you’re that way inclined.

Strip shopping is great along Melrose Avenue (West Hollywood), Third Street (WeHo), Robertson (Beverly Hills) and of course there’s always Rodeo Drive.  Westfield has come to America and revolutionised Mall shopping and with most of the malls outdoor you don’t have to sacrifice sun time–and don’t worry it “never rains in LA”.

So here it is a run-down of your shopping options.  Whether you want to get it done quickly or randomly browse and enjoy all LA shopping has to offer, this post is for you.

LA: The Grove & the Farmer’s Market

Seen as a must-visit shopping destination in LA the Grove certainly gets busy.  It’s easy to get to by Uber, taxi or car.  If you drive be sure to check out for validations around the various stores.  And if you want to get into the LA thing there’s Valet parking at The Grove.  Do watch it though as validation is different for the Grove and the Farmer’s Market so watch where you park depending on what you’re after.  (I usually park at the Farmer’s Market–if I’m lucky enough–especially if I’m going to pick up some fresh produce for dinner.  I also found out that Nordstrom validates for The Grove parking so that’s a bonus).

Farmer's Market

LA’s idea of sightseeing: a shopping mall

Not only is it pretty but there are great places to eat and (of course) shop.  There’s a massive H&M and you have to let curiosity get the better of you by visiting American Girl.  For a complete shop/store listing click here.

Century City

After a multi-million dollar facelift and expansion Century City is making itself a must-do destination while shopping in LA.  A Westfield Mall, it follows the recipe of destination shopping in Australia like Chatswood and Sydney City.

So convenient to Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the westside there are great restaurants, good shops and very popular (you never know who you might spot).

Speaking of restaurants it has Shake Shack and our ultimate favourite from our Shanghai days, Din Tai Fung [shriek].

It has Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s AND Nordstrom’s, a HUGE Apple Store, Tesla (in case you want to buy a car) and high-end brands.  It also has the usuals like Victoria’s Secret and Zara.  More exciting for us Aussies is the Cotton On sighting as well as Typo.  For a complete store listing click here.

And if that’s not enough Century City is very dog friendly.

Doggie Treats

Doggie treats | Century City

Santa Monica

If you’re staying in Santa Monica you really don’t want to drive up to LA to shop.  And you don’t need to because there’s great shopping right where you are.

Check out Third Street Promenade–the famous pedestrian-only shopping strip with great brands and a great vibe.  (I have to say I never shop down here because when you’re in Beverly Hills you don’t need to but it’s great shopping none-the-less).

Montana Avenue has upmarket boutiques and coffee shops but still offers a laid-back beach feel.  If you’re in Santa Monica it’s well worth meandering along–you never know who you might spot.

And, for something a little more hip check out Main Street.

Like all people in Santa Monica, you’ll never have to leave :-).

Camarillo Premium Outlets

At 45 minutes from Beverly Hills it’s a bit of a drive to Camarillo but I can tell you you won’t be disappointed.  As far as outlet malls go this one is a beauty with some great brands and a decent place to shop.  There’s everything from Kate Spade, Converse and Cotton On to BCBG Max Azria and Armani and Tori Burch.

Click here for a link to the store guide and map and have fun!

Outlets: Citadel

Citadel outlets are just south of Downtown on the I5 and really convenient if you’re staying in Orange County (Disneyland or the beaches–there’s an Express Shuttle from select Anaheim Hotels) or LA.

The first time we went here we had a field day (and so does everyone else we bring).  First stop for the Aussies Converse, Vans and Nike then you can branch out to H&M, American Eagle, Guess, Michael Kors, Banana Republic and Billabong.  There are heaps of other shops too.  If you’re out for bargains and have a big shopping list be prepared to take up most of your day.

It’s not bad people watching too just quietly–you get a better cross-section of LA than you do in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood.

Topanga Mall

LA doesn’t do mega malls like we have at home in Australia but Topanga is the exception to the rule.  It’s not handy if you’re staying at the Beach but if you’re staying in Beverly Hills it’s pretty easy to get to.  This mall is it has it all: Forever 21, Brandy Melville (not in very many Malls), Nordstrom, Macy’s, Neimen-Marcus, Henri Bendall, Bath & Body Works, Wet Seal–the list goes on.  It’s a one-stop shop.  Beware though you’ll need the day–there’s a lot to get through if you’re a thorough shopper, you might need to take advantage of its late-night trading.

Beverly Centre

I haven’t been a big fan of the Beverly Centre but I’m getting used to it.  Like all the other malls it has good brands to choose from including New York’s Henri Bendel.   It’s convenient and close to Melrose, Third Avenue and Beverly Connection across the road has Target and Nordstrom Rack if you don’t have time to hit the outlets but are looking for a bargain or two.

Melrose Avenue

I just love Melrose Avenue.  The best thing about it is keeps changing.  It starts from being designer boutique paradise to vintage shopping paradise to grungier hipster shopping.  There’s a lot to look at, great street art and great photo opps.  Here’s a great site that details what’s on offer on Melrose.  And while you’re there don’t forget to cover off Melrose Place.  You might like to lunch at the Fig & Olive it’s great food & wine (and great olives and olive oil).

Check out my photo gallery on Facebook.

Robertson

Robertson is another great street for people watching and high-end boutique shopping.  Celebs and those in the know prefer to shop here than Rodeo Drive because it’s slightly less conspicuous.  Having said that it’s where The Ivy is and there are tour buses that travel along this strip hoping to spot a celeb (I wonder if they ever do?!  One time my son & I were coming out of The Ivy a tour bus came past and we waved to them, probably not the celebs they expected to see!)

Third Street

Another great strip with groovy boutiques and great places to eat including the uber-popular star-spotting eatery Joan’s On Third.

Petticoats

Petticoat anyone?

 

Beverly Hills

You might notice I didn’t mention Rodeo Drive.  It’s more of a sightseeing destination than a shopping destination–unless of course you have come with your Black Amex and are ready to do some damage.  By all means head on down there and check it out.  But if you’re that way try Beverly, just one street over.  It has great shops and a little more kind to your credit card.

Universal Studios City Walk

If you’re really short on time there are actually a few good stops at Universal Studios City Walk.  Of note are Abercrombie & Fitch and a huge Billabong shop.  And there are a number of different restaurants to choose from if you’re exhausted from your long day there.

Getting around LA

It’s pretty hard to get around LA in anything other than a car.  If you’re going to brave driving in LA drive fast and be decisive.  Other than that here’s a post on driving in LA.

Have you heard of Uber?  We love it and use it here all the time.  Here’s a link to sign up (with a promo code for up to $30 off your first ride).  Give it a go, you won’t regret it.

Happy Shopping!

xx It Started in LA xx

Patriotic
Posts, Visiting LA

Red, white & blue: Fourth of July

I’ve done it…We’ve done it!  We have now spent our first Fourth of July here as a family.  I’m glad it’s come around at the ten-month mark rather than early in our time here simply because we’re more acclimated and we’re in the groove of life here.  This way we get to appreciate the holiday rather than being freaked out–overwhelmed–by the sea of red, white & blue.

Australia Day in Sydney and Melbourne & the Fourth of July in LA are not dissimilar celebrations–it’s summer, many celebrations take part around the beach and there are fireworks. We spent our Fourth of July at a friends’ insistence in Mission Beach, San Diego and I’m so glad we followed her advice.  I really miss the kids having freedom to walk to the park, beach or corner shop without me having to accompany them.  Over the four days we were there they were able to do exactly that.  It was sooo liberating. But while the fourth of July is similar here as it is at home it’s also different: same, same different as we’d say in China.

It’s so same, same different in fact that it’s hard to articulate why. Firstly I would say that Americans seem more patriotic and they’re not afraid to be: they put it all out there: their American flags, dress in stars and stripes, paint their nails and even dress their homes.

Nails

You can never have enough red, white & blue

But we do too.  We’ve got our Australian flags, flag bathers and throw parties but maybe stop at decorating our nails and houses.

The impression I get is that the fourth of July revolves around community-based activities whereas our celebrations tend to revolve around parties with friends.  So even though we were “grilling” at a friends’ house we were also on the beach and interacting with others.

Two revellers being pulled along by their mate on the bike

Two revellers being pulled along by their mate on the bike

Many communities hold parades or fairs so everyone gathers in the same place.  I love that because the atmosphere is so electric.  And everyone is so bloody friendly.

A set-up the envy of many including the beachside "grill".

A set-up the envy of many including the beachside “grill”.

 

Not unlike us festivities start early–we saw a group doing shots at around 11am and still going around 2:30.  But they weren’t going in the late afternoon as they would’ve been doing at home. But starting early in America seems to also mean pacing yourself (a foreign concept for many of us Aussies).

The ability to practice the art of “pacing” lies in not always having a drink in your hand.  It also means hanging by the beach with the kids, going on a bike-ride up and down the boardwalk or chatting with fellow revellers.  Novel huh?  I quite liked it truth be told. Perhaps the biggest difference though is the LA element.  Once all the fireworks were done everyone went home.

To the Americans the fireworks were the grand finale and signals time to go home.  To Australians it signals the end of formal proceedings and time to start partying.  Which is usually, I have to say, when the trouble starts.  By our standards it’s an early night but here it’s the end of a fun day out.  And it ends in fun rather than drama or alcohol-fuelled incidents: we don’t have an off button (design flaw?).

Maybe as a new Ausmerican we can work out how to get somewhere in between…?

 Mission Beach for 4th of July

I’ve already blogged about our weekend away at Coronado Island when we first went to San Diego in April but I really wanted to talk about what a great spot Mission Beach is to holiday.

Three reasons to holiday in Mission Beach:

  1. Freedom to wander and walk (and bike) practically everywhere, such a nice change from the “get-in-your-car-for-everything” mentality of LA.  Also for our older kids we can give them the freedom to walk to the beach and the park on their own.
  2. Summer by the beach: totally unpretentious and lots of things to do (what more can you want for your summer holidays?)
  3. Watersports galore–jet skis, water skiing, wake boarding, paddle boarding, you name it it’s there.  If you feel like indulging yourself try the Hot-tub cruise boat.

Five places to eat in Mission Beach:

  1. The Mission–dubbed as the best breakfast place in SoCal and I have to say I strongly agree.  Great coffee too (psst no bookings, rock up early and put your name down with the masses but it all seems to move fairly quickly).  3795 Mission Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 488-9060
  2. Saska’s–local sushi joint (and grill all in one) and great service when you ask for Carson 3768 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 488-7311
  3. Arslan’s Gyros–amazing Greek food: fresh meat, great pita bread and dips and a great atmosphere (especially when you bring your whole group of 30 peeps and takeover the restaurant) 3861 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (619) 962-9925
  4. Better Buzz–another top breaky spot with Aussie-approved coffee, selling the very-LA acai bowl. Even with queues going out the door it’s worth the wait. 3745 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 488-0400
  5. The Ale House–we didn’t eat there but we had one of the Chefs come and cook our BBQ for us. I continue to salivate over the beef he cooked. Dee-vine.  Oh, and our friend is good mate’s with the owner who brought over the best fish, prawns & scallops from his Fish Shop–yummo (Pacific Beach Fish Shop1775 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 483-4746). 721 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 581-2337

Five Seven things to do in Mission Beach:

  1. Hang by the beach … of course.
  2. Head around to Mission Bay and go crazy on water sports rental.  The Bay is perfect for recreational activities. I recommend the Hot Tub Cruises ;).
  3. Hire bikes or a segway. I need to tell you Segway riding is not as easy as it looks but it’s fun once you get the hang of it. I just wish they’d lower the riding age because the kids love it.
    Hire bikes from Cruiser King on Mission Blvd and we got our Segways from the Catamaran.
  4. Book a fire pit by the beach (complete with Adirondack Chairs and Tiki torches. Fabulous.  Now there’s no excuse not to roast marshmallows and make smores.
  5. Book a Hot-tub cruise (you know you want to)
  6. Relax and let the kids exhaust themselves on activity overload–a perfect recipe for a great night’s sleep so you can do it all over again.
  7. Visit one of the many nearby attractions like the San Diego Zoo.  As you know if you’ve been following along we loved our visit and I highly recommend it.)

We stayed at the conveniently located Catamaran Resort and Spa is in the Bay.  Having the pool is a great option (especially for pool-side cocktails) and the kids love the Arcade with complimentary gaming. I think we’ll be getting in early and booking our spot in Mission Beach for next year’s Fourth of July.  Can’t wait!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Update July 24, 2014 @ 4:00PM LA time

BHH
Fact or Fiction, Posts, Visiting LA

Fact or Fiction: the Svend Sipper is named after Beverly Hills Hotel’s long-time pool manager

God I miss the Beverly Hills Hotel.  There hasn’t been a lot said about the boycott lately except it’s still on.  I keep wondering how they’re doing and what effect (if any) the boycott is having on the hotel.

I heard on Mothers’ Day that it was reasonably full but this article in the New York Post (all in the name of research I’m sure) says otherwise.  Here’s another article summarising what’s going on by Time Magazine.

I searched availability on its website and there are obviously more rooms vacant (I regularly search availability of the bungalow rooms to tick off my bucket list!).  I think I need to make a trip to check it out myself–purely in the name of research and to give a first-hand report to my faithful readers of course.

So, in memory of my beloved memories at the hotel here’s my latest Fact or Fiction (that has been MIA).

The Svend Sipper is named after its long-serving Pool Manager.

 

Results from the last Fact or Fiction: Yosemite National Park

I hope you weren’t holding your breath for the answer to this one.  The answer required first-hand research.

The answer to this one is a tough one.  It seemed to me when I posted it that the answer was yes.   I called the number that has visibility over all the accommodation IN the park and there was essentially no room at the Inn.  I was told to continually check back because as the time gets closer there are generally cancellations.  Let me also say I was booking for two families (nine of us).

I was also warned by those I’d asked for advice that if you haven’t booked by now (some six months in advance) you wouldn’t get a room–specifically but not limited to the Ahwahanee.  Even as I write this post I tested a number of dates in July and came up blank.  I tried it for two families and one with the same result: nudda.

So, we booked an RV (the only one left) and a site outside the park (the only one left) and the nine of us bunked in for two nights.  Hysterical.

When we got there there seemed to be a scattering of vacancies around the park.  There was one room left at the gorgeous Ahwahanee (but none at the time I called) and a couple we sat next to at the bar had only just booked their room the day before.  Hmph. I felt bad because this was our Yosemite experience and I wondered where–how–I went wrong.

The beauty with this booking link is it covers all accommodation throughout the park.  There is also a phone number to call and their helpful people gave me the same result.

All I can say is plan as early as you possibly can for the high summer months.  It is busy.  If you’re coming from overseas you could take the chance and book something last-minute but if you’re anything like me that’s a huge risk and one I wasn’t willing to take.  I’ll leave it to you and … good luck!

If you want more detailed information on our Yosemite experience stay tuned for my Blog.  It’s coming soon.

xx It Started in LA xx

Must-do things in LA
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts, Visiting LA

Ten must-do things in LA

It’s been another action-packed week.  On the weekend we dined at one of my favourite West Hollywood restaurants and who would walk in but Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock.  I was beside myself but also reasonably cool (remember I’m pretty much acclimated now).  But when I glanced over at their table another mate of theirs had joined–none other than Keanu Reeves.  Please.  Are you kidding me? Wow.  No wonder I love hanging out there.

But then that high was marred by an incident yesterday where a man had led police on a massive freeway chase and ended up dumping his car in the middle of North Hollywood resulting in a standoff.  There were SWAT teams, news crews and …. a number of nearby SCHOOLS  in lockdown.  Holy crap.  Several news outlets showed kids from one school in locked arms evacuating their to safety.

That school was the other school that my kids got accepted into.  That could’ve been my kids in lockdown yesterday and on the news evacuating their class instead of elatedly jumping out of there because they’d finished another “final” (exam).  I’m not sure I or Mr H could’ve handled that.

Thankfully we didn’t have to, the kids are (I believe) all OK and today is another day.  Just quietly there’s another bloody shooting in a US High School.  I know that as outsiders to the US living in California (where we aren’t allowed to carry concealed weapons) I’m not brought up to understand why guns continue to be a huge part of life here but really .. seriously?  It’s called change peoples.  And change is good.  It’s not always bad and scary.

Right … now on a brighter note.  And now that I’ve given you a frightening picture of the US I’m here to tell you it’s also a great place.  So, we’ve got our summer on and we’re raring to go.

LA is usually the first point of entry for tourists.  So, here’s my 10 must-do things while you’re in LA.

10 must-do things in LA

1.    Go shopping

Unless you’re from the US this may not apply to you.  OK, it probably will.  LA has some good shopping.

But, if you’re from Australia (or anywhere outside the US) you’re definitely going to want to take advantage of the cheaper prices for shoes (thinking Vans, Nikes and Converse) and clothes and hit the streets (or malls).  Lucky I’ve written the ultimate guide to shopping in LA.

It will also pay you to understand the different sales tax rates around the country because it will affect the final price of your goods (who wants to pay more sales tax than they should?).  Click here for the lowdown.  I have to warn you it’s already out of date but it gives you a reasonable guide.  Click here to check out current sales tax rates to find the current rates.

2.   Pap a pap

They’re not everywhere like I thought they might be.  They can actually be very discreet.  But they are around.  Look around you–not for celebrities but for the paps who make their living out of following them.  (Hint: don’t go looking for guys with lots of cameras with long lenses hanging off them & they’re not often in a pack like this).

Paps

I’ll give you the tip: they’re not here for me

3.  One night, two days just do it

Take it down a gear and splurge on a couple of days at one of Beverly Hill’s top hotels.  Lucky for you I’ve done a review of many of the top ones for your consideration.  You’re in LA, you want to lap up all LA has to offer: style, casual swag and of course hanging and being seen.

Given the Beverly Hills Hotel is currently being boycotted I’d try the Beverly Hilton or the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.  But hang around long enough to schmooze by the pool, that’s where the action is.

Poolside

Feels more like a cosy 1950s motel than a big hotel … and that’s the way I like it

4.   Eat at our fabulous restaurants

Stay away from tourist trail and hit some decent restaurants.  LA has some great places to eat and if you insist you can stay in the tourist areas–and even eat with the kids.  But please, please, please the US has a bad enough rap without you adding to it, the food doesn’t have to be bad.  Not if you don’t let it.

Here’s  a link to my pinterest page highlighting great LA Dining.  But don’t forget to book ahead of time–they book out pretty early.  Oh, and in general they eat early here–as early as 5:00/5:30 so beware.

5.   Take in the atmosphere at the Greek Theatre &/or Hollywood Bowl

Get yourselves organised and pre-book a concert at either the Greek Theatre or the Hollywood Bowl.  Both venues are an LA institution.  (See my post on the Hollywood Bowl).

 6.   Have brunch at the Getty Centre

Visit, eat, hang around.  It’s not only worth a visit but it’s also worth hanging around.  What a fabulous place to have brunch or for something different book a picnic hamper and picnic on the grounds. Sometimes they have free concerts on the grounds.  Check out the website to see what’s going on when you’re here.

7.   Go to see the Basketball/Baseball/Ice Hockey

It’s a great experience watching live sport in LA (especially if you’re from overseas).  LA loves its Kings, find out why.  If you’re a little late booking through official channels Stub Hub is a great place to go.

 8.   Take in Griffith Observatory (inside & out)

It sits majestically on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood overlooking LA just above the fabulously exclusive Los Feliz.

Donated by some rich guy (bequest in the 1919 will of Griffith J. Griffith) he also donated the land for Griffith Park (in 1896).  I read somewhere that it’s the largest public space in all of LA so for God’s sake, honour his wishes.

Don’t just look up from those dreadful stars (sorry) and wonder what it is, go up and check it out. You can hike, picnic and see the stars (the real ones; up in the sky). Whatever you choose to do, pay it a visit.

9.   Take in a Vintage Market (or two)

Have you forgotten you’re in Vintage land?  It’s pretty hard to forget.  There are heaps of markets, stores and areas where Vintage is King.  Here’s a pretty comprehensive look at some choices. Probably the easiest to get to is Melrose Trading Post in Fairfax High on a Sunday but if you’ve got a car I’d definitely venture out.  Oh, and La Brea is definitely well worth the look.  While you’re there check out one of my favourite places Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture. You’re welcome.

Looksy Bus

Looksy Bus at the Melrose Trading Post, Fairfax High, LA

10.  Take a sidetrip to Palm Springs

Yes, you read right.  Palm Springs is where all Hollywood’s elite used to go to get away from it all.  An easy two-hour drive from LA Palm Springs is mid-century modern personified.  I get so excited just thinking about it.

The best way to describe Palm Springs is the perfect coffee table book picking out the best of the best.  Yes, it’s ALL good.  It’s like everyone in town got the memo, they pull off the Palm Springs look like pros.

You won’t be disappointed. Eat, shop and relax but allow yourself enough time to soak it in.  There are also great Vintage shops and Estate sales so it’s pretty hard to cram it into just a couple of days. But, whatever you do, try.

But wait … there’s more …?

I bet that you think there are a couple of places missing from my list: Universal Studios, Disneyland, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Boardwalk–even one of my favourites cruising Mulholland Drive and how can you forget Malibu?

I’m not just gorgeous and fabulous I’m pretty smart.  I know you’re going to go against me and do one or a few of them anyway.  Don’t let me stop you but just don’t make your visit to LA be about those things.  You’re not giving LA justice if you don’t look outside the tourist box.  Oh, and if you’re keen to visit an LA beach wander up to Malibu or head down South to Manhattan Beach.  Very nice.

I made a Pinterest Board Called 24 Hours in LA with lots of different suggestions so click in there for more inspiration.  While you’re there check out “The Best of LA“.

There is so much good stuff to see and do in LA I’m scared I won’t get to it all during my time here.  How about we all make a pact to get out and about and enjoy all LA has to offer?

Like Ferris said, “Life moves pretty fast, if we don’t stop and look around once in a while we could miss it.”

Happy summer.  I heart LA.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Four Seasons LA/BH
Celebrity, LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

Four Seasons in LA? Well of course.

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Beverly Hills Hotels

 

 

 

Are there four seasons in Beverly Hills?  But of course.  The Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills to be precise.

Stay at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for five-star treatment without pretension. If you don’t know LA you might think the location is not for you but actually you’re right in the middle of great shopping, amazing restaurants and have my two favourite areas, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills at your doorstop. With 100 of the 285 rooms being suites there’s a room for everyone but don’t be fooled the standard rooms are roomy and well kitted out.

It Started in LA rating: 5 ticks √√√√√

How a hotel makes you feel is so important: it can make or break a stay don’t you think?  Absolutely I say.  Let’s face it if you’re not Kim or Kanye or JLo you still want to be treated like you are.  You’re important.  You’re special.

Well it’s no secret yours truly believes in that premise: I want to be treated like I’m a VIP (and understand to most people I’m not damnit).  When I visited the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills I felt like the red carpet had been rolled out for me and so here I am telling you all about it.

Unlike the Beverly Hills Hotel where I walk in and immediately take on a strut (with swag) you don’t feel the need to do that here.  It’s comfortable and unassuming.

I didn’t realise the Four Seasons is reputed to be the number one hotel in LA for the entertainment industry.  (Hmmm truth be told had I known this I probably would’ve been in a bit sooner so I’m telling you now).  Apparently it’s the venue for the majority of Hollywood’s press film events.  You get that sense when you see a mini version of the Marilyn Monroe statue as you pull into valet.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn statue as you enter Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills

 

Guests are anyone from pop stars (there was a very well-known one staying there the day I visited) to celebrities to agents.  (In the leisure category it’s popular with us Aussies so it must be good.)

This was my first visit to the Four Seasons.  As I said had I known what it was known for I probably would’ve visited sooner.  It makes sense that one of the families from school (who ran one of the top Studios) nominated the hotel as their favourite staycation location.  I immediately popped it on my list but it’s taken until now for me to get there.  Better late than never I say.

The first thing that hits you is the impressive display (and aroma) of flowers.  Not just a centrepiece in the lobby but throughout the hotel and gardens.

Lillies

Those lillies are stunning and positively fragrant–not even Pepe le Pew could upset you

 

Beverly Hills-renowned florist Eric Buterbaugh’s inspiring displays made me feel like I was back in the flower markets in Shanghai: so many flowers.  And that smell of perfectly scented lillies was powerful enough that not even Pepe le Pew the skunk could spoil it.

Flowers

Flowers anyone? Simply stunning

 

The flowers are no accident.  The property’s owners (it’s managed by the Four Seasons), the Cohen family, were in the flower business so their passion is reflected in the hotel’s design and mood.

The next thing I notice is that, despite its five-star rating and smartly dressed staff (rather than the preferred dress-down approach of many local hotels) it’s not stuffy or snooty.  On the contrary it’s welcoming and unpretentious.

What are the rooms like?

OK.  I love them.  The standard room is really spacious, not at all claustrophobic.  Nice touches are the floral theme (in the most tasteful way) through the bedheads and carpet (some of the nicest carpet let alone hotel carpet I’ve ever seen).  A vase with fresh orchids in the bathroom showed that nothing escapes the detail put into the rooms.  Toiletries used are Bvlgari which also makes for a nice touch.

There are many different categories of Suites catering for the breadth of guests the hotel attracts.

Adjoining rooms

There are about 20 adjoining rooms ranging in category from suites to standard rooms offering different combinations of sleeping arrangements.  If you’re anything like me the most frustrating thing about booking via an online travel company is finding or securing adjoining rooms.  I get that they’re limited and cannot guarantee but help us out guys and give us a guide as to what’s available.  If you fall into this category call or get in touch with hotel direct and make the booking.  Less headaches and a better chance of getting what you want.

Naturally suites can also provide the option you’re looking for too.  The Executive suite has a pull-out couch in the main room and the Luxury Suite offers two full bathrooms (and a wrap-around balcony).  If you happen to have a huge family the Presidential Suites, Royal and Luxury Suites are all big enough to cater for larger numbers.

Four Seasons

Rooms at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills feature lush carpet and beautiful flower motifs

 

So LA

If you’re looking for that LA feel the Four Seasons Beverly Hills has nailed it.  There’s no mistaking it caters for entertainment clients and is in touch with what LA is about.

The pool is stunning with obligatory cabanas (for Beverly Hills anyway) and plenty of room for sunbathers.

Four Seasons Pool

The pool at the Four Seasons is quintessentially LA with that vintage look and feel (love the green & white)

 

 I work out

It wouldn’t be an LA hotel without great workout facilities and the Four Season’s is outdoors.  That’s right, Muscle Beach comes to the Four Seasons.  Check it, it might even encourage me to work out!

Being LA you can line up a personal trainer to make sure you’re not slacking off while you’re away from home.

Gym

The outdoor gym at the Four Seasons is temperature controlled giving the best of both worlds

 

If all that doesn’t scream: “So LA!” then the dining options will.  LA has sooo many fantastic places to eat.  Here in LA people go to the hotel restaurants to eat.  If it’s good.  (I don’t know why we don’t go to them much in Australia, you certainly do in Asia).  So you better make sure your restaurant is good–or offers something unique–to bring the people in.

Dining Options

The Four Seasons Beverly Hills has its own little secret known as the Cabana Restaurant, tucked up behind the pool and open to the public.

Culina

Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills

 

I just love that the menu is broken down into four categories: indulgence, antioxidant, energy boosters and comfort food.  How LA is that?!

Don’t believe me? Check out the lunch menu here.  Did you click through and notice the smoothies?  Antioxidant (Goji Berry, Cranberry, Blueberry, Pomegranate, Papaya) and Jet Lag (Orange Blossom Honey, Nonfat Plain Yogurt, Orange Juice, Banana, Strawberries, Bee Pollen).  Can’t get more LA than that.

I’m so impressed that the Four Seasons knows and understands its clientele and market.  It attracts a younger clientele (think celebs people).  You can’t be offering burgers, burgers or burgers to a dieting Kim Kardashian (not that I’m saying she comes here.  And not that I’m saying she doesn’t).  But if that up-and-coming Blogger Gwen John goes to visit as much as she wants to be good and go and antioxidant menu there’s a good chance she’s going for comfort.  So you’ve still got to offer it.  Right?  Right.

I was treated to breakfast at Culina–its destination restaurant aimed at keeping guests in and Los Angelenos coming.  Word is the Sunday brunch is to die for so we’re checking into that one ASAP.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (which is June here and not September–you’re welcome) are big ones so book early.

I was so impressed by the breakfast that I’m going to blog about that separately.  Watch this space.  Really quickly though there are healthy options and your traditional fry up options and lots in-between.  OK I had the sinless Eggs Benedict which was to die for.  If eating healthy was this good and this easy yours truly might be a skinny fashion model rather than a Blogger.  The other highlight for me was the freshly squeezed juice bar.  You can order one from the menu (I had the Antioxidant Booster–it was Monday morning 🙂 ) or you can create your own.

PS:

If you’re an LA local you’ll be pleased to know there’s a fully kosher kitchen. So LA.

Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel if:

  • you want five-star Beverly Hills luxury without the snootiness or pretension
  • you want to feel part of the “younger Hollywood” crowd
  • you’re looking for healthy yet yummy dining options that are so un-American yet proudly Los Angeleno
  • you want to be centrally located between West Hollywood, Third Street, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Hills (never mind Rodeo Drive, you’re right near the boutiques on Robertson)
  • you’re prepared to embrace the LA thing and drive everywhere (there are cars to drive you within a two-mile radius of the hotel).

 

I said it for my last review and I’ll say it again.  I made the mistake of not appreciating LA for what it was when I first came to visit some 20 years ago (I think the words were “been there, done that, never coming back”.) I know better now. Do your research before you hit LA.  And I don’t mean which theme parks you might visit.  Understand what LA is all about and it will be your friend, expect something it’s not and you may as well give it a miss. Thankfully I’ve grown up now, made that rather naive mistake and fate took me back here. I count my lucky stars everyday.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Again I’d recommend you compare prices online but try booking through the hotel direct.  Rack rates are becoming a thing of the past (I have absolutely no proof of this except through my own booking experience) and hotels offer competitive online rates.  Sometimes it’s so much easier to get exactly what you want when you book direct.

All pictures with thanks to Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

To find out more about Beverly Hills Hotels visit my Pinterest board.  I’m pinning to it faster than I can blog!

Yosemite
Fact or Fiction, My LA story, Visiting LA

Fact or Fiction: Book 12 months ahead for a spot inside Yosemite

Here’s a question for you, a very important question if you’re planning a US or Californian holiday that includes a visit to the stunning Yosemite National Park.

You need to book 12 months ahead to get a cabin or even camping spot at Yosemite in summer.

The answer to the last Fact or Fiction:

Is the pool covered over for Golden Globes after parties?

Is Fact.  It is now!  There was a time, however, when it wasn’t.  Read this story about Angelina Jolie jumping into the pool when she won her second Golden Globe before it was covered.

You may have noticed that once again Fact or Fiction skipped a week.  I got caught out with the dramas surrounding the Beverly Hills Hotel.  In respect for those trying to boycott the hotel I’ve held back a Fact or Fiction piece.  It’s such a shame because it’s a beauty.

I’m a bit mixed on the boycott though.  I in no way condone the laws enacted by Brunei.  However some people don’t care about boycotts, whether they’re stubborn or too wealthy for it to affect them there could be many reasons.  I would hate to see such an iconic hotel ruined by someone who is not in touch with our society nor cares to be.  Not just that I feel for the staff of the hotels, not necessarily the management but the workers.  I’m sure their owner doesn’t think about them.  Sad.

I also don’t think people should stop the boycott either because then Brunei wouldn’t feel any pressure and continue to do what it wants to do without consequence or second thought.

If only life was simple.

Here’s some reading to catch you up on the issue.

NPR.org

BBC

I hope the situation doesn’t last long anyway and it can be quickly resolved.  And hopefully the result will be the right thing morally.  Call me a little cynical but somehow I don’t think so.

On a happy note Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums in the world.  Even you in the UK who celebrated Mothering Sunday in late March.

No one would be here if it wasn’t for our mothers.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: If you were paying close attention I incorrectly called it the Beverly Hills Hotel pool (obsessed by that place I swear!).  It is actually the Beverly Hilton. Shame on me.  Anyway, it’s erased now there’s no evidence of the mistake :-).

 

Beverly Hilton
My LA story, Posts, Visiting LA

A night to remember: the Beverly Hilton

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Beverly Hills Hotels

 

 

 

 

Shhh …. I’m having an affair.  I know, so LA right?  It feels so good.  It feels so right.  It’s like an addiction–just one more night, one more time.  Then I’ll stop.  I promise.  Maybe if I’m careful I won’t get caught.  I think I’m in love …

 

Stay at the Beverly Hilton to relive vintage Californian retro chic.  Centrally located, driving towards Beverly Hills from LAX along Santa Monica Boulevard and there it is–for all to see. The Beverly Hilton stands out as if to say “look at me” and damn it so people should.  With Beverly Hills at its front doorstep, a centrally located pool (complete with beautiful people adorning it) a huge white wall for after-dark movie screenings all you need to do is close your eyes and you’ve stepped back in time.  And what a time that was.

It Started in LA rating: 5 ticks √√√√√

I’m loving discovering these Beverly Hills hotels for you.  Each one so far has had its own look and feel, there truly is something on offer for everyone.  I’m in love with the Beverly Hilton.

The Beverly Hilton ticks quite a few boxes as it’s a large hotel so it’s able to cater for different needs.

You think of Beverly Hills and you think Oscars, Golden Globes, celebrities and of course the Beverly Hilton.  The Beverly Hilton is one of the most iconic Beverly Hills landmarks with its ode to all things vintage and 1950s. It hasn’t changed a bit.  And it’s a good thing.

Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton each year

Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton each year

 

(OK, it has been refurbished and they’ve kept the hotel looking spic and span but they haven’t tried to recreate its essence: it’s staying very true to itself. Thank god for that!)

The first time I visited and as I walked through the lobby of the hotel I was in another world.  Sure, you say it’s just another hotel but it’s the era, the events that have happened in the hotel–the same feeling you get as if you’re in the middle of a Mad Men set or on a Pam Am flight bound for Europe.

I’m looking around taking in the sights, smells and ambiance.  Sneaking in the back via the carpark,  I walked through the first floor and hear sounds of a woman talking; I smell smoke.  I gaze down casually to find a blonde lady in her bathers smoking a cigarette surrounded by friends.  It’s so 1950s LA.  Careful not to stare for too long I take a step back and casually take a photo–not of anyone in particular but it was a gorgeous day and the pool is glistening in the sun.

Beverly Hilton Pool

Looking down at the Beverly Hilton pool it’s not hidden away somewhere: it’s on show for everyone to see

 

This pool is the largest heated hotel pool in LA.  Infamously Angelina Jolie jumped in fully clothes the night she won her second Golden Globe for the movie Gina.  (If you were paying attention this was the subject of one of my Fact or Fiction posts.)

I’m early for my appointment so I walk through the lobby having a look around.  In a matter of minutes two people ask me if I need help–clearly I look lost and they’re very attentive.  I politely decline.

Actually this isn’t my first rip to the hotel. the last time I was here it was the night of the Golden Globes, one of guests to the many after-parties.  There were monitors and signs pointing guests in the right direction: Weinstein; Warner-Bros/InStyle; Fox; NBC; E!  I was overwhelmed then but now I’m trying to picture where it all fit.  It looks nothing like it did that night.

Golden Globes

All signs point to an After-Party. Golden Globes Style | 2014

 

Immediately after the last guests go home the hotel is back to its normal self ready for another “normal” day.  And here I am.  My first visit on a normal day.

Rooms

There’s a lot to offer in terms of choice: right from a standard room to a suite to the Penthouse Collection, the Royal “wing” (or group of suites), the Presidential Suite and the Cabanas.

Previously guests have been practically every American president, and is often referred to as the “White House of the West”.  Royal families have stayed here (yes more than one) and their entourages, movie stars, pop stars, business people and everyday run-of-the-mill people like me.

There are two towers: the Wilshire Tower and The Oasis.  My favourite is the Cabana rooms.  Tucked away nicely out the back these rooms back onto the pool.

Cabana rooms

View from ground floor Cabana room

 

On our staycation we scored a ground-floor room that opened up onto the pool.  Glorious.  It was as if we were in Palm Springs-minus the drive.  I felt like I was in a cross between a drive-in and a Californian motel on Route 66 (not that I know what that looks like but it’s a look I’m going with).  The cabanas have a motel feel with a hotel vibe.

Poolside

Feels more like a cosy 1950s motel than a big hotel … and that’s the way I like it

 

Suite 100 Collection: an ode to Audrey Hepburn & the 1960s

At $1914 a night* not a detail has been skipped in the planning of this suite.  I walked in and felt like I was in Darren & Samantha’s living room (you know? from Bewitched.  Right.  Probably a little more Audrey Hepburn then their lounge but I was definitely transported back in time).

It was the attention to detail that tickled my fancy most.  You could order–via a phone of the time–room service from the room service menu in 1960 at 1960’s prices.  A lot of relics had been pulled from the archives so the menu is as it was in the 60s and the drink coasters and “merchandise”.

Suite100 Hilton

This old B&W TV actually works!

 

And in the bathroom there is a Givenchy Bar”–full-size Givenchy perfumes and toiletries (word is Audrey’s favourite).

Dining Choices

I have to say there aren’t a lot of dining choices in the hotel so mix it up by going out to dine.  Hey, this is a good thing.  LA has plenty of great restaurants so get out there!  The breakfast buffet is pretty good and the Trader Vic’s menu was right up our alley (it was just a shame it wasn’t available at lunch when we wanted to test drive it).

Spa

I’ve fallen down in the Spa review department as I didn’t try out any of the treatments on offer despite there being some great Memorial Day specials.  One I’m dying to check out (see how well it works) is the Red Carpet Ready Facial.

We had an amazing night at the Beverly Hilton.  The service at the pool was fantastic and at lunch at Circa 55 we weren’t rushed through.  It was busy and the vibe was good.

 

Stay at the Beverly Hilton if you:

  • want to step back in time to the glorious 1950s
  • want a hotel that has a great vibe and soul
  • want to be conveniently located in Beverly Hills
  • have time to hang by the pool to see and be seen
  • don’t have time to go to Palm Springs but want to feel like you’re there.

I’m going to end as I have with my last two Beverly Hills Hotel reviews.  I made the mistake of not appreciating LA for what it was when I first came to visit some 20 years ago (“been there, done that, never coming back”.) I know better now. Do your research before you hit LA.  LA is not a modern City with all the glitz and glamour.  Many say it hasn’t changed much at all.  If you look closely it has.  And it hasn’t.  What its done is clung onto its essence: mid century vintage, crisp and cool.  Once you understand that’s what LA is all about you’ll love it.  I count my lucky stars I got to come back to LA–not just come back but live it.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  Which one is your favourite to date?  Any others you want me to review?  Let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

* Price for suite effective the year of 2014, check back with the Hilton to see what they’re doing once this initiative is finished.

Posts, Reviews, Travelog, Visiting LA

Perfect homesickness cure: visit the Australian Outback

I’ve spent a bit of time talking about our recent bouts of homesickness.  Thankfully I can report that we’re all cured for a while and we’re moving onwards and upwards.

Why? We went home!  We heard the ads on the radio, we heard the talk around town and we thought, “why not?”, we need a bit of Koalafornication at the San Diego Zoo.  (Although a bit of David Duchovny Californication might have done the trick too).

It’s such an easy drive from LA straight down the 405 to San Diego there’s no excuse not to go–regardless of whether you’re visiting LA or live in LA.  It should be about a two-hour drive but nearly died when the GPS told us it would be a lot more.  My precision timing had us to the zoo just after 10:00 which I figured would be early enough to get a park, get our tickets and avoid the long queues for the Pandas.  Instead it had us coming in at closer to 11:00.  Sigh. Why are we always late? (Actually I’m partly to blame because I insisted on being Superwoman and baking fresh Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday).

It turns out the GPS wanted us off the 405 to avoid traffic.  We went with our gut, stayed on the 405 and we were there just after 10:00.  Success.  (Note: we could’ve been lucky, if you’re stuck in traffic on the 405 it can add hours to your trip so it might pay you to detour).

The carpark was filling fast and there were queues at every ticket window.  Either this zoo is really popular or we’ve come at the wrong time.  Or both?  I’m pleased to report the queue moved quickly, just enough time to take a family selfie, look around and we were in.  Once we were inside we didn’t feel like the zoo was so super busy that there were people everywhere so it was nice.  All good.  Straight for the Pandas.

SkySafari

Enjoying the SkySafari very much thankyou!

 

It’s so good having older kids who can read a map, less for me to do. We opted against the bus (as it seems this is where most of the entrants wanted to go) and decided to do the SkySafari. Bit of a queue but it moved quickly and it would get us to the Polar Bears and Pandas so we could walk downhill in time to have lunch at the Sydney Grill.

San Diegans love their Pandas

The San Diegans go ga-ga over their very own Pandas, why not? What’s not to love?

 

I heard a story that the San Diegans love their Pandas.  The town goes into “Pandamonium” when one of the Pandas does something and when one gives birth it’s like the future King (or Queen) of England is born.  And why not?  Pandas look like they should be cuddly and fluffy and because we’re not going to go near them let us believe that.  They are so cute.  Besides it’s good to see a town get behind their very own.

(Tip: Even if there is a queue for the Pandas there are things to see on the “journey” so don’t be put off by it).

The highlight of our morning wasn’t the Pandas though–it was the Polar Bears.  How fun are they?  They are show-offs, stirrers and just big kids who love to have a good time.  Check this:

 

You've been mooned

Want a good shot of me? How about this?

 

After lunch we headed to the impressive Koala Exhibit.  Thoughts of Austen Tayshus’s Australiana came straight to mind: “How much can a Koala Bear?”  Loved the fact that the hosts on the buses had to spell out, “Did you know the Koala is not a Bear?” on their way past the exhibit and I wonder a) how they came to be known as a Koala Bear (or a Koala Be even–you know who you are Phillippa Jones!) and b) how Americans are still surprised by that fact.

But as good as it was the Australian Outback wasn’t the highlight of our afternoon.  No, the Tortoises were.  Yep.  The Tortoises.  All the way from the Galapagas.  The over 100 years old and still going strong.  It was feeding time and one of the tortoises (let’s call him Piggy) ate a whole head of lettuce then started playing tug-o-war with his mate’s dinner.  Not nice for the mate (not mate as in partner but mate as in friend) but fun to watch.  Love surprises like that.

Tortoises at dinner time

Share nicely “Piggy” (Piggy not in the middle, Piggy just managed to take that whole lettuce minus one leaf from his poor hungry mate!)

 

Top Billing: the star of the zoo is

But who gets top billing of the day?  This Magpie deserves top billing as the star attraction.  Say “hi” and he’ll say “hi” back.  No word of a lie– click on the links and watch these!

Magpie

More Magpie

And as if that surprise wasn’t enough we were getting a drink and they were letting some birds go in an afternoon ritual where they get to stretch their wings and go for a fly.  Thanks for the special show, we really were special guests.

Birds

Along the way I heard a boy say to his Dad, “Can you find someone to carry me?”  Couldn’t agree more.  That’s what the buses and SkySafari is for though so we had to do one more trip on the SkySafari–this time back down the hill.

You’re either a regular zoo goer or you’re not.  I fall into “you’re not” category and loved every minute of it spending the day with the family at the San Diego Zoo.  It’ll be one of the days I’ll treasure in our Californian adventure.

Typically when you’re young, keen parents you take the little kids then you may or may not remember to bring them back when they’re older.  It’s great when they’re older and you go and appreciate different things.  Stop thinking about it and do it–you can’t possibly regret it.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  It Started in LA & family were guests of the San Diego Zoo.  Thanks so much for hosting us. We had such a fun time and would love to do it again.  It’s a good idea to buy tickets before you go and here’s a link I prepared especially for you.

PPS: I’ll leave you with this image of Mother Duck heading out with her little ducks.  Gorgeous.  Surprised, however, by the number of people who thought that meant they could go up to the little ducks and pat them.  Lucky the zoo had it all under control with one of the keepers keeping a closing eye on them to make sure that didn’t happen.  Good job (as the Americans like to say and that I’m trying to avoid using quite as much as I do).

Ducks

Mother Duck went out one day, over the hill and far away

PPSS: More pics on my Twitter and Instagram pages, plus there’s a small album on my Facebook Blog page.

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