Photographs: Courtesy of The Beverly Hills Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air
California has lured travelers, fortune seekers and sun worshippers for generations. We can’t help but think that Audrey Hepburn may have gotten it wrong, and it’s actually California that’s always a good idea. With airline prices low and Southern California temps up, we suggest a Hollywood getaway. And we know where you should stay.
Beverly Hills Hotel
GLITZ & GLAM
There may be newer and swankier hotels in the area, but the Beverly Hills Hotel (affectionately known as the Pink Palace) has always been, and continues to be, the place to see and be seen. The pink walls, red carpet entrance and stately palm trees have been there since before Los Angeles was even a city. It opened in 1912 and little has changed except the celebrities who call it their home away from home.
We sat down with the hotel’s director of guest relations, Steven Boggs, to get the real deal on what goes on behind those storied walls. As we tucked into the first booth at the renowned Polo Lounge, Dean Martin’s favorite, Steve fielded regulars stopping by to check in.
On the subject of things that have gone down at the Polo Lounge, he tells us that the staff has been “keeping secrets for 105 years.” In fact, the staff is so good at discretion, I almost missed Shaquille O’Neal—all seven feet and one inch of him—tucked into a private corner table. Which, we suppose, is one of the reasons so many celebs flock here.
Plenty of deals have been inked on the back of napkins in the dimly lit restaurant. But if you’re hoping to score one of the power booths on the weekend, you’ll need to have some pull with Pepe, whose title, Director of the Polo Lounge, doesn’t begin to cover his role as table arbiter and celeb soother. So, what happens when Leonardo DiCaprio wants the booth that Al Pacino reserved (they are both regulars)? Steve says he defers to Pepe.
You don’t need to be a guest of the hotel to dine at the Polo Lounge, but you’ll definitely want to make a reservation.
If you’re looking for a less-expensive celeb dining experience, head downstairs to the Fountain Coffee Room. This old-time breakfast grill has only nineteen barstools and everyone waits in line for a spot. There’s no preferential treatment here. Steve chuckles as he talks about spotting Senator John Kerry (who was running for President at the time) standing in line behind Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne and in front of Ellen DeGeneres. But keep your camera tucked away, it’s highly frowned upon—and flat-out banned at the pool.
Speaking of the pool, it’s reserved for hotel guests only so book a room (rates start at $695 in the off-season). Or really splurge and book one of the twenty-three bungalows on-property. Each is completely unique and all have the distinction of having been a short-term home to some of the most famous and wealthy guests in history.
In 1942, Howard Hughes bought up half a dozen of the bungalows and lived there on several occasions throughout the decades. The hotel accommodated his eccentricities, including his request for roast beef sandwiches to be delivered to a nook in a tree.
Bungalow No. 5 was a favorite of both Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor; it’s the biggest bungalow (four bedrooms) and features a private pool. The pool was built by Walter Annenberg because he and Mrs. Annenberg didn’t care for walking all the way to the main pool. (Bungalow rates are available upon request.)
Stay in Line
The Fountain Room is a low-key breakfast hangout. There are only nineteen bar stools and everyone waits in line, regardless of fame or Oscar ownership.
Women Who Wear the Pants
Marlene Dietrich refused to abide by the “women must wear dresses” code at the Polo Lounge. From then on, women were allowed to wear slacks.
Then & Now
The famous red carpet entrance has not changed since this photo was shot in the 1950s.
The Polo Lounge isn’t the only place where movie magic has happened. Legend has it that Leonard Bernstein came up with the idea for West Side Story in Cabana No. 3.
Blast From the Past
The pool scene at Hotel Bel-Air in 1951. The pool was originally the horse paddock at the Bel-Air estates. It has not changed since it was built except for the removal of the diving board.
The Hotel Bel-Air
The Hotel Bel-Air is equally well-known and as elegant as the Beverly Hills Hotel, just a tad more reserved and understated. (Think Jennifer Lopez vs. Meryl Streep.) There are only 103 rooms and suites spread across the twelve-acre property, leaving a lot of space for nature. A walk from your room to the restaurant takes you past bubbly fountains, tropical trees and hidden gardens. In addition to the iconic swans (who are almost as famous as the stars who have stayed here), the hotel has a new resident, Apollo the turtle, who simply appeared one day and is now the adored and protected hotel mascot. Smart turtle.
The hotel originally opened in 1946 and has hosted as many stars as the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Grace Kelly has a suite named after her, and Marilyn Monroe posed for her last photo shoot at the hotel’s pool. The sitting has been immortalized in the book The Last Sitting by Bert Stern.
The only thing new about the hotel are the suites that were built into the canyon hills during a 2011 renovation. The exterior maintains its old-world stateliness, but the interiors feature luxe amenities like TVs hidden in mirrors and automated toilets complete with heated seats. We recommend the Canyon Studio (starting at $1,400 per night). The room spills outdoors with a private spa pool and fireplace on the patio.
Grab dinner at the restaurant named after head chef Wolfgang Puck and there is a better than average chance that the man himself will stop by your table to ensure that the meal is to your liking.
Two of the famous swans who live at Swan Lake in front of the Hotel Bel-Air
Booths at Wolfgang Puck restaurant are secluded so that stars can easily enjoy a meal without anyone realizing they are there.