Monday, April 9, 2012

Los Angeles: The Start of a Southern Sojourn

SoCal So Cool: 50 Miles of Pure Pleasure 


Part one of a series 
The vibrant City of Angels is a city I have visited numerous times.  From there I have often driven directly down the California coast to San Diego.  Little did I know what I was missing in that strip in-between.

On my last visit to Southern California (SoCal, as it is known to the locals), I was determined to find out what lies between.  However, before setting out to discover the nooks and crannies of the coastline, I planned a stop in Los Angeles. 

The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza was the perfect starting point for this occasion.  Located adjacent to Beverly Hills, on the fashionable West Side of Los Angeles, the hotel affords a contemporary style that is luxurious, yet casual and comfortable.

For those who opt for Regency Club accommodations, the hotel’s Regency Club Room, was amazing.  If so desired, you could spend the entire day in this lobby-level room without opening your wallet.  The Club Room comes complete with comfy furniture, flat screen TVs, free high-speed internet, a communal dining table, and complimentary food, food, and more food. 

Breakfasts included lox and bagel, assorted cheeses, fresh bakery goods, fresh fruit salad, juices, and a refrigerator stocked with an assortment of beverages that are available throughout the afternoon and evening. In the afternoon, there were also bowls of Granny Smith apples, trail mix, cashews, sinful brownies, and freshly baked cookies.  At cocktail hour, out came the complimentary hot and cold hors-d’oeuvres.  A fully stocked honor bar was there for those who opted for alcoholic beverages.

No trip to “LA-LA Land” would be complete without a window-shopping stroll past the ritzy shops and glitzy restaurants on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.   Dubbed "The Province of Beverly Hills", this idyllic province claims to be "America's only European city. It melds the elegance of Paris, the dazzle of Cannes, the exuberance of Baden-Baden, and the conviviality of Florence.
Ritzy, Glitzy, Rodeo Drive

In 1920, when Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. decided to build their Tudor-style mansion Pickfair in Beverly Hills, it was nothing more than a bean field.  Other glamorous movie stars followed Pickford and Fairbanks and that 5.9 square miles of farmland soon became a golden ghetto.

Today, this stretch of land-situated between downtown L. A. and the Pacific Ocean-is the quintessential symbol of the opulent California life.  It is a place where the streets are lined with a bevy of Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Mercedes, and Jaguars, 
Amid all of the sybaritic indulgences of Beverly Hills is the sobering Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance.  This high tech, hands-on museum centers on the dynamics of racism and prejudice in America and the history of the Holocaust.  It also focuses on the major issues of intolerance.          

The Museum's collection of archives and documents include: original letters of Anne Frank, artifacts from Auschwitz, art from Theresienstadt, a bunk bed from the Majdanek death camp, and a flag sewn by Mauthausen inmates for their American liberators.
LA’s visual arts achieved a new level with the 1990 opening of architect Richard Meier’s Getty Center.  From the moment you board the Getty’s tram that transports you three-quarters of a mile up the hill to the Getty Center, you’ll know the stage is set for a spectacular performance.
Architect Richard Meier’s Getty Center

Draped over two hilltop ridges, the Getty Center is a magical mélange of the fluidity of glass and metal, and the roughhewn look of travertine marble.
Lots of travertine marble…some 16,000 tons of it.

The Skirball Cultural Center is another cultural attraction in “LA-LA Land”.  Israeli architect Moshe Safdie chose to build his Skirball Cultural Center into the bottom of a hillside in the Sepulveda Pass where Sepulveda, Mulholland and the 405-Freeway come together.  When asked why he chose this site, within walking distance of nowhere, Safdie replied:  "The site was chosen for perfect Los Angeles reasons: the city's Jews live in the Valley, in Beverly Hills, and in West Los Angeles."  The Center's core museum exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish  Life from Antiquity to America, has been described as "a story told through objects".

Between cultural arts and fine arts, one must take a lunch break for the city’s culinary arts.  L, A, has always been a trendsetter when it comes to the tastes of the nation. The city’s myriad of lunch offerings range from the ridiculous to the sublime.  On this recent visit I experienced both.

Pink’s might well be the most famous hot dog stand in the country. Their renowned all-beef chili-dog, that comes complete with a large warm bun, oversized hot dog, mustard, onions, and thick chili, sold for 10 cents in 1939.  At the time of my visit, it sold for a whopping $3.30.  Unlike any other hot dog stand, Pink’s has its own parking lot attendant. Located at the same location for 69 years, Pink’s can be found by following the aroma of fresh meaty chili to a crowd of people standing in line for an average of 30 minutes.  Ridiculous! 

The Conservatory Grill, the bright and airy rooftop bar/grill atop the classically elegant Montage Hotel, serves breathtaking views of the Hollywood Hills along with fresh, healthy California cuisine.  Take your choice of zestfully flavored soups, salads, and sandwiches.   The Heirloom tomato salad is amazing.  However, if you crave a hot dog, and Pink’s is not your style, the Conservatory’s all-beef, quarter-pound, hot dog is smothered with sauerkraut and grilled onions and slathered with stone-ground mustard. .  At the time of my visit, it sold for $12.  Sublime!

Culture came to Los Angeles…big time…since the 2003 opening of the $274-million Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Jewish ‘Starchitect’ Frank Gehry’s undulating stainless steel masterpiece has forever changed the image of Los Angeles just as his Guggenheim Museum forever changed the image of Bilbao, Spain.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
And what would Los Angeles, that “gaudy shop window of wretched excess”, be without its Hollywood?  The hub of the movie business from the 1920s to the 1940s, Hollywood fell into a state of drugs and disrepair in the 1950s. However, in the last decade Tinseltown (as it was known in its heyday) began its ascent to the top again.  
Who knows, in Hollywood you may even catch a rising star!

JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 38 national Travel Writer Awards and an International Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.

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