La La Land might have channeled some old-fashioned big screen glamour, but if you want to find the real Los Angeles head to West Hollywood, says Sarah Freeman.
Ah, Los Angeles. The city where a thousand American dreams have been made and broken and where even more irony-free Oscar acceptance speeches have been delivered. Kate Winslet we are looking at you. And you Gwyneth Paltrow.
It says something about the power of those two little words, that even those who have never stepped foot on Californian soil reckon they know what to expect from LA. They’ll tell you that no one walks anywhere. Ever. They’ll bang on about the cosmetic surgery industry fuelled by egg white omelettes and the tears of out-of- work actresses and how it’s overcrowded and overpriced.
It’s true that the subway system has never properly been completed because pretty much everyone owns a car and that virtually every health fad going began life there, but don’t believe them when they say LA has about as much substance as a skinny latte.
This is a place which could contribute a chunky chapter to any history of infamous music moments, a city where dive bars sit happily alongside upscale restaurants and where else but LA would you get Venice Beach where musclemen share the sands with young skateboarders and ancient musicians whose life history is etched deep into every wrinkle?
While New York has been made increasingly accessible to British travellers over recent years thanks to daily departures from most major airports and cheap-ish, the 11 or so hour flight to the West Coast has made LA less of an obvious destination for anything less than a two week break. Or at least it was.
Going via Dublin with Aer Lingus takes the sting out of the tail as you can clear immigration before the plane has even taxied down the runway and the flight times, which mean you can land early evening and fly back overnight, also avoid the worst of the jetlag.
At the top of any LA itinerary is the Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, those stars and that sign. You need to do them, but Hollywood is like Leicester Square on steroids, so tick them off early on and move on.
If you want to sample the real LA, West Hollywood is a good place to start. Sandwiched in between the downmarket tourist trap and uber upmarket Beverly Hills, locals keen to differentiate it from its grubbier neighbour know it as WeHo.
A few years ago it’s what LA real estate agents would have described as up and coming. Now it’s arrived and while it’s the perfect base to explore the rest of LA, WeHo has also grown into a destination in its own right.
Made up of three distinct areas – the Design District with it high-end interior stores, Sunset Strip where the shopping easily rivals LA’s more famous Rodeo Drive and the foodie mecca of Santa Monica Boulevard where there is even one restaurant dedicated entirely to mozzarella. I know, but if you are going to get the most out of LA you need to embrace some of its eccentricities.
That’s how one evening an hour or so before dinner I found myself in a dry blow bar where the stylist wanted to know whether I wanted a Dirty Martini, Manhattan or a Cosmo. Sadly she wasn’t offering drinks, just different styles of hairdo.
What I really wanted was an Alexis Carrington circa Dynasty 1985, but my hair is too short so the result was disappointingly tame. Nevertheless once you’ve been professionally blow-dried you can’t spend the night watching telly and West Hollywood is a broad church when it comes to entertaining.
From the achingly cool EP & LP with its rooftop bar and hipster beards to the old school Craigs, where the tablecloths and quite possible the staff are made from white linen, you could dine at a different place every night of the year in WeHo and its reputation as LA’s party heart is well earned.
WeHo is home to a quartet of infamous venues. Just a stumble from each other on Sunset Strip are legendary heavy metal bar the Rainbow where John Belushi ate his last meal (lentil soup if you’re wondering); Whiskey a Go Go where the Doors were once the house band; and the Viper Room, which still remains something of a dark tourism spot following River Phoenix’s death there in 1993. Just round the corner is the Troubadour where Lenny Bruce was once arrested on obscenity charges and further down Sunset Strip stands the Andaz Hotel, still known locally as the Riot Hyatt, which was where Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham drove a motorcycle along the corridor and a couple of televisions breathed their last in the hands of the Rolling Stones.
Over the last few years West Hollywood’s rough edges may have been smoothed – the nearest we got to a celeb was spotting Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and even he was wearing a sensible woolly jumper – but its charm remains.
Given LA’s love affair with four wheels, it makes much of having been named the most walkable city in California and while there may be a yoga studio on every corner it certainly has a more of a laidback air than Beverly Hills or Mulholland Drive.
If you’ve made it to LA it would be rude not to hire a convertible and head up the Pacific Highway to San Francisco, but spend a while in West Hollywood and it is possible to see why LA has for so long been a magnet for so many.
It might not have the technicolor of Oscar cert La La Land, but it’s a place where simply enjoying life is written into its DNA.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com)currently operates a four times weekly service to Los Angeles and this summer it will fly daily to LAX. Each-way fares from Manchester or Leeds start from £309 including taxes and charges. Business class seats are also available.
Rooms at the Andaz West Hollywood start from $275 (approx. £216) per night. (https://westhollywood.andaz.hyatt.com)
For more details about visiting West Hollywood go to visitwesthollywood.com