My e-mail to friends went like this: "What would you say if I proposed a weekend getaway to Century City?"
The responses went like this:
"Spending a weekend there would be like being trapped in the mall zombie movie 'Dawn of the Dead.' "
And this: "Uuugghh."
And my favorite: "Why do you hate me?"
Funny, those friends of mine. On the mark too.
Century City, with its monotonous office towers, does have all the charm of a doctor's office: tidy and efficient, almost antiseptic. It's an unlikely choice for a getaway.
I like the unlikely. And Century City does have two things going for it: its central location and luxe lodgings.
Museums, restaurants, golf and tennis are nearby. So are three top hotels: the 297-room St. Regis; the 728-room Westin Century Plaza and its Spa Mystique; and the 367-room Park Hyatt, which opened its exclusive Kara spa four months ago.
The biggest surprise? The number of locals at these hotels on weekends — people in search of a quick retreat, a place "to get away without going away," a Kara spokeswoman later told me. Or as I like to call such indulgences, the home vacation.
My partner, Todd, isn't always onboard with the home-vacation concept. But our goal earlier this month — to play kings for a day or two — had appeal. The choice of a castle was easy: the St. Regis, 30 stories of elegance in the heart of Century City. Our royal carriage took more imagination, especially when we pulled the dirt-encrusted Honda CR-V next to a black Porsche Cayenne and an orange Lamborghini at the hotel's porte-cochere.
Staff members treated us like royalty anyway, ushering us to our chamber on the 21st floor. Its tasteful furnishings and earth-tone color scheme seemed novel in this era of hipper-than-thou boutique hotels. At almost 500 square feet, the standard room was large enough to accommodate a sofa, coffee table, desk and easy chairs with space to spare. The marble-lined bathroom was airy, with an oversized tub and separate shower.
The showstopper, though, was the panorama from the balcony, stretching west beyond Santa Monica and Malibu.
I liked the room, but as a service test I asked whether King Me could be upgraded at no cost to a corner room with two balconies.
"We can arrange that," came the reply. "Would you like us to run the keys up now?"
This kind of service came at a cost: $245 plus tax the night of our stay. The Park Hyatt, which completed a $14-million renovation, would have been $202. The Century Plaza was $179, with a three-night promotion (at http://www.starwood.com ) that would have reduced the average rate to $119.
The St. Regis does the best job of transporting guests if not to another state then to another state of mind. When we returned to the room Saturday evening, the lamps had been dimmed and classical music played softly. The ice bucket was filled. Robes were neatly draped across the duvet. Snow-white monogrammed slippers — one pair on each side of the bed — sat atop spotless, pressed kerchiefs.
Curtains? Already drawn.
The kings slept well.
New sites, familiar setting
Home vacations have inspired me to visit places I have overlooked. This weekend that meant Greystone Mansion, the Museum of Jurassic Technology and the UCLA Hammer Museum.
Saturday afternoon we drove toward Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, stopping for takeout at the Mason Jar Cafe, a dynamite spot that opened this summer in West Hollywood.
With sandwiches in hand — one free-range chicken salad with heirloom tomatoes, one "California Cuban" with turkey, roast beef and apple-wood-smoked bacon — we found a park bench and watched dragonflies buzz over Greystone's lily pond.
The Tudor mansion was built in 1927 and '28 as a 55-room, 46,054-square-foot gift from oil tycoon Edward Doheny to son Ned and his family. The construction cost, adjusted for inflation and converted into 2004 dollars: $34 million.
The 12 1/2 -acre property changed owners in the decades after the 1929 death of Ned Doheny, shot in the head by his crazed secretary, according to authorities, though the circumstances of the slaying remain in dispute. By 1971, the city of Beverly Hills had purchased the site and dedicated it as a public park. Though the building is closed except for special events, the grounds are open daily.
We moved on to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, two miles south of Century City on Venice Boulevard. The museum, the brainchild of MacArthur "genius" grant recipient David Wilson, is at the intersection of art, science, pseudoscience and high-concept humor, a place where fact and fiction are blended for effect.
If you take some exhibits too seriously — the one on neurophysiologist Geoffrey Sonnabend's three-volume work from the 1930s and '40s, "Obliscence: Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter," for example — your head will implode.
Others are more instantly amusing. One exhibit showcased the microscopic art of Henry Dalton, a 19th century Brit whose medium was the scales of butterfly wings. A boar's bristle was his brush, a glass slide his canvas. Peer into microscopes and you'll see floral bouquets, even a chicken and three chicks.
Our hotel bill was anything but microscopic, so dinner had to be inexpensive. We like a nearby cafe called Clementine, but it had closed for the day. So we settled for Caesar salads and calzones at a pizza joint next door called Johnnie's. Alas, one can't eat like royalty every day.
The art of relaxing
Sunday started with a workout in the St. Regis gym and a dip in its pool. In L.A., hotel pools have become party places, full of non-guests in search of a scene, but the one here was quiet, civilized and scene-free.
We had been granted a 4 p.m. checkout, so while Todd kicked back poolside, I drove to Westwood and the UCLA Hammer Museum, founded by the late oilman Armand Hammer.
Among the most recognized pieces here are a Van Gogh painting of the Saint-Rémy asylum to which the artist had himself committed in 1889, a year before his death, and "Juno," Rembrandt's depiction of a robust Roman goddess, golden scepter in hand and glowing jewels in her crown.
In hopes of looking as relaxed and content as Juno, I left for the new spa at the Park Hyatt.
Though Kara is less than a third the size of the Century Plaza's Spa Mystique, it has carved a niche with expansive treatment villas that emphasize privacy. Rather than dozens of small treatment rooms linked to communal locker, whirlpool and lounging facilities, Kara dedicates much of its space to three private villas, each with its own spa tub, TV alcove and patio.
A masseuse kneaded my shoulders to the soothing sound of a waterfall — actually, water pouring from a ceiling spout into an ark-sized tub, mine to use when the massage was over.
Later, I chatted with a hotel employee in the lobby about a tidbit I'd heard from a St. Regis worker: that the Lamborghini at the St. Regis belonged to someone who had lived at the hotel for more than a year.
That's nothing, the Hyatt employee said. "We have someone who has lived here for seven years."
How about that: king for a day, seven years straight.
Budget for two
Expenses for this trip:
Lodging, St. Regis, one night with tax, parking $307.41