A Hollywood starlet, if only for three days

After the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel opened a year and a half ago near our home, my daughter watched with a mix of envy and ennui at the passing parade: guests at the hotel, 24 stories of sparkling white; shoppers at the adjacent Hollywood & Highland complex; the stream of limos flowing by the Kodak Theatre, new home of the Academy Awards. Glamour was always close by — but just out of reach.

In a moment of unthinking indulgence, I suggested to Rachel that we spend a night at the hotel, just to see what it's like. As I watched her eyes light up, I realized immediately that my casual suggestion had inadvertently become a promise.

"When?" she asked, pouncing on the idea.

"How about for your birthday?" I replied.

Thus began what has since become a sort of family tradition. Last year we spent Rachel's seventh birthday at the 637-room Renaissance and fell in love with its simple elegance and courteous crew.

This year my husband, Richard, and I decided to bring our daughter for a full weekend, complete with a show at the Hollywood Bowl, which is within walking distance, and a visit to the new Lucky Strike bowling alley. A few weeks ago, days after Rachel turned 8, the adventure began.

We asked the Renaissance for early check-in, and even though it was the Fourth of July weekend, the hotel had a room ready by 1 p.m. Staff members were friendly and tried to be as accommodating as possible, and their hospitality was evident in small ways throughout the weekend. Everyone — from the doorman to the restaurant employees — seemed well informed and eager to please.

The open lobby, somewhat oversized, feels slightly empty when you first enter. A grand staircase off to one side leads to meeting rooms and a restaurant, Twist, that doesn't seem busy. There's also a bar, but it too seems underused.

The sitting areas upstairs are more intimate, however, and like the hallways are decorated with textiles and fun photographs provided by the offices of the late Charles and Ray Eames, two of the greatest industrial designers of the mid-20th century. Without being pretentious, these pieces lend a hip yet understated authenticity to the hotel's upscale design, making it nostalgic and modern at the same time.

Modern décor that rocksFrom our previous visit, we knew the rooms were large and comfortable, appointed in pseudo-midcentury style and graced with great views. This time our room (with an auto club discount, $119 our first night and $149 the second) was on the ninth floor. Its floor-to-ceiling windows faced east toward the Capitol Records building and, farther off, Dodger Stadium and downtown.

The colorful furnishings evoked the popular amoeba-like curvilinear look of the 1950s but without being overbearing, and Internet hookups and a bedside CD player added modern touches. The beds had fluffy white comforters that invited us to flop down and stay awhile, and there was plenty of room for a desk and extra chairs.

As seasoned visitors, we headed straight for the pool, one of our favorite places in any hotel. The one here was pretty quiet during our midweek visit last year, but this time we walked into a party.

The pool, as we were later informed by the front desk, is often booked by Wolfgang Puck, whose high-end bistro Vert is next door in Hollywood & Highland. Hotel guests can use the pool free most of the time, although occasionally it is closed for special events — or, as we found, shared with private parties.

On this day, we were greeted by hordes of scantily clad twentysomethings whose fashion statements and piercings were nearly as interesting to my daughter as the opportunity to do somersaults in the water. It was hard to get a deck chair but easy to find room to swim, and we jumped in undeterred by all the outré-ness.

Early on, the music was French cabaret, but the intensity increased as the day grew long, and by midafternoon the DJs had moved to hip-hop, then hard-core rap — not really family fare.

But the weather was glorious, and the views of the surrounding verdant hills, the Hollywood sign and Hollywood & Highland's over-the-top Babylon Court (based on D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" set) made it hard to go anywhere else. Already we were miles away from home, in mind if not body.

Only the cost of Puck's refreshments brought us back to reality. A smoothie for my daughter and a small margarita for me came to $18 with tip, inspiring my resolve to rein in spending.

When we finally tired of swimming amid the throbbing music and a growing crush of 400-plus gorgeous wannabes, we returned to our room to dress for shopping and a light supper at Hollywood & Highland's food court using discount coupons provided by the hotel.

The complex has five levels, all of which open onto the Babylon Court. Speakers throughout hum with soft rock, giving a festive flavor to the mix of high- and low-end stores.

The center has not been a great success. It lacks a department store anchor, the shops are pretty commonplace and navigating the levels can be difficult. Less than 2 years old, the complex already has had a fair amount of turnover, and a few storefronts remain empty. Despite all this, it's fun. The plaza is good for people watching, the upper floors have great views and families can eat affordably.

Bowling for artSaturday morning we grabbed breakfast from Starbucks and returned to the pool, which was much quieter. Grauman's Chinese Theatre and other Hollywood Boulevard attractions were nearby, but in the heat of the afternoon we chilled off instead at Lucky Strike, a pricey but fabulously hip bowling alley that opened in May next to the hotel.

A rotating slide show of contemporary artwork floats above the pins at the end of dark alleys. We bowled beneath the graffiti-style paintings of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat as soul music played in the background.

That evening we ate at California Pizza Kitchen, also in the mall, then walked 15 minutes for a sold-out "Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz" show at the Hollywood Bowl, where numerous other events are scheduled through September. Singing "Over the Rainbow" with 17,000 other audience members, most out of tune, was unforgettable. While the masses were caught in post-show traffic, we simply walked back to the hotel with smiles on our faces and Dorothy in our hearts.

Sunday was our day for a final indulgence: a wonderfully high-calorie breakfast at Twist. Made-to-order omelets and waffles were complemented by a good buffet including sausage, bacon and finer fare, such as shrimp, plus unlimited fresh juice and coffee. The meal was worth the price ($15 for adults, half off for children), and by the time we checked out, we were sated and relaxed.

For three days we had lived in a bubble, pretending we had come from far away. The greatest fun came from seeing Hollywood's mixed bag of tourist traps and divine luxury in a new light. The climb back up the hill to our home was hard, but only because of the bubble we had left behind.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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