Travel

Southern California Close-up: Westside of Los Angeles

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. And while the dollars fly, you may 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.

Photos: Westside of Los Angeles

For more on these revelations, here are some Westside stories — 12 micro-itineraries to get a stranger started. This is the ninth installment of our yearlong series of Southern California Close-ups, each piece covering a different region of Los Angeles and Orange counties. You can find the first eight at latimes.com/socalcloseups.


1. Big screen, small wondersSony Studios (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

If Judy Garland or Alex Trebek makes you swoon, you'll want to check out Sony Studios (10202 W. Washington Blvd.) in Culver City. Its two-hour guided walking tour costs $33 (no children younger than 12) and includes soundstages where "The Wizard of Oz" was filmed in 1938 and where "Jeopardy!" has been shot since 1984. (On the tour, you may learn that Merv Griffin, who wrote the "Jeopardy!" theme song in less than half an hour, reaped from it an estimated $70 million to $80 million in royalties.) If neither Judy nor Alex makes your world go 'round, think twice about this tour. It costs more and delivers less than the Warner Bros. tour in Burbank. For a more engrossing (and affordable) experience in the same neighborhood, get thee to the Museum of Jurassic Technology (9341 Venice Blvd.). This odd little spot 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.), whose exhibits and publications have probed the underwater towns of America, the traffic barricades of Washington, D.C., the helipads of downtown L.A. and other notable human interactions with the landscape. Also nearby, you'll find live drama at the Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre (9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City).


2. Beloved burgers and newfangled photosAnnenberg Space for Photography (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Since 1947 — long before the Westside Pavilion shopping center rose on Pico Boulevard — the Apple Pan (10801 W. Pico Blvd.) has been offering Angelenos burgers and desserts. No reservations, no alcohol, no air conditioning. The only dining area is a U-shaped counter, the wallpaper is red plaid and the sign says, "QUALITY FOREVER." Order the Hickory burger ($6.75) and maybe a big slice of apple pie ($5.50) for dessert. Or, to cut down on calories and red meat, follow the example of 31-year counterman Roberto Velasco, who has switched to the tuna melt. 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 that opened in 2009 with a video-friendly layout and sophisticated digital technology. It's free. If you show up in time to see the multimedia "Beauty Culture" exhibition through Nov. 27, you'll be wowed by its thoughtful, provocative and visually rich examination of the business that beauty has become.


3. Shopping on RodeoRodeo Drive (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rodeo Drive shopping experience boils down to about three blocks — enough to enrapture certain shoppers for days, or to amuse a fashion agnostic for an hour or two. Start at South Santa Monica Boulevard and make your way southeast, past Brighton and Dayton ways, to Wilshire Boulevard. Along the way, you'll find enough designer finery to bankrupt the sultan of Brunei, or at least make a monarch sweat. 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.). 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 start about $450. Oh, but wait. If you're a true retail warrior, you're not done shopping yet. Within a few blocks, you'll find Barneys New York (9570 Wilshire Blvd.), Neiman Marcus (9700 Wilshire Blvd.), Niketown (9560 Wilshire Blvd.) and Saks Fifth Avenue (9600 Wilshire Blvd.).


4. Cuisine on CanonBouchon Bistro (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)

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 (on the ground floor of the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel), glass windows reveal the steamy kitchen of Scarpetta, one of the region's most highly rated Italian restaurants since its 2010 opening. There's Wolfgang Puck's flagship, Spago Beverly Hills, at 176 N. Canon Drive. There's Nic's (453 N. Canon Drive), with its lively bar and walk-in, drink-in vodka freezer. There's Mastro's Steakhouse (246 N. Canon Drive), with its $90, 48-ounce double-cut porterhouse steaks. And there's Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro, which opened in late 2009 at 235 N. Canon Drive. Main dishes in the big, tile-floored upstairs Bouchon dining room are $18-$45. On a budget? Get the steak salad (about $21) at the little Bouchon Bar downstairs. If you've recently won a lottery or been signed by CAA, take a few steps across Beverly Canon Gardens to the Montage 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 $495 a night.) But if it's Oscar week, Emmy week or Grammy week, skip the Montage. Chances are the nominees, presenters and producers have booked it solid.


5. A stroll in the park and a cubicle seatBeverly Hills sign (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Grab an all-day 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 between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, step into the Paley Center for Media (465 N. Beverly Drive), where pros and amateurs alike can watch or listen to any of 150,000 old TV and radio shows at a cubicle in a windowless upstairs room. Yes, it has the 1962 black-and-white first episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies," in which the Clampetts strike oil, come to town and mistake their new mansion for a prison. They also have the 1955 "I Love Lucy" episode in which Lucy and Ethel go rogue on a tour of the stars' homes. There's no fee beyond the Paley's suggested donation of $10 per adult. As you watch, picture Chris Rock at the next cubicle, studying Bob Hope and Billy Crystal's work on long-ago Oscars broadcasts, as he did before taking his turn emceeing at the Academy Awards in 2005.


6. Nate, Al, Muhammad and VanessaTaschen store (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Nate 'nl, the deli at 414 N. Beverly Drive, dates to the 1940s. Its furnishings are as glamorous as Chelsea Handler is chaste. 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), which is run by the L.A.-based publisher of the same name. 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. Instead of "Harry Potter" and "Silas Marner," you'll find a $70 copy of "Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs," a $15,000 "champ's edition" of the Muhammad Ali tribute volume "GOAT" and a $700 appreciation of porn star Vanessa del Rio, promiscuously illustrated. As you leave, hang your head in mourning, because this is the last bookshop in Beverly Hills.


7. Hotel havenFour Seasons hotel (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Beverly Hills and environs have plenty of famous hotels, including the luxury-laden Peninsula Beverly Hills and L'Ermitage, the celebrity-heavy Four Seasons Hotel (just outside Beverly Hills) and the massive Beverly Hilton. But the elder statesman is the 210-room Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Blvd.), 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: $475 a night and up. So maybe you'll settle for breakfast in its Polo Lounge, where orange juice is $8 and the latest issue of Le Monde awaits your perusal. But like Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe before you, maybe you'll prefer a place to hide rather than a place to see and be seen. In that case, the Beverly Hills Hotel's slightly pricier sibling, the Hotel Bel Air (701 Stone Canyon Road in a lush canyon 2.7 miles northwest), will reopen Oct. 14 after a two-year-closure to add 12 rooms and a spa. In case you've lost track of who owns both of these lodgings, it's the Brunei Investment Agency — in other words, the sultan of Brunei.


8. SoBev and beyondMuseum of Tolerance (Ken Hively)

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). Now, slowly drive past Heath Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, where you'll spy the backside of Beverly Hills High School (241 Moreno Drive) 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 if you like at Roxbury Memorial Park, where there's tennis, soccer, baseball and play structures. Now take a deep breath and ready yourself for a sobering look at multiculturalism, history and the Holocaust, tailored to suit children and adults. That's the mission of the Museum of Tolerance (9786 W. Pico Blvd.; adult admission $15.50), which opened in 1993. Now surely you're wrung out, so consider the 49-room Mosaic Hotel (125 S. Spalding Drive), which is more boutique than resort and sometimes has discount rates as low as $225 nightly.


9. The Bruins' DenUCLA (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Maybe it will help you feel young to see those UCLA freshmen kicking a ball around on the lawn between Royce Hall and Powell Library. Or maybe, recalling that these kids were born in 1993, 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. Consider alumni such as tennis star Arthur Ashe, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, director Francis Ford Coppola and musician Jim Morrison (and that's just a sampling from the late '60s). 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 2011-2012 season's 36 gigs include violinist Itzhak Perlman, author Joan Didion and banjo master Earl Scruggs. On the sidewalks of neighboring Westwood Village, you'll wish for more bohemian hangouts and fewer national brands, but you will find the Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Ave.), which often features big names on its stage, and the Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Blvd.), which spotlights cutting-edge contemporary art.


10. The stars at rest and a Persian dessertPierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Just south of Wilshire Boulevard, hidden behind a clutch of tall buildings, you'll find the Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary, a grassy territory covering barely 2 acres. Marilyn Monroe rests in a crypt (her name surrounded by lipstick kisses) near the northern corner of the property. The graves of Fanny Brice, Truman Capote, 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." Merv Griffin's: "I will not [underlined] be right back after this message." 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.), a family business that specializes in Persian flavors. The top seller is an explosion of sweetness known as saffron-pistachio. Buy a scoop for $3.25 and hang on to your bastani (that's ice cream in Persian).


11. Brentwood's Barn and ArkSkirball Cultural Center (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The Brentwoodtry Mart (225 26th St., Santa Monica) looks like a bad idea. In one of California's elite neighborhoods, a low-rise fake barn? Really? Yet locals love it, and it feeds many a trendy mom's retail dreams. 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 and two little courtyards where, on a weekday afternoon, you're likely to find scampering kids in private-school uniforms, or perhaps Reese Witherspoon grabbing coffee. Next, hop on Interstate 405 and head north to the Skirball Cultural Center (2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.), whose exhibits and performances aim to connect Jewish culture with American history. If you're under 10, the highlight is Noah's Ark, an 8,000-square-foot interactive Old Testament playground where lightning flashes on command, a conveyor belt speeds ark embarkation, climbing ropes dangle enticingly and close to 400 large and small toy animals, many recycled from household materials, compete for attention. (There's rubber animal scat too.) You'll want time-certain reservations ($5 a kid ages 2-12, $10 per adult) for visits on weekends, Thursdays or holidays. Crowds are lighter on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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12. Culture castleGetty Center (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

When Southern California devolves into feudalism, the sensible place for the new king will be atop Brentwood in the gleaming, sprawling Getty Center. This museum, backed by billions from late oil man J. Paul Getty, opened in 1997, its campus covering 110 acres. Park underground (parking is $15, museum admission is free) and keep your sunglasses handy: Those white walls, designed by Richard Meier, are fiercely reflective. 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. From the south-facing balcony, behold a cactus garden hanging in the sky, more or less. Walk (or roll) down the grassy slope to artist Robert Irwin's circular Central Garden, with its floating maze of azaleas. 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.

chris.reynolds@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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