Brilliant Things to Do in Hollywood

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Courtesy Stephen Dunn / AnOther

Secret bookshops, cult cinema and Frank Lloyd Wright’s mystical hilltop ‘ode’ to California: here are the best things to see, eat and drink in Hollywood

Introducing a series of alternative city guides, specially curated for the cultivated traveller.

Los Angeles can be a disorienting place. Aside from being the home of make-believe, its sprawling size and scenic variety can sometimes make it feel like ten cities in one. Hollywood, though, is probably its most enduring cultural signifier: the glitzy jewel nestled right at its heart, where tourists flock to ogle at the ghosts of its celebrity past. But there’s much more to this area than sun-stroked street entertainers and the Walk of Fame. In the surrounds, you’ll find the Hollywood Hills, with its luxury modernist architecture, rogue mountain lions and lush hiking routes. There’s also the quietly exclusive West Hollywood, a separate city in its own right, which is home to the county’s finest boutiques, bars and hotels, as well as its own rich musical heritage (you can find legendary punk venues like the Viper Room and Whiskey-A-Go-Go here, as well as folk-rock institution The Troubadour).

So where do you begin? As award season rolls on, we examine the very best that LA’s spiritual heartland has to offer.

Mystery Pier Books, West Hollywood

The Sunset Strip is probably the last place you’d expect to see a quaint English cottage, but it’s there if you’re willing to look for it. Hidden down a narrow alleyway, Mystery Pier Books is like stumbling onto an idyllic corner of the British countryside. The family-run shop specialises in rare first-edition books, ranging from the early works of Shakespeare to Anthony Mingella’s original shooting scripts. The store’s beloved cult status has been sealed by the A-list clientele, many of whom have written appreciative letters to, or taken photos with, the father-and-son duo behind the business. If you’re a book lover, or you happen to care about someone who is, it’s a must-visit.

Hollyhock House, East Hollywood

In a city packed with mid-century bungalows and non-descript condos, Frank Lloyd Wright’s monolithic designs add an enchantment to their surroundings, standing amidst the chaos like mystical Mayan temples. In East Hollywood, you can find Hollyhock House, the revered architect’s idyllic hilltop “ode” to California. Built around 1920, it was Wright’s first LA commission, and a harbinger of the West Coast modernist movement. It’s a must-see for anyone with even the vaguest interest in architecture – just make sure you book in advance.

Kimpton La Peer, West Hollywood

Located steps from Melrose Avenue, right on the border of Beverley Hills, Kimpton La Peer is a five-star boutique hotel that prides itself on its artistic heritage. It feels inescapable: in the lobby, and throughout the rooms and accompanying restaurant, there are grand paintings, sculptures and murals, as well as an open-door artist’s studio that spills out onto the bar. The latter is a home for the hotel’s artist-in-residence James Peter Henry, whose immense, towering murals – which are all done by hand – can be seen on buildings throughout Los Angeles. Despite his success, he welcomes hotel guests into the studio warmly, opening up about his creative process, sharing his works in progress, and even holding classes (including with students from the LA Mission). Kimpton La Peer is like the best of all worlds: affordable, perfectly placed, and with a luxurious exclusivity that rivals any hotel in the neighbouring Beverley Hills.

Pace, Hollywood Hills

Nestled amongst the hills of Laurel Canyon, Pace feels like the best kind of secret. The Italian restaurant is hidden behind a faded brick facade, making it look more like an abandoned Tuscan farmhouse than an LA foodie hotspot. But once you step inside the door, its world opens up. Think low, twinkling lights, red walls and white tablecloths, with waiters buzzing around tables balancing plates of delicious homemade comfort food (including the best lasagne you’ll find on that side of the Atlantic). Once you’ve finished, be sure to walk around the corner of the building to visit the legendary Canyon Country Store – a great deli and 60s music institution, which has been immortalised in The Door’s track, Love Street.

Sunset Marquis, West Hollywood

While crowds might flock to the more well-known Chateau Marmont, the Sunset Marquis has an equally glittery heritage. The hotel has been much loved by musicians throughout history, who were drawn to its quiet exclusivity and sprawling, semitropical feel (the gardens and walkways are overflowing with wild trees and plants). It also helps that one of the world’s most prestigious recording studios, Nightbird, is tucked beneath the building, and that it remains open 24/7 for any late-night bursts of inspiration.

New Beverley Cinema, Hollywood

It is only right, when visiting Hollywood, to celebrate the art form that made it famous. There’s not really any place better to do that than the New Beverley Cinema, a “repertory movie haven” owned and programmed by Quentin Tarantino. A night there is like a dreamy trip back in time, from the cult classic scheduling (all films are strictly shown in 35mm) to the old-school theatrical cartoons that play as you find your seat.

Barney’s Beanery, West Hollywood

There are many legends attached to Barney’s Beanery, a bustling chain of cosy, old-Americana bars that are dotted all around Los Angeles. However, it’s the original West Hollywood branch that’s imbued with the most ghostly mythology: you can feel it emanating from the ageing leather booths, or from the mish-mash memorabilia that adorns every surface. Rumour has it that Quentin Tarantino would come and sit at the same seat, every day, to write the script for Pulp Fiction, and that Janis Joplin spent her last night on earth partying here. The spirits really come alive on Thursdays, when revellers spill out onto the pavements for the bar’s famed karaoke night.

Bamford Wellness Spa, 1 Hotel, West Hollywood

If it is red carpet glamour that you’re after – or even just intrigued to try, as you’re in its aesthetic homeland – you can find the definitive experts at 1 Hotel West Hollywood. The venue’s Bamford Wellness Spa offers an array of innovative beauty treatments, including its signature Red Carpet Sculpt Facial. A mixture of cryo therapy and Gua Sha massage, the experience will see your face transformed within the hour, making you feel brighter, more chiselled and – thanks to all the bonus lymphatic drainage – re-energised. A luxurious treat if you’ve been unable to shake the jetlag.

Dialog Cafe, West Hollywood

Dialog bills itself as the “best cafe in West Hollywood”, and you have to admire its confidence – mainly because it’s so hard to dispute. The family-owned restaurant is dearly beloved by locals because it pours all of its focus into creating generous, delicious and affordable plates of food. It’s meticulously crafted American diner fare – think overflowing bagels, breakfast plates and salad bowls – but made with the highest quality, local ingredients.

Bikes and Hikes

This won’t be for everyone, obviously – the phrase ‘guided tour’ tends to conjure up images of visor-wearing retirees and men screaming on open-top buses – but if you ever did want a true LA expert to tell you all of its stories, Bikes and Hikes is worth considering. There are few cities with as much lore and mythology, and practically every building has at least one glamorous secret waiting to be unearthed. If you can, do a private hike (and request Erik).

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood

It’s a West Hollywood institution for a reason, and Gracias Madre still doesn’t disappoint. When it comes to vegan cuisine, few places in the world are as innovative and delicious – and there have been many dyed-in-the-wool meat eaters who have been successfully duped by their entirely plant-based Mexican menu. Their cocktail selection is another jewel in the crown: Gracias Madre has well over 100 types of mescal (all ethically made and diffuser-free), and the team are constantly tinkering with both chemistry and taste, workshopping new, cutting-edge creations.

Petit Ermitage, West Hollywood

Petit Ermitage is like nowhere else in Hollywood: the eclectic, fin de siècle decor makes it feel more like an old Parisian boudoir, packed full of miscellaneous trinkets from West Asia, North Africa and the Mediterranean. On the walls, you’ll see original works from Salvador Dalí, Joan Miro, and Willem de Kooning, all sourced from the owner’s private collection. The rooftop bar – which is strictly for guests and members – feels like an especially exclusive, romantic hideaway, with a heated saltwater pool, kumquat trees, lavish fur blankets and crackling fireplaces.