West Hollywood might be just five square miles in size but this small city has a big history and an even bigger heart.
Founded in 1886 it was originally named Sherman, after real estate developer Moses Sherman who invested in the Los Angeles railway. But it wasn’t until the movie industry exploded in the Roaring Twenties – when its most famous residents were screen legends Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford – that they voted to change its name to West Hollywood. Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Katharine Hepburn all lived there, and more recently Johnny Depp, Katy Perry and Mila Kunis have called it home.
While Los Angeles is sprawling, West Hollywood sits snugly between Beverly Hills, hipster-loving East Hollywood and the foot of the Hollywood Hills. Yes, you can still hop on a train using the Metro red line (and visit theme parks such the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal), but WeHo, as it’s known to its devoted locals, is most fun to see on foot. It’s so compact that Walkscore, a website that ranks cities based on walkability, has rated it the most walkable city in California. Even the most fervent of couch potatoes should be able to amble around without feeling too hard done by.
Exploration is worth your time and effort; the city is not only home to landmarks such as The Roxy music venue, The Comedy Store and Chateau Marmont, it is also is famous for welcoming people from every walk of life, persuasion and background. LA Pride, Southern California’s biggest LGBTQ celebration in June is held here, as is the spectacular West Hollywood Halloween Carnival.
Location is everything and the Sunset Tower Hotel on Sunset Boulevard delivers in terms of history, ambiance and amenities. This art deco hotel, which opened in 1929, is a well-known WeHo landmark and various upgrades over the years have preserved its iconic status. After an exceptionally comfortable flight from London to LAX with Virgin Atlantic, I felt as if I was still in the sky as I walked into my suite, which overlooked LA. I was delighted to find that I could open the window and soak up the sounds of the city, as so many hotels now are hermetically sealed.
In a scene which couldn’t have been scripted more perfectly, as I was Instagramming the sunset, housekeeping arrived with a welcome plate of home-baked cookies. Gazing out the window – and mentally calculating how much walking I needed to do to burn off the calories – I could almost picture former hotel residents Errol Flynn, John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor enjoying a sundowner around the pool.
Embracing the spirit of the stay I walked the six floors down to the chic 80-seat Tower Bar and restaurant. While I was there Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Lisa Vanderpump arrived for cocktails with her family (including her beloved pup Giggy). But the star of the show here is Dimitri Dimitrov, arguably LA’s finest maitre’d, who if you’re lucky will personally seat you. The cocktails are divine (it’s a tongue twister but I loved the Isotta Fraschini, made on the rocks with Buffalo Trace bourbon, honey and lemon). The food is Californian with hints of France and Italy and the honey-skinned crowd are snappily dressed.
On my first morning I left the hotel, breezing past the car valet on foot, and turned left onto Sunset Boulevard. On the advice of Visit West Hollywood (www.visitwesthollywood.com) I’d downloaded the Map My Walk app so that I could log how much ground I would cover during my two-night stay (ultimately I clocked in around ten miles – that’s at least three cookies, right?).
My first destination was the world famous Sunset Strip, the home of the LA rock scene and in particular Whiskey-a-Go-Go, where Guns ‘n’ Roses and many other bands first found fame. Soaking up the sunshine, I stopped to look around the oldest book store in town, Book Soup, which having opened its doors in 1975, now has two large gold dog statues greeting visitors. It’s hallowed ground with customers over the years including Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and Stephen King.
I explored the nearby Sunset Plaza mall where you can shop, spin and snack, as well as enjoy a Chinese foot rub (useful for walkers). There are many enticing pavement restaurants but I ate at nearby Mel’s Drive-in Diner on Sunset Boulevard because it’s filled to the rafters with Fifties Americana and the grilled cheese sandwiches are delicious. There’s a jukebox on every table and you can pretend to be an extra from American Graffiti.
Heading south I made for WeHo’s Design District and the impressively colourful Pacific Design Center, which houses more than 100 showroom boutiques and hosts art exhibitions, lectures and screenings. This area is also the heart of the LGBTQ scene and is bursting with cafes, restaurants and bars.
I dined at E.P. and L.P. Eating House, which is just a five minute walk away on North La Cienega Boulevard. This modern Southeast Asian fusion restaurant has the best rooftop bar in WeHo. Their Fijian chicken curry and braised short ribs are insanely good, and their cocktail menu is impressive. I drank a whiskey and lime cocktail out of a ceramic cat which was another first.
Doing a bar crawl on foot is difficult in LA but most doable in WeHo. With a friend, I wandered along the road to Cecconi’s, on Melrose Avenue (one of Simon Cowell’s favourite haunts), before turning right towards Santa Monica Boulevard, where Bar Ten offer karaoke nights (because this is WeHo everyone was amazing). At the end of the evening an Uber delivered me safely home for under a fiver.
The next day I walked two miles to upscale Robertson Boulevard for some window shopping and people watching (the paparazzi were waiting outside The Ivy restaurant but I didn’t see anyone famous). West Hollywood Park, which is small but popular with dog walkers and has a playground for kids, is nearby and a good change of pace if you’re craving an open space.
As a special treat I enjoyed an early dinner at Gracias Madre on Melrose Avenue. For a truly Californian experience this vegan Mexican restaurant is a must, and you might even rub shoulders with celebrity clientele that includes Russell Brand, Halle Berry and Beyoncé.
I devoured their crab cakes made from hearts of palm and jackfruit tacos but a highlight was their Sour T-iesel cannabis cocktail made from CBD hemp oil, a good slosh of tequila and lime juice. CBD (Cannabidiol) is the legal element of cannabis so you don’t actually get high but I realised, as I sipped my drink at the bar, that after three days exploring West Hollywood on foot, it wasn’t just the soles of my feet that were tingling. ■
Virgin Atlantic (0344 8747 747, www.virginatlantic.com) flies three times a day from London Heathrow to Los Angeles from £416 per person return (including tax). Prices correct at time of going to press and subject to change.
Sunset Tower Hotel (www.sunsettowerhotel.com) room rates start at $395 plus taxes and fees;
for more information about WeHo visit www.visitwesthollywood.com;