And the winner of best beach is…’ LA’s finest defining moments, from shopping to celebrity-spotting, brunch to burials, are right here…
BEST ROOFTOP POOL
The Highlight Room at Dream Hollywood
Beats the competition because: Rooftop swims are two-a-penny in LA — but a really big pool area ((1,021sqm) with resident DJs, weekend parties, cabanas, a wildly popular restaurant and a 10th-floor view of the Hollywood Sign? Decidedly rarer…
How to nail it: Up for a wild pool party? Come on a Sunday afternoon (it starts at 2pm). And dress up: normal laid-back LA style doesn’t cut it at the Dream: it’s about heels and teeny bikinis, smart board shorts and sunglasses. Entry is free, but the pool itself is heaving during the party, and sunbeds are reserved for hotel guests. The cost of a cabana elicits sharp intakes of breath — if it’s any consolation they fit 12, and they, too, have Hollywood Sign views. You could always hire a cabana during the week. You won’t get the decadence, but they are more affordable.
Hot tip: The adjacent restaurant is the hottest ticket in town but, this being a party pad, on weekend mornings it’s deserted. Go before 9am (it opens at 7am) and you’ll get a table easily — and you get another view of that sign.
BEST VIEW OF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN
North Beachwood Drive
Beats the competition because: This isn’t an official hike or viewing point, it’s just a stretch of fortuitously well-placed open road — meaning no neck-craning.
How to nail it: Park up where North Beachwood meets Franklin Avenue, just off the freeway, and you’ll soon see which direction to walk in. This is a stroll, but an uphill one, so don’t attempt it in the heat of the day, and wear something comfortable. There’ll be no-one walking this street except you (welcome to LA) and you won’t believe how clear your view is over the tops of the palms — or how ‘normal’ the houses are that enjoy it. After 15 minutes you’ll reach Beachwood Cafe, a brilliant blue- and-yellow spot beloved of locals. It does a fine BLT and you’ve earned a break (beachwoodcafe.com). It’s up to you whether you venture deep into Hollywoodland from here — you’ve seen the main attraction.
Hot tip: Make a short detour on your way back to the car to the Monastery of the Angels gift shop just off North Gower (1977 Carmen Ave). Here, real nuns sell their own delicious pumpkin bread. Yes, you read that correctly. Only in LA!
BEST CELEB SPOT
Beats the competition because: It’s where famous faces come to walk their dogs, hike and pretend to be civilians. There are no bouncers on the door here, so it’s just you, them and the landscape.
How to nail it: Be there by 8am — the big beasts tend to turn up early for more privacy. Wear Lycra and a baseball cap to fit in — you want the A-listers to think you’re one of them, not an annoying fan. Enter from the northern entrance, on Mulholland Drive — it’s closer to the megastars’ houses, and means you’ll be facing the view (from Hollywood to the Pacific on a clear day) and walking downhill, which makes for less sweaty star selfies. You’ll find a smattering of celebs — à la Bieber, Timberlake and Gyllenhaals — all day, though most (sensibly) avoid the midday heat.
Hot tip: One of the reasons stars favour Runyon over other parks is its liberal dog policies. Although the pooches make for an easy conversation- starter, watch your step, because there’s a lot of poop around the trails. Open daily, dawn ’til dusk, runyoncanyonhike.com.
BEST LA LA LAND ODDITY
Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park
Beats the competition because: Fame, nostalgia and unabashed eccentricity — nowhere typifies LA’s kookiness like this final resting place for all creatures great and late, from lizards to lions.
How to nail it: Show up on a weekday, between 11am and 3pm, to avoid traffic en route to Calabasas. And make sure you allow enough time, as there are 42,000 graves here, containing all walks of life (or death): chimpanzees from the big screen; celebrity pets (Rudolph Valentino’s Doberman, Hopalong Cassidy’s horse) and their equally intriguing civilian counterparts, buried when the cemetery opened in 1928. Start with the historical graves to the west as you enter, spotting stars (Tawny, the MGM lion, is on the far slope, beside a tree); then make your way round to the modern tombs the northern end.
Hot tip: Time your visit to coincide with a national holiday, when graves are gussied up in celebration with festive trees and Santa hats around Christmas and Hanukkah, or stars and stripes for the Fourth of July. calabasaspetcemetery.com
Carbon Beach, Malibu
Beats the competition because: Even though Malibu isn’t short of impressive stretches of sand — Zuma, Escondido, El Matador — the Hollywood mogul and mansion count here is stratospheric (it’s better known as Billionaire’s Beach). So it really does takes the biscuit.
How to nail it: Californian beaches are public, yet it took a long legal battle with those moguls and mansion owners to rubber-stamp the building of a new pathway, making it easier for civilians to access the Billionaire’s soft, broad sands. Carbon Beach West pathway, opposite Malibu Aquarium, is open between sunrise and sunset. The entrance is anything but obvious, but the good news is, the beach is nearly always crowd-free. Go at sunset when the light is the prettiest shade of pink. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself gazing not seawards but shorewards: the decor inside some of those glass-fronted mansions is mesmerising.
Hot tip: It’s not just the residents of Billionaire’s who try to keep the sands for themselves. There are fake ‘Private Beach’ signs all over Malibu. Download the ‘Our Malibu Beaches’ app to find out exactly where you can go.
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Beats the competition because: Only truly clued-up locals know this light, airy, bohemian brunch spot — and its freshly baked bread and pastries are worth ditching your LA diet for.
How to nail it: Arrive at 10am, just when it starts to get buzzy, pausing to take in the tiled fountain just outside the door. Spanish-style, it originates from the ’20s, when Charlie Chaplin’s production offices were at this address. Step inside and you’ll find curious mock-medieval arches, white subway tiles and a skylight the length of the room. With exposed brick and European-style floor tiles, it’s a weirdly lovely mish-mash pounced on by Architectural Digest when it opened. While away a morning over your copy of the LA Times with a pot of coffee and one of its Croques Madames — buttery, runny, crusty-sourdough perfection,in this seriously toned-up town it feels deliciously naughty.
Hot tip: Sit at the tables or in the window facing the counter; perhaps recognisable regulars (Jimmy Kimmel) will dash in for takeaway coffee and pastries. Even if they don’t, this place delivers peak people-watching. republiquela.com
BEST SHOPPING STREET:
Beats the competition because: Freeze-dried reptiles? A red-carpet gown? Melrose Avenue has nothing you need and everything you could possibly want. This 8.5km-long artery slices central LA in two and gets posher the further west you go.
How to nail it: Avoid weekends and skip the international designer stores (you’ll find these anywhere). Start west at the foliage-draped Fred Segal department store (No. 8100; fredsegal.com). It’s expensive, but you might spot the likes of Winona Ryder and Nicole Kidman trawling the racks. Nearby, vintage temple Decades (No. 8214; decadesinc. com) is also laughably unaffordable, but you’ll likely see its one-off gowns on a red carpet in the near future. Further east, pick up huge Hollywood sunglasses from the Guise Archives Eyewear Company (No. 7928; guiseshop.com), or the aforementioned reptile from curiosity shop Necromance (No. 7222; necromance.com).
Hot tip: See melroseavela.com and plan ahead — there’s a map of the shops. You’ll also hear about new openings and sales.
BEST STUDIO TOUR:
Beats the competition because: Although its sound stages now hold TV sets, they once captured Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain. Tours are pitched intelligently, and star sightings are common.
How to nail it: People will tell you Warner Bros has the best tour — and for families, it may do (Friends, Harry Potter, plus more interactivity and merchandise). But this calmer, cheaper- to-tour lot, formerly MGM Studios, has more classic-movie romance — and no hard sell. The 20-max tour groups are often smaller, and on-the-day spaces are usually available. Some quirkier sights to look out for: Walter White’s trailer from Breaking Bad, the studio schoolhouse where Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney took lessons, and the water tank where Jaws lurked and ‘Hollywood’s mermaid’ Esther Williams nearly broke her neck.
Hot tip: Studio tours won’t suit everyone — sound stages are bare, while sets are transient by nature, so they appeal most to movie geeks willing to use their imagination.
Inspired to travel? To book a trip, visit dnatatravel.com