Travel: Los Angeles, where every visitor feels like a VIP

You don't have to be a Hollywood superstar for west coast America's most salubrious city to roll out the red carpet, Chris McCall discovers

House of Bijan botique, Beverly Hills

It was as the Maserati GranTurismo sped away from the Polo Lounge along the palm tree lined road to Malibu that I knew I was in love with Beverly Hills. Chris, my driver, expertly steered the Italian-made convertible through the mid-afternoon traffic of downtown LA. Soon the bright blue of the Pacific Ocean appeared on the horizon and the beach houses grew to the size of mansions.

This was going to be a memorable day, I told myself. It was barely 24 hours since I had arrived on America’s west coast and already I had succumbed to its glorious weather, fantastic food and eternally cheerful people.

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Beverly Hills may be synonymous with the movie industry, but I discovered you don’t need to be a star to be given red carpet treatment. Everyone receives the same warm welcome, no matter where you’re from. When I asked Chris whether he had chauffeured anyone famous, he shrugged. Spotting celebrities is no big deal here. Work the awards season, like he does, and it’s easier to name the A-listers he hasn’t had in the back seat.

The Beverly Hills Hotel

My road trip to Malibu had been organised by MCar. While this particular vehicle was from their top of the line range, they offer something to suit every budget. Hiring a car in Beverly Hills makes life easy if you want to explore wider LA. Locals also swear by Uber, as it’s cheap, easy to use and fast. But for most of my three-day stay, I simply walked – it’s not like you need to plan for rain.

Beverly Hills is a city in its own right, just minutes from downtown LA. It dates back to 1914, when a group of investors bought what was then a humble Spanish ranch growing lima beans. They had hoped to find oil but instead opted to build a town. It was a smart move. Real estate prices in the city are among the highest in the country – but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an affordable holiday here. There are a range of hotels to suit all budgets.

I flew in via Heathrow with Air New Zealand. Their relaxed but efficient staff helped make the 11-hour flight seem more like 40 minutes. My friends and I arrived in LA at 7pm local time, but my jet-lagged body was already telling me it was time to hit the hay in our luxury serviced apartment at AKA Beverly Hills – think all of the amenities of a hotel but with treble the room space.

While the city may be relatively new, it has an undeniable sense of old-school glamour. The very first building in the neighbourhood was the Beverly Hills Hotel, which opened two years before the city was incorporated. This peachy-pink landmark has welcomed Hollywood royalty ever since. I visited for lunch at the famous Polo Lounge, shortly before embarking on my road trip enjoying an incredible steak salad al fresco in the warm Californian sunshine.

Palm trees foreground the LA skyline

I’d already spent a busy morning browsing some of the men’s fashion stores and boutiques of Rodeo Drive, one of the most famous shopping streets in North America. My friends and I were given a tour of House of Bijan, a gentleman’s outfitter dubbed “the most expensive store in the world”. While the suits were a little out of my league, it was a treat to see inside a boutique that has become a landmark in its own right, complete with marble floors and a Fernando Botero painting aptly named The Rich.

A short walk behind the AKA apartment complex lies Spago, one of the most popular restaurants in LA. The flagship eatery of star chef Wolfgang Puck offers innovative farm-to-table Californian cuisine, which practically demands you try the incredible eight-course chef’s tasting menu.

As we tucked in, conversation turned to LA. It’s a common belief among UK travellers that when it comes to visiting the States, New York should always be the first port of call. While the two cities are very different, it was quickly becoming obvious to me that LA has just as much to offer in terms of dining, relaxation and quality accommodation as its east coast rival. New York may have skyscrapers, but I’d happily settle for Malibu’s beautiful beaches.

The next day we walked round to Montage Beverly Hills, the five-star hotel that would be our home for the next night. Our guide, Calum, encouraged us to try out the spa and roof-top swimming pool. I was expecting perhaps a sauna and modest plunge pool – instead we discovered a series of spacious mineral pools and steam rooms that would have impressed a Roman emperor.

The Beverly Hills Hotel

Before heading out to dinner, our group was invited to have a drink in the hotel’s hidden gem, the £10 whisky bar. Tucked discreetly above the ground floor restaurant, its dark wooden interior gave it the feel of a London private member’s club.

The £10 takes its name from the familiar Bank of Scotland note featuring a vignette of copper stills on its reverse. Being the only Scot present, it was amusing to see such a humble note elevated to a position of reverence so far from home. The real star of the £10 was of course the whisky. For fans of The Macallan, this is heaven – the bottles range from 12 to 65-year-olds.

Before making our way back to the airport the following day, there was just time to visit the luxurious Gornik & Drucker Barber Shop, which first opened in 1936 and is now based within the Montage. It was to be my first wet shave with a cut-throat razor, but I was in the capable hands of Cesar, a man who knows everything there is to know about men’s grooming.

Just like that shave, there’s always a first time for the last word in personal pampering. And once you’ve experienced Beverly Hills you’re sure to return from more.

Palm trees foreground the LA skyline

• Chris flew to Los Angeles via Heathrow with Air New Zealand. Fares start from £400. He stayed at AKA Beverly Hills, where a one-bedroom suite at $425 per night based on a one week stay. He then stayed at Montage Beverly Hills, where rooms start at $695 a night. For information on hotels, restaurants, car rental and walking tours in Beverly Hills please visit