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Letters from LA

7th January 2016

As we cruise in over the flats of LA and the flight attendant announces the local time in Los Angeles… my stomach does a backflip, a headstand and a double somersault, and then I remember, no, tomorrow I don’t have to pretend to be an FBI agent, a mental asylum inmate and a lawyer, all in the space of three hours, which can happen in pilot season – I am no longer an actress, hurrah, and I am here to look at houses for holiday rentals, and with my new hat on it’s interesting to look at Los Angeles afresh with an objective eye.

I lived at 7922 Hollywood Blvd, which was a haunted house, from the age of 22 to 32. When I was back in Europe and would mention to people I met that I lived in LA, they would look at me in sympathy, as if it was a life sentence that had to be endured, if one insisted on being an actress (which I did). The truth is, LA is one of the best places to be at that age – eternal sunshine, endless opportunities, with no proving anything to anyone except oneself and nobody caring where you come from – in fact, complete freedom. Now it’s more and more usual to hear people saying: “I am going to LA for the summer”.  LA was definitely not a place that used to spring to mind as a holiday destination! But I understand why that should be, having lived there for so many years, because Los Angeles has so much to offer, being a major international city with a vibrant beach life but also as a springboard for the most incredible road trips, all within easy distance. What’s more, LA is a perfect place to visit at any time of year.

History

LA is a fascinating city, which began life as a small Mexican town. When California became part of the USA in 1848 it had a strong farming community, but the movies changed all that – drawn not only to escape East Coast union rules, but to the ideal weather conditions and varied terrain, and so Hollywood was born. The Hollywood sign itself was actually a realtor sign to advertise a new housing development and those that succeeded erected towering fantasies to their achievements. (It originally spelt ‘Hollywoodland’, but then the land bit dropped off!) Snaking along Sunset Boulevard, French chateaux jostle shoulders uncomfortably with mock Tudor homes next to soulless mausoleums. It may be because we are in a desert and water has always been a massive issue – there is currently a severe drought – but in nearly every case enormous houses are placed on tiny postage stamp lots. Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner and Neutra went in a different, minimalist, direction, making the most of space and light, and these are the houses that I am drawn to. Los Angeles’s gems are hidden away, and so you have to know where to go and make plans, lots of them, as things don’t just happen as they might do in smaller towns.

So the first thing to do is to is get a nice car, as you are going to spend a lot of time in it, a good playlist – and don’t speed, you will be tempted as you are flying up the PCH with the wind blowing in your hair, but the LAPD are the most aggressive, hyper-reactive breed, and to be spread-eagled over the car by a guy with a gun is not a pleasant experience – believe me, I’ve experienced it. Speeding, anyway, is practically impossible as the traffic jams are now legendary, on the Scalextric, interconnecting freeways.

So Where To Stay?

There are 72 neighborhoods in LA, all with a distinctly different feel and LA has no centre, so it’s pointless looking for one, make a choice according to how and where you are going to spend your time.

DOWNTOWN is currently hot, but unless you are an art collector, it seems a strange place to stay for a holiday.

SILVERLAKE AND LOS FELIZ are lovely gentle neighborhoods, but more to rent a house for while, a great place to write a book or script – villagey, creative, gentle and comparatively inexpensive.

HOLLYWOOD feels very real and a lot of old timers live there and I love the area above Sunset around the Chateau Marmont. Lovely houses, great city views and convenient for everywhere. 

BEVERLY HILLS AND BEL AIR have the grandest houses, the designer shops and great restaurants but it can feel isolating, if you are not on Rodeo Drive or the surrounding streets the only people you see are Mexican gardeners, dog walkers or people very conspicuously exercising in all their gear. You feel like a homeless person and get weird looks, as if you are a burglar, if you go anywhere on foot. We live up Benedict Canyon above the BH hotel and I love the easy access to Mulholland drive, immortalised in David Lynch’s film- the dividing line between LA and the valley- and with great trails for early morning hikes.

BRENTWOOD is good for schools and has a lot of great houses. 

VENICE BEACH, now called Silicone Beach, not thanks to all the implants so beloved by Beverly Hills surgeons but due to Google moving its headquarters down there. This has caused mixed reactions amongst the locals, prices have reached dizzying new heights, with Robert Downey Jr paying $5 million for an apartment on Abbot Kinney. Venice Beach is fun – sometimes a freak show but throbbing with life and surfing is easy to organise.

Then there is MALIBU and this is a whole other life, the beach, the surfers, the stars and studio heads hidden away in the Colony. I discovered that there is something called the shut in syndrome – people say “oh, he’s a shut in”, meaning he/she literally never leaves their house, maybe for dinner at a friend’s nearby, but definitely not into town, except for a work meeting. Food is ordered in, exercise teachers/masseurs arrive, movies are downloaded – so no need ever to leave.

What To Do?

The first thing I like to do is to go to the old Farmers Market on Fairfax and 3rd,  even though it feels a little down at heel, here you will see real Hollywood old timer writers, drinking coffee, shooting the breeze, scripts under their arms, as it’s just around the corner from Paramount. I would stay clear of The Grove next door, which has been turned into a Disneyfied shopping centre, but lots of people love it. Similarly the diner at the Beverly Hills Hotel has waitresses that look like they know a thing or two and carry on a non stop banter- delicious breakfast.

The beautifully renovated Brentwood Country Mall, which James Rosenfeld, has poured blood, sweat and tears into, feels vibrant and buzzing and was the first time that I ever saw any children! Where have all the children gone? In summer camps, chilling at friends’ houses, but I saw more dogs and dog salons than I did children.

You don’t just run into people, except in Venice, where a surreal experience is normal. I was walking along minding my own business and a photographer friend popped out of somewhere, pulled me through a door, suddenly like Alice in Wonderland, I was watching a fantastical shoot, saw the work of a famous artist and reconnected with a fashion designer friend, all in five minutes. 

Art:

If you love art there is an abundance of great galleries to visit and its possible to find exciting new talent. It’s always worth going to the fabulous Getty Centre and LACMA, but there are many other galleries:


DOWNTOWN


CHILDREN

If you have children, you will be forced to visit Disneyland, Magic Mountain, the Universal Studios tour, but these are exhausting outings and hell for parents so I would just do one and put in ear plugs whenever anything else is mentioned. I would go for fitness, activity and adventure. My children learned how to surf really well and got huge pleasure from it – this can be organized easily in Venice, where the waves are small enough for beginners and as I have never met a surfer who isn’t lovely and mellow, I would learn yourself or leave the children with a teacher and go and explore all the health stores and boutique shops on Abbot Kinney- when the kids are better you can transfer the whole operation to Zuma Beach in Malibu – where there is a great restaurant for lunch. Cycling along from Santa Monica to Venice is fun – and why not learn how to skateboard, there is a huge skate park in Venice? It’s also easy to book a paddleboard court, while you are down there. We got ferociously competitive and all played.


But we concentrated on ROAD TRIPS:

1) The first one I took was with a girlfriend, we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, then onto the 101 to Montecito (a very upmarket area for those who wish to be further removed from LA) where there is the fabulous, glamorous Biltmore Hotel, which sits residing over the ocean – the hotel pool has been copied to look like the Hotel du Cap. It’s a comforting womb-like, old fashioned hotel, lovely shops and a great little Italian restaurant that I can imagine Jo di Maggio used to visit. You are really near here to Santa Barbara with all its lovely beaches and the pretty town of Carmel. From Santa Barbara, it’s easy to take a boat trip to the Channel Islands. The next stop was the highly recommended Bacara Hotel. Unfortunately I can’t recommend it at all, I hate American rules on safety, one wasn’t allowed to walk on the grass, walk anywhere in fact, and I don’t like anywhere that has golf carts to take you the smallest distance. The room was OK, but I didn’t have a bedside table and it cost $1,000 a night (actually I was on a freebie, so I feel a bit bad saying this) for something very ordinary. Yes, you could hear the waves but there were endless stupid rules about the beach too. The only great thing was the spa, which was world class.

2) Ojai is only 77 mile from LA, nestled in orange groves. Ojai is a very artsy/new agey, charming town with a soft, relaxed beat. Lots of Los Angelinos say they want to end up living there.

3) Drive from LA to Solvang, this is a strange experience as it seems as if a Danish town has just been dropped into the valley. Children will love the Hans Christian Andersen museum.

4) This is one of our favourite trips and we do it every visit. We drive to Palm Springs for lunch, here people still believe that lying in the sun for 8 hours is good for you. Palm Springs has a retro 50s feel but it’s too hot to do much, we then go to the 29 Palms Inn, which is next door to the Joshua Tree National Park.

This is a truly other worldly experience, which I never tire of, the vast Mojave desert with thousands of the very spiritual Joshua trees. It’s easy to get dehydrated and lost, so take care. The 29 Palms Inn is a collection of cabin/cottages, with art classes for kids and a sweet atmosphere.

5) Las Vegas (my idea of hell) – it was my daughters 18th birthday, so on we drove to Vegas, the drive is so long and bleak, if you run out of gas, I don’t know what would happen to you, in a hundred miles the only thing I saw was a slow moving goods train, its easy to think of the gold rush in the West and how tough , surviving must have been. Shuddering, we drove on, in the eternal haze, looking at the gas levels nervously.

How to survive Vegas? Well, if you can I would stay at the Wynn Hotel, my daughter was seduced by The Venetian, because of a picture of a gondolier on an actual gondola, so we stayed there. The canal was no longer than my sitting room but at least the casino wasn’t in that weird half light, where you feel you have died and are in some kind of after limbo. We booked a show, it is essential to have a focal point – we chose Britney Spears, which I am not going to comment on, but we should have chosen the Michael Jackson, Cirque de Soleil show. We had dinner in the Tao which was great, then gave the kids old enough to gamble a certain amount of money which we expected them to lose and went to bed. They stayed up all night and they doubled it, so on that good note we left right away.

6) We next drove to Pioneertown, it won’t show up on your satnav- a weird, still functioning old cowboy town, where countless westerns have been shot with a saddlery and a mortician! I have a client who has a house out there called Rancho V, which I was keen to see, so we checked into Pappy and Harriet’s motel. As we drove up, I was amazed to see at least 200 cars, right in the middle of nowhere and a really good girl band that played ‘til 5am – everyone was on their feet – the energy was amazing, Just as quickly in the morning, all the cars disappeared and we wandered round Rancho V- this is where a lot of bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers come to record at the studio down the road and everyone overlaps and joins in the sessions. Its an amazing place to come and create anything, if your nerves don’t get overwhelmed by the coyote calls and the very real experience of being a pin on such a large landscape – it’s worth it to persevere in our current climate of mindfulness.Have a look at our website to see our Joshua Tree unusual retreats to stay at and try a days ozone therapy and detox treatments at www.FloJT.me

7) The Two Bunch Palms is nearby and famous for its hot springs. Great treatments too, it’s good to go with a girlfriend. Stay in the Al Capone Suite, if you can – it’s where he used to bring his mistresses.

8) The Integraton – this is a day trip from LA- designed by ufologist George Van Tassel who claimed that the Integraton was capable of rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel – I’m not sure about that, it is a giant sound bath and the experience brings deep meditation and relaxation. Book in advance. I think it’s worth the visit.

9) Pasadena is very near and often ignored but has much to offer, the Huntingdon Library has beautiful gardens, the Norton Simon Museum is a must and there is a children’s museum with lots of hands on activities. Old money and a large Hispanic community – and great architecture – dating from when it was still part of Mexico.

10) Santa Ana’s Artists village is definitely worth visiting. This is a colourful Latino neighbourhood, where you get to peek into artists’ studios and there are always lots of events and festivals happening.

Winter Activities:

You can ski if you go just 2 hours from LA , at Big Bear, at Snow Summit Mountain resort and Rim Nordic for cross country skiing.

Shopping:

I love Vintage – the best store is Wasteland but there are a lot on Melrose Avenue worth popping into – Reformation is also really popular with teenagers:


Restaurants
New Hip restaurants:


Old favourites:


Drinks:


Events:

There is nothing Los Angeles likes better than rolling out the red carpet for movie and music events and they do it so well. If you don’t get to go to a premiere, don’t despair! Check out the concerts that are on, it was Taylor Swift when we were staying and it wasn’t hard to get tickets. Also look at venues further afield, we saw Bob Dylan play at an outside arena in a very strange place called London Bridge – probably only 200 people there, my son got the pick from his guitar, he was so close, he just popped onto stage after Dylan had gone and grabbed it.

Horse Riding

Sunset Ranch Stables:Here you can see the best views in Hollywood, including Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign and on a clear day, views all the way to Catalina Island. 

Surfing

The sea can be colder than you think, so rent wetsuits and find lovely teachers from Jay at the corner shop on the corner of Sunset court and the boardwalk .

Rent a Car


Favourite Hollywood movies to get you in the mood:

For more info, see Rancho V

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Author

Annabel Brooks

Annabel has toured the globe to source the incredible properties in Avenue's collection. Throughout her travels she has discovered best kept secrets, her personal recommendations and has documented these experiences to share with Avenue's clientele.