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Southern California Close-up: Westside of Los Angeles

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First published on Sept. 25, 2011. Revised and expanded in early 2012.

You're an outsider heading to the Westside of Los Angeles -- not the beach cities, but Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Westwood and the nearby well-heeled neighborhoods south of the Santa Monica Mountains. This means you'll be well-fed, well-rested and perhaps more closely watched by the issuers of your credit cards. Only the sultan of Brunei, it seems, can afford to splurge in these precincts without looking at price tags. But you need not spend liberally to learn a little about wealth, fame, geography and Persian desserts.

For instance, you'll realize that Beverly Hills, like the "Mona Lisa" and certain leading men, is smaller than you might expect (5.7 square miles). You'll recognize Culver City's connections to Oz and the old Soviet space program. You'll be reminded that there's a big Santa Monica Boulevard and a little one (a.k.a. South Santa Monica Boulevard), which perplex the uninitiated by running parallel for more than a mile. In Westwood, you'll see how death has united Marilyn Monroe and Rodney Dangerfield, among others. The details await in these 12 Westside stories.

1. Big screen, small

If Alex Trebek makes you swoon, you'll want to check out Sony Studios (10000 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; www.sonypicturesstudiostours.com) in Culver City. Its two-hour guided weekday walking tour costs $33 (no children younger than 12) and can include stops at soundstages where "The Wizard of Oz" was filmed in 1938 and where "Jeopardy!" has been shot since 1984. If neither Alex nor Judy Garland makes your world go 'round, think twice about this tour. For a more engrossing (and affordable) experience in the same neighborhood, get thee to the Museum of Jurassic Technology (9341 Venice Blvd., Culver City; www.mjt.org). This odd little spot, open 2-8 p.m. Thursdays and noon-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday, is all about the joy of weird stuff, presented with great museological pomp. Shuffle through the tiny dark rooms, your jaw slackening at the sight of the trailer-park dioramas, Soviet space-dog oil portraits, a tiny sculpted pope in a needle's eye and two dead mice on toast (the consumption of which is described as an old bed-wetting cure). Don't miss the tearoom upstairs. Next door stands the Center for Land Use Interpretation (9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City; www.clui.org), whose exhibits and publications have probed the underwater towns of America, the helipads of downtown L.A. and other notable human interactions with the landscape. It’s open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the afternoons. Then, to dramatize your evening, head to the Kirk Douglas Theatre (9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; www.centertheatregroup.org), a satellite operation of downtown’s Center Theatre Group that’s been putting on shows in this 317-seat venue since 2004.

2. Beloved burgers and newfangled photos

Since 1947, the Apple Pan (10801 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles) has been offering Angelenos burgers and desserts. No reservations, no alcohol, no air conditioning. Order the Hickory burger (about $7) and maybe a big slice of apple pie for dessert. Then head two miles northeast to Century City, where you'll park beneath the soaring cold metal and glass of the Creative Artists Agency building. You have not scored a meeting with CAA's deal makers, but they will let you in next door at the Annenberg Space for Photography (2000 Avenue of the Stars, No. 10), a nonprofit exhibition space with a video-friendly layout and sophisticated digital technology. It's free and open Wednesdays-Sundays. (Be sure to get your parking validated, or it will cost a fortune.)

3. Shopping on Rodeo

The Rodeo Drive shopping experience (www.rodeodrive-bh.com) boils down to about three blocks. Start at South Santa Monica Boulevard and make your way southeast, past Brighton and Dayton ways, to Wilshire Boulevard. See the impeccable salesman wiping fingerprints off the Cartier shop window? The strange staircase that architect Rem Koolhaas placed at the front of the Prada shop? The beckoning faux-European side street of the Two Rodeo shops? At the far end of your stroll, you'll find the Beverly Wilshire (9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; www.fourseasons.com/beverlywilshire). This hotel, run by Four Seasons, is where Warren Beatty once lived, where Esther Williams taught 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor how to swim and where Richard Gere brought Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." It's not perfect; an ungraceful '70s addition lurks behind the original 1928 building. But it has location, a Wolfgang Puck steakhouse called Cut and Four Seasons service. Rooms for two usually start north of $500.

Now take a breath. If you're a true retail warrior, you're not done shopping yet. Clustered nearby along Wilshire from 9560 to 9700, you'll find Barneys New York (9570 Wilshire Blvd.; www.barneys.com), Neiman Marcus (9700 Wilshire Blvd.; www.neimanmarcus.com), Niketown (9560 Wilshire Blvd.; www.nike.com) and Saks Fifth Avenue (9600 Wilshire Blvd.; www.saksfifthavenue.com).

4. Cuisine on Canon

You can try La Cienega Boulevard, the official Restaurant Row of Beverly Hills, some other night. For now, scope out the high style and smaller scale of the eateries on Canon Drive between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. At 225 N. Canon, glass windows reveal the steamy kitchen of Scarpetta, one of the region's most highly rated Italian restaurants. There's Wolfgang Puck's flagship, Spago Beverly Hills, at 176 N. Canon Drive; and Mastro's Steakhouse at 246 N. Canon Drive, with its 48-ounce double-cut porterhouse steaks. But tonight you’re trying Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro (235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; www.bouchonbistro.com) and choosing between the fancier upstairs dining room of the little Bar Bouchon downstairs and its steak salad for around $21. Later on, there may be dessert or a nightcap at Nic's (453 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; www.nicsbeverlyhills.com), with its lively bar and walk-in, drink-in vodka freezer (the Vodbox). And after that? If you've recently won a lottery or sold a screenplay, take a few steps across Beverly Canon Gardens (241 N. Canon Drive; www.beverlyhills.org/services/rec/parks/beverly_canon_gardens.asp) to the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel (225 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; www.montagebeverlyhills.com) and see whether there's a vacancy. Montage, opened in late 2008, sports a Spanish Colonial-Revival look, with dashes of Morocco and Italy, and plenty of space in its 201 luxury-laden rooms. Rates usually start at around $595 a night.

5. A stroll in the park and a cubicle seat

Grab a parking spot at the Beverly Hills Civic Center (455 N. Rexford Drive; first two hours free) and walk or jog on the 1.9-mile greenbelt (a.k.a. Beverly Gardens Park) along Santa Monica Boulevard. At Beverly Drive, if not before, you'll realize you have company: That's where the big, gold “Beverly Hills” sign is, and tourists arrive day and night to pose by the letters. If it's Sunday morning, head next to the weekly farmers market at 9300 Civic Center Drive. If it's noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, step into the Paley Center for Media (465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; www.paleycenter.org/visit-visitla), because, as crazy as it sounds, some of the best things in life still aren’t on YouTube. Here you can watch or listen to any of 150,000 old TV and radio shows. Yes, it has the 1962 black-and-white first episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies," in which the Clampetts strike oil and come to town. It also has the 1955"I Love Lucy" episode in which Lucy and Ethel go rogue on a tour of the stars' homes.  The Paley Center also has sets, costumes and props that span television history, including Linda Carter's “Wonder Woman” costume and the Monk's Diner set from “Seinfeld.”

6. Nate, Al, Ali and Vanessa

Nate 'n Al (414 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; www.natenal.com) is a deli that dates to the 1940s. You can count on ample supplies of matzo ball soup and perhaps some schmoozing by talk-show icon Larry King, who's been a breakfast regular for years. When you're full, stroll down the block and boldly step into the Taschen store (354 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; www.taschen.com). But leave the young ones at home. This elegantly arranged shop, which feels more like a gallery, is full of pricey, arty, lavish and often naughty books. It might be $70 for a copy of "Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs," $15,000 for a "champ's edition" of the Muhammad Ali tribute volume "GOAT" (Greatest of All Time) or $700 for an appreciation of porn star Vanessa del Rio, promiscuously illustrated.

7. Hotel haven

Beverly Hills and environs have plenty of famous hotels, including the luxury-laden Peninsula Beverly Hills (9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; www.peninsula.com/BeverlyHills) and L'Ermitage (9291 Burton Way, Beverly Hills; www.lermitagebh.com), the celebrity-heavy Four Seasons Hotel (just outside Beverly Hills at 300 S. Doheny Drive, Los Angeles; www.fourseasons.com/losangeles) and the massive Beverly Hilton (9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; www.beverlyhilton.com). But the elder statesman is the 210-room Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills; www.beverlyhillshotel.com), which opened in 1912. Just a glimpse of the lobby's golden glow and artful palm fronds hints that fame and fortune are concentrated here, and the rack rates confirm it: about $500 a night and up. So maybe you'll settle for breakfast in its Polo Lounge instead. Or perhaps, like Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe before you, you can pay just about anything but prefer a place to hide. In that case, the Beverly Hills Hotel's slightly pricier sibling, Hotel Bel Air (701 Stone Canyon Road, Beverly Hills; www.hotelbelair.com), reopened in late 2011 after a two-year-closure for additions and improvements. In case you've lost track of who owns both of these lodgings, they are part of Dorchester Collection, a subsidiary of the Brunei Investment Agency -- in other words, the sultan of Brunei.

8. SoBev and beyond

First, fuel up in SoBev (Beverly Drive south of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills) with breakfast or lunch at the affordable, busy Urth Caffe (267 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; www.urthcaffe.com). Now, slowly drive past Heath Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, where you'll spy the backside of Beverly Hills High School (241 Moreno Drive; www.bhhs.bhusd.org) and the campus oil well, wrapped in what looks like an enormous floral-patterned oven mitt. Three blocks east of the oil well, on Olympic, pause at Roxbury Memorial Park (471 S. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills; www.beverlyhills.org/services/rec/parks/roxbury.asp), where there are tennis, soccer, baseball and play structures. Now ready yourself for a sobering look at multiculturalism, history and the Holocaust, tailored for children and adults. That's the mission of the Museum of Tolerance (9786 W. Pico Blvd.; adult admission $15.50). After all that, surely you'll be wrung out, so consider the 49-room Mosaic Hotel (125 S. Spalding Drive, Beverly Hills; www.mosaichotel.com), which sometimes has discount rates as low as $199 nightly.

9. The Bruins' Den

Maybe it will help you feel young to see those UCLA (405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles; www.ucla.edu) freshmen kicking a ball around on the lawn between Royce Hall and Powell Library. Or maybe, recalling that these kids were born in  the 1990s, you'll feel otherwise. Either way, with its 420 acres and nearly 40,000 students, the UCLA campus in Westwood will stretch your legs and brain. Wander on your own, or join one of the free student-led tours for prospective students and their parents most weekdays and Saturdays (www.admissions.ucla.edu/tours.htm). At Royce Hall, the 2011-12 season's 36 gigs included violinist Itzhak Perlman, author David Sedaris and banjo master Earl Scruggs. In neighboring Westwood Village, you have the Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.hammer.ucla.edu), which spotlights cutting-edge contemporary art; and later, there’s the Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles; www.geffenplayhouse.com), which often features big names.

10. The stars at rest and a Persian dessert

Just south of Wilshire Boulevard, hidden behind a clutch of tall buildings, you'll find the Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary (1218 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles; www.pbwvmortuary.com), a grassy territory covering about 2 1/2 acres, open 8 a.m.-dusk. Marilyn Monroe rests in a crypt, her name often surrounded by lipstick kisses. (The people at Pierce Bros. wipe them away regularly, but they keep coming back.) near the northern corner of the property. The graves of Jack Lemmon, Karl Malden and Walter Matthau are nearby, along with others who couldn't resist one more punch line. Rodney Dangerfield's headstone: "There goes the neighborhood." You'll also notice a lot of Persian names and writing in the neighborhood; thousands of Persians, many of them Jewish, arrived when Islamic fundamentalists took over Iran in the late 1970s. About five blocks south of the cemetery, step into modest Saffron & Rose Ice Cream (1387 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles; www.golobolbol.org), a family business that specializes in Persian flavors. The top seller is an explosion of sweetness known as saffron-pistachio.

11. Brentwood's Barn and Ark

The Brentwood Country Mart (225 26th St., Santa Monica; www.brentwoodcountrymart.com) looks like a bad idea. In one of California's elite neighborhoods, a low-rise fake barn? Really? Yet locals love it. The Country Mart, which opened in 1948 as a smaller version of the Farmers Market in the Fairfax area, has more than 25 boutiques and stalls, a handful of casual eateries, one stylish bookshop (Diesel, Suite 33; www.dieselbookstore.com) and two little courtyards. Next, hop on Interstate 405 and head north to the Skirball Cultural Center (2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; www.skirball.org), whose exhibits and performances aim to connect Jewish culture with American history. If you're younger than 10, the highlight is Noah's Ark, an 8,000-square-foot interactive Old Testament playground. You'll want time-certain reservations ($5 a kid ages 2-12, $10 per adult, $7 per senior (65 and older) for visits on weekends, Thursdays or holidays. Crowds are lighter on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

12. Culture castle

When Southern California devolves into feudalism, the sensible place for the new king will be atop Brentwood in the gleaming, sprawling Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles; www.getty.edu). This museum, backed by billions from late oil man J. Paul Getty, opened in 1997, its campus covering 110 acres. Park underground. (The museum is free, but parking costs $15.) Take the monorail up the hill and head for the West Pavilion, which houses photography below and Impressionists above, including Van Gogh's vibrant "Irises," the museum's biggest star. Before long you'll want to snack at one of the center's two cafes, or maybe a fancy lunch farther upstairs at the Restaurant, which has a mountain view. Then, like one of David Hockney's figures disappearing into a deep blue pool, you dive back into the art.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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